Coptic Priest Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros has millions of Arab Muslim listeners who tune in to the Al-Hayat (Life) TV channel to watch his discussion of Muhammad, the Quran, and Islam. Below is a summary of a recent program in which he presented evidence from Islamic sources that Abdallah, traditionally believed to be the father of Muhammad, might not have been his real father. As a result of this program, Islamic scholars in Egypt brought a lawsuit against Zakariya alleging that he claimed that Muhammad was born out of wedlock. As Zakariya himself often states, he uses only authentic Islamic sources to raise the questions he discusses on his program.
ABUNA: Our host today is Sayf from Morocco, who was a Muslim and is now a Christian. Could you tell us how you left Islam to become a Christian?
SAYF: At one stage of my life as a Muslim, I was very religious. I would not allow music in my house or greet a woman. But as I studied the Quran and the Sunnah, I became aware of the many contradictions there. I then began to read the Bible, even though as a Muslim I believed that it was corrupted. I began to see the differences between it and the Quran. For example, the last of the Ten Commandments says that one should not desire his neighbor’s wife. But sura 33 of the Quran tells of Muhammad’s desire for Zaynab, the wife of his adopted son Zayd, and how he persuaded Zayd to divorce her so that he could marry her. I then had personal experiences that convinced me that Jesus was with me and I began to follow him. But as the host of today’s program, let’s begin with our subject, which is a comparison of the births of Muhammad and Jesus from Islamic sources.
ABUNA: Muslims believe the father of Muhammad was Abdallah and his mother was Amina. When Muhammad’s grandfather, Abd al-Mutallib, went to arrange the marriage of his son Abdallah to Amina, he saw a woman that he liked and asked for her hand as well. The marriage of Abdallah and his father Abd al-Mutallib took place the same day. Abdallah’s wife Amina immediately became pregnant, and Abdallah died several months later. But the son of Abd al-Mutallib and his new wife, Muhammad’s uncle Hamza, was four years older than Muhammad. If both wives became pregnant at the same time, Muhammad and Hamza would be the same age. If Abd al-Mutallib’s new wife became pregnant later, Hamza would be younger than Muhammad. So the question is, “Was Abdallah really the father of Muhammad, or was Muhammad conceived some years after Abdallah’s death?”
SAYF: Is there an Islamic source dealing with this question?
ABUNA: There are many sources, one of which is the book “Finding the Truth in Judging the Companions”, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. He writes that Hamza was four years older than Muhammad, and that some explain this by saying that Amina’s pregnancy with Muhammad lasted four years. Others say this is related to the reason Gabriel told Muhammad many years later he could not pray at the grave of his mother. In his book, “The Scattered Pearls; Intertextual Exegesis”, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti suggests that the statement of Gabriel is perhaps because Muhammad was born several years after the death of his father.
SAYF: Are there miracles associated with Amina’s pregnancy and Muhammad’s birth in Islamic sources?
ABUNA: Yes indeed. In “The Book of the Major Classes”, historian Ibn Sa’d writes that during her pregnancy a light shone from Amina’s womb that was seen in the palaces of Busra in Syria.
SAYF: Why did he mention Busra in particular? Why not just Syria or the palaces there?
ABUNA: That is a good observation. Shaykh Khalil Abd al-Karim commented in his book, “The Preparation Period of the Honest One” that this was to show the relationship between Amina and the Christian monk Buhira in Busra who later declared that he saw in Muhammad the physical characteristics of a prophet.
SAYF: What is your comment on this alleged shining light?
ABUNA: They say this light shone both when she was pregnant, and when she gave birth to Muhammad. My question is, if this really happened why did Amina die an unbeliever, and why did she not even want to see Muhammad after his birth as we have explained in previous episodes. I believe this supposed light is just a fable with no basis in fact.
SAYF: In comparison, what does the Quran say about the birth of Jesus?
ABUNA: The Quran says that the method of the birth of Jesus surpassed the birth of all other people, including Muhammad. In sura 19:20 Mary stated that she was a virgin. In his explanation of his verse, Ibn Kathir noted that she did not have a husband. The Quran says in 4:171 that Jesus was conceived by the spirit of God.
SAYF: Does the Quran mention miracles that accompanied the birth of Jesus?
ABUNA: Yes, indeed. As Christians, we do not believe them, but they are mentioned in the Quran. Sura 19:24, 25 says that Jesus informed Mary as a newborn or perhaps even from the womb that God would provide food and water for her when she was hungry and thirsty. In 19:30, Jesus spoke from the cradle to the relatives of Mary. Did the Quran say anything like this about the birth of Muhammad? His name is not even mentioned in the suras of Mecca. There is no mention of who he is, or where he came from.
SAYF: Why does the Bible place such emphasis on the events that surrounded the birth of Jesus?
ABUNA: It was to show the glory of God, with the message of peace on earth. I Timothy 3:16 says that the great mystery of our faith is that God appeared in the flesh. Did anything like this happen in the life of Muhammad?
SAYF: Muslims often ask how God could possibly appear in physical form.
ABUNA: The Quran says in 7:143 that God appeared in physical form to the mountain. Three other suras repeat that God appeared in the burning bush that spoke to Moses. If Muslims believe that God appeared in a mountain or in a bush, why do they find it hard to believe that God appeared in a person? God is able to do all things, and surely a person is of higher value than a bush or a mountain.
SAYF: Have Muslim scholars written about the possibility of God appearing in human form?
ABUNA: Yes, indeed. In the book “Al-Milal wa Al-Nahal”, al-Shahristani writes, “The appearance of the divine in the body of a human is not something that is illogical.” Shaykh Abu al-Fadhil al-Qurashi in his book about the exigesis of Imam al-Baydawi writes, “They say that the glory of the divine appeared in the person of the Christ. We cannot say that those who believe this are infidels, because God is great.”
SAYF: In summary, what are the most important differences between the births of Muhammad and Jesus?
ABUNA: The most important thing is that Muhammad was only a person born from a human father and mother. The Quran says nothing about Muhammad having a miraculous birth. There were no angels announcing his birth, and he was not “the word of God” or born by “the spirit of God”, as the Quran describes Jesus. He himself said in Quran 18:110, “I am only a man like you are.” The Quran describes Jesus as the word of God, born to a virgin by the spirit of God. Which is better? Which one should you follow?
QUESTIONER: Why do you use the Quran to try to prove that Jesus is the son of God?
ABUNA: I do not believe in the Quran, but you do. If I used the Bible, you would say the Bible has been corrupted. Just as a court listens to the testimony of the accused and judges him based on his own words, we use the Quran to draw our conclusions.