The Quran on Jesus Birth

Birth of Jesus in Quran

Question: In the Holy Quran 4:171 states: “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him.”

I am confused as to the meaning of this verse. The first part makes sense that Jesus (peace be upon him) was only a messenger of Allah. The second part is the hard part, and His Word which he conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. Is this saying that he was a messenger, the conveyer of the Gospel (word conveyed unto Mary) and a spirit from Allah (spirit from Him)?

If this is so, are we all spirits from Allah in the same sense, or was Jesus different besides in his creation? I don’t understand this verse.

Bismillah wal-Hamdulillah.

The verse says in Arabic:

“al-maseehu ibnu maryam           “The Messiah, son of Mary
rasul-Allahi                                        is the Messenger of Allah
wa kalimatuhu                                  and His Word.
Alqaha ilaa maryama                     which He bestowed/conveyed on Mary
wa Rooh-hunn minhu”                    and a Spirit proceeding from Him.”

Kalimatuhu” means Jesus is “Kalima-tullah” (Word of God).

Let us explore its meaning.

(1) Imam al-Ghazali writes that in the birth of any child two factors are involved:

  • the human reproductive cells, and
  • Allah’s saying ‘Kun‘ to it. In Arabic, ‘Kun‘ signifies the command to “Be” after which the child comes into existence.

Since in the case of Jesus the first factor is absent, he has been attributed to the second factor alone – Allah’s saying ‘Kun.’ Thus, Jesus was born without the normal agency of a father and by Allah’s saying ‘Kun’ alone.

(2) Some scholars say ‘Kalima-tullah‘ means ‘Bishara-tullah‘ (‘Word of God’ means ‘Glad Tidings of God’), meaning that Jesus was a Glad Tiding of God sent by Allah to Mary as mentioned in Sura Maryam.

(3) Some say it means “Aaya-tullah” meaning Jesus was a Sign of God.

As for “Rooh-hunn minhu,” two questions arise over here:

What is the meaning of Jesus being a “Ruh” (Spirit) proceeding from Him?

Why has the “Ruh” been attributed to Him?

Let us explore each one of them separately.

(1) Some scholars of tafseer have said that when the purity of something is to be emphasized, the Arabic word “Ruh” is applied to it.

Since Jesus was born without the agency of male sperm, Allah created him by just saying ‘Kun‘ (‘Be’), therefore, Jesus was pure and clean. That is the reason, according to some scholars, why he has been called “Ruh”

The second question they answer by saying that the “Ruh” has been attributed to Allah as a symbol of respect, dignity, and honor, much like the mosques are called masajid-ullah (mosques of Allah), or the Ka’ba is called ‘Bayt-ullah‘ (House of Allah) or an obedient slave is called ‘Abd-ullah‘ (slave of Allah).

(2) Some scholars say that Jesus was called a “Ruh” (spirit) because the reason for sending him was to give life to the dead souls of people just like the soul gives life to the body.

(3) Some say that “Ruh” means “to blow” because the soul of Jesus was blown into Maryam by Gabriel as a miracle.

“Spirit proceeding from Him” does not mean that Jesus is the Logos which became human flesh as held in Christian mythology. There is no room to interpret this part of the verse to mean that Jesus was part of Allah in some way that separated from Him and came down on earth to dwell with us or that he is the human personification of God’s attribute of speech!

As Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, the verse does not mean that Jesus is the word ‘Kun‘ himself, rather Jesus was created by the word ‘Kun.’

Jesus was created by the Word of God, but he was not the Word himself.

And Allah knows best.

Feature Image Credit: Flickr