Question and answer details
|I am a non-Muslim and interested in reading about your religion. I read that there are references in the Old and New Testaments that suggest that Jesus had brothers and sisters. We often find this quote "brothers of Jesus" and "sister of Jesus." What does Islam say about this? What is the use of the word 'brother' in reference to Jesus in both the Old and New Testaments?|
Thank you for your question and for wanting to know more about Islam. It is by knowing more about each other that people in the world can dispel those misconceptions which cause trouble.
It is a sad fact of life that we often fear that which we do not fully understand. Knowing more about Islam is also a sure way of seeing how beautiful it really is, and far different from the distorted images we see on television or in the press.
You are right that in the Christian Bible there are several references to Jesus (peace be upon him) having brothers. The Gospel written by Matthew, for example, says
"Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas?" (Matt 13:55, New International Version).
In Luke's Gospel we read,
"Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd." (Luke 8:19, New International Version)
In John's Gospel we find this:
"But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus' brothers said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." For even his own brothers did not believe in him." (John 7:2-5, New International Version)
Matthew's Gospel even mentions sisters:
"Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" (Matt 13:56, New International Version)
There are other references, too. You might want to look at them in Matthew 12:46, Mark 3:31, Acts 1:14 and Galatians 1:19.
Different Christian churches have different interpretations of these words, some saying that "brothers" actually means brothers, whilst others saying that "brothers" is a more general term, meaning cousins or close relatives.
Much of this confusion comes from the fact that the Bible has been translated time and time again into many different languages. There is no definitive text for anyone to refer to as the original, to check what was originally revealed. We will have to leave the meaning of "brothers" for the different Christian sects to work out between themselves.
As far as Islam is concerned, there is no mention of brothers, cousins, or anything else. If Jesus did have brothers and sisters, the Quran does not tell us so, so we can only assume that it is not an important matter for us to know. If Allah Almighty believed it to be important for our lives as Muslims, He would surely have revealed it to us.
It is important here for us to understand what Islam teaches about the Bible, so that what we are saying fits into a proper context. Christians and Jews can claim, "Look, it says quite clearly here in the Bible." So why don't Muslims believe what they say?
Muslims believe that Allah Almighty did reveal messages to former prophets. To Moses (peace be upon him) He revealed the Torah and to Jesus (peace be upon him) He revealed the Injeel.
Muslims also believe, though, that over time, both of these revealed books became distorted because of translation or because of deliberate intent. See, for example, the confusion over the word "brothers" which results from translating words in different ways. We read in the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God, what means:
[Some of the Jews pervert words from their meanings.] (An-Nisaa' 4:46)
[So woe to those who wrote the Book with their hands, and then say: 'This is from Allah,' that they may sell it for a little price. So woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for their earnings.] (Al-Baqarah 2:79)
Muslims believe that the Quran is the final revelation of Allah Almighty to mankind. In it He corrects things that were wrong in the past books, or He confirms things that were true in them. For example, the Quran confirms what the Bible says about Mary being a Virgin:
[She (Mary) said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me.' He (God) said: 'So (it will be) for God creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: 'Be!'- and it is.] (Aal `Imran 3:47)
In other words, Muslims believe that the only certainty we can ever have about revelation is what is written down clearly in the Quran, which has remained in the same original Arabic in which it was first revealed fourteen hundred years ago. So, when the Quran confirms something in the Christian and Jewish scriptures, we accept them to be correct in that matter.
When it rejects them, we believe they are wrong, and when it says nothing about it, then we don't know whether it is right or wrong. Since the Quran has nothing to say about Jesus having brothers and sisters, then, we simply don't know.
What we do know is very clear: that Jesus had a miraculous birth (3:47); that he was born of a virgin mother (19:16-21) and that he spoke in the cradle (19:29-30): that he performed miracles (5:110); and that he did not die on the cross and was not raised back to life after three days (4:157).
The Quran, then, is Allah's final revelation to mankind. It was revealed over 23 years to a simple man called Muhammad (peace be upon him), who could neither read nor write. Muslims believe that Allah's revelations to former prophets were intended for a particular people at a particular time in their history. When it was no longer relevant to them, the revelation became distorted and out of date.
The Quran, however, according to Islam, is for all people and for all time. This is why Allah Almighty has not allowed it to be corrupted in any way, either by translation or by deliberate intent.
I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.