I have a question I hope you will kindly answer. I need an expert Bible opinion about the similarity of this Quranic passage that deals with the birth story of Jesus to that account we find in Luke. Thanks for taking my question seriously.
Editor’s note: The passage from Surah 19 of the Qu’ran is a rather long one. It is below the answer.
Thank you for this interesting question. There are clear parallels between the New Testament description of the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist and the Quranic description of the same events. The description is sufficiently similar that I assume Muhammad got the story either from reading the New Testament, or more likely, from others telling him a corrupted version of the story. The similarities, as I see them are as follows:
1. Both passages relate that the birth of John the Baptist was accompanied by a miraculous shutting of the mouth of his father Zechariah.
2. Both agree that John’s mother Elizabeth was older and had been barren for many years.
3. Both have Zechariah going into the temple and having a vision while in there.
4. Both have Mary becoming pregnant by a miracle–both support the virgin birth.
5. Both have an angel appearing to Mary.
More parallels can be mentioned, but this is the big picture. There are significant and unresolvable differences between the accounts as well.
1. The Quran has the length of time Zechariah was mute to be only three nights, while the biblical account has the muteness lasting for the full pregnancy of Elizabeth. There is no way to make these two accounts agree.
2. The Quran is quite specific in saying that the child Jesus is NOT the son of God, while, of course, the New Testament scripture is quite certain that Jesus is God–that he is the only begotten Son of God.
My response is different for the two "contradictions." In the first case, it is quite obvious that Muhammad, or whoever wrote Surah 19 got it wrong. It is apparent that the New Testament writers, or in this case Luke, is going to get it right. Luke interviewed eye witnesses to the birth of Jesus and to the miraculous events surrounding it. It is quite impossible that he would have gotten this detail wrong. People’s memory of such events is not likely to mistake three days for nine months of muteness, even in the thirty years between the events and Luke’s recording of them. Remember that Luke wrote at a time when many eye-witnesses to the events in his book were still alive. My explanation is that Muhammad or whoever else wrote this surah got his facts wrong. It is not reasonable to think that someone writing an account of this story approximately six hundred years later would get it right but that someone who knew those who were there when it happened would get it wrong. So, I conclude that there is a clear and obvious mistake in the Quran.
About the second difference, There is obviously no way to reconcile the Quran which is quite specific that God does not have a son and the Bible which declares that Jesus is the Messiah–the Son of God. In this case, because it is a matter of theology and interpretation, not a matter of historical fact, I suppose it is not "obvious" which is correct–the Quran or the Bible. I believe it comes down to which one believes is inspired by God. Given that the Koran obviously is mistaken about the length of time that Zechariah was mute, this fact alone makes one logically question the reliability of the claim which follows immediately afterward–that Jesus is not God’s son. In fact, it is fairly clear that whoever wrote Surah 19 put this statement there specifically to refute what was then a well-known claim of Christianity.
You will have to decide for yourself which scripture to take as authoritative on the sonship of Jesus, but when it comes to the length of the muteness of Zechariah, you should assume that the New Testament version is the correct one.
Surah 19. Maryam (Mary) In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 1. Kaf. Ha. Ya. ‘Ain. Sad. 2. (This is) a recital of the Mercy of thy Lord to His servant Zakariya. 3. Behold! he cried to his Lord in secret, 4. Praying: "O my Lord! infirm indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head doth glisten with grey: but never am I unblest, O my Lord, in my prayer to Thee! 5. "Now I fear (what) my relatives (and colleagues) (will do) after me: but my wife is barren: so give me an heir as from Thyself,- 6. "(One that) will (truly) represent me, and represent the posterity of Jacob; and make him, O my Lord! one with whom Thou art well-pleased!" 7. (His prayer was answered): "O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before." 8. He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?" 9. He said: "So (it will be) thy Lord saith, ‘that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!’" 10. (Zakariya) said: "O my Lord! give me a Sign." "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights, although thou art not dumb." 11. So Zakariya came out to his people from him chamber: He told them by signs to celebrate Allah.s praises in the morning and in the evening. 12. (To his son came the command): "O Yahya! take hold of the Book with might": and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth, 13. And piety (for all creatures) as from Us, and purity: He was devout, 14. And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious. 15. So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)! 16. Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. 17. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. 18. She said: "I seek refuge from thee to ((Allah)) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah." 19. He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son. 20. She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" 21. He said: "So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, ‘that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’:It is a matter (so) decreed." 22. So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. 23. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!" 24. But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; 25. "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. 26. "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being’" 27. At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought! 28. "O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!" 29. But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" 30. He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah. He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; 31. "And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; 32. "(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; 33. "So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! 34. Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. 35. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, "Be", and it is. 36. Verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve ye: this is a Way that is straight. 37. But the sects differ among themselves: and woe to the unbelievers because of the (coming) Judgment of a Momentous Day!