Why can’t Muslims admit that Jesus "claimed" to be the Son of God? We know that Muslims, Jews, and many other people don’t believe that he actually is the Son of God but I can’t get past the intellectual obviousness of his claim. I don’t think anyone else in the world disputes this historic fact either. Please help me with this troubling belief of Muslims.
This is a really good question. Believe it or not, it is actually fairly easy to answer. Muslims believe that Jesus is a prophet. According to the Muslim tradition (but not necessarily according to the Q’uran), the prophets are for all practical purposes perfect. They do little if any wrong and, more importantly, their words are completely and absolutely reliable. Notice that your Muslim friend, when mentioning a "prophet" such as Muhammed or Moses or Jesus, will always say after the name "Peace be upon him." This is an acknowledgment that these prophets are holy in a way that the Bible would not accept.
For this reason, the Muslim believer is between a rock and a hard place. Either Jesus is a prophet and never spoke untruth or he is not. The Q’uran absolutely demands that he is a prophet. Therefore nothing he said can possibly be untrue. If the Muslim accepts that Jesus claimed to be THE Son of God, then this creates another impossibility. If Muslims are confident that their prophets are infallible, they are even more strongly confident that God has no consort–that God is one–that there is no one who is deity. They believe that God is invisible. The idea of the trinity is blasphemy and anathema to the Muslim. Jesus cannot possibly be the Son of God. If he is, then the Koran is flawed.
You can see, then, why Muslims absolutely have to deny that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. You make the point that it is a historical slam dunk that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and that no one besides a Muslim would be so foolish as to make the claim that he did not say this. I agree with you up to a point, but you should be aware that it is not just Muslims who say that Jesus did not claim to be THE Son of God. Many skeptics and non-believing scholars question whether the New Testament accounts are in fact completely reliable. I agree with you that it is simply not logical to believe that the gospel writers simply made up the story of Jesus claiming to be the Son of God. This cannot be made to align with what we know of Jesus, of the apostles, of the early church without doing serious damage to common sense. However, the fact is that the only hard copy historical record we have from the first century that Jesus said he was the Son of God is from the Bible itself. Some are so skeptical of Christianity that they take the illogical and perhaps irrational stand that Jesus did not claim deity.
So, the Muslims are not alone in this, but they take this stand for a very different reason than do the New Agers and skeptics.
John Oakes, PhD