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Christmas and the Qur’an

Christmas and the Qur’an


by Karl-Josef Kuschel

translated by Simon Pare



Published: October 2020
Pages: 250
ISBN: 9781909942387

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The familiar and heart-warming story of Christmas is one of hope, encapsulated by the birth of the infant Jesus. It is also a story, which unites two faiths, which have so often been at odds with one another. The accounts of the Nativity given by the Evangelists Luke and Matthew find their parallels in Surahs 3 and 19 of the Qur’an, which take up the Annunciation to Mary, the Incarnation from the Holy Spirit and the Nativity. Christmas and the Qur’an is a sensitive and precise analysis of the Christmas story as it appears both in the Gospels and the Qur’an and shows startling similarities as well as significant differences.Exploring how Christians and Muslims read these scriptures, Kuschel reveals an intertwining legacy that serves as a base for greater understanding.

Karl-Josef Kuschel is Professor Emeritus of Catholic Theology at the University of Tübingen, Germany. He taught the theology of culture and inter-religious dialogue and was the deputy director of Institute of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Studies. He was a member of the advisory board of Theology and Literature (London). From 1995 to 2009 he was vice president of the Stiftung Weltethos, working closely with his doctoral supervisor and founding president of Weltethos Hans Küng.


Foreword to the English edition



1. The primary sources

God’s peace on Earth: the story according to Luke

A child of the Holy Spirit: the story according to Matthew

2. How the birth stories differ

Christmas Oratorios: Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach Different settings

Different chronology

The differing roles of John the Baptist

Differing versions of the birth of Jesus

3. The primary message

Nothing is impossible for God

Disruption: the power of the spirit of God

A signal to Israel and the Gentiles

4. No world peace without world justice

A Messiah in the manger

What sets Jesus apart from Buddha and Lao-tzu

Roman domination seen from Bethlehem

Jerusalem’s hegemony from the perspective of  the babe in the manger


1. How Muslims read the New Testament

Muslims criticise Christian contradictions 59 Contra the missionary propagandists

2. The origins of the Prophet

The first biography of the Prophet

Miraculous signs during the conception and pregnancy

Miraculous signs during and after the birth

Muhammad – a historic event

Muslim ‘Christmas’


1. The ‘John’ sura in Mecca: 19:2–15

The primary message of the Qur’an

John’s miraculous birth

Comparing John in Luke’s Gospel and the Qur’an

3. The ‘case of John’ – a new interpretation in Medina: Sura 3 Conflict with the Jews in Medina

Comparing the ‘John’ suras

3. Comparing John in the New Testament and the Qur’an

Not a ‘forerunner’ but a parallel figure to Jesus

A demonstration of the power of the Creator


1. Mary as the mother of Jesus: Sura 19

The spirit of God appears to Mary

Comparing the birth stories in Luke and the Qur’an

Mary’s withdrawal – making herself available for God

Spiritual, rather than sexual, conception

Palm-tree and stream: Mary in Egypt?

Re-enacting the fate of Hagar

2. Mary’s birth and childhood: Sura 3

Mary as a means of criticising the Jews

Early Christian parallels

Mary’s election by God

Spiritual conception and virgin birth

The only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an

3. The cult of Mary in Islam

Reflecting on Mary with Muslims

The legendary House of Mary at Ephesus

A place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims

Benedict XVI’s visit to the House of Mary in 2006

How modern Muslim women see Mary


1. The birth of Jesus as a ‘sign of God’: Mecca, Sura 19

Conceived by God’s creative power

Consoling words from the new-born baby to its mother

What is meant by Jesus being ‘a servant of God’?

Not ‘domineering or graceless’

It would not befit God to have a child

An heir to the great Prophets

2. Controversy about Jesus: Medina, Sura 3

What the angels tell Mary about Jesus

How the Qur’an interprets Jesus’ miracles

A short summary of the Qur’an’s representation of Jesus

3. Comparing the birth stories

What the New Testament and the Qur’an have in common

Where the New Testament and the Qur’an differ


1. A common word

The key passage in the Qur’an: Sura 3:64

A model of understanding

2. The Document of the 138

Conclusions for Muslims and Christians

Suspicions about the document

Critical questions

Consensus about Jesus?

3. Christians and Islam’s Holy Night

Common tasks for the future

The Night of Decree

Exchanging messages of peace






Foreword to the English edition

This book was written in a spirit of dialogue. The author is a Christian theologian who has spent many years trying to acquire a better understanding of Islam, mainly by study- ing the Qur’an in depth and comparing it to the Bible to prepare the ground for dialogue between Christians and Muslims. This book is the fruit of my detailed consideration of how the Bible and the Qur’an relate to each other, and it is underpinned by my conviction that our Holy Scriptures contain within themselves the foundations for a discussion of core articles of faith.

Dialogue does not mean equivalence, nor does it mean denying or playing down the fact that there are enduring differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. However, in a positive sense, dialogue means doing every- thing we can to understand each other better, by studying the relevant texts and meeting people. and understanding each other better means analysing, as far as is appropriate, what we have in common and what divides us so that we may learn to respect each other’s otherness. The Qur’an does not incite Jews, Christians and Muslims to nurture contempt or even hostility towards each other, but rather to ‘be foremost in good works’ (Sura 5:48).2 In writing this book I have taken those words very seriously.

as a result of my long studies and many encounters with Muslims I too have come to the conclusion that Christians and Muslims ‘should go beyond tolerance, accepting differences, while remaining aware of commonalities and thanking God for them,’ to quote from a joint declaration of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (Vatican) and the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations organisation (Tehran) in 2008.

My advocacy for serious dialogue between Christians and Muslims goes back a good twenty-five years to my discovery of the ‘abrahamic’ root from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sprung. all three religions revere Abraham as the father of their faith, from whom they learned the central lesson for humankind before God – proven trust. The Hebrew Bible describes Abraham as a blessing for ‘all the families of the earth’ (Gen 12:2–3); in the New Testament, Abraham is ‘the father of us all […] in the presence of Him whom he believed – God’ (Romans 4:16–17); according to the Qur’an, Abraham is a ‘leader of people’ (Sura 2:124). However, Jews, Christians and Muslims do not believe ‘in Abraham’ but in the god to whom he pays tribute as the creator, protector and judge of humankind. Hence, all three Holy Books call Abraham the ‘friend of God’: the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 41:8), the New Testament Book of James (James 2:23) and Sura 4:125 in the Qur’an.

My discovery of this Abrahamic root had significant consequences for my subsequent work, and I explored it in my two previous books. The first was Abraham: Sign of Hope for Jews, Christians and Muslims3 and the second is titled Die Bibel im Koran. Grundlagen für das interreligiöse Gespräch (The Bible in the Qur’an. Foundations for Interreligious Dialogue, 2017).4 I think that the Holy Scriptures themselves provide an opportunity for Jews, Christians and Muslims no longer to ostracise one another as ‘infidels’, ‘unredeemed’, ‘out-dated’ or ‘deficient’ (as has so often been the case throughout history), but instead to show mutual regard for one another as ‘children of Abraham’, all pursuing their own paths before God and towards God. Jews, Christians and Muslims share a common heritage that sets them apart from other religions – for instance, asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. This includes the stories of Adam and the Creation, Noah and his rescue from the Great Flood, Moses and his struggle against a heathen despot, Joseph and his tumultuous fate under God’s wing, and David, to whom God gave his own book, the Psalms (to name but a few examples). This is not a value judgment: it merely illustrates that Jews, Christians and Muslims have a duty to acknowledge their shared responsibility before God as ‘children of Abraham’ for the common good of humankind. Reading the Bible and the Qur’an alongside each other is an important act of faith in an age of division like ours, when ‘religion’ is often misused in order to divide people and stoke distrust and hatred. other studies have laid the groundwork. I can think of a group of French Christian and Muslim researchers, whose first publication, in 1987, was Ces Écritures qui nous questionnent: La Bible et le Coran (The Challenge of the Scriptures. The Bible and the Qur’an, New York 1989). I can also think of major studies by the Canadian Christian theologian Brian Arthur Brown, including Noah’s Other Son. Bridging the Gap between the Bible and the Qur’an (New York/London 2007) and Three Testaments. Torah, Gospel and Quran (New York/ Toronto/Plymouth UK 2012). I’m also thinking of an exciting undertaking by the British Christian scholar of Islam Colin Chapman called The Bible Through Muslim Eyes and a Christian Response (Cambridge 2008), which was written in the hope that ‘one day, a Muslim in Great Britain will write a book with a similar title, “The Qur’an Through Christian Eyes and a Muslim Response”’. There is also a book published in response to the pioneering, even sensational, A Common Word, a text signed by 138 Muslim scholars in 2007. It’s called A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor by Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin Muhammad and Melissa Yarrington (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK 2010), but more on that in the sixth and final chapter of this book. I should also mention the subsequent project by the US Christian theologian Barbara J. Hampton, Reading Scripture Together. A Comparative Qur’an and Bible Study Guide (2014). Last but not least, there are also many small initiatives in German cities. Erlangen deserves a special mention, for young people there have organised a ‘Café Abraham’, creating a forum for Jews, Christians and Muslims to meet, help each other and talk.

another thing that is especially important for Christians is that they also share with Muslims the story of John, whom the Qur’an calls a prophet (Sura 3:39) and the New Testament, the ‘Baptist’ (Matt. 3:1–8), Jesus, who is venerated among Muslims as ‘a messenger’ (Sura 5:75) and by Christians as the ‘Son of God’ (Luke 1:32), and Mary, who is a particularly blessed woman for Christians and Muslims alike (Luke 1:30) and ‘chosen’ by God (Sura 3:42). Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, which explains the high regard in which devout Muslims hold Mary to this day. This book will discuss these matters in detail. Such ‘overlaps’ between the two traditions bind Christians and Muslims together in a special religious community, even though the Qur’an explicitly does not acknowledge an entirely new revelation, unprecedented in religious history, which expunges all prior revelations. Rather, the Qur’an seeks to restore the ancient religion that God had previously entrusted to Jews and Christians: the ‘religion of Abraham’ (Sura 2:130–135). The Qur’an therefore appeals to Muslims:

Say, ‘We believe in God and in what was sent down

to us

and in what was sent down to Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and the tribes,

and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and all the prophets by their Lord.
We make no distinction between any of them, and we devote ourselves to Him.’ (Sura 2:136)

What is of particular significance to Christians is that the Qur’an attaches great importance – indeed, a profound theological interpretation – to the birth of Jesus. Both Sura 19:16–35 and Sura 3:45–59 report God’s annunciation to Mary, the birth of her son and his deeds in such a manner that Jesus becomes a ‘sign to all people’ and a sign of God’s ‘blessing’ (Sura 19:21). Furthermore, Sura 19:32 explicitly states that Jesus is ‘not domineering’ but a man of ‘peace’. ‘Peace was on me,’ the Qur’an quotes Jesus as saying, ‘the day I was born and will be on the day I die, and the day I am raised to life again’ (Sura 19:33).

The birth of Jesus is also recounted in two books in the Christian Bible: the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. I have tried to establish a conversation between these two traditions – the Qur’an and the New Testament – in my book. In doing so, I have analysed both the differences and the similarities between them, and demonstrated that the story of the birth of Jesus is more suitable than virtually any other for comparing the Holy Scriptures and prompting exchanges across religious boundaries to bring Christians and Muslims together in a spirit of dialogue. My book will provide some answers as to why this is the case.

All too often in the past, communities have lived along- side each other in mutual indifference. There has been too much ignorance on all sides, often combined with arrogance regarding one’s own religion’s supposed superiority over all others. It is high time, however, to make the early years of the third millennium a period of exchange between religions, the beginning of a new culture of inter- religious communication. There are too few peaceful initiatives, rather than too many, in our turbulent world, which is regularly shaken by acts of violence. How it would build confidence between believers around the world if Christians and Muslims were to take the message of peace seriously! The feast of Christmas is the ideal occa- sion for this, as Christians and Muslims could exchange wishes of peace: ‘Peace be with you and yours and on your house and family.’ This would foster trust and peace- ful coexistence in neighbourhoods, towns and communi- ties where Christians and Muslims live together. It would encourage a culture of attentiveness to the presence of others as an alternative to the barbarism of mistrust and exclusion. Peace could reign in the name of Him who was announced to Mary in the following words: ‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and the next, who will be one of those brought near to God’ (Sura 3:45). Christianity and Islam influence the behaviour of over two billion people on this planet. If they cannot come to terms, then the world as a whole will never live in peace.

I am extremely happy to be able to share my thoughts with English-speaking readers in Simon Pare’s translation, which joins Italian and Persian editions of the book. I would like to thank him for his patient, painstaking and committed work. I hope that this book will encourage people to strive even harder to promote dialogue.

Tübingen, August 2017

Karl-Josef Kuschel


‘This is a highly accessible book written in the spirit of the author’s ‘Abrahamic ecumenism’ to encourage Christians and Muslims to carefully read biblical and qur’anic passages for a better appreciation of each other’s faiths.’

— Prof. Mona Siddiqui, University of Edinburgh

‘This is a most interesting and informative book; it is equally valuable for scholars and a wider readership. […] Professor Kuschel has highlighted very clearly the joint heritage of Christianity and Islam at a time when mutual understanding between these two religious traditions is so vital.’

— Prof. Carole Hillenbrand, University of St Andrews

‘The depiction of Jesus and indeed of Mary in the Qur’an is a subject of great importance for a more intelligent dialogue between Islam and the Christian tradition. Too many people know little or nothing about it, and it is a pleasure to welcome the English translation of this book from a seasoned and creative scholar.’

— Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury