Elise Bellin, MLIS is the IRC Librarian and this book review is part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims by Mustafa Akyol

by Mustafa Akyol, © 2017 ISBN: 9781250088697

Many Western non-Muslims, having never been exposed to the teachings of the Quran or Muslim beliefs, will be surprised to note that Jesus is a beloved and important prophet in Islam and that his mother Mary comprises a larger section in the Quran than in the Bible, with an entire chapter dedicated to her.

In The Islamic Jesus, Akyol, a Turkish journalist and contributing opinion writer for the International New York Times, examines this connection between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, looking at the similarities and differences between the major religions’ understanding of this important individual. Taking a studious historical approach to understanding the connection between the three Abrahamic faiths, Akyol explains how “Jewish Christianity,” the beliefs of the original followers of Jesus, that would later become Christianity was first led by Jesus’s brother, James.

This is according to Christian scholarship, although most people are more familiar with later groups led by the apostle Paul. The Christianity understood by James resonates in many ways with the Islamic view of Jesus. Akyol’s extensive bibliography and notes including both canonical and non-canonical/gnostic sources, draws a clear parallel between the two understandings.

About two-thirds through the book, we leave the historical analysis of who Jesus was to the various religions and peoples that claimed him and head into the modern age and how it reflects and shapes today’s world. He leaves us with a final chapter entitled “What Jesus Can Teach Muslims Today,” a chapter that looks at both Christianity and Islam and sees where both can learn from Jesus’ example, even comparing the first-century Pharisees and 21st-century fundamentalists of both faiths in regard to their insistence on the letter of the law and the “soulless legalism” members of both faiths seem intent on following rather than Jesus’ example of morality, ethics and social justice.

Akyol argues that we could all learn a thing or two from who Jesus was and what he taught in an age where we all seem to have forgotten that sometimes the spirit of the law, that of caring for our fellow human beings and doing what is compassionate, is exactly what Jesus would have done.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.