ITV Documentary 'The Muslim Jesus' Draws Fiery Debate

A documentary which aired on ITV on Sunday explaining how Muslims portray Jesus has provoked fresh debate among religious groups.

|PIC1|The one-hour special, 'The Muslim Jesus', commissioned and narrated by Melvyn Bragg, used the Koran as its main source and featured various interviews with scholars and historians.

Producers said the documentary hoped to show that Islam honours Jesus as a prophet but not as the Son of God.

Elements of the programme that have enflamed debate referred to teachings that there was no manger and that the crucifixion never took place.

According to the Koran, the crucifixion was simply a divine illusion, and Jesus did not die on the cross, but was rescued by angels and taken to heaven.

In the Bible, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and crucified by the Romans. However, the Koran says this only appeared to happen.

Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf Hanson said: "In the Christian narrative the most central and fundamental point of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but Islam basically denies that. The Koran states that it was made to appear that Jesus was crucified as when the Romans captured Jesus God organised a rescue operation."

Andy Bannister from the London School of Theology says that Christians disagree: "One or two secular scholars have said that the crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most historically verifiable events of the first century. We have such good evidence for it.

"So there is absolutely no way the first Christians would have wanted to invent that story. The crucifixion was about the most embarrassingly and the most socially disreputable way you could die in the first century. So to claim that for your Lord and your Master is never going to happen."

Another major difference between Islam and Christianity is on the second coming of Jesus. Both Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus will return to defeat the "Antichrist", referred to by Muslims as "Dajal". The Bible uses more metaphorical language to describe the event, whereas Islamic tradition offers an exact physical description of exactly what will happen when Jesus comes back.

Islam believes the world will become filled with oppression and injustice and Christ will return in an eastern part of Damascus, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels.

He will pray behind the Muslim Imam regarded as being the Kalif (Muslim leader on Earth) and together they will take part in the battle against the Antichrist. According to Muslims, the moment Da Jar sees Jesus he will begin to dissolve like salt dissolves in water.

Prior to the programme being aired, narrator Melvyn Bragg, himself raised as an Anglican, said: "I hope it will provoke among Muslims the feeling they are included in television."

The documentary was directed and produced by Irshad Ashraf, who said he wanted to shift focus away from Islamic extremism and more towards the spiritual side of Islam.

Ashraf said: "Jesus is loved and respected by Muslims and he's one of the most important prophets in our religion."

An Attack on Christianity?

However, the theme of the documentary has not been welcomed by all, and many have been dismayed that an explanation of Islam should focus so heavily on Jesus.

Patrick Sookhdeo, an Anglican canon and spokesman for the Barnabas Fund, has accused broadcasters of double standards.

Sookhdeo, who converted to Christianity in 1969 from Islam, was suspicious of an alterior motive behind the documentary. He said: "How would the Muslim community respond if ITV made a programme challenging Muhammad as the last prophet?"

Cranmer, a religious blog site named by The Times newspaper as among the UK's 'Top 30 Most Influential Religion Blogs', spoke out against the documentary saying: "It is both blasphemous and offensive to Christians the length and breadth of the country, but as long as it's not blasphemous for Muslims, everything's alright."

The comments continue: "If one may broadcast a blasphemous documentary on the Qur'anic view of Jesus, then a fortiori ought one to be allowed to broadcast one on the biblical view of Mohammed, which would have to assert that he was not merely not the last prophet; he was not a prophet at all."

The documentary was also criticised for failing to promote a strong Christian viewpoint of the life of Jesus, with producers saying that although certain representatives from mainstream Anglican and Catholic organisations were invited to take part, they were unavailable at the time of recording.

There were, however, other Christian groups that welcomed the opportunity to debate and talk more about the matter. Philip Lewis, the Bishop of Bradford's aide on inter-faith matters, urged believers on both sides to take advantage of a "worthwhile contribution to understanding a complex issue".