Why the Virgin Birth Isn’t Enough

Mary and Jesus in Persian Shi'a Miniature

As the holiday season approaches, fringe Muslims like Anjem Choudary are preparing their next anti-Christmas campaigns in the UK.  Meanwhile his more “moderate” coreligionists in Saudi Arabia plan to crack down mercilessly on any foreigners caught celebrating this illegal holiday in the land where Islam was born.  While criticism of commercialism or pagan ties would be understandable, this outright hostility to Advent in general is difficult to explain outside of Islam’s built-in disdain for the religion that preceded it.  After all, when trying to depict Islam in more Christian-friendly terms, Muslim apologists will often point out how they revere Jesus as the Messiah, born of the virgin Mary (the only female mentioned in the Qur’an).

This small attempt at interfaith unity is really a stretch if one is aware that these are about the only two points of similarity between the Bible and the Qur’an on the life of Christ.  Muhammad was more influenced by non-canonical infancy gospels for Christ’s miracles, and rejected the crucifixion, death, and resurrection altogether, although he provided no alternative explanation.  The typical Muslim defense goes that those stories had already been told and Muhammad was presenting new material.  This excuse is rather flimsy for a number of reasons: first, the Qur’an copies at length from other sources and retells a number of Bible stories, including most of the life of Moses; second, considering Muslims have to believe the Gospels are heavily corrupted, even at the time of Muhammad, if there was ever a time to present the real story it was in the Qur’an, since there won’t exactly be another prophet after him to make corrections.

The presence of the virgin birth in the Qur’an, however, is more of a problem for Muslims because it raises more questions than it answers.  In Christianity, the virgin birth serves a theological purpose, and the particular theology it supports is the Incarnation, which Islam considers the greatest sin, shirk, or “equating partners with God.”   In Christianity, the virgin birth has a self-explanatory imperative, demonstrating in one complete theological package how God entered the world and how Jesus Christ inherited no sinful nature while still being fully human.  The meaning in Islam is, on the other hand, elusive and theologically unnecessary.  Like so many founders of other religions, Muhammad had a magical view of miracles, so that the miracles he records serve no purpose other than to shock and awe like cheap card tricks, but have no underlying meaning or purpose behind them. The virgin birth in this light is as meaningless and random as the Qur’anic miracle of Christ turning clay into pigeons (Surahs 3:49, 5:110).

The bigger question that this demands is why is it even important for any believers to know that Christ was born of a virgin?  With all the events, miracles, and teachings of Christ omitted from the Qur’an, why is it absolutely necessary for mankind to know about this particular incident that occurred before he was even born?  This is indicative of the fundamental problem with Islam, that it merely requires that one know information about the religion.  This salvation based on knowledge is an unforgiving sword that cuts both ways, since believing something incorrect can be damning.  For instance, just believing that Jesus was crucified is displeasing to Muhammad’s god, even if one doesn’t believe that Jesus is God Incarnate.  But if knowing about God (or apparently just his messengers) were the key to salvation, then man would either have to know everything about God and his messengers (which is impossible), or everything man knows about God and his messengers would have to be accurate (which is improbable if not impossible).  From this perspective, mankind would probably be better off the less they knew about God.

Therefore, even if Muslims cite the virgin birth to argue that they consider Christianity and Islam to be one and the same, it only shows the extent to which they’ve failed to understand the meaning of Christianity.  By not simply rejecting the crucifixion, but also making mere belief in it a determination of apostasy, Islam has positioned itself as truly anti-Christian.  Believing in Christ’s death is obviously necessary for belief in his resurrection, which is the only piece of information one must know about God in order to have salvation in Christianity.  It doesn’t matter if a Christian knows that Christ walked on water, healed the sick, turned water to wine, or cast out demons.  Dare I say, one doesn’t actually even have to believe in these miracles so long as one simply believes that Christ died for their sins.  But on the other hand, Osama bin Laden and Ayatollah Khomeini knew far more about Islam than I ever would in my lifetime, if knowing the right things about God were the deciding factor in getting into heaven, then I wouldn’t stand a chance compared to them.  Finally, perhaps the most tragic thing about the Muslim rejection of the crucifixion is that it leaves them with no empirical evidence for the resurrection.  In the opposite way that Islam retains the event of the virgin birth while rejecting its underlying doctrinal truth, Muslims hold onto belief in the resurrection while having no event to base it on.  Christians have hope of life after death by believing in a man who returned from the dead, but the Muslim’s faith in the resurrection is hopeless.

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