The Names of Christ and their significance in the Quran

Among Muslims there is a deep significance attached to names. It is quite inadmissible for an orthodox Muslim to use any other term which refers to Jesus Christ other than those used in the Quran. We give the names in order of their importance and the frequency of their usage


‘Isa (Jesus)

This name is the most commonly used among Muslims and is generally used with the prefix Nabi (prophet) and often with the addition “Son of Mary.” It is interesting to note that among the 25 places in the Quran where ‘Isa is used in sixteen of them He is called the ‘son of Mary‘ and in five passages His name is coupled with Moses (Musa).  We only provide a number of examples:

>”We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. (Al-Baqarrah 2:87)

> “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (Al-Imran 3:45).

> “Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him” (An-Nisa 4:171).

> “Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary” (Al Maidah 5:78).

> “Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute” (Maryam 19:34)

It is interesting to note that among the 25 places in the Quran where ‘Isa is used in sixteen of them He is called the ‘son of Mary‘ and in five passages His name is coupled with Moses (Musa).


Why did Muhammad use the term ‘Isa?

The question why Muhammad used the word Isa instead of Yeshua is more easily asked than answered. It is a stumbling-block to every Muslim convert who reads the Arabic Scriptures. Did this name exist among the Arabs before Muhammad’s time during the Days of Ignorance?” Answers given are:

a) That there is no particular significance in the form of the word, and that Muhammad invented it as a rhyming couplet to the name of Moses (Musa). In the same way he changed the name of Goliath to Jalut and that of Saul to Talut; the sons Adam are called Habil and Kabil (Cain and Abel); and the fanciful names of Harut and Marut are the names of angels who taught men sorcery. The suggestion was then, that it was a matter of rhythm however, the difficulty is that only in 5 cases is the name ‘Isa joined to that of Musa in the Quranic text.

b)  A second explanation given by some Arabic lexicographers is that the word has been deliberately formed by inverting the order of the letters in the Hebrew word Yeshua but this only can be done at unsatisfactory usage of the laws of etymology.

c) Beidhawi in his commentary (Volume 1 page 96) asserts that ‘Isa is the Arabic form of the Hebrew Yeshua and goes on to say that it comes from a root Al-’Ayos, which signifies white mingled with red.

d) Dr. Otto Pautz suggests ‘Isa corresponds with the Hebrew Esau, the name of the brother of Jacob (Israel) because his descendents all through their history stood hostile to the Israelites. Later Jews caricatured the name of Jesus by making it Esau and Muhammad took this form from the Jews at Medina, without being conscious of the sinister import connected with the name.


EL Masih – The Messiah/Christ

El Masih is sometimes joined to that of Jesus (‘Isa) and sometimes used by itself. It occurs in the Quran eight times in the following passages: Apart from 3:45 and 4:171 which are mentioned above we list the remaining six.

> “That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah” (An-Nisa 4:157)

> “Christ disdaineth nor to serve and worship Allah, nor do the angels, those nearest (to Allah): those who disdain His worship and are arrogant,” (An-Nisa 4:172).

> “In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all everyone that is on the earth? (Al-Maidah 5:17)

> “They do blaspheme who say: “Allah is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ: “O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord” (Al-Maidah 5:72).

> “Christ the son of Mary was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food”  (Al-Maidah 5:75).

> “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (At-Taubah 9:30)


Why did Muhammad use the term El Masih?

This term is evidently taken from the Hebrew and has the significance of the anointed, the Muslims explain it differently. They bring everything back to Arabic roots connecting it with the word Sah (to wander or go on pilgrimage), and say it is the intensive form of that root, and Jesus was the leader of wanderers being homeless. C.H.A Field relates that when entering a Pathan village he was asked, “Is this verse in the Injil? > ‘The Son of Mary had nowhere to lay his head’?”

It is probable that both the above names ‘Isa and El- Masih were learned from the lips of Christians rather than from the Jews, and we are confirmed in this belief by the use of the third name in the Quran, namely the Word of God.


Kalimet Allah (The Word of God)

This is used in the Quran twice, clearly in direct reference to Christ. It does occur in other passages but not as one of the names of the Messiah.

> “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (Al-Imran 3:45).

> “Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him” (An-Nisa 4:171).

In these two passages Jesus Christ is clearly referred to as the Word of God and as a Word from God; Arabic usage clearly distinguishes between the Word of God in the sense of Holy Writ, which is always referred to as Kalaam Allah, and the Word of God as His Messenger, which is Kalimet Allah. There are, however, only these two passages in which this New Testament title is given to our Saviour.

The title given to Moses is Kalim Allah, and the common explanation is that Moses was the mouth-piece of God in the sense that God spoke to him, and made him His equal confidant; but Jesus is the Kalimet Allah, or the Word of God, because He communicates God’s word, God’s will to men. The commentator Beidhawi, comments: “His illustriousness (honour) in this world is the gift of prophecy, and in the world to come, the power of intercession; and ‘whose place is nigh to God’ signifies His high position in Paradise, or to the fact that He was raised up to heaven and enjoys the companionship of the angels.


Ruh Allah (Spirit of God), or more correctly (Spirit from God)

This title is used in the Quran once concerning Jesus Christ (Surah 4:171 above), but the commentators are not agreed as to its real significance, and whether it is a name that can be applied to Jesus Christ or whether the passage simply signifies that Jesus, with all other mortals, was partaker of the creative Spirit of God.

>”And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples” (Al-Anbiyah 21:91)

Mary is referred to in this statement. Beidhawi minimises the significance of the expression when he says: “We made her and her Son a sign unto the worlds; that is, the story of their life or their condition, for whosoever thinks of their condition is convinced of the perfection of power in God Most High, who is the Creator.”


The Prophet and Apostle

In addition to these four names which are specially applied to Jesus Christ in the Quran He is also know by the common titles of Nabi (prophet) and Rasul (apostle).

> (Jesus speaks from the cradle),” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; “And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live” (Maryam 19:30, 31)

> “Then, in their wake, We followed them up with (others of) Our messengers: We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy” (Al-Hadid 57:27)

The number of prophets and apostles sent by God, according to Muslim teaching, amounts to 124,000 others say 240,000 and others 100,000. These statements show that the words prophet and apostle, in Muslim usage have not the same dignity, which we infer from their usage in the Old and New Testaments. Three hundred thirteen are said to have been apostles who came on a special mission. A prophet, according to Muslim teaching is a man inspired by God, but not sent with a special dispensation or book; while an apostle is one who comes either with a special dispensation or to whom a special book has been revealed. All apostles are prophets but not all prophets are apostles. Jesus was both. According to the commentators this is the definition of a prophet: “A prophet must be a male person, free, not a slave, of the sons of Adam; of sound mind and without bodily defect or disease, to whom has been revealed a revelation which he himself accepts; nor must he come with a message before he is of age.

The qualifications of a prophet are four:

1. Faithfulness – That is, during his work as a prophet he is kept from the commission of any outward sinful act. The sinless-ness of all the prophets has become a favourite dogma of Islam in spite of the Quran’s testimony regarding the sins of many of the prophets, including Muhammad himself.

2. Truthfulness – They speak the truth in accordance with the real state of the case, or at all events, in accordance with what they believe to be the truth.

3. Sagacity – or intelligence, enabling them to silence objectors or opponents. This quality the apostles are said to possess in much higher degree than the prophets.

4. The delivery of their message: – In other words, they must on no account conceal what God has revealed to them.


It is clear from the above that Jesus Christ does not occupy the supreme place, but at the best ranks only with Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad.


Abbreviated from the ‘Muslim Christ” by Dr. S. Zwemer  Copyright © 2011 “Message 4 Muslims” All rights reserved

4 Responses to “Names of Christ in the Quran”


    I thank God, Jesus found Me!May He find other people in the bondage of Islam in Jesus’ Name: Amen

  • mike samuel:

    “ISA” was NEVER the name of the Son of YAHWEH! YESHUA is the name of the Son of YAHWEH and that’s His name in Hebrew! His name in Arabic is “JESU” and NEVER was it called “ISA”. The ISA of the Koran is a FAKE “Jesus” – the Bible calls that just “another” Jesus. Period!

    • Matthew S. Garba:

      Yeshua in Hebrew, ISA or Easa in Arabic, Jesus in English and Yesu in Hausa both mean ”The Savior”

      • admin:

        Thank you for bringing up this interesting point. We are reliably informed that Joshea originates from ‘Hoshea’ Salvation with the divine name being added so that he was called ‘Yehosua’ – Jehovah is salvation – normally rendered Joshua in English. We therefore read: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

        Jesus (Greek Iesous) is a transliteration of the Hebrew. We cannot comment about the Hausa language but we would like to make some comments about the Arabic ‘Isa.

        The question naturally arises why did Muhammad use the word ‘Isa and do Muslims understand that its meaning is ‘Saviour’? Over the years many have questioned the derivation of the term ‘Isa with some pronouncing that it has no particular significance and that Muhammad invented it as a rhyming couplet with Musa (Moses) – such rhyming couplets do exist such as Salut and Talut; Habil and Kabil and Harut and Marut. The Muslim

        The Muslim scholar Baidawi does say that the Arabic form ‘Isa comes from the Hebrew Yeshu’a but goes on to say the Arabic root is Al-‘Ayos, which signifies white mingled with red.

        Other views have been expressed including the view that ‘Isa corresponds to the Hebrew Esau and was taken on board by Muhammad in his relationships with the Jews in Medina.

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