The Qur’an teaches that the Bible makes prophetic references to Muhammad. According to the Qur’an,
“Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find described in their Torah and Gospel—he will enjoin on them good and forbid them evil, he will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them what is foul, and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that were upon them—those that believe in him, honor him, support him, and follow the light which has been sent down with him: they are the successful” (7:157, emphasis added).
“And [remember] Jesus, son of Mary, who said: “O Children of Israel; I am the messenger of Allah to you, confirming that which was before me in the Torah and bringing good news of a messenger who will come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” Yet when he came to them with clear proofs, they said: “This is manifest magic” (61:6, emphasis added).
Here the important line reads “whom they find described in their Torah and Gospel,” according to which Jesus Christ teaches that he is a prophet of Allah and that a prophet, Ahmad, will come after him. These claims are taken to be prophecies of Muhammad expressed in the Torah and Gospel. Readers of the Torah and Gospel are told that they will find Muhammad prophesied in the biblical texts and that they must believe in the Prophet and give their honor and support to him. That Muhammad is prophesied in the Torah is also the understanding of our early Muslim biographers. Ibn Kathir, for example, produces an account of a Jewish man’s ill son affirming that Muhammad is prophesied in the Torah:
“So I passed by him while he was walking between Abu Bakr and ’Umar, and I followed them until they went by a Jewish man, who was reading from an open copy of the Tawrah. He was mourning a son of his who was dying and who was one of the most handsome boys. The Messenger of Allah asked him (the father), “I ask you by He Who has sent down the Tawrah, do you not find the description of me and my advent in your Book?” He nodded his head in the negative. His son said, “Rather, yes, by He Who has sent down the Tawrah! We find the description of you and your advent in our Book. I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that you are the Messenger of Allah.”
Biblical Texts Predicting Muhammad and Critical Responses
Several texts in the Bible are taken by Muslims to prophesy the coming of Muhammad. Most commonly forwarded by Muslims is a text from the Old Testament book Deuteronomy:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.” The LORD said to me, “They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (18:15-19, emphasis added)
Muslims provide an interesting interpretation of this text to make it refer to Muhammad. But critics do not agree and claim that the text’s context refers to the Jews (“from your countrymen”), not to Muslims. It is the Jewish people who are in focus here. But some Muslims might argue that the Hebrew word for brother (translated above as “countryman”) might refer to any nation related to the Jewish people. He then argues that the Arabs are related to the Jewish people by the claim to descend from Ishmael. According to this reading, this prophecy can indeed be taken to prophesy the coming of Muhammad. But critics counter that the context makes such a reading problematic. Consider an earlier Deuteronomic verse in the same chapter that refers to “countrymen”:
“The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD’S offerings by fire and His portion. They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them” (18:1-2, emphasis added).
The same Hebrew term for brother is used here. But clearly it is used in reference to the nation of Israel and the Jews, in this case the tribe of Levites. Further, God is said to have chosen “from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the LORD forever” (18:5). Whose tribes are being referred to here? It is the twelve tribes of Israel. As such, the immediate context of Deuteronomy 18:15-19 has been established. It refers to the nation of Israel, not to an Arab prophet who will come onto the historical scene in the very distant future. Moreover, Deuteronomy contrasts “countrymen” with “foreigner”: “You shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman” (17:15). In other words, the term countrymen here refers to the Jews, which the critic argues rules out Muhammad because he would have been considered a foreigner in Israel.
There is another biblical text commonly cited by Muslims to refer to the coming of Muhammad. This is John 14-16 which refers to a Helper or Advocate that Jesus will send.
Traditionally, this has been interpreted by biblical scholars and Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit that will be given to Jesus’s disciples and the generations of Christians after them. However, many Muslims take the term Helper here to refer to Muhammad because the term Ahmed can mean “exalted one.” Since Muslims believe that the gospels, in this case the Gospel of John, have been altered and corrupted, they argue that the original meaning of John 14-16 has been hidden. They claim that instead of the word paracletos (meaning Paraclete, Advocate, or Helper), the original term was periklutos (meaning “the exalted or honored one”). Since Muhammad is the exalted one, they then find Muhammad in this text.
Critics will again argue that context is important and undercuts the Muslim’s interpretation. The text speaks about the divine roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which makes this text Trinitarian. There is nothing in this context that would make anyone think that it is referring to a prophet from Arabia six hundred years later. Further, the broader context of what Jesus means by the Helper must also be considered. Jesus also refers to the Helper in John 14:16-17,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”
Clearly, the Helper here refers to a divine being. To view this text as referring to any human is problematic because no man can “be with you forever.” Further, You can also certainly “see” and “know” a man, as Muhammad was a man, but the text says that the world cannot see the Helper in question.
Further, this Helper is referred to as the “Spirit of truth” who can abide with Christians and in them, which makes the Muslim’s interpretation of this text problematic because Muhammad was not a Spirit. Rather, it seems that in focus here is a divine being. Only a divine being can be Spirit, exist forever, and indwell persons. The Spirit has the function of indwelling God’s people, the disciples and the generations of Christians after them, encouraging and guiding them. The critic argues that matters get even more problematic for the Muslim’s interpretation when we read John 14:26,
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
The Helper whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name is identified as the Holy Spirit in this text. But, as we have noted, Muhammad was a man, not a Spirit. Moreover, Muhammad was not sent in the name of Jesus and he did not teach the disciples all things. In another text (John 15:26-27), we read that it is Jesus who will send the Helper from the Father. But few, if any, Muslims will agree that it was Jesus who sent Muhammad. Further, Muslims are unlikely to refer to Allah as “the Father.” A final reference to the Helper is found in John 16:7-14 which informs readers that Jesus will also send the Helper (“but if I go, I will send Him to you”) to the disciples.
In conclusion, critics of the Muslim’s perspective argue that the appropriate contextual interpretation of Deuteronomy and the Gospel of John precludes any prophecy about the coming of the Prophet Muhammad. The immediate context of Deuteronomy references the Jewish nation and the tribes of Israel. The immediate context to John is a reference to a divine being, namely the Holy Spirit. A closer reading of Jesus’ references to the Helper rules out Muhammad living many centuries later.