His Name and Its Significance

Christians believe that "Jesus" is the Greek form of Joshua, which means 'the Lord saves' and occurs in the Christian scriptures around 1200. However, in Islam, Jesus is known as Isa. In the Qur'an the name Isa often occurs with the addition "son of Mary". Of the 25 places in the Qur'an where Isa is used, in sixteen of them he is called Ibn Mariam (the son of Mary), and in five passages his name is coupled with that of Musa (Moses).

The Qur'an does not mention who chose the name and why he was named Isa. Christian Scriptures, however, relate that the name Jesus was chosen by God himself. It is stated that the angel of God came and said to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus" (Luke 1:30-31). He was to be called Jesus, "because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

Since Arabic is quite similar to Hebrew, some question why the Qur'an used the word Isa instead of Yesu'a. Some have suggested that Muhammad used it to make a rhyming couplet with the name of Musa (Moses), in the same way as he called Goliath Jalut (Loewenthal, Isidor, The Name Isa: An Investigation, p.5-6, Calcutta: 1861). Other similar examples are Haruth andMaruth (Surah 2:102, 249-251). Examples from traditions are Abel and Cain being called Habil and Qabil (The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. IV, p.82).

Qazi Nasiruddin Abusaeed Abdullah bin Umar al-Baidhawi (d. 1300 CE) who wrote a well-known commentary on the Qur'an, originally called "Anwar al-Taunzil", says that Isa is Arabized from Ishu, he probably meant the Syriac Yeshu (vol. I. 96). Most English translations of the Qur'an translate Isa as Jesus.

There is no hint in the Qur'an as to why the appellation Ibn Mariam (Son of Mary) is added to his name. Some believe that because he had no father, he was named so after his mother. However, we see that though it is normal in the Semitic world for a man to be called after his father, yet there are instances of men being called after their mothers in spite of having known fathers. The poets Ibn Aish and Ibn Mayyada are examples (Watt, Muhammad at Madina, 1956, p. 374). Only in one place in the Christian scriptures is Jesus referred to as the 'son of Mary' (Mark 6:3).

As with other prophets of God, Muslims add to his name, aleihe salam (peace be upon him). Some wonder why Christians do not use his name with honorific terms. However, according to the Christian scriptures Jesus himself is the fountain of peace and thus it is them who need his peace (John 14:27).