The Infallibility of Prophets between Islam and Christianity

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐈𝐧𝐟𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐛𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐭𝐬 𝐛𝐞𝐭𝐰𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐦 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐂𝐡𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


Are Prophets Sinless?

The infallibility of prophets is often a subject of considerable debate between Christians and Muslims. On the one hand, Christians do not believe in the infallibility of prophets to the exclusion of Jesus. On the other hand, Muslims believe in the infallibility of prophets, but they disagree over whether or not such infallibility is absolute.

So, are prophets as infallible as angels, or are they ordinary people like us? What do Islam and Christianity exactly say about the infallibility of prophets?

The Infallibility of Prophets in Islam

In Islam, though prophets were still human beings, they attained the highest levels of human integrity and perfection. Though their nature was still such an earthly, terrestrial one which is liable to error and sin, it attained the highest degrees of spiritual loftiness and moral purity.

That is why prophets were more attached to Heaven and consequently less apt to commit the error and sin to which ordinary people are prone.

In the Qur’an, we read:

Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed.(Al-Baqarah 2:213)

We also read:

Certainly, did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.(Aal `Imran 3:164)

However, prophets might have erred by doing what is less preponderant, getting confused or oblivious or even slightly sinning without significant impact on their divine messages or prophetic standing. All of that are such human attitudes to which even prophets were vulnerable since they were still human beings created from clay.

Nevertheless, prophets were not exposed to all sins for there are major sins which interfere with the divine companionship. Prophets were in permanent company with the divine presence. That is why it did not beseem them to commit major sins simply because God would not let them initiate them at the very beginning or finalize them at the end.

For example, the Qur’an quotes Prophet Joseph as saying:

And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.”(Yusuf 12:53)

About Prophet Joseph, the Qur’an also says:

And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord. And thus [it was] that We should avert from him evil and immorality. Indeed, he was of Our chosen servants. (Yusuf 12:24)

If one really feels that God is actually with one all the time, this one is unlikely to commit a major sin especially if this one is godly enough simply because the causes of a major sin for godly people, especially prophets, are almost absent. Satan has no authority over them. That is why there is not much room for temptation so that a prophet would commit a major sin.

It must be borne in mind that God essentially chose, reformed and guided prophets in order that they would guide humanity to His way. How come a misguided deviant can guide others? A blind man cannot judge colors!

However, minor sins could be still committed by prophets but in such a way which did not seriously affect their heavenly messages or personal integrity. They were still human beings. To err is human. Prophets were not such angels who could not disobey God for the latter are disposed only to obey God.

Though sin is disliked at the sight of God, repentance and comeback to God for pardon are much liked by God. Were it not for such forgiveness, God would not have created mankind?

God wants such a being that is obedient by choice rather than under compulsion. Sin is a side effect of man’s free will which is overlooked whenever sincere repentance takes place even if sin is repeated.

God gives a servant chance after chance to turn to Him in repentance for obedience coupled with the ability to sin is more endeared to God than obedience coupled with the inability to sin.

Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of God said, “By the One in Whose Hand my soul is! If you did not commit sins, God would replace you with a people who would commit sins and seek forgiveness from God; and God will certainly forgive them.” (Muslim)

Though sin is evil, it sometimes leads to good. It sometimes causes a self to feel humble, abject and lowly as a result of admission of sin, acknowledgement of shortcoming and recognition of forgiveness. This feeling would not have been gotten by such an infallible, sinless self.

Consequently, God wants repentance from all of His creatures without discrimination. In this regard, there is no difference between prophets and other people. All are the same in this respect. Thus, repentance by prophets is still equally desirable. 

About that, we read in the Qur’an:

And [he was told], “Throw down your staff.” But when he saw it writhing as if it were a snake, he turned in flight and did not return. [Allah said], “O Moses, fear not. Indeed, in My presence the messengers do not fear. Otherwise, he who wrongs, then substitutes good after evil – indeed, I am Forgiving and Merciful.(An-Naml 27:10-11)

In this sense, the slight flaws of some prophets which are reported in the Qur’an or the Sunnah (prophet tradition) can be understood.

Accordingly, under Islam, there is a palatable belief in logical infallibility of the prophets. Prophets are neither as absolutely infallible as angels nor are, they portrayed as adulterers and drunkards.

The Infallibility of Prophets in Christianity

Though Christianity recognizes the high standing of prophethood and the merits of prophets in the Bible, it still abounds in serious misdeeds and major sins which do not beseem not only prophets but also any decent person.

For example, the Bible portrays Prophet Noah as such a drunkard who drinks and gets uncovered. We read: “And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.” (Genesis 9:20-21)

Similarly, the Bible portrays Prophet Lot as such an immoral old man who drinks, sleeps with his own daughters and then begets illegitimate children. 

We read: “And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. And the firstborn said unto the younger, our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:

Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve the seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father:

let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus, were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.” (Genesis 19:30-36)

Likewise, the Bible portrays Prophet David as a lecher. We read: “And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.” (2 Samuel 11:3-5)

Biblical instances of commission of major sins by prophets are numerous. So, we should find out the secret behind drawing prophets in such disgraceful portraits in the Bible. We may ask: if prophets were really indecent like that, how could they guide people to the way of God? It is quite apparent that those prophets stood in need of guidance according to the Bible.

It is safe to say that the absence of the concept of prophets’ infallibility in Christianity is attributable to a more corrupt and disappointing concept which is the belief in mankind’s contamination with an unforgivable sin.

According to this modern Christian belief, nobody is free from this sin except Jesus not for he is, for example, an infallible human being, but for he is a demigod (half-God) or specifically one-third of God.

Since mankind is contaminated and uncleanable, the only solution in contemporary Christianity was having Jesus (the demigod) killed by mankind so that humanity can be decontaminated and cleansed of sin.

But, how can the sin of murder lead to the forgiveness of any other sin? Does the utmost sin, that is homicide, lead to punishment or forgiveness?

With the above conclusions in mind, we do not find it strange to have the Bible attributing immoralities to the prophets of God. Undoubtedly, the above belief is apparently corrupt given the perversion of the concept of prophethood itself in present-day Christianity.

Prophets are people whom God guided and selected to guide people through them. Were it not for the dispatch of prophets to people and the response of some people to God through them, humanity would have been doomed and the world would have come to an end.

It is intuitive that the world’s survival is pending the worship of God therein. If such worship ceases to exist, punishment will be surely administered. In the Qur’an, we read:

And indeed, they were about to drive you from the land to evict you therefrom. And then [when they do], they will not remain [there] after you, except for a little. (Al-Isra’ 17:76)

The above verse signifies that people’s disbelief in Prophet Muhammad and the heavenly message he carried to them would have certainly led to their destruction and ruin. This was the divine norm which was applicable to all past nations. God used to destroy the nations which disbelieved in their prophets.

If prophets were really as portrayed by the Bible, they themselves would not have been deemed to be rightly guided and so people could not have been guided through them. Consequently, punishment would have taken place and the world would have ceased to exist.

Since the world continues to exist, this itself is sufficient evidence for continued faith and goodness and, consequently, prophets’ integrity and the guidance of people through them.

Belief in redemption through Jesus’ blood is an apparently false belief. If the population of the earth are really contaminated by sin and could not be cleansed thereof, they are not good, and it is useless to redeem them either through Jesus’s blood or otherwise. Any such redemption would not have changed or cleansed their contaminated nature.

How would redemption have helped if people had insisted on evil and sin? The murder of Jesus would not have made nothing new but the wrongful bloodshed of an innocent person, that is to say the addition of a hideous crime to the criminal record of humankind.

Is Jesus More Sinless than Muhammad?

Most Christians claim that Jesus was the only sinless human being, unlike all other prophets. They offer as evidence Qur’anic verses and prophetic hadiths (statements) as well as biblical verses in support of their belief in Jesus’ infallibility to the exclusion of all other prophets.

As for Jesus’ infallibility, they cite the following Qur’anic verse which reports how Mary’s mother supplicated to God before Mary’s birth and how God responded to her. 

We read:

And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of God]. (Aal `Imran 3:36-37)

They also cite the following hadith: Abu Hurairah reported, “I heard the Messenger of God saying, ‘There is none born among the offspring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child, therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Mary and her child.” Then Abu Huraira recited: “And I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan” (Aal `Imran 3:36) (Al-Bukhari)

In the long hadith of intercession, Jesus’ response to people when they asked him for intercession with God on the Day of Judgment is also cited.

Jesus is quoted as saying: “Today my Lord has become angry as He has never become before.” He will not mention a sin, but will say: “Myself! Myself! Myself!” (Al-Bukhari)

Christians argue that prophets asked for intercession, like Adam, Abraham, and Moses, will apologize for some sins they committed. But, Jesus will not apologize for any sin.

They also cite biblical verses indicating that Jesus is sinless. For example, we read: “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

As evidence for the claim that Prophet Muhammad was not sinless, the following Qur’anic verse is cited for instance:

And if there comes to you from Satan an evil suggestion, then seek refuge in God. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing(Fussilat 36:41)

They argue that the above verse indicates that evil suggestions from Satan came to Prophet Muhammad like ordinary people.

There are also other Qur’anic verses attributing sins to Prophet Muhammad like other people. For example, we read:

So be patient, [O Muhammad]. Indeed, the promise of God is truth. And ask forgiveness for your sin and exalt [God] with praise of your Lord in the evening and the morning.(Ghafir 40:55)

We may ask: is Jesus the only sinless man? Is Prophet Muhammad really not sinless?

As a matter of fact, all children of Adam, including prophets, are sinful. Neither Moses nor Jesus nor Muhammad was without sin. However, they could not commit major sins. There are uncountable pieces of evidence for that from the Qur’an and the Bible.

As far as Jesus is concerned, he could not commit major sins, but, as a human being, could commit minor sins. There is evidence for that from the Qur’an like the following verse:

And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet except that when he spoke [or recited], Satan threw into it [some misunderstanding]. But God abolishes that which Satan throws in; then God makes precise His verses. And God is Knowing and Wise.(Al-Hajj 22:52)

In the above verse, there is evidence that all prophets of God, including Jesus, were subject to Satan’s temptation.

Anas ibn Malik reported that Prophet Muhammad said, “All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent.” (At-Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah)

Accordingly, as a child of Adam, Jesus was liable to sin.

The claim that only Jesus was sinless whereas all other prophets including Prophet Muhammad were sinful is false. The above quotation (Aal `Imran 3:36-37) referring to the prayer of Mary’s mother and God’s answer to the same does not necessarily mean that Mary and her son were totally immune to Satan’s temptation. 

It rather signifies their immunity to the total following of Satan, despite their liability to casual sinning like all other human beings.

The so-called “three temptations by Satan” cited in the Bible (Matthew 4:1-11) constitute sufficient evidence for Jesus’ vulnerability to Satan’s temptation like all other human beings.

Another piece of evidence is the following verse:

And if there comes to you from Satan an evil suggestion, then seek refuge in God. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing. (Fussilat 36:41)

In the above, God ordered Prophet Muhammad to seek refuge in God wherever an evil suggestion came to him from Satan. This means that the act of seeking refuge in God as done by Mary’s mother does not render man immune to Satan’s temptation. It just immunizes one against the total following of Satan.

The evidence that Mary was not sinless is that she said words which can be deemed sins. She despaired of the mercy of God. About Mary, the Qur’an says:

And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.”(Maryam 19:23)

The hadith indicating that Satan did not touch Mary or her son Jesus is restricted to the time they were born. As for the other times in the lives of Mary and Jesus, they were exposed to Satan’s temptation like all other human beings.

As for the long hadith of intercession where Jesus did not mention a sin he had committed, it means that Jesus will not apologize for intercession due to a sin he had committed like most prophets. Rather, he will just apologize without giving reasons.

This does not mean that Jesus had never committed a sin in his lifetime. Prophet Noah also will not mention a sin as a reason why he will not intercede. Does that mean that Noah also is sinless?

In Hebrews, the verse indicating that Jesus is sinless and similar verses are refuted by Jesus himself. Jesus confirmed that there is none who is good except God. In the New Testament, we read: Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16-17)

We may ask here: if Jesus had been really sinless and if there had been a sinless human being, why did Jesus confirm that neither he nor others are good except for God?

The above verses from the New Testament can bear only one meaning, that is, there is no human being who can be described as absolutely good, because each of the children of Adam, including Jesus, is sinful.

The Bible itself cites words and actions of Jesus which are seen as sins. For example, we notice that Jesus’ treatment of his mother as portrayed by the Bible is devoid of the dutifulness towards parents required from average people, not to mention prophets.

For example, we read: While Jesus was speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers stood outside trying to speak with him. Someone said to him, “Look, your mother and brothers are outside wanting to speak with you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

In addition to Jesus’ maltreatment of his mother, the Bible tells us that wine was drunk by Jesus’ followers even in his presence. We read: When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.” Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” (John 2:3-4)

As far as Muhammad is concerned, like Jesus and all other prophets, Prophet Muhammad could commit minor sins only, other than major sins.

The verses making mention of sins by and evil suggestions to Prophet Muhammad just refer to minor sins and slight flaws of godly people. That is to say, the flaws of Prophet Muhammad, Jesus, and all other prophets are not like our sins. 

They are rather much slighter than our sins to the extent that if most of those sins had been committed by some of us, they would not have counted as sins but they still did not beseem the prophets and messengers of God and were less preponderant and weighty as individual choices.

Maybe, Prophet Muhammad was the least sinful human being as God helped him, unlike any other human being, against his jinni (evil spirit) to the extent that it reverted to Islam.

`Abdullah ibn Mas`ud reported that Prophet Muhammad said: “There is not a single one of you except that a companion (jinni) has been assigned to him. They (the Companions) said, ‘What about you, O Messenger of God!’ He replied, ‘Yes. However, God has helped me against him, and he has accepted Islam. Thus, he only commands me to do good.’” (Muslim)

To conclude, both Jesus and Prophet Muhammad are two of the best and greatest prophets and messengers of God. According to Islam, like all other prophets, they could not commit major sins. Perhaps, they committed minor sins only. Maybe, Prophet Muhammad was the least sinful human being for the last piece of evidence offered above.

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1.     The Glorious Qur’an

2.     Sahih Al-Bukhari

3.     Sahih Muslim

4.     Tafsir Al-Baghawi

5.     Tafsir Al-Sheikh Al-Sha`rawi

6.     The Holy Bible