Let me say up front that I did not plan to write this piece. I have four drafts ready to be posted, and a few others under construction. And I was planning to publish a different entry.
Out of the blue, however, a good friend of mine, a distant relative of the Prophet (for he belongs to the Sayyid clan) texted me that I shouldn't use Jesus to mean Isa. I replied that I write my blog in English, and since in English the Prophet Isa is commonly written as Jesus, I simply employ conventional usage. Likewise I write Joseph instead of Yusuf, or Jacob instead of Yaakob, or Abraham instead of Ibrahim.
He contested that I can use all those Anglicized names for other prophets, but not for Jesus. Jesus is not Isa, he said. I tried to explain again, saying that it is just a matter of nomenclature, a linguistic usage. Still he was adamant with his stand.
Seeing that he was adamant, I asked what had led him to that conclusion. He explained that there had been a debate in his community mosque and they all decided that Jesus is Jesus, and Isa is Isa. I replied that if such an issue can become a concern in his community, perhaps it is also an issue to others, and I told him that perhaps I should write about this namesake thing in my blog.
Well, this good friend of mine is not a Sayyid for nothing. Instead of being persistent with his stand, he thanked me for listening to his concern and said I should put this issue into perspective.
Now, let's get straight to the issue in hand: Is Jesus the Prophet Isa?
Well, strictly speaking, neither of those. When he was born, he was neither called Jesus, nor Isa. Rather, he was called Yehoshua. Jesus is English; Isa is Arabic. He was a Jew, you see. On the eight day of his birth, he was circumcised and given the name Yehoshua in his language, Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect.
But, is Jesus the Prophet Isa?
Well, yes and no.
From a linguistic point of view, it is just how his name is pronounced or written in English. Thus, Jesus is definitely Isa, when the same person is being referred.
But, if you talk about Jesus of Christianity and Jesus of Islam, they are not quite the same. For one thing, Jesus in Islam is only human. In Christianity, however, he is both God and human. If you want to go a little deeper, Jesus is 100% God and 100% human, but if you sum up the two, the total is not 200%, but still 100%. It is like God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. They are all one. Three distinct personalities but of the same essense.
Be careful with the word you use: the same essence, mind you. Not similar essence. If you say similar essence, you are a heretic. The technical word is homoousios (homo=same; ousios=essence); not homoiousios (homoi=similar).
Well, this is going too far. We reserve this complex subject for later entries. The point is, from a purely linguistic point of view, be it Jesus, Isa or Yehoshua (or Yahshua), these names are all referred to the same person. A rose in any other names, Shakespeare observes, smells as sweet.
The more practical question is this: Can the Muslims call Jesus to mean Isa?
Now, if you happen to believe that Jesus is the corruption of Greek G-zeus (Latinized as Iesus or Iesous), where Zeus is the Greek's King of gods, then the use of this name does not seem to be appropriate. But this is only a theory (please go here if you are interested). The fact is that the name Jesus has been used for ages, in scholarly works no less, both by Muslims, Christians, and others. When the name Jesus is used, they mean what the Muslims call the Prophet Isa.
If there is no definite prohibition from the scholars on the usage, and given that the name Jesus has been used for ages and has become a norm, what is so wrong about that? If we use different name, it might confuse some people, or at least become oblivious to some.
Besides, why are we allowed to use Abraham for Ibrahim, Jacob for Yaakob, Moses for Musa, Lot for Lut, etc.?
One may reply: because when those names are used, they are being referred to the same people, but when Jesus is used, he is not being referred to Isa. Fine, but what if we say that when Jesus is used, we mean Isa, and we use Jesus only because it is customary in English to go by that name?
One may respond: it is offensive because the Christians believe that Jesus is not only a human, but also a God. Hence, Jesus of the Christianity is definitely not the same as Isa of Islam. Point taken, but if we go along the line of offensiveness, is it not offensive for Muslims when in the Bible the Prophet Lot is said to have committed adultery with his daughters? Prophet Lut committed adultery with his daughters? God forbid.
Or that the King Solomon had fallen into idolatry. Prophet Sulaiman (King Solomon) is an idolater? God forbid.
Or that the Partriach Abraham had tricked his wife Sarah and his son Isaac during the sacrifice. Prophet Ibrahim tricked his wife and his son? Didn't he explain the dream to both of them? Were not both of them willingly submitted? And who are these Sarah and Isaac? It was Hagar and Ishmael, for God's sake.
Well, I can go on, but I think you have got the point. Even if you don't, I have made mine.
I will continue to use Jesus to mean Isa, or any of those as the occasion arises, because I happen to write in English in this blog. I know a good friend of mine can take it, because he is gracious enough to see where I am coming from, although there might be others who disagree with my usage.
Unless, of course, if one can show me that it is definitively prohibited, in which case I will cease and desist.