Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sparked controversy on November 20 by casting doubt on Jesus Christ’s existence and historical significance, as part of his pitch for an international convention against blasphemy.
“There were prophets of Allah other [than Muhammad], but there is no mention of them in human history. There is negligible mention of them,” Khan claimed during remarks on the birthday of Islam’s prophet, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “Moses is mentioned, but there is no mention of Jesus in history.”
“But the entire life of Muhammad, who was Allah’s last prophet, is part of history,” he continued, claiming that “Aristotle and Greek philosophies reached Europe through Muslims, and then European civilization rose.”
Khan lamented that Muhammad being “blasphemed against and dishonored” in Western countries provokes Muslims to violently protest, which only reinforces perceptions that Islam is violent. Instead, he wanted a worldwide convention explaining to the West “how much our Prophet resides in our hearts.”
“We want the countries of the world to sign a convention which will be called the International Convention on Preventing the Defamation of Religions, which means that freedom of speech cannot be used as a pretext to hurt the world’s 1.25 billion Muslims,” the prime minister announced.
It’s unclear whether Khan was denying Jesus’ existence or simply claiming His life was historically inconsequential, but neither interpretation withstands scrutiny.
Ridley College theologian Mike Bird explains that few historians take seriously the notion that Christ never existed. Written accounts of His life are written as early as twenty years after His death, whereas “there is a gap of over 200 years between the death of Alexander the Great,” whose historicity is generally accepted, “and our first known biographies of him.”
As for the impact Jesus had on history, Christianity has been credited with the spread and development of numerous examples of human advancement, including moral absolutes, human equality, education, scientific progress, mercy, and charity. Christians hold that Jesus is the Son of God who opened up the way to eternal life with God through his sacrifice on the cross. They believe that there is no other name under which man can be saved.
Khan’s comments sparked numerous critical responses, several of which pointed out that the Koran itself repeatedly mentions Jesus. Pakistan Today reports that some of his defenders claim Khan merely meant Jesus wasn’t mentioned in historical accounts written before His death, but others, including fellow Muslims, challenged both the accuracy and implications of the prime minister’s remarks:
As absolutely stupid as this is, it is also dangerous. By claiming that Jesus has no mention in history, or whatever that means, he’s introducing an element of illegitimacy towards the Cristian faith. Especially considering his audience at this event & the ongoing #AsiaBibi saga
— Khurram Qureshi (@fatherofyousaf) November 20, 2018
There has to be some limit to ignorance.Jesus Christ is by far the most mentioned both verbally & written individual in history. His life & teachings have been taught, researched,discussed, studied,learnt,revered & he is most worshipped & influential than any personage in history
— Senator T Mashhadi (@SenatorMashhadi) November 20, 2018
For Allah's sake have courage to say no to wrong statement. Ask any Christian he will tell you all historic references. Many Muslim scholars have written extensively of lives of Prophets
— Ahsan Iqbal (@betterpakistan) November 21, 2018
The notion that speech “hurt[ing] the world’s 1.25 billion Muslims” with speech critical of their prophet must be restricted in some way also stands in stark contrast to Christianity, which teaches Christians to expect, endure, and even rejoice at not just insults, but persecution for their faith.