Bernie Power
Understanding Jesus and Muhammad: What The Ancient Texts Say About Them
Acorn Press, Melbourne, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0994254450

Understanding Jesus and Muhammad

"The book is intended as an introduction to both figures, based on questions that a Christian might have about Muhammad or that a Muslim might have about Jesus. As such, it’s divided into a series of 22 chapters, each of which focuses on a particular question with regard to either Jesus or Muhammad."

Written by Melbourne academic, Dr Bernie Power, Understanding Jesus and Muhammad is a handy guidebook to what religious texts, centered on the Christian Bible and the Islamic Quran, say about the two figures who have defined the religions and whose influence stretches across the world and much of its history: Jesus Christ and the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

Dr Power, who spent more than 20 years living and working as a partner with missional community Interserve among Muslims in Asia and Middle East, makes it clear from the start that it is not the purpose of the book – which was recently short-listed for the Australian Christian Book of the Year -  to argue for the truth or not of whether either person existed or whether the texts are an accurate reflection of them. Its goal, instead, is to “examine some aspects of the lives and teaching of Jesus and Muhammad” using the texts as data and accepting that they operate as “functional truth” within religious communities. 

He adds that the book is intended as an introduction to both figures, based on questions that a Christian might have about Muhammad or that a Muslim might have about Jesus. As such, it’s divided into a series of 22 chapters, each of which focuses on a particular question with regard to either Jesus or Muhammad.

Subjects covered include everything from an examination of what the texts say about whether Jesus was God or the Son of God, an understanding of the Christian concept of the Trinity, what the Quran teaches about Muhammad and the relationship of both figures to women, the issue of violence and the miracles attributed to them.

Each of the chapters provides an overview of what’s contained in the texts in reference to the particular question being considered but handily, at the end, also includes a conclusion in which Dr Power weighs up and summarises the findings.

And, as the final two chapters on ‘faith’ in particular show, the book also touches on not just what the sacred texts tell us about Jesus and Muhammad, but how their lives are reflected in the lives of those who follow them.

Written concisely – Dr Power uses tables in many places to convey a considerable amount of information in a small space, the book is a useful place to start for someone looking to understand more about either figure. It doesn't attempt to do more than what it sets out to at the beginning and, while the book has been criticised for being too pro-Jesus, we found the data presented in a straightforward manner.

In the multi-cultural/multi-faith world in which we live in Australia and the Western world, this is a useful tool for opening up discussions surrounding Christianity and Islam and their influence.