Was cUzayr (Ezra) Called The Son Of God?
M S M Saifullah & Mustafa Ahmed
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
Last Modified: 1st September 1999
Assalamu-alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:
cUzayr, who was exalted by a community of Jews, is identified as Ezra by Muslim commentators. The Qur'ân says:
The Jews call cUzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is the saying from their mouth; (In this) they are intimate; what the Unbelievers of the old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the truth. [Qur'ân 9:30]
Before we take care of the origin of the issue of exalting Ezra to son of God by some Jews, let us first discuss the life of the man himself.
Ezra (5th-4th century BC, Babylon and Jerusalem) was a religious leader of the Jews who returned from exile in Babylon, and a reformer who reconstituted the Jewish community on the basis of the Torah (Law, or the regulations of the first five books of the Old Testament). This monumental work of Ezra helped to make Judaism a religion in which law was central, that enabled the Jews to survive as a community when they were dispersed all over the world. Ezra has with some justice been called the father of Judaism since his efforts did much to give Jewish religion the form that was to characterize it for centuries after the specific form the Jewish religion took after the Babylonian Exile. So important was he in the eyes of his people that later tradition regarded him as no less than a second Moses(P). Regarding the tomb of Ezra Encyclopaedia Judaica says:
There are number of traditions concerning the site of Ezra's tomb. According to Josephus it is in Jerusalem; other hold that he was buried in Urta or in Zunzumu on the Tigris; but the general accepted version is that his tomb is situated in Uzer, a village near Basra. This tradition is mentioned by Benjamin of Tuleda, Pethahiah of Regensburg, Judah Alharizi, and other travelers, Jewish and non-Jewish who visited Babylonia.
It is to be kept in mind that the knowledge about Ezra is derived from the Biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, supplemented by the Apocryphal (not included in the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament but present in Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churchs' canon) book of I Esdras (Latin Vulgate form of the name Ezra), which preserves the Greek text of Ezra and a part of Nehemiah.
It is interesting to note that the Jews in Arabia, during the advent of Islam, were involved in mystical speculation as well as anthromorphizing and worshipping an angel that functions as the substitute creator of the universe. That angel is usually identified as Metatron. Newby notes that:
...we can deduce that the inhabitants of Hijaz during Muhammad's time knew portions, at least, of 3 Enoch in association with the Jews. The angels over which Metatron becomes chief are identified in the Enoch traditions as the sons of God, the Bene Elohim, the Watchers, the fallen ones as the causer of the flood. In 1 Enoch, and 4 Ezra, the term Son of God can be applied to the Messiah, but most often it is applied to the righteous men, of whom Jewish tradition holds there to be no more righteous than the ones God elected to translate to heaven alive. It is easy, then, to imagine that among the Jews of the Hijaz who were apparently involved in mystical speculations associated with the merkabah, Ezra, because of the traditions of his translation, because of his piety, and particularly because he was equated with Enoch as the Scribe of God, could be termed one of the Bene Elohim. And, of course, he would fit the description of religious leader (one of the ahbar of the Qur'ân 9:31) whom the Jews had exalted.
The Islamic exegetes have mentioned that there existed a community of Jews in Yemen who considered Ezra as son of God. Hirschberg says in Encyclopaedia Judaica:
H Z Hirschberg proposed another assumption, based on the words of Ibn Hazm, namely, that the 'righteous who live in Yemen believed that 'Uzayr was indeed the son of Allah.' According to other Muslim sources, there were some Yemenite Jews who had converted to Islam who believed that Ezra was the messiah. For Muhammad, Ezra, the apostle (!) of messiah, can be seen in the same light as the Christian saw Jesus, the messiah, the son of Allah.
George Sale makes an interesting comment concerning the Muslim as well as Judeo-Christian opinion on this issue.
This grievous charge against the Jews, the commentators endeavour to support by telling us, that it is meant of some ancient heterdox Jews, or else of some Jews of Medina; who said so for no other reason, than for that the law being utterly lost and forgotten during the Babylonish captivity, Ezra having been raised to life after he had been dead one hundred years, dictated the whole anew unto the scribes, out of his own memory; at which they greatly marvelled, and declared that he could not have done it, unless he were the son of God. Al-Beidawi adds, that the imputation must be true, because this verse was read to the Jews and they did not contradict it; which they were ready enough to do in other instances.
That Ezra did restore not only the Pentateuch, but also the other books of the Old Testament, by divine revelation, was the opinion of several of the Christian fathers, who are quoted by Dr.Prideaux, and of some other writers; which they seem to have first borrowed from a passage in that very ancient apocryphal book, called in our English Bible, the second book of Esdras. Dr. Prideaux tells us, that herein the Fathers attributed more to Ezra, than the Jews themselves, which he laboured much in, and went a great way in the perfecting of it. It is not improbable however, that the fiction came originally from the Jews, though they be now of another opinion, and I cannot fix it upon them by any direct proof. For, not to insist upon the testimony of the Mohammedans (which yet I cannot but think of some little weight in a point of this nature,) it is allowed by the most sagacious critics, that the second book of Ezra was written by a Chrisitian indeed, but yet one who had been bred a Jew, and was intimately acquainted with the fables of the Rabbins; and the story itself is perfectly in the taste and was of thinking of those men.
Last but not the least, a Christian writer also proposed that Muhammad(P) got the information of Jews exalting Ezra to son of God from the Samaritans who said the Ezra had acted presumptuously and had changed the old divine alphabetical character of the holy Books of the Law - a character still used and revered to this day by rapidly dwindling Samaritan community. This author concludes in a rather unchristian way that:
But it is not at all unlikely that the source of Mohammed's indictment of the Jews is to be found among the Samaritans or amongst Arab tribesmen of Samaritan strain. If we found in Samaritan literature the opposite belief that Ezra (or Uzair) was the son of Satan, we would be well-nigh sure of having settled the matter.
And Allah knows best!
 Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 6, Encylopedia Judaica Jerusalem, p. 1108.
 G D Newby, A History Of The Jews Of Arabia, 1988, University Of South Carolina Press, p. 59.
 Ibid, p. 61.
 Encyclopaedia Judaica, Ibid., p. 1108.
 George Sale, The Koran: IX Edition of 1923, London, p. 152.
 J Walker, Who Is 'Uzair?, The Moslem World, Volume XIX, No. 3, 1939, pp. 305-306.
 Ibid, p. 306.