Greetings to all. As a practicing Sufi Muslim for more than 40 years, I would take exception to the point that Mark Booth made about Jesus being the only figure to open the path of the interior. Islamic mystical literature is a vast ocean virtually unknown in the West, beside a few generally (usually poorly understood) poems of Rumi. I’m closer to Joe Atwill’s understanding of Jesus. My own spiritual master used to say that,”Jesus is/was not an historical character. The only place his position becomes clear is in the Quran!” I believe that Jesus existed, and that people may have a genuine spiritual encounter with that reality, but what was perpetrated in his name by the Romans and others who came after him has only served to obscure the authentic teachings. There is, in fact, a prophetic tradition, attributed to Muhammad, peace be upon him, to the effect that this effacing of the foundational teachings is the fate of EVERY religious nation. And he didn’t exclude his own followers, by the way!
Broadly speaking, the Medinan verses come first and the Meccan verses second (the opposite of the chronological order, putatively, they should be in); they are assembled roughly from longest to shortest in length rather than in narrative order. Their source seems to include a mishmash of new/old testament and Talmudic stories. Without the sirah (biography) of Muhammad and hadith [chains of traditions about him supposedly passed on by reliable people], it would be very difficult to make any sense out of the Quran; I know I can't, and since I have no faith in the sirah or hadith, I can only look at the Quran and wonder how it came to be so exalted.
You're on a very sticky wicket when you quote your master as saying "The only place his [Jesus'] position becomes clear is in the Quran!". Where's the evidence that the Quran itself represents prophetic words? as far as I can see, that's just an article of faith, one that is enforced through draconian measures such as persecuting heretics and attacking anyone who dares to question Islam. Methinks Muslims do protest too much: if they were truly confident of their religion, they wouldn't be so defensive and, sometimes at least, fanatical about it.
Let's face it, many Muslims haven't even read the Quran -- even when they may have committed some/all of it to rote memory in Arabic; but if they don't understand Arabic (and many don't), they're no wiser about what it really says. They may just accept what they've been told and imagine that Muhammad is a great prophet and the best man who ever lived. They profess to eschew idolatry, and yet the Muslim world is filled with millions of men who idolise Mohammad -- wear a beard like his was supposed to be, dress like him, act like he is supposed to have, are in fact walking advertisements for him. Not to mention the women, who in large numbers dress like the wives of Muhammad are supposed to have. Christian men don't walk about dressed like Jesus, or women like the virgin Mary; if they imitate Christ, it is usually in spirit rather than outward appearance.
Despite all that, I'm not antithetical to Sufi Muslims. It seems to me that they are much more reasonable than the general run of Muslims, and much more tolerant of other religions. Idries Shah maintained that Sufism was in fact much older than Islam, and has been known under many other names (and no name at all), throughout history. It may be a variant of the perennial philosophy that happens to have concresced around Islam, much as it also concresced around the Christian mystery traditions, concentrating on love and unity, which it has to be said are much more Christian than conventionally Islamic precepts.
Yes, both religions (Islam and Christianity) have had much evil perpetrated in their name, but whilst one can't blame that on Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, it's much less difficult to blame it on Muhammad as portrayed in the Quran. It's irrelevant whether either man existed historically. What counts is the myth as portrayed in the relevant scriptures.
If you want my opinion, maybe Muhammad or someone upon whom his persona is based actually did exist, and maybe there are a few bits of the Quran represent his true utterances as conveyed by God. But I can't believe that the vast majority of the Quran was uttered by such a man. Not when the hate in Christianity so plainly arose from outside the Gospels, whilst that in Islam from inside the Quran.
So take exception all you like; of the two scriptural sources, I know which one I'd choose if I wanted to be a good person. Please note I'm not a conventional Christian; for instance, I doubt the validity of the redemption through Jesus' death, and I take his Sonship as being in all of us. We are all "sons" and "daughters" of God, and for each of us, "redemption" (which I Interpret as positive evolutionary development) is an individual responsibility. Nevertheless, the Christ myth as exemplified in the Gospels is a fine pattern to follow if one wants to be a good person.
Tell me, as a Sufi Muslim, do you believe every word of the Quran?