Although in Islam Jesus is not the divine being revered by Christians, he is often seen as a prophet second in importance only to Muhammad. He was held in particular esteem by Islamic ascetics and mystics and, one hadith states, by Muhammad himself. Accordingly, over the centuries Islamic scholars recorded many sayings attributed to Jesus, often couching them in brief stories. Al-Ghazali, for example, cites forty-seven sayings. Now 303 of the scattered post-Qur'anic references have been compiled into what their editor, Tarif Khalidi, calls "the Muslim gospel."
Many of these sayings represent a Jesus familiar to readers of the Gospels, recasting, paralleling, or echoing New Testament material. One recurrent modification is the addition of an explicit moral where the biblical text is silent. These morals may take a somewhat unexpected, yet bracing, twist. For example, the recast text, "Look at the birds. . . . They neither reap nor plough, and God provides for them" is interpreted as "Strive for the sake of God and not for the sake of your bellies. . . . Beware the excesses of the world."