Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, states the following: “The word ‘Baptism’ comes from the Greek ‘Baptein’ which means ‘to plunge, to immerse, or to wash.’ It was an ancient custom to wash or to make ablution. Islam has preserved this tradition in the form of ablution and ritual Ghusl for the purpose of purification purpose. Allah mentions in the Qur’an that He made water a source for purification. Allah Almighty says: “And He it is Who sendeth the winds, glad tidings heralding His mercy, and We send down purifying water from the sky.” (Al-Furqan: 48)
Like all other Prophets of Allah, Jesus, peace and blessings be upon him, also washed himself to purify himself. During his time Yahya (John, the Baptist) used to call people to repent and purify themselves in the River Jordan. It is mentioned that Jesus also went to him and took a bath of purification (Mark 1:9-11).
After that Allah appointed Jesus as His Prophet and Messenger and he began preaching Allah’s Message. Jesus was a servant of Allah. He used to pray and for his prayers he must be purifying himself.
Jews in his time also used to do a lot of ritual washings. The Old Testament speaks a lot about the use of water for the purpose of purification. (See Numbers 19:1-22; Leviticus 14-15-16:24-28)
After Jesus left this world, Paul became a leader of some Christians. It was he who gave a new interpretation of Jesus’ Baptism. He told them that when a person takes a Baptism in water, actually he immerses himself in Jesus’ blood and dies with him and then he is resurrected like Jesus into a new person. (See Romans 6:3-4).
Paul gave a new definition of Baptism. For him it was something to do with Original Sin and then the alleged death and resurrection of Jesus. (See Colossians 2:12)
For Jesus, peace and blessings be upon him, and his followers the Baptism was just a bath or ablution to purify themselves physically, ritually and spiritually, but with Pauline interpretation it became a symbol of belief in Jesus’ so-called death and resurrection.
We, as Muslims, accept the early tradition and that is what Islam has preserved and reaffirmed. We do not accept the later interpretation and doctrinal aberrations.”