In previous pages we discussed the issues of the Shabih and atonement in
Islam. In order to do justice to this study it is necessary to examine a few
Quranic verses that Muslims traditionally misinterpreted and thus evaded the
inevitable fact of the crucifixion and resurrection.
The Quran does not deny that some prophets have been subjected to death.
Several Suras indicate that:
and whensoever there came to you a Messenger with that your souls had not
desire for, did you become arrogant and some cry lies to, and some slay?
...and their slaying the Prophets without right, and We shall say, ``Taste
the chastisement of the burning'' (Al Imran 3:178)
Those same men said, ``God has made covenant with us, that we believe not
any Messenger until he brings to us a sacrifice devoured by fire.'' Say:
``Messengers have come to you before me bearing clear signs, and that you spoke
of; why therefore did you slay them, if you speak truly?'' (Al Imran 3:179--180)
So, for their breaking the compact, and disbelieving in the signs of God,
and slaying the Prophets without right, and for their saying, ``Our hearts are
uncircumcised'' --- nay, but God sealed them for their unbelief, so they believe
not, except a few --- (al-Nisa 4:154)
These Quranic verses acknowledge that prophets had been slain for one reason
or another. God does allow that to happen to some of His messengers. Since the
Holy Gospel proclaims that Christ has come by His own choice and in obedience to
the wish of the heavenly Father to redeem humanity, why then do Muslims refuse
to accept His crucifixion?
Still, the Quran contains other references to the death of Christ and His
crucifixion. Let us examine the following verses:
When God said: ``Jesus, I will take thee to Me, and I will raise thee to
Me,'' (Al Imran 3:47)
And I was a witness over them, while I remained among them; but when Thou
didst take me to Thyself, Thou wast Thyself the watcher over them; (al-Maida
The Messiah, the son of Mary, was only a Messenger; Messengers before him
passed away; (al-Maida 5:79)
In one of the Quranic references to Himself, Jesus is quoted as saying:
Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am
raised up alive! (Mary 19:34)
This is the same statement Jesus uttered about Yahya (John the Baptist):
Peace be upon him, the day he was born, and the day he dies, and the day he
is raised up alive! (Mary 19:15)
Muslim expositors endeavoured to interpret these verses on the basis of
their pre-conceived idea that Jesus neither was crucified nor died. They
explained the Arabic word mutawaffika to mean ``to end your term''. This
explanation does not agree with the general context of these verses. Many
exegetes who were closer to the age of the Quranic language understood it to
mean ``to cause you to die''. We will examine these verses and study the term
wafat (``death'') and its derivations as they are stated in the above texts.
Muslim scholars fail to agree on the meaning of the term mutawaffika.
Consequently, they are divided into two groups. Al-Razi was able to compile
together the various opinions of these scholars in the course of his
interpretation of the verse Al Imran 3:45, ``I will cause thee to die.'' In fact
al-Razi refrained from expressing his personal opinion concerning this term, and
he resorted to presenting the opinions of other scholars without committing
himself to any point of view. Apparently, al-Razi's attitude, despite its
elusiveness, was safer for him in a society which does not permit such an
outstanding religious scholar to infringe on the consensus of Muslim opinion on
such a serious issue. Thus, he resorted, as it seems, to compiling and editing
the various views, leaving to the Muslim reader the freedom to embrace the
opinion which best fit his religious background.
The contradictory opinions which al-Razi set forth as interpretations for
the term mutawaffika are:
End your term: that is, ``I end your term on earth, so I do not
leave you to your enemies, the Jews, to kill you.''
Cause you to die: this is a statement made on the authority of Ibn
Abbas, the expositor of the Quran, and Muhammad b. Is-haq. They said that the
purpose was not to let His enemies, the Jews, to kill Him. Then after that (God)
honoured Him (Jesus) by raising Him up to heaven. From this point on, Muslim
scholars differed in three ways: a) Wahb said: He died for three hours, then was
raised up; b) Muhammad b. Is-haq said: He died seven hours then God quickened
Him and raised Him up; c) al-Rabi ibn Anas said: God caused Him to die when He
raised Him up to heaven; for God said (in the Quran): ``God takes the souls at
the time of their death, and that which has not died, in its sleep;'' (al-Zumar
The waw (``and'') regulates the word order: Since Jesus is alive,
that means that God has raised Him up to heaven first; then He will descend to
kill the anti-Christ. After that God will cause Him to die.
The spiritual interpretation: this is the opinion of Abu Bakr
al-Wasity. ``(I cause you to die) of your lusts and the desires of your soul.
Then He said: `I raise you up to Me' because unless He dies to what is not but
God He would never reach the place of the knowledge of God. Also, when Jesus was
raised up to heaven, He became like the angels: free of lust, anger and
Obviously, this mystic interpretation is incongruous with the Islamic
principle of the infallibility of the prophets and their sublime characters. We
also see here the influence of the Ebionites who claimed that Jesus became the
archangel in His ascension.
The complete ascension: that is, Jesus, son of Mary, was raised up
whole in both body and spirit, not only in spirit as some may think. What
supports this interpretation is God's saying: ``They would not cause You any
I make you as if you died: Raising Jesus up to heaven, the
eradication of any physical trace of Him from this earth, and the obliteration
of His reports would make Him as if He really died. ``Applying the name of one
thing to another if they share similar properties and qualities, is
Grasping: which means to repay or be repaid as when receiving in
full a sum of money which you are owed. Either way, snatching Him out of the
earth and ascending Him to heaven is a payment for Him.
Compensation for the work: that is, God ``has announced to Him the
glad tidings of accepting His obedience and His deed. He revealed to Him (Jesus)
the troubles and the toils He would suffer from His enemies as He spread His
(God's) religion and law. He (God) would not forfeit His compensation or waste
Al-Razi adds, ``these are the total said views of those who interpreted the
verse according to the literal meaning.''
Other commentators say: ``The verse must have meaning-inversion without a
need for word-order-inversion (to be stated); they reiterated that His saying
`and I will raise thee to Me' implies that he raised Him (Jesus) up alive and
the waw does not necessitate word-order-inversion. It remains to be said that it
has a meaning-inversion. Thus the meaning is: I will raise you to Me and I will
purify you of those who believe not. And I will cause you to die after I send
you down to the world. Such inversions in the Quran are numerous.'' To those
Be informed that the many views which we presented are sufficient to free
(us) from the obligation of contradicting the apparent meaning, and God knows
The two supplication verses mentioned in Sura Mary 19, request the peace of
God to be upon Jesus and Yahya (John the Baptist) the day they were born and the
day they die and the day they will be raised from the dead. These failed to
incite Muslim scholars to examine thoroughly the story of Christ's death. It is
believed among Muslims that the phrase ``the day I die'' alludes to Jesus' death
after His second coming and the destruction of the anti-Christ.
Other Muslim commentators such as al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir, Zamakhshari and
Baydawi did not provide better information to illuminate the obscurity of these
verses. In many ways they were dependent on each other except in rare cases.
What can be concluded from al-Razi's survey of the commentators' opinions of
the word mutawaffika?
First, apparently al-Razi was merely a compiler of opinions who seems to
have intentionally refrained from interacting with or reacting to these
opinions. A reader cannot help but feel that this rationalistic scholar could
not be content with the expositors' interpretations. On the other hand, as a
religious Muslim scholar it would be almost impossible for him to suggest a new
interpretation that would stand in contrast to the general consensus of the
Islamic theology concerning the death of Christ.
Secondly, the contradictory opinions and interpretations of Muslim scholars
have only created more confusion and perplexity in the minds of the
fact-finders, and did not help them to unveil the truth. These expositors and
narrators held noted academic status in Islamic history and were frequently
quoted by students of religion and researchers. Thus these contrasting
speculations only increase the objective Muslim's bewilderment and fill him with
agonising frustration. He may wonder what the right interpretation is. Why did
Muslim scholars differ in their interpretations of a certain commonly used word?
What type of explanation should he accept or reject?
One sign of the sense of loss among Muslim scholars is the use of the phrase
``God knows better'' each time they try to explore a disputed issue or opinion.
This was al-Razi's concluding phrase after he exhausted the current opinions of
other Muslim scholars. Such an attitude shows the sense of uncertainty in the
Third, in the verses pertaining to the death of Christ, the main purpose for
the ambiguity is to veil the interpretation of the word mutawaffika. This
vagueness is ascribed to the contentious view of Muslim commentators who
persistently evade admitting its true meaning, ``death''. Muslim consensus on
this meaning would demand them to seriously examine the case of crucifixion and
resurrection in a new light, which they emphatically refuse to do.
In order to be freed from the unnecessary ambiguity of the Muslim scholars
as they attempt to interpret the word mutawaffika without resorting to futile
sophistic methods, one should study the connotations of this word as it is
stated in the Quran.
The word mutawaffika and its derivations have been mentioned in the Quran
over 25 times. With the exception of two places, they all allude to or are in
some way associated with death. In these two verses, the context makes it clear
that it figuratively means slumber. One verse reads:
It is He who recalls you by night, and He knows what you work by day;
The other verse is found in al-Zumar 39:42:
God takes the souls (of men) at the time of their death, and that which has
not died, in its sleep;
A study of the two verses that pertain to the death of Christ will show that
there is no evidence in the context to suggest that the word mutawaffika has a
figurative meaning. The word means ``death'', regardless of whether that death
was a natural death or crucifixion. On the other hand, an examination of the
verse ``but when Thou didst take me to Thyself, Thou wast Thyself the watcher
over them'' (al-Maida 5:117) will reveal that the task of watching over Jesus'
followers has become God's responsibility. This implies that after His death
Christ had no control over His followers. However, if we accept the Islamic
point of view that Jesus did not die but had been raised up to heaven, body and
soul, then He would still be able to watch over them and to witness against them
or for them. But according to the above verse, when Jesus said, ``And I was a
witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them,'' He was referring indirectly to
His death. In reality He was saying, ``Now after You caused me to die I am not
able to watch over them. Everything now is in Your hand because You are the
living eternal God.'' This same rule could be applied to His saying: ``He has
enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live.'' (Mary 19:31)
Thus, since Jesus is still alive in flesh and blood in heaven, does He still
offer His alms as He was ordered to do?
In more than one place the sound Hadith attests to this fact. In The Sahih
of al-Bukhari we read:
On the authority of Ibn Abbas: The Prophet of Allah said, `You will be
gathered (on the Day of Judgment), bare-footed, naked and not circumcised,' then
he recited `As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it: A promise We
have undertaken; truly we shall do it' (al-Anbiya 21:104). He added: `the first
to be dressed in the Day of Resurrection will be Abraham; and some of my
companions will be taken to the right side and the left side, and I will say:
`My companions!' It will be said: `After you left them they regenerated (from
Islam). Then I will say as the pious slave Jesus, son of Mary, said: `and I was
a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them. When you caused me to die You
were the watcher over them, and You are a witness to all things. If You punish
them, they are Your slaves; and if You forgive them You are indeed the
All-Mighty, the All-Wise.'
Evidently Muhammad quoted the Quranic verse that Jesus uttered. We also know
that Muhammad died, and no Muslim claimed that he was raised up to heaven.
Therefore, when he cited the above Quranic verse and used the term tawaffaytani
(``caused me to die''),
he indeed referred to his own death and not his being raised up to heaven.
It is not permissible to play with the interpretation of these terms at the
expense of the truth. So this word (``caused me to die'') applied both to Jesus
and Muhammad. The difference between the two is that Christ rose from the dead
on the third day and He will come back, not to die --- because He has already
died and risen from the dead --- but to judge the living and the dead, as the
infallible Bible states.
In addition to the Quranic texts in which the term wafat (``death'')
indicated the common meaning as used by ancient Arabs, we found that the sound
Islamic Tradition utilises this same term to mean ``death''. On the authority of
Anas it is said that:
The Apostle of God said:... ``no one should wish for death because of any
misfortune that befalls him. If he had to do so let him say: `O, Allah keep me
alive so long as life is good for me; and (author's italics) cause me to die
(tawaffani) if death is better for me.'?''
It is also indicated in another tradition:
On the authority of Ibn Abbas...that Ali Ibn Abi Talib came out of the
chamber of the Apostle of God...during his last illness of which he
In the Quran there are three verses in which the term natawaffayannaka (``we
indeed cause you to die''), is used (Yunis 10:46, al-Rad 13:40 and Ghafir
40:77). These verses are addressed to Muhammad by God. God promised His apostle
that He would punish the
disbelievers during His lifetime, or He would take the apostle to Himself
before them and they would be punished in the hereafter. The above term does not
differ in its use or meaning from the same term when used for Christ's death. It
is very interesting to note that Muslim expositors did not take the trouble to
comment on this term as they did with the term mutawaffika when they interpreted
the verses related to Jesus' death. They took it for granted that this term
means ``to cause you to die''.
Thus, the normal meaning of the term wafat as it is expressed in most
Quranic verses and the Islamic Traditions, unless contextual evidence indicates
differently, is ``death''. The sophistry that Muslim scholars mastered failed to
veil the historicity of the crucifixion. It only succeeded in creating confusion
in the minds of many Muslims and drawing them away from the truth.
Some may wonder how we can reconcile between the above and the verse of
and for their saying (in boast), ``We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary,
the Messenger of God'' --- yet they did not slay Him, neither crucified Him,
only a likeness of that was shown to them. Those who are at variance concerning
Him surely are in doubt regarding Him; they have no knowledge of Him, except the
following of surmise; and they slew Him not of a certainty ---
The meaning of this verse has been shrouded in obscurity. Even modern Muslim
scholars have failed to liberate themselves from the impact of the traditional
interpretations of narrators and expositors. In my view, the problem lies in the
lack of documentation and historical evidence for these traditional
interpretations. Let us scrutinise some of these important facts:
The verse states, ``they did not slay Him, neither crucified Him.'' This
does not disprove that Jesus may have died a natural death. It denies that He
was killed or crucified, if taken at its face value. This consideration is
congruent with what was alluded to before about the term mutawaffika, especially
if one frees himself from the sophistry of the expositors. Many expositors found
a threat to all their proclaimed interpretations and beliefs in the historicity
of Jesus' death. Christ's death itself refutes the claim that He will die after
He returns. Consequently, the Quranic verses confirm the Christians' teaching
about the death of Christ. If Jesus really did die, then He cannot die again
since His death on the cross was to redeem man from his fateful condition. He
has paid the price once for all.
In the phrase ``for they slew Him not of a certainty'' there is an indirect
emphasis on Jesus' crucifixion because it follows the preceding statement:
``They did not slay Him, neither crucified Him, only a likeness of that was
shown to them.'' What was the source of that certainty that ``they slew him not
of a certainty"? We have proven conclusively that Christ was crucified. The
crucifixion was only the first phase on the road to redemption. The second phase
was crowned with the resurrection. The source of certainty is the resurrection
that defeated the conspiracies of Christ's foes. So in His resurrection, Jesus
Christ appeared as if He was not crucified because He came out of the battle
Jesus said that His life was not taken from Him, but He laid it down
voluntarily (John 10:17--18). Thus, those who boasted that they killed Him did
not, in fact, because He offered Himself freely. Had He not done so, they would
never have been able to ever touch Him or hurt Him. It may have appeared to
wicked men that they killed Jesus by their own power, but they did not, for He
freely gave His own life.
The denial here is not a denial of the killing or of the crucifixion, but
rather a denial of the fulfilment of the objectives of Christ's foes. They
thought that they got rid of Him forever, but what really happened was the
opposite. Christianity flourished and grew, even in the era in which the heroes
of the conspiracy lived. The resurrection and the growth of Christianity were
the arrows that hit them at their most vulnerable spot.
The phrase ``only a likeness of that was shown to them'' has connotations
that demand our scrutiny. We must examine it on two levels --- the Quranic level
and the interpretative level --- in order to comprehend its meanings within its
intellectual and religious timeframe.
It seems that the purpose of this verse is to expose the conspiracy of the
Jews and to reveal their impotency in the face of the divine volition which
willed contrary to their will. Sura Al Imran 3:55 states, ``And they (the Jews)
devised and God devised,
and God is the best of devisers.'' This verse unveils the Jews' attitude
towards Christ. It also preceded His saying, ``-- When God said: `Jesus, I will
take Thee to me and raise Thee to Me.'?'' This word when is a conjunction that
connects the two verses. Despite their brevity, they manifest the unequal
struggle between God's will and Christ's enemies' will. In his valuable bookal-Quran
wa al-Masihiyah, Professor Haddad states:
The clarity of the text and its evidence make it an official testimony used
by Christian authority that the Jews had devised against Christ, killed him and
crucified him; but God's device against them was better than their device for he
resurrected Jesus after he was killed and crucified.
The Jews conspired and planned to destroy Christ, and their plot succeeded
for a while. But God's device was better than theirs because Jesus was
resurrected from the dead on the third day, and then after 40 days he ascended
to heaven. Evidently God's device against the Jews was not to rescue Jesus from
their hand and raise him up to himself. Such an interpretation contradicts the
historical facts, the logical arguments and the Quranic evidence from which we
drew our proofs. God's plan was to resurrect
Jesus. This is how God devised against them and defeated their plot after
they thought --- and this is the true meaning of ``it appeared to them'' ---
that by killing Jesus and crucifying Him, they had gotten rid of Him forever.
Christ's resurrection was not only a victory over the Jews' conspiracy, but it
was also a victory over death.
In his interesting book, Qiss wa Nabi ("A Priest and a
Prophet''), Abu Musa al-Hariri refers to the heresies of some Ebionites who
Christ by His own will changes from one image to another. He cast His own
likeness on Simon who was crucified in His place, while He ascended to heaven
alive to the one who sent Him; deluding all those who have conspired to arrest
Him, because He was invisible to all.
Thus it becomes clear that Christ's resurrection on the third day, as He
indicated about Himself and as it is written in the prophecies, was the fatal
blow to the conspiracies and plots of the Jews.
On the interpretative level, the phrase ``it so appeared to them'' became
``it was likened to him''. Since that time Muslim expositors have concerned
themselves with the identity of the Shabih. This is the main difference
between the Quranic text and interpretations of the commentators who did not
find sources other than the heresies to quote from. They used the writings of
the Docetists, the Ebionites and the Gnostics to explain their concept about
Christ and His crucifixion. They received their information from former heretics
who were converted to Islam, or directly from the adherents of these heresies.
Muslims did not have other historical, archaeological or religious documents on
which to rely in their interpretations of these verses. This is
not a hollow claim since we have sufficient Islamic sources to confirm this
point of view.
Maybe the best example we can quote here is what was related on the
authority of Wahb Ibn Munabbih (A.D. 647--733) who was an authority on the
People of the Book and regarded among the Successors. It seems that his
information did not go beyond the literary work of the Christian heretics, the
apocryphal books and the Talmud. His knowledge of the Bible was definitely
superficial. This transmitter of information relied heavily on the opinions and
episodes of these sects, a combination of Biblical texts and the speculations of
the heretical scholars. Arab historians quoted him excessively ``about the
accounts of the prophets, peoples, and narratives of the Children of Israel.''
Among the information al-Thaalabi cited on his authority is the account of the
darkness that enveloped the land upon Christ's crucifixion. He said:
They took Him (Jesus) and verified His identity. They tied Him with a rope
and dragged Him saying, ``You used to raise the dead and to heal the blind and
the leper, why don't you untie yourself from this rope?'' They spat at Him and
put thorns on Him. Then they erected a post to crucify Him on it. When they
brought Him to the post the land grew dark and God sent His angels to bar them
from reaching Him. Jesus' likeness then was cast on the one who led them (Jews)
to Him, whose name was Judas the Iscariot, and was crucified in His place,
thinking that He was Jesus. God caused Jesus to die for three hours, then He
raised Him up to heaven. That is His saying --- He may be exalted ---: ``I will
cause Thee to die and raise Thee to Myself and clear Thee from the
disbelievers.'' When the resembler of Jesus was crucified, Mary, the mother of
Jesus, and another woman for whom Jesus prayed and healed of her insanity came
to bewail beside the crucified person. Then Jesus approached them and asked:
``Over whom are you bewailing?'' They said: ``Over You.'' He said: ``God, the
Most High, has raised Me and nothing but good befell Me. And this man so
appeared to them (to be like Me).''
Also Wahb Ibn Munabbih used to say: ``I have seen 92 books which all came
from heaven. Seventy-two of them are found in the churches and in the hands of
people, and twenty are only known to the few.'' No doubt that 66 of the books
were the books of the Bible but the rest were apocryphal and Gnostic books with
which Wahb, as it seems, was well acquainted. These books were Wahb's sources of
information that he used to explain some of the Quranic verses.
In his famous commentary, al-Tabari records a similar story on the authority
of Wahb, with a slight variation in the text in which he claimed that Jesus
waited seven hours before the two women came.
It is amazing, however, that not one sound Prophetic Tradition dealing with
the issue of the Shabih has been mentioned to illustrate the Quranic account,
though the problem of the cross is one of the major differences between
Christianity and Islam. All that was transmitted were reports based on the
allegations of the expositors and the narrators who were enchanted with anything
that was strange and exciting. If the sources of these stories were traced,
their origins would be found in the legends of former nations or in some of the
current material of the age. Maybe the best book to demonstrate this fact is The
Sources of Islam by W. St. Claire Tisdall, who was able to trace most stories
and commentaries of the narrators and expositors related to the Biblical events
to their original sources. So why did the Prophetic Tradition neglect to explain
these obscure verses? We know that Islamic biographies and collections of
Traditions have recorded a host of interpretations and teachings by which
Muhammad instructed his followers concerning clearer verses than these.
What can be inferred from this evidence?
First, the heresies of the Christian religious sects that flourished during
the inception of Islam had great impact on the views of Muslim commentators, who
received their information and knowledge about Jewish and Christian beliefs from
scholars whose expertise was limited to the heresies of these sects. It is
evident that Wahb was well acquainted with the teachings and beliefs of the
Docetists, Ebionites and Gnostics.
Second, some narrators, such as Wahb Ibn Munabbih, embraced Islam and
carried with them the seeds of their early beliefs. They may have tried to
reconcile those beliefs with the teaching of Islam. Wahb's narrative stories
appear to be the nearest thing to the Christian doctrines. Maybe he sought to
accomplish a conscious reconciliatory act intended to bridge the wide gap
between the contrasting points of view.
Third, in the narrative of Wahb there is another historical confirmation of
the authenticity of the Gospel's story about the darkness. This fact contradicts
the view of direct ascension as related in the Quran. One of the sound Prophetic
Traditions recorded by both Muslim and Bukhari states:
On the authority of Abdullah Ibn Masud...who said: ``(I recollect) as if I
am still looking at the Apostle of God narrating about a prophet who was beaten
by his own people until he was bleeding profusely, yet as he was wiping away the
blood from his face he said, `O God, forgive my people for they know not.'"
Who was the prophet who spoke these words? On which occasion were they
spoken? Anyone who searches the entire Bible will never find such a prophet in
the Old Testament. But surely he will find an adequate report about Christ's
excruciating agony and the abuse He suffered from His own people and His
crucifixion. There, on the cross, in the last moments of His life, He said:
Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do. (Luke 23:34, NKJ)
This is the full text of Jesus' supplication on the cross, in the most
crucial moment of his life. In fact, this Tradition is another indirect proof of
the authenticity of the Bible. It also contradicts the allegation of the direct
ascension which omits any mention of Jesus' sufferings either in the Quran or in
the interpretation of the expositors.
The two verses recorded in Sura Mary 19, about Jesus and Yahya and the
invocation for peace to be upon them the day they were born, the day they die
and the day they will be resurrected are, in my opinion, further evidence of the
death of Christ, for two primary reasons:
First, all Muslim scholars agree that Yahya died and the verse, ``Peace be
upon him the day he was born, and the day he dies and the day he is raised up
alive,'' (Mary 19:15) which was said about Yahya, is similar in its linguistic
structure to the verse uttered by Jesus about Himself: ``Peace be upon me the
day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised up alive!'' In fact, both
verses have been uttered by Jesus Christ Himself. Why then do Muslim expositors
refuse to apply to Jesus the same interpretation they apply to Yahya? Why do
they pervert the interpretation of these two verses according to their biases?
Why do they claim that the first verse really alludes to the death of Yahya, but
then allege that the expression ``I die'' in the second verse refers to the
future death of Christ after His second coming?
Second, the historical documents, the Quranic evidence and the logical
reasons that were cited from the authoritative sources and references prove that
the term ``I die'' mentioned in the above verse points to the death of Christ in
the immediate future. Besides, Ibn Abbas, who was known as the interpreter of
the Quran, and other expositors who were closer to the current language of the
time understood the expressions wafat and mutawaffika as hints to His immediate
future death, regardless of whether the death was for three days or seven hours.
Dr. Mahmud Shaltut, the late Rector of al-Azhar University said:
The expression tawaffaitani [sic] is entitled in this verse to bear the
meaning of ordinary death.... There is no way to interpret ``death'' as
occurring after His (Jesus) return from heaven in the supposition that He is now
alive in heaven, because the verse very clearly limits the connexion of Jesus to
His connexion with His own people of His own day and the connexion is not with
the people living at the time when He returns.... All that the verses referring
to this subject mean is that God promised Jesus that He would complete for Him
His life-span and would raise Him up to Himself.
Or, as Parrinder states, ``there is no futurity in the grammar of the Quran
of verse [Mary] 19:34 to suggest a post millennial death. The plain meaning
seems to be His physical death at the end of His present human life on earth.''
Another modern Muslim writer says that in Sura Al Imran 3:47, God is
addressing Jesus and says, ``Truly I am He who calls You to death,'' or ``It is
I who am causing You to die.'' The construction of this Quranic phrase ``is in
the active participle with the pronoun (object) attached to it.''
In his book, Christ in Islam and Christianity, Neal Robinson states:
The three ayat [verses] about Muhammad and the two about Jesus are the only
ones where the verb is used in the active voice with God as the subject, and
with one of His prophets as the object. Moreover in both sets of ayat
[verses] there is a similar emphasis on God's witnessing man's actions and on
man's return to Him for Judgment.
It is important now to examine the Quranic statement, ``It so appeared to
them.'' The question is: to whom? Undoubtedly, those intended by ``them'' in the
Quranic text are the Jews and the Romans who executed the death penalty. But
what about Jesus' disciples, His mother and the rest of His followers? Were they
really deceived and ``it so appeared to them'' also? The Quran keeps silent and
does not mention them. It is obvious that they were not among those who were
deceived. In other words, the disciples who were present there did not fall into
the trap of ``it so appeared to them.'' They were sure that the crucified one
was Christ Himself and nobody else. Maybe the most significant proof is that all
the disciples' teachings and their inspired epistles are centred on the death of
Christ and His resurrection. We say this though we know that there is no
historical or documentary evidence to prove that the Jews and the Romans had any
shade of doubt concerning the identity of the crucified one. Judas Iscariot had
already committed suicide, and his corpse was found and buried, probably in the
Potter's Field. The darkness enveloped the land after Jesus, as the Son of Man,
delivered His soul on the cross into the hands of the Father and not before He
was crucified, as some Muslim narrators claim. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and
some of His disciples were present when He was crucified. Christ's body was
wrapped with spiced linen cloth by those who knew Him well. The Roman soldiers,
who oversaw His crucifixion and divided His clothes among themselves and pierced
Him with a spear, did not question the identity of the crucified. In the
darkness, when the earthquake terror seized all those who were watching the
crucifixion, the centurion who was standing right in front of Jesus, said:
``Truly, this man was the Son of God.'' Furthermore, the empty tomb is the
strongest proof of the identity of the crucified person. If the crucified person
was other than Christ would He be able to rise from the dead and then to appear
to the disciples and to His followers for 40 days?
Needless to say, the authentic historical documents strongly refute any
claim that the crucified person was a Shabih. What excuse do the sceptics still
The last phrase from Sura al-Nisa 4:157 is:
Those who are at variance concerning Him surely are in doubt regarding Him;
they have no knowledge of Him, except the following of surmise; and they slew
Him not of a certainty---
This passage is shrouded in obscurity. If the text is examined at its face
value, it becomes apparent that it does not fit in the general context of the
incident. It was demonstrated above that Christ's disciples did not fall into
the trap of the Shabih and that there is no proof that the Romans and Jews were
unsure of the identity of the crucified person. Who then were those who had ``no
The answer is simple: those who had no knowledge were the various Christian
sects dispersed all over the Arab Peninsula. It is true that the Quran was
talking about the crucifixion of Jesus, but at the same time it was reflecting
the heretical religious movements and theological trends of that time. The
Docetists, Ebionites and other heretical sects who taught and preached the
concept of the Shabih were constantly in disagreement with Biblical
Christianity, which asserted the reality of Christ's crucifixion and did not
believe in the myth of the Shabih, which contradicted the Biblical report.
It is apparent that the Quran has strongly endorsed the teachings of the
heretical sects and joined them in their struggle against Biblical Christianity.
It is the opinion of this writer that the main reason for the Quranic attitude
is that Muhammad acquainted himself with the beliefs of these sects only.
Certainly those beliefs left a deep impression on Muhammad's mind and on his
religious tendencies. Besides, a number of the followers of these sects embraced
Islam because, in most cases, their tenets are not inconsistent with the Quranic
teachings. The Quranic contradictory attitudes towards the Christians can be
explained in the light of this proposition. Those who were exalted were the
adherents of the resemblance theory among the Christians; but those who were
reproached and attacked were the people of the Gospel who believed in the
crucifixion and death of Christ. Perhaps the episode of Muhammad's dialogue with
the people of Najran and his disagreement with them about the divinity of Christ
is the most striking example of this fact.
It is not a secret that some of the People of the Book were accustomed to
reading the Hebrew Torah and interpreting it in Arabic to the Muslims, which
sometimes irritated Muhammad, so that he cautioned his followers to be careful
in accepting or rejecting what they heard from them. Inspite of that, Muhammad
himself used to hold dialogue sessions with Christians and Jews from time to
time, and even to visit the Jewish synagogue in Medina. Islamic biographies
attested that Muhammad developed a strong relationship with one of the most
famous Christian scholars in Mecca. His name was Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, the cousin
of Khadija, Muhammad's first wife. In Sirat Ibn Hisham it is stated that
Muhammad made the acquaintance of Waraqa Ibn Nawfal at an early age. Waraqa was
the one who presided over Muhammad's wedding. Moreover, when Muhammad related to
his wife, Khadija, his vision or experience in the cave of Hara, the first thing
she did was to take him to her cousin Waraqa to consult with him. No doubt
Muhammad, who refused to worship the idols of Mecca, found in Waraqa the best
counsellor to share his earnest doubts and spiritual crises. When Muhammad
married Khadija, he was 25 years old. During the next fifteen years and before
the claim of the prophethood, Muhammad, it seems, was constantly inquiring and
searching for the truth. What better source could he get than Waraqa, who was
well-acquainted with both the Hebrew and the Arabic languages, and monotheism?
It was said that Waraqa, as the head of the Christian community of Mecca,
occupied himself with the translation of the Gospel to the Hebrews, which was
used by the Ebionites, into Arabic. Besides, some scholars believe that Waraqa
was the bishop of Mecca and he belonged to the Ebionite sect. If this is true
--- and there are solid indications that this claim is true --- Waraqa's
theological tendencies had great impact on Muhammad's concept of Christ's
nature, crucifixion and incarnation.
Among Muhammad's Companions were several former Nasara and Jews who embraced
Islam for one reason or another, such as Abdullah Ibn Sallam, Tamim al-Dari,
Abdullah Ibn Suriyya and Bilal al-Farisi who converted from Paganism to Judaism
to Christianity and then to Islam. Besides, some of Muhammad's wives and
concubines were Christians and Jews, who indeed conveyed to him many folk
religious episodes and legends about the prophets of the Old and New Testaments.
Other Companions, on the authority of the People of the Book, transmitted
without any discernment a collection of folkloric stories as they were in vogue
among the masses. Among those Companions were Abdullah Ibn al-Abbas the
interpreter of the Quran, Abdullah Ibn Amru Ibn al-As and Abu Hurayra. Most of
the information they transmitted had no basis in the Bible itself.
It can also be inferred from available reports that Muhammad, in many cases,
did not prohibit his followers from reading the Torah and the Gospel. These
reports are inadequate because they do not state what part of the Torah or the
Gospel they were allowed to read and for what reasons. Other reports negated
that the Apostle permitted the Muslims to read any other religious book than the
In his Sahih, the Imam al-Bukhari, on the authority of Abdullah Ibn
Amru Ibn al-As, related that the Prophet said, ``Convey (to the people) on my
behalf even if it is one verse and pass on (what you heard) from the children of
Israel without objection....''
Al-Hafidh al-Thahabi records that Abdullah Ibn Sallam came to the prophet
and told him, ``I have read the Quran and the Torah (last night).'' He answered
him, ``Read this one night and that another night.''
A very interesting story is found in Sahih of Muslim. On the
authority of Fatima, daughter of Qays, who said that after the congregational
prayer on Friday, the Prophet asked the people to stay, then he said, ``By Allah
I have not made you assemble for exhortation or for warning, but I detained you
here because Tamim al-Dari, a Christian who came and accepted Islam, told me
something which agrees with what I was telling you about the Dajjal
The story to which Muhammad referred is most probably a distorted version of
the episode of the Beast mentioned in Revelation 13. Perhaps Muhammad's interest
to cite the testimony of Tamim was to bestow credibility on his prophethood in
the eyes of both Muslims and Christians.
It is obvious from these reports that Christian and Jewish folkloric
stories, myths and legends permeated the Hadith and the interpretations of the
Quran, and even the verses of the Quran itself. Studies in comparative religions
show how the Quran drew much of its information from the apocryphal and
Christian-Jewish folklores. It is no wonder then that the Islamic interpretation
of the crucifixion was distorted by these unreliable legends.
There are two other verses in the Quran that would shed additional light on
the meaning of mutawaffika. These two verses are:
The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger; Messengers before him passed
away. (al-Maida 5:75)
Muhammad is naught but a Messenger; Messengers have passed away before him.
Why, if he should die or is slain, will you turn about on your heels? (Al Imran
If these two verses are examined on the basis of their relation to the
destiny of all previous prophets it would be obvious that all of them have one
thing in common: they all died. Jesus and Muhammad, according to the Quran,
faced the same end. They are like the rest of the prophets who passed away
before them. Neither Jesus nor Muhammad was exceptional. It is difficult for the
researcher to assume that the Quran that includes Jesus among the deceased
prophets would exclude him from the same destiny. As Muhammad died, Jesus died
Grammatically, there is no difference between these two verses. They have
the same meaning. When former Muslim scholars attempted to interpret the
meanings of these two verses they were very careful not to mention the death of
the previous prophets when comparing Jesus to them. It is true that the Quran
was reproaching Christians who attributed divinity to Christ and His mother, but
as it compared them to the prophets who passed away before them, it intended to
emphasise their humanity in every aspect, particularly that they were also
subject to death. This is also evident in Muhammad's case. Sura Al Imran 3:144
refers to the battle of Uhud in which Muhammad was almost killed. It is apparent
here that the bottom line of the comparison was to ascertain the humanity of
Jesus who was subject to human experience, even death.
In conclusion, this is a brief study in which I attempted to deal with a
complicated subject. Yet I believe that this theme is the most significant theme
in our Christian faith. While we do not find any reliable text, historical
evidence, archaeological proof or authenticated document that corroborates the
Quranic denial of the crucifixion of Christ and his death, there are a wealth of
textual evidence and original documents available to any Christian that confirm
the veracity of the Bible's record. Therefore, as Christians, we reject any text
found in the sacred books of other religions that contradicts the accounts of
our infallible Book. Also, we certainly do not care about what the Christian
heretical sects believe or teach. Our faith is based on what is revealed to us
by God's holy divine inspiration, because all the Scriptures are inspired by
God. Any teaching that contradicts God's Book is not acceptable.
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