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Death of Jesus in Quran “reasonable and valid”

Saudi religious scholar says Muslims are entitled to believe in it

(The Light & Islamic Review: Vol. 70; No. 3; May-June 1993, p. 9-10)

In the Saudi Arabian newspaper Arab News (Saudi Arabia’s first English language daily), of 18 September 1992, one of the questions on the religious page (Islam in Perspective, p. 9), asked by a reader from Jeddah, is as follows:

“May I put to you a question that you have answered before: ‘Had the death of Jesus Christ preceded the miracle of his ascension?’ After reading your question in which you said that Jesus Christ did not die, I happened to read a book entitled Deep into the Quran by Dr. Kamal Umar, an eminent Pakistani author. He comes decidedly in favor of the view that Jesus Christ died a natural death. I am sending you a photocopy of the relevant pages, requesting you to clear the controversy.”

Go here to see a scanned image of the page in Arab News.

The answers on the page are given by Adil Salahi, who replies to readers’ questions in other newspapers and magazines as well. His answer to this question is given below in full. (For the convenience of our readers, we have printed in bold those parts of the text which we wish to draw attention to.)

I have certainly answered that question by saying that Jesus Christ did not die, but Allah raised him to Himself. In this, I have only given the view of the majority of scholars, including contemporary ones. I have quoted the Quranic verse which says in reference to what the Jews used to assert: “And their statement ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah’. They certainly have neither killed him nor crucified him, although it was made to appear so to them.” This verse concludes with a categorical statement: “For certain they have not killed him, but Allah has raised him to Himself. Allah is Almighty, Wise.”

There are a number of hadiths which speak of the return of Jesus Christ to this world when he will resume his mission of preaching the message of the Oneness of Allah. That will definitely be the Divine message in its final form, i.e. Islam, as preached by Prophet Muhammad (peace be on them both). Those Hadiths and the Quranic statements which speak of the raising of the Prophet Jesus provide a full justification for the view of the majority of scholars that Jesus Christ did not die but was raised by Allah and that he will make a second appearance at a time which will be appointed by Allah Himself and known to Him alone. However, there are references to Jesus Christ in the Quran which use a term that is most frequently used to indicate death although not necessarily so. Linguistically speaking, the word means the completion of a term. When it refers to life, it means the completion of one’s life and its termination by death. It is used in this sense in other verses of the Quran. Dr. Kamal Umar quotes these verses in his book and translates them as referring to the death of Jesus. Thus, he gives the translation of Verse 55 of Surah 3 as follows: “When Allah said: Isa! (this is the Arabic name of Jesus) certainly I would cause you to die and would raise you to Myself and will protect you from those people who rejected you.” In this respect, Dr. Umar is not alone. A number of scholars, some of them prominent indeed, have expressed this view and argued that this expression which occurs in three different verses in the Quran, means actually that Jesus Christ died a natural death. They point out that Allah has protected him from his enemies, by foiling their attempts to kill or crucify him. There is no argument among Muslim scholars that Jesus Christ was neither killed nor crucified. But, as you see, some scholars argue that he died a natural death.

When these scholars refer to the “Ascension” of Jesus, or, to use the Quranic expression, his being raised to Allah, they interpret this as having an abstract sense. According to them, it means that his position with Allah has been enhanced and he has been given a very high status. This is indeed the case, because Jesus Christ is one of the five messengers of Allah who have shown the greatest resolve in their service of Allah’s cause. The other four are: Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad (peace be on them all).

When these scholars speak about the Hadiths which tell of the second coming of Jesus Christ and what he will be doing, such as breaking the cross, killing the pig and preaching the message of the Oneness of Allah, they cast strong doubts about their authenticity. Their argument is not without validity. Where does this leave us? The answer is that there are two views: The first, which is held by a majority of scholars, is that Jesus Christ did not die but was raised by Allah and that he will make a second coming at a time determined by Allah, when he will be preaching the message of Islam. The other view is that Jesus Christ died a natural death after Allah had saved him from his enemies. Both groups of scholars agree that Jesus Christ was neither killed nor crucified. Needless to say, those who subscribe to the second view do not speak of a second coming of Jesus Christ.

What we need to know is that the raising of Jesus Christ alive to Heaven is not an article of Islamic faith. This means that if a person denies it he is not an unbeliever. A person is not considered to be an unbeliever for preferring a reasonable and valid interpretation of a Quranic verse. Had the Quranic verse been of the sort that cannot admit more than one interpretation, then denying its meaning could easily land the person who makes such a denial in the class of non-believers. This means that a person may adopt the view he prefers, but when he does so, he should arrive at the conclusion he prefers after carefully studying the matter and considering the evidence each group of scholars supply in support of their view. Dr. Umar has made a choice to which he is certainly entitled. I chose the other view and I am equally entitled to it.

Some comments

Not much comment is needed on the answer given above. We would point out that the following words are rather striking : “. . . the Hadiths which tell of the second coming of Jesus Christ and what he will be doing, such as breaking the cross, killing the pig and preaching the message of the Oneness of Allah . . . ”. The first two tasks seem out of place with the third! To have any connection with the third, the tasks of “breaking the cross and killing the pig” cannot possibly be taken literally, and it is certain that Mr. Salahi, if asked further, would interpret these in a figurative sense.

Once that is conceded, it is only natural to take figuratively all those aspects of these Hadith reports which would clash with the principles of Islam if taken literally. Primarily this means that the return of Jesus must be taken to mean the coming of a Mujaddid, a non-prophet, from among the followers of Islam, and not the appearance of a prophet after prophethood came to a close with the coming of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. So Mr. Salahi is not entirely correct in saying that those who believe in the death of Jesus must necessarily reject the Hadith reports about his second coming. There are those who believe in the death of Jesus, and yet also hold that reports of his second coming are genuine, but to be taken metaphorically


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