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THE DELIVERANCE OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS

THE DELIVERANCE OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS QURANIC AND ISLAMIC EVIDENCE (Abdus Sa/am Madsen) PRELIMINARY REMARKS: 39 The Christian Churches teach that Jesus was crucified and suffered an accursed death on the cross for the atonement of the sins of mankind – that he was resurrected on the third day and ascended bodily to heaven, where from he will descend to judge the living and the dead. Many so-called orthodox Muslims teach that Jesus was not put on the cross, but someone else resembling him was crucified in his place, whereas Jesus was raised to heaven in his mortal body, and that he remains there alive to descend in the latter days with the same physical body to judge according to Islamic law – as understood by these so-called orthodox Muslims. It is my purpose to show that these two versions of the life, mission and death of Jesus do not find any support in Quranic evidence. The word evidence may mean two things: witness (shahada) and proof (burhan). So some people might be satisfied to answer the question raised by the title of my address with a summing up of the Quranic witness as to the natural death of Jesus and his deliverance from death on the cross, while others might insist on some additional proof to substantiate the scriptural evidence given. Now if we turn to a study of the Quran we shall see that this division between the two meanings of the term “evidence” is not relevant, because it is a striking characteristic of the Quranic revelation that it gives not only witness, but always and at the same time also furnishes proof. The Quran never makes an assertion and merely leaves it at that. The Quran invariably gives proof in support of every assertion. A close study of any given passage will reveal that there is full evidence, i.e. both witness and proof together. You may have noticed that I treat Quranic evidence and Islamic evidence as synonymous. Muslim scholars state that there are several sources of knowledge of what Islam is. First the Quran, the’n the 40 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and then the collected body of the Sayings of the Prophet. Many add to these such sources as concensus and rational insight. Whatever the learned scholars of different schools have been inclined to say about the classification of these sources, I for my part, and those who think like me, underline the simple historical fact that the Quranic revelatio’n that came to Muhammad, peace be upon him, over a period of 23 years from 610 to 632 A.D. and was committed to memory and writing simultaneously, is in all respects a perfect and sufficient document from which we gain all necessary evidence about our faith. Whatever is reported from the Holy Prophet is by way of interpretation of this evidence. That is to say, what the Holy Prophet said has no independent status; it is all secondary, though it serves to elucidate many a point. Yet it can never add any essential knowledge to that which we possess in the Holy Quran. Reason can with all its inherent weaknesses help us to understand the Message, but just as interpretation is already incorporated in the Message, likewise are rational arguments-as I have already pointed out. There remains one single perfect source of Islamic evidence: the Holy Quran. The outline of the material gathered by me from the Quran will be presented in three sections: 1. The mortality of man. 2. The mortality and death of all prophets. 3. The mortality and death of Jesus. In the last section I shall treat in some detail the two texts that are especially relevant for the understanding of the deliverance of Jesus from death on the cross. As I have said, I shall restrict myself primarily to the Quranic evidence, applying the principle that the Quran is the best interpreter of the Quran, i.e. to discover the correct connotation of a phrase we must have recourse to other texts in which the phrase has been used. We may also have recourse to classical dictionaries, but only as a possibly helpful medium, without placing too great confidence in all the mass of material which is often confusingly offered us there. Finally we might incidentally. consult commentaries, mainly for the sake of curiosity, as we know only too well that commentators were only too prone to accept any fantastic story they gathered from Jewish or Christian sources. The modern trend in Islamic exegesis reveals a growing realization of the credulity of earlier commentators in accepting what is known as Jewish tales. Strangely enough this criticism has not yet in any great measure been directed against the heretic Christian interpretation of the event of the crucifixion which is so obviously the source on which many commentators rely when they REVIEW OF RELIGIONS touch upon the simple account of this event found in the Quran. ALL MEN ARE CREATED MORTAL AND ARE BOUND TO DIE AFTER A CERTAIN TERM 41 On this we shall let the Quran speak for itself in the following references God said: “Go forth (Adam and Eve) some of you being enemies of others. And for you there is an abode on earth and a provision fora time. God said: Therein you shall live, and therein you shall die, and therefrom you shall be brought forth”. (7:25-26). “Have We (God) not made the earth vast enough to gather the living and the dead?” (77:26-27). “Say: The angel of death that has been put in charge over you will cause you to die: Then to your Lord you will be brought back.” (32: 12). “And We cause that which We will to stay in the wombs for an appointed time, then We bring you forth as babes, then We rear you that you may attain to your age of full strength. And there are some of you that are caused to die early, and there are others among you who reach extreme old age with the result that they know nothing after having had knowledge.” (22:6, vide also 16:71). “Every soul shall taste ofdeath.”(21:36) “Have they not seen how many generations have We destroyed before them, and that they never return to them.” (36:32) “And behind the dead is a barrier until the day when they shall be raised again.” (23: 101) A brief commentary on the foregoing verses may be helpful. The first two Quranic texts affirm that both life and death are bound to be confined to this earth, the third text states that God has created angels that are especially commanded to execute His decree of death which must come for every human being. The two succeeding references give a more detailed description of the creation of life, its development through different – higher and higher stages – and its natural end in decrepitude and death. The three last quotations affirm that death is inevitable, also in the sense that there is absolutely no return to life on this earth, and that the coming life will be a new creation of God – not belonging to our present system. 42 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS ALL PROPHETS HAVE DIED “We did not bestow on the Messengers bodies that ate no food, nor were they to live for ever. “(21 :9) “We granted not everlasting life to any human being before thee. If then thou shouldst die, shall they live on for ever?”· (21:35) “Muhammad is only a Messenger. Verily, all Messengers have passed away before him.” (3:145) “The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger. All Messengers have indeed passed away before him. His mother was a righteous woman. They both used to eat food. See, how We explain the signs for their benefit, and see, how they are turned away.” (5:76) With this last verse we are already partly tackling the next question which particularly deals with the death of Jesus. He is included ~ of course – in the category of both humans and Prophets, and so the question could be regarded as answered, but as some people tend to make him something special and outside the normal categories, we have to deal with: THE NATURAL DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST From the relevant references we shall here exclude the two that deal with the crucifixion event, and shall deal with them later. (They are 3:55-56 and 4: 158-159). There are also other Quranic verses that prove to the satisfaction of any reasonable unbiased person that Jesus lived a full life and died an honourable death at a good old age after having completed his mission as the Jewish Messiah. “Keep in mind when God will say to Jesus, son of Mary: Didst thou say to people: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? And he will answer: holy art Thou, I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou who art the Knower of hidden things. I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me: Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them, but since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 43 over them, and Thou art Witness over all things.” (5: 117-118). “Jesus said: I am a servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined on me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live. He has made me dutiful toward my mother, and he has not made me haughty and unblessed. Peace was on me the day I was born, and peace there shall be on me the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised up to life again.” (19:31-34). Of these verses the first proves: (1) The corruption of Christian doctrine took place after the death of Jesus. (2) If Jesus were still alive, Christianity would still exist in its pure form. (3) Jesus will not appear a second time in this world, as he would then become aware of the mentioned corruption and could no:, therefore, plead ignorance in front of God’s judgement seat. The second verse equally proves that Jesus must have died and could not exist in heaven with his physical body, (1) If he was still alive, he would have to give alms in heaven, but who would need alms there? (2) If he would descend again to the earth alive, he would have to follow the Jewish prescriptions on both prayer and almsgiving – and could not be a follower of the Islamic Law. (3) Did his mother accompany him in his ascension? How could he otherwise behave like a dutiful son towards her? WHAT HAPPENED AT THE EVENT OF THE CRUCIFIXION? We will deal now in some detail with the verses that refer to the event that took place at the crucifixion and see what actually happened according to the simple and clear statement of the Quran. In doing this we deem it advisable to put the two texts parallel to each other as one explains the other: “The Jews planned, and Allah also planned, and Allah is the Best of planners. When Allah said: 0 Jesus, I will cause thee to die a natural death and will exalt thee to Myself and will clear thee from the charges of those who disbelieve and will place those who follow thee above those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection.” (3:55-56) “And their saying: We did kill the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, whereas they slew him not nor killed him on the cross, but he was made to appear to them as dead. Those who differ therein are certainly in doubt about it. They have no knowledge thereof, but 44 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS only follow conjecture, and they certainly did not kill him. On the contrary, Allah exalted him to Himself, and Allah is Mighty and Wise.” (4:158-159) By reading the two versions together it becomes clear that the plan Makr of the Jews was to kill Jesus and thereby disprove his claim to Messiahship (because he who was hanged on a tree was cursed by God (Deut 21 :23). But God also had a plan or a counter-plan Makr and that was to save Jesus from an accursed death and exalt him in rank and position. It is clear that God’s plan could not be a supernatural event like casting the likeness of Jesus on someone else and raising him bodily to heaven; nor to let him die and then resurrect him and raise him bodily to heaven. Makr (plan) means to change something to the opposite of that which is designed by the opponent by a stratagem or device or means. Thus makr operates through means adopted in this world for achieving a purpose, and no miracle can be called a makr. The second reference also ends with a reference to God’s Wisdom. What Wisdom- Divine or otherwise – could there be in cheating the Jews, the Romans and the disciples alike by substituting another person for Jesus? The expression used for natural death is tawaffa. Without any exception it means: to take possession of the soul; to cause somebody to die after completing his or her term. The Quran contains as many as 22 (twenty-two) clear references where tawo;ffa has been used in that connotation. We have excluded therefrom the references where Jesus is mentioned as the object of tawaffa, because they are under discussion. There are two separate verses (6:61 and 39:42) about the taking possession of the soul during sleep. But that does not detract from the connotation that we have mentioned, as a simple quote from the last mentioned verse will prove: “Allah takes away yatawaffa the souls of human beings at the time of their death; and during their sleep of those that are not yet dead. Then He retains those against whom He has decreed death and sends back the others till an appointed term.” Tawaffa is never used fo taking possession of the body. It is the soul that is taken-either permanently (at death) or ad interim (in sleep). So Mutawwafika means as ibn ‘Abbas reported; Mumituka (I will cause thee to die) Bukhari. The phrase Ro;fi’uka means I will exalt thee. Ro;{‘a is used twice about Jesus. Once it is used about Idris (Enoch) in 19:58: And We REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 45 exalted him to a lofty station. This is a normal usage of the Quran. Muhammad Asad says in his Commentary (p.I77) that when God is the subject, raja means invariably: to exalt in rank. Also Mufradat says that (about Jesus) his Rafa is to be understood min haithi-tashrif: by way of bestowing honour on him. Ibn Khatib says in his “Modern” Egyptian Commentary (The Clearest of Commentaries) what we have translated here. And those who assert that Jesus is dead point to the word of the Exalted God: Every soul shall taste of death, and Jesus-peace be upon him-belonged to the human species for which death is ordained. Some people presume that he is dead and lies buried in a locality which they mention by name, and maybe it is India, and God-may He be exalted-knows best what He has said and done. Those who allege that Jesus was not put on the cross should look up in a Quranic Concordance, where they will find that the word salab.!l is used at five (5) places about this special death punishment (namely 12:42, 7:126, 20:50 and 5:33) At two places it is used (sulb, aslab) about spine, back-bone, namely 86:8 and 4:24. So in accordance with this Mufradat confirms that sa/aba means: to break the spine or back-bone or to bring out the marrow of the bone (by breaking it). So what the verse states: ma qata/uhu wama salabuhu means that they did not kill him (either by strangling or stoning) or by a completion of the well-known death-punishment (in so far as they did not break his bones). But he appeared to them like one killed, says the verse. Now shubbiha and derivatives are found in the Quran at 12 places, invariably meaning “to be like or similar” to something or someone. But as it is here used in the passive. it can only refer, according to Arabic grammer, to a well-known (implied) subject, i.e. in the context it can only refer to Jesus and not to some one else who is neither mentioned here nor elsewhere in the Quran. To sum up: the Jews plotted to disprove the Messiahship of Jesus by killing him on the cross, but God counter-acted their plot on their own plan by saving him from the shameful death on the cross, so that he only appeared to them as dead. But in fact he survived and lived to a ripe old age as promised in the word Mutawaffika which has a double meaning: not only to cause to die (a natural death), but also-as interprets ibn Khatib: Mutawafaka aja/aka: I intend to complete your life-term. I have so far kept strictly within the boundaries of the evidence 46 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS furnished by the Quran. But the attentive listener will have noticed that I made a passing reference to Sahih al Bukhari who quoted Ibn Abbas for the interpretation of Mutawwafika as meaning Mumituka (I shall cause you to die). But his is not a saying of the Holy Prohet; it is only an interpretation of an expression used in the Quran. In order not to leave Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet) totally untouched I would like to quote the three which are brought forward to show that Tradition also regards Jesus as dead. But first I would like to explain why there are only three traditions affirming the death of Jesus. The answer is simple: because the Quran is so clear and un-ambiguous, that there was no need of great eleboration of this self-evident point. These three are: “If Moses and Jesus had been alive, they would have had no choice but to follow me.” (Kthir Vol. II, pg 245 & al- Yawaqit wal-Jawahir 2nd Pt, pg 24) “Verily, Jesus son of Mary, lived for 120 years, and I (Muhammad) see myself as only entering upon the beginning of the sixties.” (Kanz al-Aamal, Pt. 6, pg 120) “During his spiritual ascent to heaven (Mi’raj) the Prophet saw Jesus together with John in the second heaven. (Bukhar, Pt. 2, Chapter on al-Isra: the Night Journey) The first two are very clear in their evidence, while the third may need some explanation. The point to be deduced from that is that Jesus and John were together in the same state, so either both are dead or both are living. It is admitted by all that John is dead, so Jesus must also have died. After the death of Muhammad some of his disciples, among them ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab doubted that he was really dead. However, Abu Bakar, after having paid his last respects to his beloved master, ascended the pulpit in the mosque and recited the verse of the Quran: “Muhammad is only a Messenger. All Messengers before him have passed away. If he dies or is killed, will you then turn your heels?” (3: 145) Abu Bakar said: “If any of you worshipped Muhammad, let him know that REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 47 Muhammad is dead, but if you worship God, you should know that God is Ever Living and does not die.” (Pt. 3, Chapter on the letters of the Prophet to Kisra (Chosroes) and Qaiser (Caesar). This was the first instance of Ijma’ or concensus of the Community, because the response of the disciples is well-known and reported in the same hadith: “By God, it was as if this verse was not revealed by Allah before Abu Bakar recited it, and everyone received it from him, and I did not hear anyone who did not recite it.” No one objected that Jesus or any other prophet had not died. Everyone recieved it and accepted it and confirmed it! How then can any person deny that which has been confirmed by that august assembly? It is not within the scope of this presentation to set out an account of the post crucifixion life of Jesus. That will be done by others. But to end in a fitting manner I shall quote a well-known verse from Sura al Muminun: “And We made the Son of Mary and his mother a sign and gave them shelter on a pleasant plateau with springs of running water.” (23:51) Thus after having been delivered from his enemies and their persecutions – just as Noah, Moses and Aaron and the earlier prophets had been delivered from their enemies – Jesus like them was given the opportunity to complete his mission in another country, of which this verse gives a striking description. Our last word is that all praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and peace be upon all His Messengers. *****************************