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The Qur'anic Account of the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) Ascent to Allah's Presence

Examining the words used in the narratives relating how the Prophets died and the verses dealing with the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) ascent to Allah's Presence reveals an important fact: The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) did not die like the other prophets did, nor was he murdered by the unbelievers. Rather, our Lord took him up to His Presence. In this chapter, we will examine the Arabic words used to express how the Prophets died and how Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was raised up to Allah's Presence, and investigate how the Qur'an uses them.

As we will see in greater detail later on, the Qur'an uses qataloohu (to kill), maata (to die), halaka (to perish), salaboohu (they crucified him), or some other special expressions to describe the death or murder of the Prophets. In the case of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), Allah clearly states that he was not killed in any of those ways, for: "They did not kill him (wa ma qataloohu) and did not crucify him (wa ma salaboohu)." Allah reveals that people were shown a look-alike and that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was raised up to His Presence, as follows:

When Allah said: "Jesus, I will take you back (mutawaffeeka) and raise you up (wa raafi'uka) to Me and purify you of those who are unbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are unbelievers until the Day of Resurrection..." (Surah Al 'Imran, 55)

The following are the ways in which the words referring to death in the Qur'an and the word tawaffa in Surah Al 'Imran are used:

1) Tawaffa: To Cause To Die, To Take in One's Sleep, or To Take Back

The word tawaffa used in Surah Al 'Imran 3 and translated as "taking back" here and "causing to die" in some Qur'an translations, has various connotations. Examining the Arabic verses clearly reveals that these connotations of the word should be considered while applying it to the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) situation. Allah describes his being taken back to Allah in the words that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) will say on the Day of Judgment:

[Jesus said], "I said to them nothing but what You ordered me to say: 'Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.' I was a witness against them as long as I remained among them, but when You took me back to You (tawaffa), You were the One watching over them. You are the Witness of all things." (Surat al-Ma'ida, 117)

In Arabic the word that is translated in some translations of this verse as "You have caused me to die" is tawaffa and comes from the root wafa—to fulfil. Tawaffa does not actually mean "death" but the act of "taking the self back" either in sleep, in death or as in the case of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) being taken back into the Presence of Allah. From the Qur'an again, we understand that "taking the self back" does not necessarily mean death. For instance, it can mean "taking back the self while one is asleep," as indicated in the following verse:

It is He Who takes you back to Himself (yatawaffaakum) at night, while knowing the things you perpetrate by day, and then wakes you up again, so that a specified term may be fulfilled. (Surat al-An'am, 60)

The word used for "take back" in this verse is the same as the one used in Surah Al 'Imran 55. In other words, in the verse above, the word tawaffa is used and it is obvious that one does not die in one's sleep. Therefore, what is meant here is, again, "taking the self back." In the following verse, the same word is used like this:

Allah takes back people's selves (yatawaffaa) when their death (mawtihaa) arrives and those who have not yet died, while they are asleep (lam tamut). He keeps hold of those whose death (mawt) has been decreed and sends the others back for a specified term. (Surat az-Zumar, 42)

As this verse clarifies, Allah takes back the self of the one who is asleep, yet He sends back the selves of those whose deaths have yet not been decreed. In this context, in one's sleep one does not die, in the sense in which we perceive death. Only for a temporary period, the self leaves the body and remains in another dimension. When we wake up, the self returns to the body.4

Imam al-Qurtubi makes clear that there are three meanings to the term wafat which is from the same root as tawaffa:the wafat of death, the wafat of sleep, and last, the wafat of being raised up to Allah, as in the case of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh).

2) Qatala: To Kill

The Qur'an uses qatala to mean "to kill," as in the following verse:

Pharaoh said: "Let me kill (aqtulu) Moses and let him call upon his Lord! I am afraid that he may change your religion and bring about corruption in the land." (Surah Ghafir, 26)

In Arabic, "let me kill Moses" is aqtulu Musa, a phrase that is derived from the verb qatala. In another verse, the same word is used in the following way:

... [That was because they] killed (yaqtuloona) the Prophets without any right to do so. (Surat al-Baqara, 61)

The expression yaqtuloona (they killed) is also derived from qatala. The translation is clearly "to kill."

The verses below speak of the deaths of the Prophets, and the usage of the verb qatala is marked. All words in brackets are derivatives of this verb.

We will write down what they said and their killing (wa qatlahum) of the Prophets without any right to do so. (Surah Al 'Imran, 181)

Say: "Why, then, if you are believers, did you previously kill (taqtuloona) the Prophets of Allah?" (Surat al-Baqara, 91)

As for those who reject Allah's Signs, and kill (yaqtuloona) the Prophets without any right to do so, and kill (yaqtuloona) those who command justice... (Surah Al 'Imran, 21)

"Kill (uqtuloo) Joseph or expel him to some land." (Surah Yusuf, 9)

..."Moses, the Council is conspiring to kill you (li yaqtulooka)." (Surat al-Qasas, 20)

The only answer of his [Abraham's] people was to say: "Kill (uqtuloohu) him or burn him!" (Surat an-Nur, 24)

3) Halaka: To Perish

Another word used to denote the act of killing is halaka. It also is used to mean "to perish, to be destroyed, or to die," as in the verse given below:

... when he [Joseph] died (halaka), you said: "Allah will never send another Messenger after him." (Surah Ghafir, 34)

The phrase idha halaka is translated as "when he died." meaning "to die."

4) Mawt: Death

Another word used to relate a Prophet's death is mawt, a noun derived from the verb maata (to die), as follows:

Then when We decreed that he [Prophet Solomon] should die (mawt), nothing divulged his death (mawtihi) to them except the worm that ate his staff. (Surah Saba', 14)

In the following verse, another form of the verb is used:

Peace be upon him [Prophet John] the day he was born, the day he dies (yamootu), and the day he is raised up again alive. (Surah Maryam, 15)

The word yamootu is translated here as "they day he dies," and the same word is used (in the form of a noun) to relate the Prophet Jacob's death:

Or were you present when death (mawt) came to Jacob? (Surat al Baqara, 133)

In another verse, the verbs qatala (in the passive form qutila) and maata are used together:

Muhammad is only a Messenger, and he has been preceded by other Messengers. If he were to die (maata) or be killed (qutila), would you turn on your heels? (Surah Al 'Imran, 4)

Other forms of the verb are used in other verses to denote the death of Prophets:

She exclaimed: "Oh if only I had died (mittu) before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!" (Surah Maryam, 23)

We did not give any human being before you immortality (khuld). And if you die (mitta), will they then be immortal? (Surat al- Anbiya', 34)

"He Who will cause my death (yumeetunee), then give me life." (Surat ash-Shura, 81)

5) Khalid: Immortal

The word khalid means immortality, permanence, and continued existence, as in the following verse:

We did not give them bodies that did not eat food, nor were they immortal (khalideena). (Surat al-Anbiya', 8)

6) Salaba: To Crucify

Another word used in the Qur'an to relate death is salaba (to crucify). This verb has various meanings (e.g., to hang, to crucify, to execute) and is used in the following ways:

They did not kill him and they did not crucify him (wa maa salaboohu). (Surat an-Nisa', 157)

[Joseph said:] "One of you will serve his lord with wine, the other of you will be crucified (yuslabu)." (Surah Yusuf, 41)

They should be killed or crucified (yusallaboo). (Surat al-Ma'ida, 33)

[Pharaoh said:] "I will cut off your alternate hands and feet, and then I will crucify (la usallibannakum) every one of you." (Surat al-A'raf, 124)

As the verses show, the words used to express the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) situation are altogether different to those used to describe the deaths of the other Prophets. Allah states that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was neither killed nor crucified, that a look-alike was killed in his place, and that he was taken back (in other words that his soul was taken) and raised up to His Presence. When talking of the Prophet Jesus'(pbuh), the Qur'an uses tawaffa (to take the soul) whereas when talking of the other Prophets, it uses qataloohu or maata (and its derivatives) to mean "death" in the conventional sense. This information shows us yet again that the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) situation was extraordinary.



4. İbn Kesir, Tefsiru'l Kur'ani'l Azim, Cilt I, s.573-576

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