The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was not Killed and is not Dead
Jesus (pbuh) is one of the prophets whose lives are described in detail in the Qur'an. He came into the world without a father, as a miracle of our Lord. The Qur'an reveals his miraculous birth, as follows:
... The Messiah, Jesus son of Maryam, was only the messenger of Allah and His Word, which He cast into Maryam, and a Spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. (Surat an-Nisa, 171)
When Gabriel appeared to Maryam in human form, he told her that she would give birth to the Prophet Jesus (pbuh). Allah revealed the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) miraculous and superior characteristics to Maryam even before he was born. Allah also reveals in the Qur'an that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is a chosen and honorable individual in both worlds, and that he will perform miracles:
When the angels said: "Maryam, your Lord gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Maryam, of high esteem in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near. He will speak to people in the cradle and when fully grown, and will be one of the righteous."(Surah Al 'Imran, 45-46)
Maryam's society had various ignorant ideas about the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) right from the moment of his birth, and even attempted to slander Maryam. Allah relays in the Qur'an about the reaction of those who did not believe in his miraculous birth and that he was a miracle of our Lord even while he was still in the cradle:
She [Maryam] brought him [Jesus] to her people, carrying him. They exclaimed: "O Maryam! You have done an unthinkable thing! O Sister of Aaron, your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother an unchaste woman!" She pointed toward him. They said: "How can a baby in the cradle speak?" He [Jesus] said: "I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I am, and has directed me to perform prayer and give alms as long as I live. And [He directed me] to show devotion to my mother. He has not made me insolent or arrogant. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised up again alive." (Surah Maryam, 27-33)
The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) performed, by Allah's will, many other miracles, such as healing the blind and the sick and making a bird out of mud and setting it in flight:
Remember when Allah said: "Jesus, son of Maryam, remember My blessing to you and to your mother when I reinforced you with the Purest Spirit so that you could speak to people in the cradle and when you were fully grown; when I taught you the Book and Wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel; when you created a bird-shape out of clay by My permission, and then breathed into it and it became a bird by My permission; healed the blind and the leper by My permission; when you brought forth the dead by My permission; and when I held back the tribe of Israel from you, when you brought them the clear signs and those of them who did not believe said: 'This is nothing but downright magic.'" (Surat al-Ma'ida, 110)
Despite all of these miracles by Allah's grace, such as the ones mentioned above and the fact that he could tell people what they had eaten and what they had hidden, and referred to Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) as "Ahmad," very few people in his society actually believed in him.
The Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) Struggle
Like all prophets with a deep fear and love of, and respect for Allah, and all of whom were role models for humanity, the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) struggled against his society's unbelievers and pagans throughout his life. He told the Children of Israel, many of whom had turned away from religious moral values, of Allah's divinely revealed moral values as well as the reality of His existence and oneness. He called on his people to believe in Allah, avoid sin and evil, and do good works. He also reminded them of the transitory nature of this world's life and the closeness of death, and called upon them to worship, fear, and respect only Him.
At the time of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), the Mediterranean region and the surrounding area was ruled by Rome. Roman religion, in common with the surrounding religions, was polytheistic and superstitious. The imaginary deities of Greek mythology also appeared in Roman mythology, but under different names. The Jews living in Palestine were a small minority in the Roman Empire. However, Rome interfered very little in their beliefs and internal affairs. But beginning with the second century B.C.E., the Jews entered a period of internal fragmentation. With the Torah and Judaic tradition being interpreted in different ways by various groups, several sects emerged and serious disputes began to occur. These disputes gave rise to uncertainties and discontent in Jewish society, and the ensuing disorder could not be eliminated. As a result, Judaism moved away from the divine religion that Allah had revealed to the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and was corrupted by the addition of some superstitious beliefs and laws.
The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was sent to resolve these differences, by teaching them once again about the divine religion, from whose essence they had departed, and to eliminate their superstitions:
And when Jesus came with clear signs, he said: "I have come to you with wisdom and to clarify for you some of the things about which you have differed. Therefore, have fear [and respect] of Allah and obey me. Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. This is a straight path." The various factions among them differed. Woe then to those who did wrong on account of the punishment of a painful Day! (Surat az-Zukhruf, 63-65)
[Jesus will say:] "I come confirming the Torah I find already there, and to make lawful for you some of what was previously forbidden to you. I have brought you a sign from your Lord. So have fear [and respect] of Allah and obey me." (Surah Al 'Imran, 50)
The Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) mission created great unease among those circles whose interests lay in maintaining the status quo, even though it was incompatible with religious moral values. These circles were headed by false religious leaders and other individuals who ascribed partners to Allah. Some of their religious ideas acquired considerable status among the people and increased their own material benefits. Instead of following the proper moral values required by the religion, they supported injustice, cruelty, falsehood and polytheism, all of which served their own interests. They performed certain acts of worship according to their own opinion, and only for show, failed to protect the divine religion of the Prophet Moses (pbuh), and added many superstitions and errors. As Allah reveals in the Qur'an: "Woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say: 'This is from Allah' to sell it for a paltry price!" (Surat al-Baqara, 79). Moreover, some Jewish theologians even changed the stipulations of the Pentateuch.
However, the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) told these people to worship, fear and respect, love and live only for Allah. He told them that they needed to display the proper morality to win Allah's good approval, turn their backs on superstition, and avoid committing injustice. He preached that they should stop deceiving themselves and the people and acquire sincere belief. His miracles clearly demonstrated that Allah had selected him over the worlds, supported him with knowledge and power, and made him a most valuable prophet. The Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) deep faith, high moral values, superior understanding, and wise words inspired great admiration among the people. However, those who insisted on defending their corrupted version of the divinely revealed religion refused to obey him.
When Jesus sensed unbelief on their part, he asked: "Who will be my helpers of Allah?" The disciples said: "We are Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah. Bear witness that we are Muslims. Our Lord, we believe in what You have sent down and have followed the messenger, so write us down among the witnesses." (Surah Al 'Imran, 52-53)
One of the true believers' main characteristics is that they believe in concealed mysteries and obey the messengers unquestioningly. Such believers know that every word spoken by Allah's messengers is true, and so they trust them completely, follow them, and love and respect them. As revealed in "The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves" (Surat al-Ahzab, 6) this devotion is superior to all other forms of love. Indeed, the devotion of the Prophet's (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) Companions and their protection of him during the wars against the pagans is a fine example of this.
In addition to Roman pagan oppression and the hypocrisy of some polytheistic Jews, as well as the opposition of prominent Jews who pursued only their own interests, the fact that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) had only a very few followers draws our attention to the difficult circumstances in which he found himself. However, it must be made clear that there is considerable wisdom in the fact that he struggled in such difficult conditions. The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) and those sincere, devout believers who followed him displayed great patience, by Allah's leave, in these trying circumstances and will receive their reward at every moment in His Presence. Such climates are actually very valuable, for they increase the believers' determination and mutual devotion, strengthen their faith, and reinforce their love of and devotion to Allah. Believers have faith that everything they experience happens because He wills it to, and thus sincerely accept everything that our Lord sends their way. Aware that Allah is their true friend and guide, all believers know that His religious moral values will eventually triumph.
Allah has promised that He will never allow those who deny Him to triumph over the believers. Therefore, the prophets and their followers will inevitably be victorious, for He states that the traps of those who set snares for the believers are doomed to failure:
… shown by their arrogance in the land and evil plotting. But evil plotting envelops only those who do it. Do they expect anything but the pattern of previous peoples? You will not find any changing in the pattern of Allah. You will not find any alteration in the pattern of Allah.(Surah Fatir, 43)
Like all of the other prophets, the Prophet Jesus' (pbuh) superior determination and patience are meant to encourage and increase the believers' enthusiasm. The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) told his followers that difficulties awaited them, but that Allah was their friend and protector. With his trust in and submission to Allah, the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) displayed superior moral values and told those around him to always trust Allah and remember that He performs everything. The Bible recounts some of his words to his disciples, as follows:
You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me, you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for it is not you speaking ... but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and, after that, can do no more. But I will tell you whom you should fear: Fear Him Who, after killing the body, has the power to throw you into Hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. (Mark, 13:9-13; Luke, 21:12-17)
Indeed, the oppression of the first Christians continued for the next three centuries. Most of those who believed in the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) had to keep their faith secret, and many of those who declared their faith suffered severe punishment, torture, and, sometimes, even death. However, the unbelievers' greatest plot was, without a doubt, their attempt to kill the Prophet Jesus (pbuh). A number of leading people collaborated with the Roman pagans, and, with the support of various hypocrites, devised a plan. Each stage was planned down to the finest detail, and they were convinced that it would succeed. However, their plan was disrupted in a most unexpected way: They imagined that they had killed the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), but in reality, Allah raised him to His Presence and protected His prophet from their snares and deceptions. By means of this miracle, their plan failed.
Allah Foiled the Unbelievers' Plot
The plan to kill the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is not an isolated event, for throughout history unbelievers have made similar plans against the prophets sent to them. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals that whenever a prophet came to his unbelieving people and began calling on them to live by the moral values of the true religion, the unbelievers would inevitably set about preparing traps for them and even try to kill them:
We gave Moses the Book and sent a succession of messengers after him. We gave Jesus, son of Maryam, the clear signs and reinforced him with the Purest Spirit. Why then, whenever a messenger came to you with something that your lower selves did not desire, did you grow arrogant, and deny some of them and murder others? (Surat al-Baqara, 87)
Those who cast the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) into the flames, pursued the Prophet Moses (pbuh) with their armies, sought to martyr our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) in a nocturnal attack, and left Joseph (pbuh) at the bottom of a well solely because all of these prophets said: "Allah is our Lord" have exactly the same mindset, even though they lived at different times. All of them sought to rebel against Allah and His messengers, opposed the moral values commanded by Allah, and ignored the fact that they would have to account for their deeds in the Hereafter. Their anger arose out of the prophets reminding them of several facts: that they were Allah's servants and therefore should be faithful to Him, give alms and perform good deeds to win His good approval, be just and modest, and that the prophets were chosen and immaculate messengers in His Presence. As a result, these people set traps for the prophets. This mentality is described, as follows:
... We sent messengers to them. Each time a messenger came to them with something their lower selves did not desire, they denied some and they murdered others. (Surat al-Ma'ida, 70)
A similar plan was devised by the leaders of the Makkan polytheists, who hoped that they could expel the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) or perhaps even martyr him. Our Lord warned him of this plan. But as the unbelievers soon discovered, Allah's plans are superior to all others:
When those who did not believe were plotting against you, to imprison you or to kill you or to expel you: they were planning and Allah was planning, but Allah is the Best of Planners. (Surat al-Anfal, 30)
As we have seen, the unbelievers sought to kill the Prophet Jesus (pbuh). They drew up a wide-ranging plan and thought that they would succeed if they captured him. The Qur'an reveals their plan in the following verses:
When Jesus sensed unbelief on their part, he asked: "Who will be my helpers of Allah?" The disciples said: "We are Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah. Bear witness that we are Muslims. Our Lord, we believe in what You have sent down and have followed the messenger, so write us down among the witnesses." They planned and Allah planned. But Allah is the best planner. (Surah Al 'Imran, 52-54)
Allah foiled their plot in a completely unexpected manner: They were shown, and killed, a double in his stead. Our Lord protected His chosen servant from the unbelievers:
And [on account of] their saying: "We killed the Messiah, Jesus son of Maryam, messenger of Allah." They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them. Those who argue about him are in doubt about it. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. (Surat an-Nisa, 157)
Allah raised him [Jesus] up to Himself. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.(Surat an-Nisa, 158)
Other verses reveal that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is not dead, but is alive in Allah's Presence. The fact that Allah has revealed that He foiled the traps set for him is one of the important pieces of evidence that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is still alive. Had the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) really died, as some people (erroneously) maintain, then the unbelievers would have achieved their goal of killing him. However, "... Allah will not give the unbelievers any way against the believers." (Surat An-Nisa, 141) Allah revealed that He would not allow the unbelievers to kill the Prophet Jesus (pbuh). Moreover, many verses reveal that the unbelievers would never achieve their goal and that their failure is a requirement of Allah's Divine plan. Some of these verses are given below:
They concocted their plots, but their plots were with Allah, even if they were such as to make the mountains vanish. (Surah Ibrahim, 46)
… Allah always confounds the unbelievers' schemes. (Surat al-Anfal, 18)
Or do they desire to dupe you? But the duped ones are those who do not believe. (Surat at-Tur, 42)
Allah will defend those who believe. Allah does not love any thankless traitor. (Surat al-Hajj, 38)
They are hatching a plot. I too am hatching a plan. So bear with the unbelievers – bear with them for a while. (Surat at-Tariq, 15-17)
Those before them also plotted. Allah came at their building from the foundations, and the roof caved in on top of them. The punishment came at them from a direction that they did not expect. (Surat an-Nahl, 26)
The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is Not Dead
Allah reveals in the Qur'an, among many other glad tidings, that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), one of His' messengers, is not dead and was not put to death. To acquire a better understanding of this, we will conduct a detailed examination of the relevant verses.
Surah Al 'Imran:55 and Surat an-Nisa':157-158 head the list of those verses that relate how the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was not killed but was raised alive to Allah's Presence. When these verses are examined word by word, this most important truth is clearly revealed. Another truth is also indicated: the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), who now lives in Allah's Presence, will return to Earth during the End Times. This fact will be examined in later sections of this book.
Surah Al 'Imran:55 informs believers that Allah will "take back" the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), protect him from the unbelievers, and raise him to His Presence. Many great Islamic scholars and commentators have interpreted this verse to mean that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) did not die. As Allah states in the verse:
[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 part requiring special consideration is the sentence "I will take you back [mutawaffeeka] and raise you up to Me." A close examination reveals a most important truth: The verb carries a sense that differs from what is normally meant by "to die." The word translated into English as "to die" is the Arabic verb tawaffaa derived from the root waffaa. This verb does not imply death, but rather taking the soul, or surrender. Allah also reveals in the Qur'an that taking a person's soul does not always imply death. For instance, Allah uses tawaffaa in another verse to refer not to a person's death, but to taking his or her soul while asleep: :
Allah takes the souls [of people] at death [yatawaffaa], and those who do not die [lam tamut] during their sleep. Those on whom He has passed the decree of death [al-mawt], He keeps back [from returning to life], but the rest He sends [to their bodies] for a term appointed. Verily in this are signs for those who reflect." (Surat az-Zumar, 42)
The word here translated as "taking back" is the same as that used in Surah Al 'Imran:55: yatawaffaa. Since a person does not actually die during the night, the word yatawaffaa here refers not to death, but to taking the soul at night. If tawaffaa were being used in the sense of death, then that would mean that all people would be biologically dead during sleep. Thus, the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) would have died every night of his life. Such an assertion is both irrational and illogical.
Another instance in which sleep is regarded as a kind of death, but which does not refer to biological death, is the following hadith: "'All praise is for Allah, Who has made us alive after He made us die [sleep] (Al-hamdu li Allah illadhi ahyana ba'da maa amatana; wa ilayhi al-nushoo)' Our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) often said this after he woke up."18 No doubt, he used these wise words not to refer to biological death when one is asleep, but rather to a sleeping person's soul being "taken." Ibn Kathir, the famous Islamic scholar and commentator, used this hadith, along with many other proofs in his commentary on Surah Al 'Imran, to explain that tawaffaa refers to sleep. In addition, he indicated the word's meaning in other verses where it appears. He then gave his opinion using a hadith handed down by Ibn Abi Hatim:
Ibn Abi Hatim says that: "My father told us … from Hassan that the meaning of the verse 'I will take you back...' is this: Here it means that 'I shall kill you with the death of sleep; in other words, I shall cause you to sleep.' So Allah raised Jesus (pbuh) to the heavens while he was asleep … As an incontrovertible truth, Allah caused Jesus (pbuh) to die the death of sleep and then raised him to the sky, rescuing him from some of the Jews, who were inflicting suffering upon him at the time."19
Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari, another Islamic scholar who examined the meaning of tawaffaa, stated that it did not mean death, and drew attention to the use of mawt in Surat az-Zumar:42:
Had Jesus (pbuh) died [which is not the case], then the word mawt revealed in the verse:"Allah takes the souls [of people] at death."(Surat az-Zumar, 42) would not have been revealed… This is because if, as has been claimed, Allah had referred to normal death [in the biological sense], then this would have been clearly stated. Since Allah refers to the fact that the Jews did not kill Jesus (pbuh), but that he was taken and raised to the sky, then one must think of a meaning beyond that of ordinary death.20
Sheikh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri, a contemporary of al-Kawthari, cites this verse as evidence and offers the following interpretation: "If we were to take the word tawaffaa as meaning 'killing,' then souls would also have to die."21 In his commentary on the Qur'an, the Islamic scholar Mawlana Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudi makes the following statement about mutawaffeeka, which appears in Surah Al 'Imran:55 (the same word is also used in Surat al-Ma'ida:117):
The word mutawaffeeka, in the Arabic text comes from the word tawaffaa, meaning "to take the surrender of" and "take the soul," although here it is used in a figurative sense. Here, it means "relieving from duty."22
Abu Mansur Muhammad al-Maturidi, regarded as one of the first Qur'anic commentators, also stated that the verse does not refer to the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) dying in the familiar biological sense:
Islamic scholars agree that mutawaffeeka means that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) did not die, but that he was raised to Allah's Presence and will return to Earth. For example, the famous commentator and scholar al-Tabari stated that mutawaffeeka is used in the sense of "removing from Earth" and interpreted the verse in the following terms:
In my opinion, the soundest thing is to take this word in the sense of "to take into one's possession," "draw [away] from Earth." In that case, the meaning of the verse is: "I shall take you from Earth and into the heavens." The rest of the verse emphasizes the [believers'] victory over unbelievers in the End Times, which confirms the above idea."24
Further on in his commentary, al-Tabari included other interpretations of mutawaffeeka. Islamic scholars are in general agreement that its correct interpretation is "a kind of sleep." According to Imam Hasan al-Basri, the Egyptian scholar Muhammad Khalil Herras stated that the verse means: "I shall put you to sleep and raise you to My Presence as you sleep." In his commentary, al-Suyuti said, based on reliable hadith, that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) did not die, and then continued:
In that case, Jesus (pbuh) was raised to the skies and will return before the Day of Judgment.25
Mehmed Vehbi, a commentator who lived during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, interpreted the verse in the following manner:
O Jesus, I shall put you to sleep and raise you to the skies, the place of plenty and My sanctity. I shall rescue you from the Jews' wickedness and cleanse you of the unbelievers' impure actions, rescuing you from their wickedness by drawing you up away from them.26
The great Islamic scholar Imam Ibn Taymiyya stated that Surah Al 'Imran:55 indicates that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) did not die, but most likely experienced a kind of "sleep death." He then wrote:
This verse is proof that the death of Jesus (pbuh) is not being referred to… The word al-tawaffi [the infinitive form of the word mutawafeeka used] in the verse requires the death of the soul without that of the body, or of both, but with the existence of another piece of evidence explaining the circumstances in this sense. The meaning may be the death of sleep (as in Surat al-An'am:60). The words at the end of the verse, to the effect that: "I shall separate you purified from the unbelievers," are also along these lines. Had Jesus' (pbuh) body been separated from his soul, then his body would be in the ground, as with the other prophets.27
In his commentary, Hamdi Yazir of Elmali stated that the verse in question means:
In my view, a summary of this interpretation and belief is as follows: The soul of Jesus (pbuh), described as a "word from Allah" and reinforced with the "Purest Spirit", has not yet been taken. His soul has not come to the hour of death. "The Word" has not yet returned to Allah. He still has work to do in this world.28
As we have seen, this verse does not mean "death" in the sense as it is generally used in English. The expression in this verse reports that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was placed in a condition similar to sleep and then raised to Allah's Presence. The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) did not die, but was merely removed from this dimension by His will. (Allah knows the truth.)