The Prophet Jesus (as), son of Maryam (as), in the Qur'an
The Prophet Jesus (as), who lived some two thousand years ago, is a blessed messenger of Allah. He is held in high esteem both in this world and the Hereafter, as the Qur'an informs us. The true religion revealed to him still remains today, albeit in name only. That is because the original teaching communicated by the Prophet Jesus (as) has been distorted. The book Allah revealed to the Prophet Jesus (as), too, is distorted. Christian sources have undergone various alterations and perversions. Consequently today, it is unlikely that we can obtain true knowledge regarding the Prophet Jesus (as) from Christian sources.
The only sources from which we can gain accurate knowledge about the Prophet Jesus (as) are the Qur'an, the book Allah assures He will keep unchanged until the Day of Judgement, and the Sunnah of His Messenger the Prophet Muhammad (saas). In the Qur'an, Allah gives an account of the birth and life of the Prophet Jesus (as), some incidents he met in his life, the people surrounding him and many other subjects related to him. Furthermore, the Qur'anic verses also inform us about the life of Maryam (as) before she gave birth to the Prophet Jesus (as), how she conceived in a miraculous way and the reactions of the people surrounding her to this incident. Moreover, some verses of the Qur'an imply that the Prophet Jesus (as) will come to earth for a second time in the end times. This section presents some of this Qur'anic information.
The Birth of Maryam (as) and the Way She Was Raised
Maryam (as), who was chosen to give birth to the Prophet Jesus (as), was born at a time of social disorder. Allah specially chose Maryam (as) for this blessed duty and brought her up accordingly. Maryam (as) came from a noble family, the family of 'Imran. Allah chose this family over all people.
The members of the family of 'Imran were known to be people having great faith in Allah. They turned to Him while doing all their deeds and meticulously observed His limits. When 'Imran's wife learned that she was expecting a child, she turned to her Creator and prayed, and she devoted what was in her womb to the service of Allah. Allah gives an account of this in the Qur'an:
Remember when the wife of 'Imran said, "My Lord, I have pledged to You what is in my womb, devoting it to Your service. Please accept my prayer. You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing." When she gave birth, she said, "My Lord! I have given birth to a girl" – and Allah knew very well what she had given birth to, male and female are not the same – "and I have named her Maryam and placed her and her children in Your safekeeping from the accursed shaytan." (Surah Al 'Imran, 35-36)
When Maryam (as) was born, Imran's wife sought only the good pleasure of Allah. She turned to Allah and placed Maryam (as) and her children in His safekeeping from the accursed shaytan. In return for her sincerity and prayer, Allah gave Maryam (as) noble virtues. In the Qur'an, Allah explains how Maryam (as) was brought up under His protection and meticulous care. "Her Lord accepted her with approval and made her grow in health and beauty...." (Surah Al 'Imran, 37).
Zakariyya (Zachariah) (as) became Maryam's (as) guardian and during the time she spent with him, he realised that she was favoured with exceptional qualities. Moreover, Allah showed her many favours:
... Every time Zakariyya (Zachariah) visited her in the Upper Room, he found food with her. He said, "Maryam, how did you come by this?" She said, "It is from Allah. Allah provides for whomever He wills without any reckoning." (Surah Al 'Imran, 37)
Just as Allah chose the family of 'Imran, He also chose Maryam (as), a member of 'Imran's family, and provided her with an exceptional upbringing. Allah purified Maryam (as) and chose her over all other women. This attribute of hers is stated in the Qur'an:
And when the angels said, "Maryam, Allah has chosen you and purified you. He has chosen you over all other women. Maryam, obey your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow." (Surah Al 'Imran, 42-43)
In the community in which she lived, Maryam (as) became known for the loyalty and sincerity she showed to Allah. She is especially distinguished as a woman "who guarded her chastity". In Surat at-Tahrim, we find an account of this:
Maryam, the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity – We breathed Our Spirit into her and she confirmed the Words of her Lord and His Book and was one of the obedient. (Surat at-Tahrim, 12)
The Prophet Jesus (as) Was Born Without a Father
One of the greatest miracles Allah manifested on the Prophet Jesus (as) is the manner in which Maryam (as) conceived. The Qur'an gives a great many details on this subject. The way that Jibril (Gabriel) (as) appeared to her is described in these terms in Surah Maryam:
Mention Maryam in the Book, how she withdrew from her people to an eastern place, and veiled herself from them. Then We sent Our Spirit to her and it took on for her the form of a well-made man. (Surah Maryam, 16-17)
As we are informed in the verses above, in one of the phases of her life, Maryam (as) withdrew from her people to an eastern place and spent some part of her life there. At this time, Jibril (as) appeared to her as a normal human being. Another important matter stressed in the verses is Maryam's (as) modest behaviour and strong fear of Allah. The first words she spoke when seeing Jibril (as) were:
"I seek refuge from you with the All-Merciful if you have taqwa." (Surah Maryam, 18)
Yet, Jibril (as) introduced himself and explained that he was a messenger sent by Allah to give her glad tidings. The verses report Jibril's (as) reply as being:
"I am only your Lord's messenger so that He can give you a pure boy." (Surah Maryam, 19)
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 the world and the hereafter, and one of those brought near." (Surah Al 'Imran, 45)
Upon hearing these glad tidings, Maryam (as) raised the question of how she could have a son when no man had ever touched her:
She said, "How can I have a boy when no one has touched me and I am not an unchaste woman?" He said, "It will be so! Your Lord says, 'That is easy for Me. It is so that We can make him a Sign for mankind and a mercy from Us.' It is a matter already decreed." So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a distant place. (Surah Maryam, 20- 22)
She said, "My Lord! How can I have a son when no one has ever touched me?" He said, "It will be so." Allah creates whatever He wills. When He decides on something, He just says to it, 'Be!' and it is." (Surah Al 'Imran, 47)
As can be seen from the above verses, Jibril (as) gave Maryam (as) the glad tidings that she was with child and told her "Allah just says to it, 'Be!' and it is." Maryam (as) had never been touched by a man. In other words, the Prophet Jesus (as) did not come into the world in the normal way in which children are created. This is just one of the miracles that the Prophet Jesus (as) experienced during his life and will experience when he returns to earth for a second time, as a blessing of Allah.
During the time Maryam (as) remained in the "distant place", Allah supported her both physically and materially. She was totally under His protection and care during her pregnancy. Allah especially took care of all her needs. Meanwhile, by making her settle in a secluded place, Allah prevented all the harm that people devoid of understanding of this miracle were likely to do her.
The Prophet Jesus (as) is a "Word of Allah"
In the Qur'an Allah draws our attention to the fact that, from his birth to death, the Prophet Jesus (as) was very different from all other men on earth, as He willed so. The Qur'an confirms his virgin birth, a type of creation with which we are not familiar. Before the Prophet Jesus (as) was born, Allah informed his mother about many of the Prophet Jesus' (as) attributes including the fact that he was sent as a Messiah to the Children of Israel. He was also declared "a Word" from Allah:
... 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... (Surat an-Nisa, 171)
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 the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near. (Surah Al 'Imran, 45)
Allah gave him his name before his birth, as He did with Yahya (John) (as). Allah gave him the name the Messiah, the Prophet Jesus, the son of Maryam. This is one of the most explicit indications that the Prophet Jesus (as) was created differently from other people.
Indeed, just like his birth, the miracles he displayed throughout his life with Allah's grace, and the way he was raised up to the Presence of Allah are signs of his difference from other people.
Birth of the Prophet Jesus (as)
As is well known, birth is a very difficult process demanding much care. Delivering a baby without the assistance of an experienced person and due medical care is difficult. However, Maryam (as), all alone, succeeded in delivering a baby, thanks to her loyalty to Allah and the trust she put in Him.
While feeling severe labour pains, Allah inspired Maryam (as) and instructed her in each step. In this way, she delivered her baby effortlessly and in the best circumstances. This was a great favour shown to Maryam (as):
The pains of labour drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, "Oh if only I had died and was something discarded and forgotten!" A voice called out to her from under her, "Do not grieve! Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm towards you and fresh, ripe dates will drop down onto you. Eat and drink and delight your eyes. If you should see anyone at all, just say, 'I have made a vow of abstinence to the All-Merciful and today I will not speak to any human being.'" (Surah Maryam, 23-26)
The Prophet Jesus (as) Spoke While Still in the Cradle
And she (Maryam) who guarded her chastity. We breathed in her some of Our Spirit and made her and her son a Sign for all the worlds. (Surat al-Anbiya, 91)
The birth of the Prophet Jesus (as), which was an unusual event for people, was a test both for Maryam (as) and her people. In reality, the way the Prophet Jesus (as) was born was a miracle Allah employed to summon people to true faith and one of the most explicit evidences of the existence of Allah. Yet, her people failed to grasp it and were suspicious. As mentioned in the Qur'an:
She brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, "Maryam! You have done an unthinkable thing! Sister of Harun (Aaron), your father was not an evil man nor was your mother an unchaste woman!" (Surah Maryam, 27-28)
As explained in the verses above, upon Maryam's (as) return from the distant place with the Prophet Jesus (as), her people did not let her explain. They simply slandered Maryam (as) in an ugly manner. However, those who spread these slanders about Maryam (as) knew her almost from the day she was born and were aware of her purity and piety (taqwa), like the other members of the family of 'Imran.
Surely, these false accusations were a test for Maryam (as). It was apparent that a person, so pure and pious, would not overstep Allah's limits. From the time Maryam (as) was born, Allah always helped her and turned everything she did to good. Maryam (as), in return, knew that every incident happens by the Will of Allah and only Allah could prove the groundless nature of these slanders.
Indeed, Allah provided comfort to Maryam (as) and inspired her to remain quiet. Allah instructed her not to speak with her people but to point to the Prophet Jesus (as), if they ever approached her and attempted to make accusations. In this way, Maryam (as) avoided any trouble such a discussion was likely to create. The one who would provide the most accurate answers to the people was the Prophet Jesus (as). When Allah gave the good tidings of the birth of the Prophet Jesus (as) to Maryam (as), He also informed her that he would speak clearly while he was still in his cradle:
He will speak to people in the cradle, and also when fully grown, and will be one of the righteous. (Surah Al 'Imran, 46)
Thus Allah made things easier for Maryam (as) and provided the true explanation to the people through the words of the Prophet Jesus (as). With such a miracle, the disbelief of the people surrounding Maryam (as) simply failed. We are informed in the Qur'an:
She pointed towards him. They said, "How can a baby in the cradle speak?" He said, "I am the slave of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a Prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I am and directed me to do prayer and pay poor-due as long as I live, and to show devotion to my mother. He has not made me insolent or arrogant. Peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die and the day I am raised up again alive." (Surah Maryam, 29-33)
No doubt, a baby speaking fluently in his cradle is a great miracle. The people of Maryam (as) were astonished on hearing these words of wisdom from a baby and this occasion proved to them that they were facing a miracle from Allah's Presence. All these miraculous incidents showed that the blessed baby in the cradle was a messenger of Allah.
This was Allah's mercy on Maryam (as) because of the trust she placed in Him. By means of such an astounding miracle, she responded to the slanders against her without having to say a word. Yet, Allah informs us that a grievous disaster awaited those who did not dismiss their bad thoughts about Maryam (as) despite this miracle:
And on account of their disbelief and their utterance of a monstrous slander against Maryam. (Surat an-Nisa, 156)
Miracles of the Prophet Jesus (as)
The Prophet Jesus (as) performed many other miracles, by the permission of Allah, other than his virgin birth and his declaration of his prophethood as a new born child in the cradle. In fact, these two miracles are proof that Allah has chosen him. After all, only a miracle could make a new-born child speak so rationally and with faith:
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; and when I taught you the Book and Wisdom..." (Surat al-Ma'ida, 110)
In the Qur'an, the other miracles the Prophet Jesus (as) performed by the will of Allah are related thus:
… As a Messenger to the tribe of Israel, saying: "I have brought you a Sign from your Lord. I will create the shape of a bird out of clay for you and then breathe into it and it will be a bird by Allah's permission. I will heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead to life, by Allah's permission. I will tell you what you eat and what you store up in your homes. There is a Sign for you in that if you are believers. (Surah Al 'Imran, 49)
Despite all the miracles related so far, some people arrogantly rejected the miracles of the Prophet Jesus (as) and said they were all magic.
The Prophet Jesus (as) Communicated the Message, and Some of the Difficulties He Faced
At the time the Prophet Jesus (as) was sent, the people of Israel were in complete turmoil, both in the political and the economic sense. On one hand, there were the cruel conditions inflicted on the public and, on the other, dissenting beliefs and sects made life difficult. Under such conditions, people desperately needed a way out.
The messenger that was to relieve this society of its difficulties was the Prophet Jesus (as). By the will of Allah, the Prophet Jesus (as) spoke when he was still in the cradle and thus indicated to people that the Messiah they expected had arrived. Some of the people realised that the Prophet Jesus (as) was a messenger who had been sent, and believed in him.
Yet, there were also some people who avoided accepting the Prophet Jesus (as). Supporters of the system of disbelief of his time, especially, considered him merely a threat to their irreligious system. That is why they made plans to prevent him as soon as they heard about him. To their dismay, however, their plans were doomed to failure from the beginning. Still, this did not stop them trying to realise their aim.
Nevertheless, those who reacted against him were not limited to disbelievers. During that period, for various reasons, some of the rabbis took sides against the Prophet Jesus (as) asserting that he was abolishing their religion, and of course by that they became disbelievers because of their opposition to a Messenger of Allah. What the Prophet Jesus (as) did, in reality, was only to summon people to the original way, and eliminate the false rules introduced into Judaism by some rabbis themselves. Some of the people of Israel distorted their religion by prohibiting what was allowed by the original revelation and allowing what was prohibited by it. In this way, they changed the true way revealed by Allah. Following this, Allah sent the Prophet Jesus (as) to purify the true religion of all the innovations incorporated into it at a later stage. The Prophet Jesus (as) called his people to the Injil, which confirmed the original Tawrah revealed to the Prophet Moses (as), as stated in the Qur'an:
"I come confirming the Tawrah I find already there, and to make lawful for you some of what was previously forbidden to you. So have fear of Allah and obey me." (Surah Al 'Imran, 50)
In another verse Allah informs us that the Injil revealed to the Prophet Jesus (as) was a guide to the true path for the believers to help them discern between good and evil. It was also a book that confirmed the Tawrah:
And we sent Jesus son of Maryam following in their footsteps, confirming the Tawrah that came before him. We gave him the Injil containing guidance and light, confirming the Tawrah that came before it, and as guidance and admonition for those who have fear." (Surat al-Ma'ida, 46)
Some among the Children of Israel doubted what the Prophet Jesus (as) had brought, but the Prophet Jesus (as) summoned people to devotion to Allah, renunciation of the luxuries of this world, sincerity, brotherhood and honesty. He told them to avoid false beliefs and practices. In the Qur'an, Allah gives an account of how the Prophet Jesus (as) communicated the commands of Allah:
And when Jesus came with the 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 taqwa of (heed) 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)
The sincerity and wise communication of the Prophet Jesus (as) attracted people's attention. The number of his adherents steadily increased.
Some Jews Claim They Killed the Prophet Jesus (as)
It is alleged that the Romans crucified the Prophet Jesus (as). As the allegation goes, the Romans and some Jewish rabbis arrested the Prophet Jesus (as) and crucified him. Indeed, the Christian world embraces the belief that the Prophet Jesus (as) died but then came back to life again and ascended to heaven. However, the Qur'an tells us that this is not true, and that the Prophet Jesus (as) neither died nor was killed:
And (on account of) their saying, "We killed (qatalna) the Messiah, Jesus son of Maryam, Messenger of Allah." They did not kill (wa ma qataloohu) him and they did not crucify (wa ma salaboohu) him but it was made to seem so (shubbiha) 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 (wa ma qataloohu) him. (Surat an-Nisa, 157)
The Qur'an continues by stating that the Prophet Jesus (as) was raised to Allah:
Allah raised him up to Himself (rafa'ahu). Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat an-Nisa, 158)
The Qur'an states the facts very clearly: the attempts of the Romans, provoked by some of the Jews to kill the Prophet Jesus (as), proved unsuccessful. The expression quoted from the above verse "… but it was made to seem so to them" explains the real nature of this event. The Prophet Jesus (as) was not killed but he was raised up to Allah's Presence. Furthermore, Allah reveals that those making this claim know nothing about the truth.
Allah Foiled the Unbelievers' Plot
The plan to kill the Prophet Jesus (as) 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 (as) into the flames, pursued the Prophet Moses (as) with their armies, sought to kill our beloved the Prophet Muhammad (saas) in a nocturnal attack, and left the Prophet Joseph (as) 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 (saas) or perhaps even kill him. Our Lord warned him of this plan. But as the unbelievers soon discovered, Allah is the most superior of planners:
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 (as). They drew up a wide-ranging plan and thought that they would succeed if they captured him. According to historical and Islamic sources, some polytheistic Jews spread many lies and slanders about the Prophet Jesus (as) in order to incite the Romans against him, for they wanted Rome to take action against him. Their plan is revealed in the Qur'an as follows:
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: The Prophet Jesus (as) 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 (as) is still alive. Had the Prophet Jesus (as) 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 (as). 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)
How Are Prophets' Deaths Recounted in the Qur'an?
Examination of the stories in the Qur'an that mention how prophets died, and the verses that describe the ascension of the Prophet Jesus (as), reveal an important fact. In this section we shall examine the meaning of the Arabic words used in the story of the Prophet Jesus (as) as well as those used to describe the deaths of other prophets, and will see how they are used in the verses. As we shall be seeing in greater detail later, a number of words are used in the Qur'an to describe the deaths of prophets, such as qataloohu (to kill), maata (to die), halaka (to perish) and salaboohu (they crucified him). However, it is clearly stated in the Qur'an that, "They did not kill him (wa ma qataloohu) and did not crucify him (wa ma salaboohu)", meaning the Prophet Jesus (as) was not killed in any way. It is emphasised that, in fact, someone who resembled the Prophet Jesus (as) was put forward for the unbelievers to see and that the Prophet Jesus (as) was raised to the Presence of Allah. In Surah Al 'Imran, we are informed that Allah took the Prophet Jesus (as) back and He raised him up to Himself.
When Allah said, "Jesus, I will take you back (mutawaffeeka) and raise you up (wa rafi'uka) to Me and purify you of those who are disbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are disbelievers 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 have been used.
1) Tawaffa: To Cause To Die, To Take in Sleep or To Take Back
The word tawaffa as used in this verse has other meanings than simply 'death' in English. A study of the Arabic equivalents of the words in the verses reveals that the Prophet Jesus (as) did not die in the accepted sense. This is how his being taken back to Allah is described in Surat al-Ma'ida:
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 Witness of all things. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 117)
Surah Al 'Imran states:
When Allah said, "Jesus, I will take you back (mutawaffeeka) and raise you up (wa rafi'uka) to Me and purify you of those who are disbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are disbelievers until the Day of Resurrection..." (Surah Al 'Imran, 55)
This verse informs the believers that Allah will "take back" the Prophet Jesus (as), 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 (as) did not die. In Arabic the word that is translated in some translations of these verses as "You have caused me to die" is tawaffa and comes from the root wafa – to fulfil. In fact, in Arabic commentaries it is not used in the sense of death. The commentary of Imam al-Qurtubi is one example of this; he used the expression "the taking away of the selves" for the word in question. From the Qur'an again, we understand that "taking the self back" does not necessarily mean death. For instance in a verse in which the word tawaffa is used, it is not the death of a human being that is meant but "taking back his self in his sleep":
It is He Who takes you back to Himself (yatawaffakum) 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." The same word is used again in the verse below:
As these verses suggest, Allah takes back the self of the one who is asleep, yet He sends back the selves of those whose deaths have not yet 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. Upon waking up, the self returns to the body.
Another instance in which sleep is regarded as a kind of death, but which does not refer to biological death, is the following du'a, which the Prophet Muhammad (saas) often used to recite when he woke up: "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)" (Narrated by Abu Hudhayfa; Sahih Bukhari).3 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 tawaffa 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:
Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari, another Islamic scholar who examined the meaning of tawaffa, stated that it did not mean death, and drew attention to the use of mawt in one verse of the Qur'an:
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 (as) dying in the familiar biological sense:
The famous commentator and scholar, al-Tabari, stated that the verb is used in the sense of "removing from earth" and interpreted the verse in the following terms:
In his commentary, Hamdi Yazir of Elmali stated that the verse in question means:
We can conclude from these extensive reference sources that the Prophet Jesus (as) was placed in a condition similar to sleep and then raised to Allah's Presence. The Prophet Jesus (as) did not die, but was merely removed from this dimension by His will and Allah knows the truth.
2) Qatala: To Kill
The word generally used for "to kill" when speaking of death in the Qur'an is the Arabic word qatala. For example in Surah Ghafir:
Pharaoh said, "Let me kill 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)
The expression "let me kill Moses" in the verse appears in the Arabic form aqtulu Moses. That word comes from the verb qatala. In another verse, the same word is used in this way:
... (That was because they) killed (yaqtuloona) the Prophets without any right to do so. (Surat al-Baqara, 61)
The words "they killed" in the verse appear as yaqtuloona in the original Arabic, which again derives from the verb qatala. And as the translation makes quite clear, it means "to kill". It is clear how the verb qatala is used in the following verses that describe the death of prophets. All the words whose meaning appears in brackets derive from the verb qatala.
... 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)
... Did you grow arrogant, and deny some of them and murder (taqtuloona) others? (Surat al-Baqara, 87)
... Say, "Why then, if you are muminun, 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)
... So why did you kill them (qataltumoohum) if you are telling the truth? (Surah Al 'Imran, 183)
... The one said, "I shall kill you (la aqtulannaka)." ... (Surat al-Ma'ida, 27)
Even if you do raise your hand against me to kill me (li taqtulanee), I am not going to raise my hand against you to kill you (li aqtulaka) ... (Surat al-Ma'ida, 28)
"Kill (uqtuloo) Joseph or expel him to some land ..." (Surah Yusuf, 9)
The wife of Pharaoh said, "A source of delight for me and for you; do not kill him (la taqtuloohu)..." (Surat al-Qasas, 9)
... "Moses, the Council are 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 al-'Ankabut, 24)
3) Halaka: To Perish
The verb halaka is used in the Qur'an meaning "to perish". This verb is used in verses in the sense of "to perish, be destroyed, die". An example of its occurrence can be found in Surah Ghafir:
... When he (Joseph) died (halaka), you said, "Allah will never send another Messenger after him."... (Surah Ghafir, 34)
In the verse, the expression translated in English as "when he died" is idha halaka in Arabic, used in the sense of "to die".
4) Maata: Death
Another word used in the Qur'an in the context of prophets' deaths is maata. The word maata – he died – and other words from the same root are used in several verses. One of these concerns the death of the Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) (as) in Surah Saba':
Then when We decreed that he should die (mawt), nothing divulged his death (mawtihi) to them except the worm which ate his staff ... (Surah Saba, 14)
Another word from the same root is used in reference to the Prophet Yahya (John) (as):
Peace be upon him the day he was born, and the day he dies (yamootu), and the day he is raised up again alive. (Surah Maryam, 15)
The word translated here as "when he dies" is the Arabic word yamootu. The same word appears in verses in the context of the death of the Prophet Ya'qub (Jacob) (as). It appears in Surat al-Baqara, for instance:
Or were you present when death (mawt) came to Ya'qub? ... (Surat al-Baqara, 133)
The word mawt in the verse comes from the same root and means death.
In a verse about the Prophet Muhammad (saas) the verbs qutila and maata are used at one and the same time:
Muhammad is only a Messenger and he has been preceded by other Messengers. If he were to die (mata) or be killed (qutila), would you turn on your heels? ... (Surah Al 'Imran, 144)
The word mawt which comes from the same root as mata (to die) appears in other verses to do with the deaths of prophets:
... She said, "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-Shu'ara, 81)
5) Khalid: Immortal
Another word that appears in some verses without directly meaning "to die" or "to kill" but which means "immortality" is khalid. The meaning of the word khalid suggests something along the lines of being permanent, for example, in Surat al-Anbiya:
We did not give them bodies which did not eat food, nor were they immortal (khalideena). (Surat al-Anbiya, 8)
6) Salaba: To Crucify
One of the words used in the Qur'an when speaking of the death of prophets and others is the verb salaba (to crucify). The verb carries meanings such as "to crucify, hang, and execute". The verb is used in the following verses:
... They did not kill him and they did not crucify him (wa ma 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)
... (Pharaoh said,) "I will cut off your hands and feet alternately and have you crucified (wa la usallibannakum) ..." (Surah Ta Ha, 71)
... (Pharaoh said,) "I will cut off your alternate hands and feet and I will crucify (wa la usallibannakum) every one of you." (Surat ash-Shu'ara, 49)
As can be seen from these extensive examples, very different words are used in verses dealing with the death of other prophets. Allah has revealed in the Qur'an that the Prophet Jesus (as) was not killed, that someone who resembled him was shown in his place, and that he was taken back (in other words that his soul was taken). While the word tawaffa meaning "to take the soul" is used in the context of the Prophet Jesus (as), expressions such as, qataloohu and mata, expressions of normal death, are used to refer to other prophets. These facts demonstrate once again that the situation of the Prophet Jesus (as) is an extraordinary one.
Allah Raised The Prophet Jesus (as) to His Presence in Body and Soul
The most undeniable proof that the Prophet Jesus (as) neither died nor was killed is the fact that Allah has revealed that He raised the Prophet Jesus (as) to His Presence:
... [I will] raise you up (rafi'uka) to Me and purify you of those who are disbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are disbelievers until the Day of Resurrection... (Surah Al 'Imran, 55)
... On the contrary [bal] Allah raised him up to Himself. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat an-Nisa, 158)
Allah protected and rescued the Prophet Jesus (as) by raising him to His Presence. The words rafiu'ka and rafa'ahu that appear in the verses come from the Arabic root rafa'a, which means "to rise". There is a consensus among Islamic scholars, based on these verses, that the Prophet Jesus (as) did not die but was raised to Allah's Presence, and that this ascension took place in both body and soul. The Islamic scholar, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, interpreted Surah Al 'Imran 55 together with Surat an-Nisa' 158, and wrote that: "There is a consensus among the community of the faithful [ijma' ummat] that the Prophet Jesus (as) was raised alive to the heavens." (Al-Ash'ari, Al-Ash'ari's al-Ibana 'an Usul al-Diyana, Cairo, 1986, 2:115) (Ijma' ummat refers to the agreement on this issue of those Islamic scholars who expounded upon Islamic law and lived during the same century)
Zahid al-Kawthari stated that the ascension is so clear and certain that there is no room for any objections. Al-Kawthari cited Surah Al 'Imran 55 and Surat an-Nisa' 157-158 as evidence and said that this event is beyond doubt. He uses the word nass, which means certainty or indisputability stemming from a Qur'anic verse or a hadith. He went on to say:
As clearly seen from the verses and the Islamic scholars' comments, the Prophet Jesus (as) was raised alive, with his body, to Allah's Presence. This is a miracle of Allah, and a wonder that will inspire great enthusiasm and excitement among all believers. Claims that only his soul was raised to His Presence, or that his ascension was only spiritual (in station), do not reflect the facts. The invalidity of such claims has been proven by many Islamic scholars as shown above.
Another important proof of this event is the Arabic word bal, which appears in Qur'an, 4:158, and has the literal translation of "on the contrary". The features of its meaning and use in Arabic linguistics indicate a very important fact: according to the rules of Arabic linguistics, the sentence that comes after it must have a meaning that is completely opposite to the preceding statement. That being the case, it is likely that the verses referring to the Prophet Jesus (as) "… They did not kill him," ((Surat an-Nisa': 157) "on the contrary [bal] Allah raised him up to Himself…" ((Surat an-Nisa': 158) refer to the state of being alive, rather than the state of being dead. Sheikh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri offered the following interpretation:
Said Ramadan al-Buti interpreted the subject in the same way:
Clearly, Almighty Allah confounded the unbelievers by raising the Prophet Jesus (as) alive to His Presence. All of this evidence shows that the Prophet Jesus (as) is still alive and will return to Earth when Allah wills and Allah knows the truth.
Allah's Purification of the Prophet Jesus (as) of the Unbelievers
One piece of information provided about the Prophet Jesus' (as) ascension is that Allah will purify him of the unbelievers. It is revealed in the Qur'an:
... Raise you up [wa raafi'uka] to Me and purify [mutahhiruka] 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 root of mutahhiruka is tahara, meaning "being clean." Islamic scholars regard this word as one proof that the Prophet Jesus (as) was raised alive to Allah. According to them, the interpretation of the verse is: "I am taking you, raising you to Me, and removing you from this environment polluted by unbelievers and sinners." (Zeki Saritoprak, Islam Inanci Acisindan Nuzul-i Isa Meselesi [The Issue of the Second Coming of the Messiah from the Perspective of Islamic Belief], Izmir: Caglayan Publishings, 1997, p. 63.).
Thus, Allah purified the Prophet Jesus (as) from the unbelievers, the unbelievers' plot to kill him was foiled and they failed to achieve their goal. (Allah knows the truth.) Moreover, this verse also shows that the Prophet Jesus (as) was purified by his physical separation from an environment containing unbelievers. (Allah knows the truth.) Thus, the assertion that the Prophet Jesus (as) died and that only his soul was raised to Allah is proven false. A spirit-only ascent would mean that he was not purified.
In order for the Prophet Jesus (as) to have been purified in the manner revealed in the verse, he would have to have departed from his surrounding environment in both body and soul. Furthermore, a spirit-only purification cannot apply to a prophet with superior moral values, one who is honoured in Allah's Presence and has deep faith, such as the Prophet Jesus (as). Another verse reveals his superior moral values: "Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised up again alive" (Surah Maryam, 33). As a devout believer and a messenger of Allah, the Prophet Jesus' (as) soul is immaculate. However, his environment was not immaculate, due to the unbelievers' irreligious behaviour and corrupt morality. Indeed, our Lord reveals that they were unclean because of their moral corruption:
O you who believe! The idolaters are unclean, so after this year they should not come near the Sacred Mosque [Masjid al-Haram] ... (Surat at-Tawba, 28)
Therefore, purifying the Prophet Jesus (as) means his physical removal from their presence. Thus, Allah purified and protected him by raising the Prophet Jesus (as) to Himself. (Allah knows the truth.)
The Egyptian scholar Khalil Herras offers the following explanation regarding the wisdom of the term "purification":
As Hamdi Yazar of Elmali set out in his commentary, the Prophet Jesus' (as) purification from the unbelievers is manifested by his ascent: