Islamic Views On Jesus’ Death

This article covers Islamic Views on Jesus’ Death.

The biblical account of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus (ʿĪsā) recorded in the Christian New Testament is rejected by most Muslims, but like Christians, they believe that Jesus ascended to heaven and he will, according to Islamic literary sources, return before the end of time. The various sects of Islam have different views regarding this topic; traditionally, mainstream Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified but was bodily raised up to heaven by God, while Ahmadi Muslims reject this belief and instead contend that Jesus survived the crucifixion, was taken off the cross alive and continued to preach in India until his natural death.

Depending on the interpretation of the following Quranic verses (Quran 4:157-4:158), Islamic scholars and commentators of the Quran have abstracted different opinions and conflicting conclusions regarding the death of Jesus. Some believe that in the Biblical account, Jesus’ crucifixion did not last long enough for him to die, while others opine that God gave Jesus’ appearance to the one who revealed his location to those persecuting him. He was replaced as Jesus and the executioners thought the victim was Jesus, causing everyone to believe that Jesus was crucified. A third explanation could be that Jesus was nailed to a cross, but as his soul is immortal he did not “die” or was not “crucified” [to death]; it only appeared so. In opposition to the second and third foregoing proposals, yet others maintain that God does not use deceit and therefore they contend that the crucifixion just did not happen:

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-

— Quran 4:157–158
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Jesus’ death in the Quran

Main article: Biblical and Quranic narratives
Further information: Criticism of the QuranHistorical reliability of the Quran, and History of the Quran

Jesus’ death is mentioned once in the Quran, in the past sense, and in a future sense.

Past sense

And for their saying, “We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the Messenger of God.” In fact, they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them as if they did. Indeed, those who differ about him are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it, except the following of assumptions. Certainly, they did not kill him. Rather, God raised him up to Himself. God is Mighty and Wise.

-Quran 4:157-4:158

In the past sense, it is said that the Jews did not kill or crucify Jesus but it only appeared to them as if they had, because Jesus had been raised up by God according to the Quranic narrative. Given the historicity of Jesus’ death and the Islamic theological doctrine on the supposed inerrancy of the Quran, most mainstream Muslims and Islamic scholars deny the crucifixion and death of Jesus, deny the historical reliability of the Gospels, claim that the canonical Gospels are corruptions of the true Gospel of Jesus for their portrayal of Jesus dying, and they also claim that extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’ death is a Christian forgery. Quran 3:55 and Quran 5:117 are interpreted by most mainstream Muslims as referring to Jesus entering heaven alive at the end of his life, like Enoch. According to the Islamic scholar Muhammad Asad the crucifixion of Jesus did not take place, nor was there any substitution “for Jesus, a person closely resembling him”, thus among many Asad also rejects the theory of substitution mentioned with the words “none of these legends finds the slightest support in the Qur’an or in authentic Traditions, and the stories produced in this connection by the classical commentators must be summarily rejected”.

Future sense

There is not one of the People of the Scripture but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them.

– Quran 4:159

In the future sense it is said that Jesus will not die until the day of resurrection. Given that, according to the Quran, Jesus had not died before going up to God, nor will he die before the day of resurrection, the interpretation by most Muslims is that Jesus entered heaven alive. Jesus’ words “the day I die” in Quran 19:33 are interpreted by most Muslims in the future sense (Jesus will die on the day of resurrection).

Possible Gnostic influences

Main articles: ChristologyDiversity in early Christian theologyGnosticism, and Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia

Payrus of Irenaeus' Against Heresies, which describes early Gnostic beliefs about Jesus' death which influenced Islam.

Payrus of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, which describes early Gnostic beliefs about Jesus’ death which influenced Islam.

The belief that Jesus only appeared to be crucified and did not actually die predates Islam and is found in several New Testament apocrypha and Gnostic Gospels. Although most contemporary scholars argue that the Islamic portrayal of Jesus himself is not docetic, his crucifixion narrative in the Quran could be. The Greek Father of the Church and bishop Irenaeus in his heresiological treatise Against Heresies (180 CE) described early Gnostic beliefs regarding the crucifixion and death of Jesus that bear remarkable resemblance with the Islamic views, expounding on the hypothesis of substitution:

He [Christ] appeared on earth as a man and performed miracles (apparuisse eum … virtutes perfecisse). Thus, he himself did not suffer. Rather, a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled (Simonem quendam Cyrenaeum angariatum) to carry his cross for him. It was he [Simon] who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified (et hunc … crucifixum), being transfigured by him [Jesus], so that (ut) he [Simon] might be thought to be Jesus. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon and stood by, laughing at them.

— Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 24, Section 40.

One of the Christian Gnostic writings found in the Nag Hammadi library, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, has a similar substitutionist interpretation of Jesus’ death:

I was not afflicted at all. Those there punished me, yet I did not die in solid reality but in what appears, in order that I not be put to shame by them […] For my death which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness. They nailed their man up to their death. […] Another, their father, was the one who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They were hitting me with the reed; another was the one who lifted up the cross on his shoulder, who was Simon. Another was the one on whom they put the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the riches of the archons and the offspring of their error and their conceit, and I was laughing at their ignorance.

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, likewise, holds the same substitutionist interpretation of Jesus’ death:

I saw him (Jesus) seemingly being seized by them. And I said ‘What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?’ The Savior said to me, ‘He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.’ But I, when I had looked, said ‘Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.’ But he said to me, ‘I have told you, ‘Leave the blind alone!’. And you, see how they do not know what they are saying. For the son of their glory instead of my servant, they have put to shame.’ And I saw someone about to approach us resembling him, even him who was laughing on the tree. And he was with a Holy Spirit, and he is the Savior. And there was a great, ineffable light around them, and the multitude of ineffable and invisible angels blessing them. And when I looked at him, the one who gives praise was revealed.

The Gospel of Peter is a docetic Apocryphal Gospel. The British biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, who served as Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the Victoria University of Manchester, wrote in a commentary about this text:

The docetic note in this narrative appears in the statement that Jesus, while being crucified, ‘remained silent, as though he felt no pain’, and in the account of his death. It carefully avoids saying that he died, preferring to say that he ‘was taken up’, as though he – or at least his soul or spiritual self – was ‘assumed’ direct from the cross to the presence of God. (We shall see an echo of this idea in the Qur’an.) Then the cry of dereliction is reproduced in a form which suggests that, at that moment, his divine power left the bodily shell in which it had taken up temporary residence.

John of Damascus, a Syrian Eastern Orthodox monk, Christian theologian, and apologist that lived under the Umayyad Caliphate, reported in his heresiological treatise De Haeresibus (8th century) the Islamic denial of Jesus’ crucifixion and his alleged substitution on the cross, attributing the origin of these doctrines to Muhammad:

And the Jews, having themselves violated the Law, wanted to crucify him, but having arrested him they crucified his shadow. But Christ, it is said, was not crucified, nor did he die; for God took him up to himself because of his love for him. And he [Muhammad] says this, that when Christ went up to heaven God questioned him saying “O Jesus, did you say that ‘I am Son of God, and God’?” And Jesus, they say, answered: “Be merciful to me, Lord; you know that I did not say so, nor will I boast that I am your servant; but men who have gone astray wrote that I said this and they said lies concerning me and they have been in error”. And although there are included in this scripture many more absurdities worthy of laughter, he insists that this was brought down to him by God.

In his scholarly monograph Gott ist Christus, der Sohn der Maria. Eine Studie zum Christusbild im Koran (1989, ISBN 3-923946-17-1), the German Roman Catholic theologian and professor of Religious studies Günther Risse [de] states that Muhammad’s distorted understanding of Jesus and the Christian faith, along with the misrepresentation of Christian beliefs about Jesus in the Quran and the hadith, were influenced by the non-Chalcedonian (heretical) Monophysite Christianity that prevailed at the time in the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula and further in Abyssinia, Egypt, and Syria. A similar hypothesis regarding the Gnostic Christian influence on Muhammad’s beliefs about the crucifixion of Jesus has been proposed by Neal Robinson, senior lecturer of Religious studies at the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, in his scholarly monograph Christ in Islam and Christianity (1991, ISBN 978-0-7914-0558-1).

If the substitutionist interpretation of 4:157 (that Christ was replaced on the cross) is taken as a valid reading of the Qurʾānic text, the question arises of whether this idea is represented in Christian sources. According to Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses, the Egyptian Gnostic Christian Basilides (of the second century) held the view that Christ (the divine nous, intelligence) was not crucified, but was replaced by Simon of Cyrene. However, both Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus denied that Basilides held this view. But the substitutionist idea in a general form is quite clearly expressed in the Gnostic Nag Hammadi documents Apocalypse of Peter and The Second Treatise of the Great Seth.

This docetic interpretation regarding Jesus’ crucifixion was also shared by Manichaeans. Since Manichaeism was still prevailing in Arabia during the 6th century, just alike prohibition against wine and fasting rules, Islamic views on Jesus’ death might have been influenced by it. However, while Zoroastrianism existed only in the eastern and southern Arabia, the existence of Manichaeism in Mecca in the 6th-7th century is denied as lacking historical support. Similar reservations regarding the appearance of Manichaeism, Gnosticism, and Mazdakism in pre-Islamic Mecca are offered by Trompf & Mikkelsen et al. in their latest work (2018).

Earliest reports

Most Islamic traditions, save for a few, categorically deny that Jesus physically died, either on a cross or another manner. The contention is found within the Islamic traditions themselves, with the earliest Hadith reports quoting the companions of Muhammad stating Jesus having died, while the majority of subsequent Hadith and Tafsir have elaborated an argument in favor of the denial through exegesis and apologetics, becoming the popular (orthodox) view.

Professor and Muslim scholar Mahmoud M. Ayoub sums up what the Quran states despite interpretative Islamic arguments:

The Quran, as we have already argued, does not deny the death of Christ. Rather, it challenges human beings who in their folly have deluded themselves into believing that they would vanquish the divine Word, Jesus Christ the Messenger of God. The death of Jesus is asserted several times and in various contexts (Quran 3:55; 5:117; 19:33).

Some disagreement and discord can be seen beginning with Ibn Ishaq’s (d. 761 CE/130 AH) report of a brief accounting of events leading up to the crucifixion, firstly stating that Jesus was replaced by someone named Sergius, while secondly reporting an account of Jesus’ tomb being located at Medina and thirdly citing the places in Quran 3:55 and 4:158 that God took Jesus up to himself.

An early interpretation of verse 3:55 (specifically “I will cause you to die and raise you to myself”), al-Tabari (d. 923 CE/310 AH) records an interpretation attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas, who used the literal “I will cause you to die” (mumayyitu-ka) in place of the metaphorical “Jesus died” (mutawaffi-ka), while Wahb ibn Munabbih, an early Jewish convert, is reported to have said: “God caused Jesus, son of Mary, to die for three hours during the day, then took him up to himself”. Tabari further transmits from Ibn Ishaq Bishr: “God caused Jesus to die for seven hours”, while at another place reported that a person called Sergius was crucified in place of Jesus. Ibn al-Athir forwarded the report that it was Judas, the betrayer, while also mentioning the possibility it was a man named Natlianus. Al-Masudi (d. 956 CE/343 AH) reported the death of Christ under Tiberius.

Todd Lawson details the writings of John of Damascus, who was one of the first Christians to detail the denial of Jesus’ crucifixion, and writes it is a variation of Docetism, charging Islam with the denial of his death. Although it is not clear if it was known to John that the Muslims denied the crucifixion or not, rather this is his own take on it as he presented these ideas to his own followers in Greek so the Muslims could not understand it and therefore he could say as he pleased. Lawson states that the interpretation of John of Damascus is unjustifiable as the Qur’an’s assertion that the Jews did not crucify Jesus being very different from saying that Jesus was not crucified, explaining that it is the varied Quranic exegetes in Tafsir, and not the Qur’an itself, that denies the crucifixion, further stating that the message in the 4:157 verse simply affirms the historicity of the event, and Christian understanding of the Muslim point of view never advanced past that of John.

10th and 11th-century Ismaili Shia scholars Ja’far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, Abu Hatim Ahmad ibn Hamdan al-Razi, Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani, Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi and the group Ikhwan al-Safa affirm the historicity of the crucifixion, reporting Jesus was crucified and not substituted by another man as maintained by many other popular Qur’anic commentators and Tafsir.

In reference to the Quranic quote “We have surely killed Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, the apostle of God”, Ayoub asserts this boast not as the repeating of a historical lie or the perpetuating of a false report, but an example of human arrogance and folly with an attitude of contempt towards God and His messenger(s). Ayoub furthers what modern scholars of Islam interpret regarding the historical death of Jesus, the man, as man’s inability to kill off God’s Word and the Spirit of God, which the Quran testifies were embodied in Jesus Christ. Ayoub continues highlighting the denial of the killing of Jesus as God denying men such power to vanquish and destroy the divine Word. The words, “they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him” speaks to the profound events of ephemeral human history, exposing mankind’s heart and conscience towards God’s will. The claim of humanity to have this power against God is illusory. “They did not slay him…but it seemed so to them” speaks to the imaginations of mankind, not the denial of the actual event of Jesus dying physically on the cross.

Jesus lives

Discussing the interpretation of those scholars who deny the crucifixion, the Encyclopaedia of Islam writes:

The denial, furthermore, is in perfect agreement with the logic of the Quran. The Biblical stories reproduced in it (e.g., Job, Moses, Joseph, etc.) and the episodes relating to the history of the beginning of Islam demonstrate that it is “God’s practice” (sunnat Allah) to make faith triumph finally over the forces of evil and adversity. “So truly with hardship comes ease”, (XCIV, 5, 6). For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed: “Assuredly God will defend those who believe”; (XXII, 49). He confounds the plots of the enemies of Christ (III, 54).

Substitution interpretation

See also: Gospel of BasilidesGospel of BarnabasSubstitution hypothesisSwoon hypothesis, and Unknown years of Jesus

Unlike the Christian view of the death of Jesus, most Muslims believe he was raised to Heaven without being put on the cross and God created a resemblance to appear exactly like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus, and he ascended bodily to Heaven, there to remain until his Second Coming in the End days.

The identity of the substitute has been a source of great interest. One proposal is that God used one of Jesus’ enemies. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, is often cited, and is mentioned in the Gospel of Barnabas. The second proposal is that Jesus asked for someone to volunteer to be crucified instead of him. Simon of Cyrene is the person most commonly accepted to have done it, perhaps because according to the Synoptic Gospels he was compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross for him. Al-Baidawi writes that Jesus told his disciples in advance that whoever volunteered would go to heaven.

Tabari’s versions of events

Tabari (d. 839–923/ 224–310 AH) divided the early reports regarding Jesus crucifixion into two groups. According to the first, one of Jesus disciples volunteers to take the form of his master and is crucified. According to the other, the Jew mistakenly carried only an empty resemblance to the cross.

Tabari narrated the first strand as follows:

Jesus went into a house together with seventeen of his companions. The Jew surrounded them but when they burst in God made all the disciples look like Jesus. The pursuers, supposing that they had bewitched them, threatened to kill them all if they did not expose him. Then Jesus asked his companions which of them would purchase paradise for himself thath day. One man volunteered and went out saying that he was Jesus and as God had made him look like Jesus they took him, killed him and crucified him. Thereupon “a semblance was made to them” and they thought that they had killed Jesus. The Christians likewise thought that it was Jesus who had been killed. And God raised Jesus right away.

The second strand is narrated as follows:

The Jews were looking for Jesus. They took hold of Simon, one of the disciples, and they said, “This is one of his companions.” And he denied it and said, “I am not one of his disciples.” So they left him. Others took hold of him and he likewise denied it. Then he heard the sound of the cock and he wept and it grieved him. ‘On the morning of the next day one of his disciples went to the Jew and said, “What will you give me if I lead you to the Messiah?” He accepted their offer of thirty dirhams and led them to him. And a semblance had been made for them before that, and they took him and made certain of him and bound him with a cord and began to lead him and to say to him “You used to bring the dead to life and to drive away Satan and heal the jinn-possessed so why not deliver yourself from this cord?” And they spat on him and cast thorns on him until they brought him to the wood upon which they wanted to crucify him. And God raised Jesus to Himself. And they crucified the semblance which was made to them. And [Jesus] tarried seven [hours]. ‘Then his mother, and the woman whom God had freed from jinn-possession when Jesus treated her, came weeping to where the crucified [semblance] was. And Jesus came to them both and said, “Why are you weeping?” They said, “Because of You.” He said, “God raised me to Himself and I came to no harm. This [corpse] is something which was “made a semblance to them”. Order the disciples to meet me at such and such place.” Eleven met him at the place. Jesus missed the one who had sold him. They said, “Because he regretted what he had done he committed suicide by strangling himself.” Jesus replied, “If he had turned towards God, God would have turned toward him”.

Ibn Kathir’s version of events

Ibn Kathir (d. 1373 CE/760 AH) follows traditions which suggest that a crucifixion did occur, but not with Jesus. After the event, Ibn Kathir reports the people were divided into three groups following three different narratives; The Jacobites believing ‘God remained with us as long as He willed and then He ascended to Heaven;’ The Nestorians believing ‘The son of God was with us as long as he willed until God raised him to heaven;’ and the third group of Christians who believing; ‘The servant and messenger of God, Jesus, remained with us as long as God willed until God raised him to Himself.’

The following narration recorded in the Qur’anic exegesis of Ibn Kathir verse is related to the substitution of Jesus:

Ibn Abbas said, “Just before God raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, ‘There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.’ He then asked, ‘Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place. Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Paradise).’ One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, ‘You will be that man,’ and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof of the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him. Some of Jesus’ followers disbelieved in him twelve times after they had believed in him. They then divided into three groups. One group, the Jacobites, said, ‘God remained with us as long as He willed and then ascended to Heaven.’ Another group, the Nestorians, said, ‘The son of God was with us as long as he willed and God took him to Heaven.’ Another group of Christians who said, ‘The servant and Messenger of God remained with us as long as God willed, and God then took him to Him.’ The two disbelieving groups cooperated against that third Christian group and they killed them. Ever since that happened, Islam was then veiled until God sent Muhammad.” – Al-Nasa’i|Al-Kubra, 6:489

At another place in his Quranic exegesis, Ibn Kathir narrates the story as follows:

(The people conspiring against Jesus) envied him because of his prophethood and obvious miracles; curing the blind and leprous and bringing the dead back to life, by God’s leave. He also used to make the shape of a bird from clay and blow in it, and it became a bird by God’s leave and flew. ‘Jesus performed other miracles that God honored him with, yet some defied and belied him and tried their best to harm him. God’s Prophet ‘Jesus could not live in any one city for long and he had to travel often with his mother, peace be upon them. Even so, some of the Jews were not satisfied, and they went to the king of Damascus at that time, a Greek polytheist who worshipped the stars. They told him that there was a man in Bayt Al-Maqdis misguiding and dividing the people in Jerusalem and stirring unrest among the king’s subjects. The king became angry and wrote to his deputy in Jerusalem to arrest the rebel leader, stop him from causing unrest, crucify him and make him wear a crown of thorns. When the king’s deputy in Jerusalem received these orders, he went with some Jews to the house that ‘Jesus was residing in, and he was then with twelve, thirteen or seventeen of his companions. That day was a Friday, in the evening. They surrounded ‘Jesus in the house, and when he felt that they would soon enter the house or that he would sooner or later have to leave it, he said to his companions, “Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise.”‘ A young man volunteered, but ‘Jesus thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting ‘Jesus to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” God made the young man look exactly like ‘Jesus, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and ‘Jesus was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep. God said, “O ‘Jesus! I will take you and raise you to myself.” When ‘Jesus ascended, those who were in the house came out. When those surrounding the house saw the man who looked like Jesus, they thought that he was Jesus. So they took him at night, crucified him and placed a crown of thorns on his head. They then boasted that they killed Jesus’. Some Christians accepted their false claim, due to their ignorance and lack of reason. As for those who were in the house with Jesus, witnessed his ascension to heaven, while the rest thought that the Jews killed ‘Jesus by crucifixion. They even said that Marry sat under the corpse of the crucified man and cried, and they say that the dead man spoke to her. All this was a test from God for His servants out of His wisdom. God explained this matter in the Glorious Quran which He sent to His honorable Messenger, whom He supported with miracles and clear, unequivocal evidence. God is the Most Truthful, and He is the Lord of the worlds Who knows the secrets, what the hearts conceal, the hidden matters in heaven and earth, what has occurred, what will occur, and what would occur if it was decreed. – Kathir I. , Tafsir Ibn Kathir

Barnabas’ version of events

The apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas (the known manuscripts dated to the late 16th or early 17th centuries), also promotes a non-death narrative. The work claims itself to be by the biblical Barnabas, who in this work is one of the twelve apostles; however, text of this Gospel is late and pseudepigraphical. Nonetheless, some scholars suggest that it may contain some remnants of an earlier, apocryphal work (perhaps Gnostic, Ebionite, or Diatessaronic), redacted to bring it more in line with Islamic doctrine. Some Muslims consider the surviving versions as transmitting a suppressed apostolic original.

According to the Gospel of Barnabas it was Judas, not Jesus, who was crucified on the cross. This work states that when Judas led the Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus in an effort to betray him, angels appeared to take Jesus out a window and up to the heavens. As Judas entered the room, his appearance was transformed to that of Jesus, and the Romans arrested him and brought him to be crucified. The narrative states this transformation of appearance not only fooled the Romans, but the Pharisees, the High Priest, the followers of Christ, and his mother Mary.

The Gospel of Barnabas then mentions that after three days since burial, Judas’ body was stolen from his grave with rumors spreading of Jesus being risen from the dead. In following with Islamic lore, when Jesus was informed in the third heaven about what happened he prayed to God to be sent back to the earth, and later descended and gathered his mother, disciples, and followers and told them the truth of what happened. He then ascended back to the heavens, with the narrative continuing Islamic legend mirroring Christian doctrine of returning at the end of times as a just king.

Docetism theory

A less common opinion among scholars hold that the crucifixion of Jesus was just an illusion. Accordingly, Jesus’ body was really put on the cross, but his spirit did not die, but ascended to heaven. Thus the Jew erred because they did not recognized the “Messiah”, the spiritual form of Jesus. Docetists are Christians or Gnostics who believed that Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die. A docetic interpretation regarding Jesus’ death is provided by Ghazali, who states Mansur Al-Hallaj quoted the Quranic verse about Jesus’ death being merely an illusion, referring to both himself and Jesus as something, whose bodies could be killed but not their divine element. Other Docetic interpretations might also be found in Ismaili beliefs.

Swoon theory

Some modern Muslim scholars believe that Jesus was actually crucified on the cross but didn’t die, instead pretending to be dead, or that he fell unconscious (“swooned”) and was later revived in the tomb in the same mortal body. Accordingly, His appearances after three days in the tomb were merely perceived to be resurrection appearances. These types of theories are also known as swoon theory. These theories were first proposed by 17th or 18th century western scholars.

Muslim preacher Ahmed Deedat of South Africa wrote several books, one particularly entitled Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction along with many video lectures widely printed and distributed all over the Muslim World. He takes a critical look at the events from the canonial four Gospels and theorizes an alternative scenario of what really happened, a scenario very similar to the swoon theory.

Another Muslim Scholar Zakir Naik also uses these theories in a debate with Pastor Ruknuddin Henry Pio.

Jesus lives after having died

In regard to the interpretation of the Muslims who accept the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mahmoud M. Ayoub states:

The Qur’an is not here speaking about a man, righteous and wronged though he may be, but about the Word of God who was sent to earth and returned to God. Thus the denial of killing of Jesus is a denial of the power of men to vanquish and destroy the divine Word, which is for ever victorious.

The Islamic interpretation of the events at the end of Jesus’ earthly life

Some Islamic scholars like Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi argue that Jesus was rescued but was given death by God before he was ascended bodily as God never allows His messengers to be dishonored, even their dead bodies.

Thomas McElwain states that the context of the verse is clearly within the discussion of Jewish ridicule of Christians, not in context of whether or not Jesus died. He continues that the text could be interpreted as denying the death of Jesus at the hands of Jews rather than denying his death. He adds, however, “the expressions against the crucifixion are strong, so that to interpret the meaning for Romans rather than Jews to have committed the act is also suspect” and that if this meaning is correct, “it would have been more effective to state that the Romans killed Jesus, rather than to emphasise that the Jews were not in possession of the facts.”

According to some translations, Jesus says in the Qur’an:

I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness. – Qur’an 5:117

The majority of Muslims translate the verb “mutawafik” (متوفيك) “to terminate after a period of time” while others translate it “to die of natural causes”. Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi consider it as the physical death of Jesus, and hence question the return of Jesus. Geoffrey Parrinder discusses different interpretations of the Qur’anic chapter 19, verse 33 and writes in his conclusion that “the cumulative effect of the Qur’anic verse is strongly in favor of a real death”. This verse could also refer to the Second Coming of Jesus.

The following minority of translations or translators translate “to die”:

  • Muhammad Asad
  • George Sale
  • Mohamed Ahmed
  • Maulana Muhammad Ali
  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
  • Maulvi Sher Ali
  • Free Minds Muslims
  • John Medows Rodwell
  • Abdul Majid Daryabadi
  • Ghulam Ahmed Pervez

However, the majority of Qur’anic translators, including Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Habib Shakir and Marmaduke Pickthall, do not translate as “to die”.

David Marshall Lang stated in his 1957 book The Wisdom of Balahvar that confusion in diacritical markings in Arabic documents resulted in confusing Kashmir and Kushinara (the place of Buddha’s death) with the place of the death of Jesus. Lang has stated that the term Budhasaf (Buddha-to-be) became Yudasaf, Iodasaph, and then Yuzasaf, and resulted in the assertions of Jesus being buried in Srinagar. In 1981 (in Jesus i Kashmir: Historien om en legend) and then in 2011, Per Beskow also stated that confusion about the traditions regarding Gautama Buddha in the Bilawhar wa-Yudasaf legend had resulted in the confused assumption that Jesus was Yuzasaf and was buried in Kashmir.

Ahmadiyya view

In contrast to the mainstream Islamic views, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community rejects the interpretation of Jesus being lifted alive to Heaven, and instead contends that Jesus survived the crucifixion, and goes further to describe Jesus as a mortal man who was taken off the cross alive and continued to preach in India until his natural death in Kashmir. Ahmadis believe that Jesus, having survived the crucifixion, later migrated to India to escape persecution in Judea and to further spread his message to the Lost Tribes of Israel.

The viewpoint of Jesus’s migration to India had also been independently researched in the literature of authors prior to the foundation of the movement, for example, most notably by the Russian historian Nicolas Notovitch in 1894. Ibn Babawayh (d.991 CE) in Ikhmal ad Din recounts that Jesus went to a far country. This was adapted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as the basis of their theory regarding the voyage of Jesus in India.

The claim of Jesus is buried at the Roza Bal shrine in Srinagar was promoted also by writers such as Holger Kersten (1981). Sunni Muslim authorities at the shrine however consider this as heretical and say that it is a Muslim saint buried there. The claims of the theory have been examined in various documentaries, and have generated tourist visits to the site. Some scholars, such as Norbert Klatt (1988), and Indologist Günter Grönbold (1985), have critically dismissed the speculations of Jesus in India.

Adherents of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community regard the prophecies in the Bible and hadith relating to the Second advent of Jesus were fulfilled in the likeness and personality of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who initiated the foundation of the Ahmadiyya movement. This view however is considered blasphemous by Sunni Muslim authorities and subsequently has led to the religious persecution against Ahmadi Muslims, especially in Pakistan.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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