By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam
In the article I present the views of several Muslim scholars ( often verbatim reproductions) on the issue of Jesus' crucifixion as presented in the Qur'an. Muslims scholars have developed a number of theories in relation to this issue as will be evident from below such.
Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an,
This verse is explicit on the point that the Prophet Jesus Christ was rescued from crucifixion and that the Christians and the Jews are both wrong in believing that he died on the cross. A comparative study of the Qur'an and the Bible shows that most probably it was Jesus himself who stood his trial in the court of Pilate, who sentenced him to death, but they could not kill or crucify him, for Allah raised him to Himself.
This is what happened, Pilate knew fully well that Christ was innocent and had been brought in his court out of jealousy. So he asked the crowd whether Jesus Christ should be released on the occasion of the Festival or Barabbas, a notorious robber. But the high priests and elders persuaded the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas and for the crucifixion of Jesus. After this, God, Who can do any and everything He wills, raised Jesus to Himself and rescued him from crucifixion and the one who was crucified afterwards was somehow or other taken for Chris. Nevertheless, his miraculous escape does not lessen the wicked crime of the Jews, because they knew it well that the one, whom they crowned with a crown of thorns, and on whose face they spat and whom they crucified with disgrace was Christ, the son of Mary. As regards the matter how "it was made doubtful for them" that they had crucified Jesus, we have no means of ascertaining. Therefore it is not right to base on mere guess-work and rumours an answer to the question how the Jews were made to believe that they had crucified him, whereas in fact, Jesus, the son of Mary, had escaped from them.
Nasr Abū Zayd, (d.2010) an Egyptian scholar of the Qur’an comments, “Since [the reference to the Crucifixion] exists only in the context of responding to the Jewish claim, the discourse structure suggests it was denying the capability of the Jews to have done this depending on their own power…”
Zayd, N. Abu, Rethinking the Qur’an: Towards a Humanistic Hermeneutics (Amsterdam: Humanistics University Press, 2004), 34.
Stages Of Development Of Concept adopted from Muhammad Ayoub, „The Story of the Passion“, The Muslim World,70(1980):91-121.
1. Substitutionist theory/identity confusion
2. Next stage in the development of the theory presents a growing interest in historical accounts such as gospel materials and hagiography.
3. Punishment substitutionism theory- one of the guards by the name of Titanus was miraculously transformed (face only not body) to look like Jesus as he entered Jesus' dwelling place. When he came out he was arrested and crucified.
4. God turned some Jews who reviled Jesus and Mary into apes and swines answering Jesus' prayer. The king and notables of the Jews, fearing a similar punishment, sought to kill Jesus. They besieged him and his disciples in a house, and one of them agreed to bear the likeness-of his master and die in his place in order that the others may be saved.
5. Many commentators questioned the entire theory and sought to gobeyond the literal meaning of the text
6. Others tried to present the whole episode in a credible historical account without rejecting the substitutionist interpretation. The account of the historian Ibn Kathsr (d. 747/1373) is one of the most interesting examples of this historical approach.
It is a narrative account showing definite dependence on Gospel Materials.
7. The first to seriously question the substitutionist idea altogether was the famous commentator Abu ’l-Qasim al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1143).
His objections are based only on grammatical considerations by reconsiders what the verb shubbiha means.- it must refer to the preposition, “to” (them), that is, “they were made to imagine it.” It is possible also to make the verb shubbiha refer to the one slain. Baydawi, al-Zamakhshari's student goes on to say it may be that no one was killed; rather his being killed was falsely claimed and spread among men
8. Fakr al-Din Razi (d. 606/1209) views the issue from the vantage point of what would happen if it is supposed that the likeness of one man could be cast on another. Two problems would result. First, it would open the gate of sophistry so that no social norm such as marriage or ownership rights could be ascertained. Further, this would lead to doubt in historical testimony, that is, the ongoing transmission of historical reports (tawi~tur)- this in turn would necessitate in the end doubt in all sacred laws (Shara'i). This is because although the age of prophetic miracles (rnucjizat) is ended, nonetheless the age of karamat (miracles as divine favours) is not, for miracles as divine favours are possible in every age. “In sum, the opening of such agate necessitates doubt in Tawatur, and this in turn necessitates doubt in fundamentals (usul) and this in turn necessitates doubt in the prophethood of all prophets. This is a branch (far’) necessitating doubt in fundamentals and must therefore be rejected.
9. The idea that no one actually bore the image of Christ and suffered in his stead. This has Mu’tazilite origins because of their belief that the notion that God could commit acts of injustice, for any reason, was most repugnant. Furthermore, for God to allow such confusion of identity for whatever reason would be too irrational and therefore inadmissible.
Shi-i authors, who had much in common with Mutazila thought, report an interesting tradition to this effect on the authority of al-Jubbai (d. 303/915), a well known Mutazilati theologian.
Al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 459/1067) reports that the Jews sought to kill
Jesus, but God took him up to Himself. They therefore took another whom they crucified on a high and isolated hill, allowing no one to come near him until his features had changed beyond recognition. They were thus able to conceal the fact of Jesus’ ascension, which they witnessed, and to spread false reports of his death and crucifixion. This they did to prevent his ascension from becoming a reason for other Jews to believe in him.
10. The Sufis, while not rejecting the traditional interpretation completely, have attempted to see Christ as the universal perfect man through whom all religions will be unified and humanity brought nearer to God.
The significance of the death of Jesus is not in the how and when of history, but rather in its meaning to a humanity bound to this material plane of existence by lust, greed and anxiety.
11. The Shi'i view of Christ resembles that of the Sufis in some important respects. First, it does not always insist on a literal understanding of the text. Second, it presents an ascetic image of Jesus, and finally, it does not generally favour a bodily ascension of Christ to heaven.
12. In contrast with the Sufi and Shi'i view of the death and assumption of Christ, contemporary Sunni thinkers have shifted the emphasis of their arguments to a discussion of the meaning of the Cross in the Christian faith and to the question of the authenticity of the Gospel accounts regarding the death of Christ. They have turned to history, including the Gospel story, for support of their interpretations. They exhibit a fairly accurate knowledge of primary Christian sources, which they discuss not from a Christian, but from a strictly Islamic perspective. It is not to tradition that modern Sunni thinkers turn for their criticism of Christianity, but to the nineteenth century humanist attacks on religion. Another important characteristic of the modern approach is a tendency to demythologize the Christ of the classical tradition, whether by rejecting tradition altogether, or by interpreting it metaphorically eg. S. Qutb
Modern Sunni commentators were subject to missionary and secularist pressures. Thus their polemical arguments against Christianity must be seen in the context of Christian polemic against Islamic tradition, both in its religion and culture.
Sayyed Qutb , In the Shade of the Quran, tr. Adil Salahi, Vol3 , 317-318, http://islamfuture.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/volume_3_surah_4.pdf
As regards whether Jesus was killed or crucified, the Jews and the Christians make false claims which have no basis other than in their own suspicions. The Jews claim to have killed him, ridiculing his assertion that he was God’s Messenger. The
Christians, on the other hand, claim that he was crucified and buried. But they also claim that he was raised three days later. As for history, it states nothing about
Christ’s birth or his end, almost as if nothing happened. When they make their statements, neither the Jews nor the Christians are certain of their truthfulness.
Events moved fast, and conflicting reports were made and muddled up. The real truth could not be discovered, except through Divine guidance.
The four Gospels which relate the story of the arrest, crucifixion, death, burial, and rise of Jesus Christ were all written after a lengthy lapse of time which also witnessed the persecution of Christianity and the Christians. In such an atmosphere of secrecy, fear and persecution, it is exceedingly difficult to be certain of the truthfulness of the reports that circulated. Many other Gospels were written during this period, but these four were chosen towards the end of the second century and were given official status for reasons that are not entirely above suspicion.
One of the many Gospels written in this period was that of Barnabas which gives an account of the story and crucifixion of Jesus that is at variance with the four recognised Gospels. It states: “When the soldiers and Judas with them drew near to the place where Jesus was, he heard a large number of people coming close. In fear, he retreated to the home where all eleven disciples were asleep. When the Lord saw His servant in danger, He ordered Gabriel, Michael, Rafael and Oriels, His messengers, to take Jesus away from this world. The pure angels came down and carried Jesus through the window facing south and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels who glorified the Lord forever. Judas entered violently the room from which Jesus was raised. All the disciples were still asleep. At that moment, God the Almighty accomplished a miraculous thing. Judas’s face and voice changed so that he looked like Jesus. We all thought that he was Jesus indeed. As for him, after he awakened us, he began to search for the teacher. We were surprised and said: You are our master and teacher. Have you forgotten us?”
A scholar sifting his material carefully cannot find any confirmed account of this remarkable event that took place in the depths of the night, before the break of dawn.
Hence, no report can be given more credence than another. “Those who hold conflicting views about him are indeed confused, having no real knowledge about it, and following mere conjecture.” (Verse 157) The Qur’an, on the other hand, gives its clear account: “They did not kill him, and neither did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been] so.” (Verse 157)... “For, of a certainty, they did not kill him. No! God raised him up to Himself. God is indeed Almighty, Wise.” (Verses 157-158) The Qur’an does not give any details concerning how Jesus was raised or whether it took place in body and soul together in this state of life, or in soul after death. Nor does it tell us when and where his death took place, if at all. What we know for certain is that they neither killed nor crucified him. Instead, another victim was made to appear similar to him.
This is the only statement of fact the Qur’an makes, apart from what it mentions elsewhere quoting God’s address to Jesus: “Jesus, I shall gather you and cause you to ascend to Me.” (3: 55) In neither statement do we have any details about how Jesus was gathered or the nature of this gathering. For our part, we do not like to change the method we have followed so far when considering statements and legends which we have no way of proving or disproving.
Muhammad Ali (Ahmadiya) in Muhammad Ali, The Religion of Islam, 1936, Lahore, p.247 holds that the words “They did not crucify him” do not mean that Jesus was not put on the Cross. All they mean is that he did not expire as a result of the experience. The words, “They did not kill him certainly”, they mean that the people did not know without doubt that Jesus had been put to death on the Cross. He does not accept the story that someone else was made to look like Jesus and suffer in his stead. He argues that the words mean that the matter became dubious to them. In xxiii: 52 we read that Jesus and Mary were put in a place with shade and running water. This, he says, refers not to the time of the birth of Jesus, but to the period after the Crucifixion. Jesus was revived after he was taken down from the Cross, and went to Kashmir. That is the only place which fits this verse.
Ata Ur Rahim and Ahmad Thomson, Jesus: Prophet of Islam, 2nd ed. (Norwich, Diwan Press, 2002), 299.
Use 3: 54-63 to argue that Jesus was not killed and comment upon 4: 157 that God did not let Jesus to die or to be crucified.
Teherani and Ibn Ashur consider that the person who died on the cross to have been a hypocrite.
Mir Saiyid 'Ali al-Hatiri t-Tehrani, Muqtaniyat ad-durar, Tehran, 1337s/1958, III 216-19
Muhammad a t-Tahir Ibn 'Asur: Tafsir a t-tahrir wa a-t-tanwir, (Kairo: 1971) VI19-22.
Hauwa, Tu'allib, Teherani and Sabzawari in parallel to John 21 :15-19 cite the story of a disciple of Jesus, ( Teherani identifies him as Sergius) who voluntarily tells the Roman soldiers that he is Jesus and is subsequently crucified.
Mir Saiyid 'Ali al-Hatiri t-Tehrani, Muqtaniyat ad-durar, Tehran, 1337s/1958, III 216-19
Sa'id Hauwa, al-Asas fi t-tafsir, (Kairo: 1985).'Abd al-Mun'im Ahmad Tu'ailib, Fath ar-rahman fi tafsir al-Qur'an (Kairo1416/1995), II 679 f
Muhammad b. Habiballah s-Sabzawari – Al Gadid fi tafsir al-Qur'an al magid, Bairut: 1406/1985), II 392-94
Ibn Hatib considers that without there being attempt at change of identity someone else was crucified instead of Jesus. He opposes the God's miracle of making a disciple of Jesus look like Jesus thesis. Ibn Hatib believes the crucified person was a disciple of Jesus but that he was crucified after Jesus ascended to heaven.
M uhammad' Abd al-Latif Ibn al-Hatib, Audah at –tafasir (Kairo: 1375/1956)
Qasimi, Hamza and Kist also opposes the God’s miracle of making a disciple of Jesus look like Jesus thesis. They consider that by mistake Judas was crucified instead of Jesus because he they looked alike and because the arrest took place at night and the soldiers did not know Jesus.
'Abd al-Hamid Kisk, Fi rihab at-tafsir (Kairo 1408-9/1987-89) V, I 1043-44.
Mahmud Muhammad Hamza et al. , Tafsir al-Qur'an al-karim (Misr :1960).
Muhammad 'Abd al-Mun'im Hafagi, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-hakim (Bairut: 1974), VI 15 18.
Muhammad Gamal ad-Din al-Qasimi, Mahasin at-ta'wil, ed. Muhammad Fu'ad'Abd al-Baqi, (Kairo 1377/1957), V 1637-1701.
Al Hilli, a Sh'i scholar has argued that the Jews crucified not Jesus but another whom they mistook for him. Jesus, however, escaped and with his mother spent the rest of his life in hermetic seclusion. The author finds support for this view in the verse, “And we have made the son of Mary and his mother a sign, and led them for refuge to a hill of comfort and flowing water. (23:50) Jesus then died a natural death and his body was buried in that hill, while his spirit went up to heaven.
Muhammad Hasan Al Hilli , Al-Mutashabah min al-Qur’an (Beirut:Dar Al Fikr, 1965), first ed. I, 204.
Sayyid Muhammad HusaynTabatabai, takes the same view as Hilli,, but on different grounds. He first argues that wafat does not necessarily mean death, unless specified.~ ’He argues further that although a literal reading of the words, “rather, God took him up to Himself,” may suggest a bodily ascension, “God actually meant a spiritual (mana'wi) and not a formal (suwari ) assumption, because the Exalted One has no place of the kind occupied by bodies.”’~In this, the author follows a time-honoured tradition in Muctazili and Shi'i thought which sought to explain metaphorically al anthropomorphic references to God in the Qur’an. Even, he concludes, “if the text indicates literally bodily assumption, heaven means only the locus of proximity to Him and His blessing“. Sayyid Tabatabaq interprets the words shubbiha lahum as “seizing someone else unknowingly“.
Perhaps some historians have mentioned that the stories relating to Jesus, his mission and the historical events of the rulers and other preachers of his time refer to two men called Christ. The two may have lived five hundred years or more apart. The earlier was the true Messiah, neither killed nor crucified, and the later, the false Messiah, was crucified. Thus what the Qur% mentions concerningtmhbrh, is that of Jesus, son of Mary, with the crucified Christ. Perhaps aware of the historical problems which this suggestion raises, the author adds, “ ... and God knows best.”’as-Saiyid Muhammad Husain a t-Tabataba'ai:l -Mizan fi tafsir al-Qur'an, Beirut: Muassasat al 'Alami 1970), III,207-208 and V 132 -133.
Sayyid Qutb,, relies on the Gospel accounts for only the background of his interpretation of the verses under consideration. His purpose was to “remain in the shadow of the Quran.”” He accepts only what the sacred text states concerning the death and assumption of Jesus Christ, commenting that “as for the manner of his death and assumption, these are matters belonging to the unseen (ghuybiyua), and they fall in the category of obscure (Mutashabihat)verses, whose exegetical meaning (ta’wil) is known to God alone.””
Sayyid Qutb, Fi Zilal ul-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar Ihy al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1967), fifth edition, IV, 595-596
Ahmad MuStafa al-Maraghi offers a rationalistic view of Christ by interpreting tradition metaphorically. He argues from historical examples of identity confusion that it was possible for the Jews and the Roman soldiers to mistake another for Jesus.
Like Moses, who disappeared under the eyes of thousands of his people, Jesus disappeared and died a natural death. As for his ascension, it must be understood as the raising of status or degree with God; as we read of
Idris (Enoch), “and We raised him into a high station.” Similarly, what is meant by Christ’s return to the earth and his rule over it is, “the domination of his spirit and the mystery of his message over humanity in order that men may live by the inner meaning of the law (Sharia) without being bound by its outer shell.’”For Jesus did not bring a new law to the Jews. He was rather a reformer who sought to manifest the truth. Likewise, the liar (al-Dajjal) whom Jesus is to kill at the end of time is only a symbol of empty legends, falsehood and all the evils which would disappear were men and women to live by the spirit of the sacred law and fulfil its injunctions.
Ahmad Mustafa al-Maraghi, Tafsir al Maraghi (Mustafa al Babi al Halabi, 1953), second edition, VI, 12-13 and III, 169-170
Rashid Rida agrees with other contemporary commentators in taking the traditions regarding the ascension of Jesus and his return at the end of time metaphorically and with caution. He sees in the Qur’anic reference to Jesus as the apostle of God whom the Jews wrongly claimed to have killed an assertion of Christ’s apostleship, not divinity. He argues further that the Gospels indicate that Jesus himself proclaimed the Oneness of God in the words, “and this is eternal life, that they know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”’O He likewise finds support in the same Gospel for the idea of doubt and conjecture concerning Jesus’ identity even by the disciples:
“You shall doubt me tonight.” The author concludes from this that if the disciples, who know him most intimately, doubted him, and then a mistake in identity would not be impossible.
Therefore, this story is based on an historical account with an incomplete chain of transmission. Here again, he echoes the usual demand that the only measure of true report is the model of Hadith transmission. He adds: “The actual fact of the crucifixion is not itself a matter which the Book of God seeks to affirm or deny, except for the purpose of asserting the killing of prophets by the Jews unjustly, and reproaching them for that act.”
Sayyid Muhamad Rashid Rida, Tafsir al manar (Cairo: Dar al-Manar 1367),second edition, VI, 18-19.
Kamil Husayn accepts Jesus' crucifixions and comments that by deciding to crucify Christ, the zealously religious men of Jerusalem agreed to crucify their conscience.
Muhammad Kamil Husayn, Qarya Zalima, (Cairo: Matba'at Misr, 1958), pp. 1-3; translated by Kenneth Cragg under the title City of Wrong (Djambatan: Amsterdam, 1959)
The Quran is not speaking here about a man, righteous and wronged though he may be, but about the Word of God who was sent to earth and who returned to God. Thus the denial of the killing of Jesus is a denial of the power of men to vanquish and destroy the divine Word, which is forever victorious. Hence the words, “they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him,” go far deeper than the events of ephemeral human history; they penetrate the heart and conscience of human beings. The claim of humanity (here exemplified in the Jewish society of Christ’s earthly existence) to have this power against God can only be an illusion. “They did not slay him ... but it seemed so to them.’’ They only imagined doing so.
The words, wa lakin shubbiha lahum do not disclose, therefore, along-hidden secret of divine deception; rather they constitute an accusation or judgment against the human sin of pride and ignorance. They are explained further in what follows: those who have disagreed about Christ are surely in doubt concerning the truth. They have no knowledge; they follow only conjecture, the foolish imaginings of their minds. What is this truth? It is, I think, the affirmation, once again, that God is greater than human powers and empty schemes: “They did not kill him, [that is, Jesus the Christ and God’s Apostle] with certainty, rather God took him up to Himself, and God is mighty, and wise.”
Again, human ignorance, delusion and conjecture are all identified as a lack of certainty or firm faith. In the phrase, “and God is Mighty and Wise,” these human limitations are contrasted with divine power and infinite wisdom.
The same verse presents Christ the Word as a challenge to human wisdom and power, and a judgment against human folly and pride. Menmay “wish to extinguish the light of God with their mouths,’’ that is, with their words of foolish wisdom, but God will perfect His light in spite of our foolishness and obstinacy.
Muhammad Ayoub, „The Story of the Passion“, The Muslim World,70(1980):91-121,117.
In conclusion there very much diverse opinions about many aspects surrounding the event of crucifixions of Jesus among Muslim scholars and these are often not conveyed to the larger Muslim and non-Muslim audience.
Dr. Adis Duderija, Visiting Senior Lecturer, Gender Department, University Malaya is the author of Constructing a Religiously Ideal Believer and Woman in Islam, (Palgrave, 2011