Did Jesus die according to the Qur’an?

Ever since Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani has claimed to be a prophet, the personality of Eisa (عليه السلام) has become more and more controversial. Among the many claims of his, one was that he was also Eisa (عليه السلام) and since then up till now strange theories have continued to emerge about him. One such is proposed by Geoffrey Parrinder in his book ‘Jesus in the Qur’an’.

The bottom line of the argument is that it affirms the following Qur’anic verse but presents another interpretation.

وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَـكِن شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُواْ فِيهِ لَفِى شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ مَا لَهُمْ بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلاَّ اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِيناً

And because of their saying, “We killed Al-Masih `Isa, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah,” but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it appeared as that to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no (certain) knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely; they killed him not. [Q.4:157]

Parrinder links this verse to a verse in the Gospel of John:

“Thou wouldst have no power against me, except it were given thee from above”. [John 19:11]

Based on this, it is argued that while Jesus was indeed put on the cross and he indeed died, the cause and reason of his death were not the Jews or the Romans but it was God who took away his life. This can work in two ways: Jesus’ soul was pulled out due to which he died but the cause of death did not pertain to the Jews or the Romans in any way. This may be similar to a person about to be hanged till death but just before the hanging occurs, he dies of heart failure. A port-mortem report will not show the cause of death as hanging and the same would be true for Jesus. The second way that this explanation works is that the cause of death was indeed the doings of the Jews and the Romans, they were not the actual givers of death. Life and death are caused by God and hence, anyone or anything else that appears to come in between is only a means and not the cause – the cause of death was and is only God. In other words, if God had not willed the death of Jesus, his enemies would not have been able to do anything even if they tried their best.

To render support to this idea, the following verse from the Qur’an is quoted:

فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَـكِنَّ اللَّهَ قَتَلَهُمْ وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـكِنَّ اللَّهَ رَمَى وَلِيُبْلِىَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْهُ بَلاَءً حَسَنًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

And you did not kill them, but it was Allah who killed them. And you threw not, [O Muhammad], when you threw, but it was Allah who threw that He might test the believers with a good test. Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing. [Q.8:17]

This verse states that some of the acts performed by the believers were indeed done by them but the reality behind them was different; it was God who was the One who actually caused them. The link of these two verses is not there and is forced upon because in the latter, God clearly states that it was not them but it was Him who did it clearing any room for doubts while in the former, it is not at all mentioned that ‘they did not kill him but it was God who killed him’. Moreover, the latter verse strongly instructs the believers to be humble and to attribute the good and success to God as He is the One who provides help and He is the One who gives success. Attributing death of Jesus to God while his enemies wanted him dead would mean that God helped the enemies of Jesus.[1]

Some unfounded links

Parrinder links some unrelated verses and forces them on the theory he proposes. Some of these Qur’anic verses are 5:17, 3:55, 5:117, and 19:33. Parrinder quotes them as a passing reference and does not go into detail because quoting them full, with their context, and commentary would have been an even difficult task to play around with. Details about them may be read here.

The theory by Parrinder does not stand on its own; moreover, the following basic facts further refute these strange ideas:

Jesus was saved against his enemies’ plans

The Qur’an states the following:

إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يعِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ اذْكُرْ نِعْمَتِى عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَى وَلِدَتِكَ إِذْ أَيَّدتُّكَ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ تُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِى الْمَهْدِ وَكَهْلاً وَإِذْ عَلَّمْتُكَ الْكِتَـبَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَالتَّوْرَاةَ وَالإِنجِيلَ وَإِذْ تَخْلُقُ مِنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ بِإِذْنِى فَتَنفُخُ فِيهَا فَتَكُونُ طَيْراً بِإِذْنِى وَتُبْرِىءُ الاٌّكْمَهَ وَالاٌّبْرَصَ بِإِذْنِى وَإِذْ تُخْرِجُ الْمَوتَى بِإِذْنِى وَإِذْ كَفَفْتُ بَنِى إِسْرَءِيلَ عَنكَ إِذْ جِئْتَهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَـتِ فَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْهُمْ إِنْ هَـذَا إِلاَّ سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ

[The Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.” [Q.5:110]

The apparent reading of the Qur’an is very simple and straightforward. To say that Allah saved Eisa (عليه السلام) against his enemies by killing him Himself sounds hilarious and cannot be further from the truth.

Jesus was not even put on the cross

The Qur’an is very clear on this fact:

وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ

They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him. [Q.4:157]

The word for crucify is Salaba (صَلَب) which means to put on the cross; whether death results or not is irrelevant. The picture one gets from the English word ‘crucify’ is that of death resulting from being hung on the cross but the Islamic definition of Salaba (صَلَب) is different as confirmed by the Qur’an:

قال امنتم له قبل ان اذن لكم انه لكبيركم الذي علمكم السحر فلاقطعن ايديكم وارجلكم من خلاف ولاصلبنكم في جذوع النخل ولتعلمن اينا اشد عذابا وابقى

The pharaoh said, “You believed him, even though I did not permit you? Obviously, he is your master who has taught you the magic! Now, I will definitely chop off your hands and feet on opposite sides and then crucify (Salaba) you on the trunk of the date-palm tree. You will soon know which one of us awards the severer and the more lasting punishment.” [Q.20:71]

Here we see that the pharaoh threatened Musa (عليه السلام) with severe torture and did not intend death. The Qur’anic warning to the evil wrongdoers is that of an eternal punishment and as a response, the pharaoh threatened Moses with a severer and more lasting punishment. The word used for this punishment, that does not cause death, is Salaba (صَلَب). Moreover, he threatened to hang his living body on the trunk of the date-palm tree and not the cross. In the following verse, we see another instance of the usage of the word Salaba (صَلَب):

إِنَّمَا جَزَآءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِى الاٌّرْضِ فَسَاداً أَن يُقَتَّلُواْ أَوْ يُصَلَّبُواْ أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَـفٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْاْ مِنَ الاٌّرْضِ ذَلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْىٌ فِى الدُّنْيَا وَلَهُمْ فِى الاٌّخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment. [Q.5:33]

Even without going into the commentary of this verse, we find that being killed and being crucified are stated separately. Nevertheless, this is not what the verse means. The verse is explained by Tafsir al-Jalalayn as follows:

The death is for those that have only killed; crucifixion is for those that have killed and stolen property; the cutting off of limbs on opposite sides is for those that have stolen property but have not killed; while banishment is for those that pose a threat — this was stated by Ibn ‘Abbās and is the opinion of al-Shāfi‘ī; the more sound of his al-Shāfi‘ī’s two opinions is that crucifixion should be for three days after the death of the killer or it is also said shortly before he is killed; with banishment are included similar punishments such as imprisonment and the like.

In this verse, we see that a dead body being hung on a tall structure also falls within the definition of Salaba (صَلَب). Based on a combination of these verses, we see that one thing is common between them in terms of the word Salaba (صَلَب) and that is to be put on the cross, tree, pole, or the like; the question of death does not arise.

Therefore, an essential conclusion from Q.4:157 is that Jesus was neither killed nor even put on the cross at all but they saw a likeness (وَلَـكِن شُبِّهَ) and that likeness was that of someone else resembling Jesus being put on the cross and crucified.[2]

The Christian stance is somewhat different from the Ahmadi stance and the stance of other modernists from among the Muslims. The Ahmadis and modernists view the alleged death of Jesus differently; for them, his death would mean that his return is not possible[3] whereas for the Christians, this is not an important subject and means nothing.

Jesus was raised up alive

In order for one to go against the apparent reading of the Qur’an a lot of mental gymnastics is required but even that does not stand to scrutiny. The Qur’an is very clear when it says that he was raised up alive:

بَل رَّفَعَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَزِيزاً حَكِيماً

Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. [Q.4:158]

As soon as Allah mentions that ‘they did not kill him, nor even put him on the cross, He states that He raised him to Himself. The word for raise is ‘Rafa’a (رفع)’ which is a straight and simple word meaning ‘to raise up’. It could be a physical raising up (Q.55:7) or it could be the raising of the status (Q.19:57). However, when the raising of the status or rank is concerned, it is mentioned very clearly. In Q.19:57, when the raising is mentioned, status is explicitly mentioned. In short, Rafa’a means to raise up physically unless otherwise stated. When the raising is of the status, we find a clear mention of it with a follow-up word. However, in the case of Eisa (عليه السلام), we see nothing like this and therefore we can conclude that he was raised physically to the heavens.

The Qur’an is very clear[4] that Eisa (عليه السلام) was neither killed nor put on the cross and that he will return near the end times.

Indeed, Allah knows best.

References and footnotes:

[1] The Qur’an is strictly against the idea of death of Jesus and states that belief in his death is blasphemy:

ومكروا ومكر الله والله خير الماكرين

They [unbelievers] planned and God planned. But God is the best of planners. [Qur’an 3:54]

Take, for example a person “A” who went to the house of “B” to kill “B”. The desire of “A” is to see “B” dead. Just as “A” was about to kill “B”, he saw that “B” had died due to an illness or “B” had slipped, fallen, hit his head on the floor and died (no murder, natural death!). The plan of “A” succeeds. The Jews planned to kill Eisa (عليه السلام) and if he died in whatever way, then it is a blasphemy towards the Almighty.

To say that God foiled the plan of the disbelievers, of killing Jesus, by killing Jesus Himself is absurd. This part refutes those who believe in the death of Prophet Eisa (عليه السلام) on or before the cross.

[2] More on this can be read here.

[3] The Qur’an is strictly against this idea as well and strongly asserts that he will return.

[4] Parrinder makes some passing remarks on the concept of abrogation and for clarity on the subject, this piece is recommended.

5 thoughts on “Did Jesus die according to the Qur’an?

  1. My question is that” Is it right to follow a man who tells us he is the greatest prophet and the seal of the messengers of God and yet does not know whether or not he is going to the paradise he is preaching about? This is the question that every serious Muslim needs to ask himself instead of looking for every means of defending Islam. Our eternal destiny should be more important to us than defending a religion. As for me l have already answer this question and have made conclusion.

    • Free salvation promotes laziness and leads to many sins and this is a concept alien to Islam. Now for the statement about the Prophet ‘not knowing of his fate’ then one has to understand it in context. The verse of the Qur’an staes: I am not a new thing among the Messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner (46:9). The lesson one learns is that the Prophet was a Messenger in a line of Messengers and that he was the last. If one expects to follow him and him alone to the detriment of God, then he would be doomed because the Prophet did not bring something from himself; he conveyed the message given by God. The bottom line is that the Prophet did not know of his own but knew because God told him and when we look at the entire Qur’an and the Hadiths, we see that not only him, but others were also promised paradise during their lives.

  2. Abu Rahma, 2.2 BILLION Christians (and many more throughout history) believe that Christ was crucified, In Quran 4:157 we read that Allah tricked them into believing this!! For what rational reason was it necessary to trick so many people? Surely. the god of the Muslims is “the best of the deceivers!” (this is the more accurate translation of Quran 3:54).
    The bottom line is that your prophet CLAIMED God “told him,” and you choose to believe Muhammad’s claims. But if I told you that the god of the universe told me something, would you believe my claim? No, you would not. So why then do you choose to believe the slave-owner Muhammad?

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