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Islamic view of Jesus' death

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The issue of the crucifixion and death of Jesus is important to Muslims as they believe that Jesus will return before the end of time. Muslims believe Jesus was not crucified, but was raised bodily to heaven by God, which is in opposition to the general consensus among Western Scholars that he was indeed crucified[1].

Depending on the interpretation of the following verse, Muslim scholars have abstracted different opinions. Some believe that Jesus was not on the cross long enough to die, due to circumstantial reasons, according to the Bible, while others opine that God gave someone Jesus' appearance, causing everyone to believe that Jesus was crucified. A third explanation could be that Jesus was nailed to a cross, but as his body is immortal he did not "die" or was not "crucified" [to death]; it only appeared so. Also according to some, God does not use deceit and therefore they contend that simply no crucifixion occurred. The basis of any of these beliefs is the following verse in the Qur'an:

That they said (in boast), "We killed the Christ Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them [or it appeared so unto 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.

Most Muslims believe Jesus was raised to heaven alive by God. However, a small minority of Islamic scholars, mainly Ahmadiyya scholars, argue that he was indeed rescued but died before his ascension.[2]

Jesus lives

On the interpretation of those scholars who deny the crucifixion, the Encyclopedia of Islam writes:

The denial, furthermore, is in perfect agreement with the logic of the Qur’an. 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).

On the interpretation of the minority of Muslims who accept the crucifixion, Mahmoud Ayoub for example 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.[3]

Substitution interpretation

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Death and resurrection of Jesus

While most Western Scholars[1], Jews[4][5] and Christians believe Jesus died, some Muslims believe he was raised to Heaven without being put on the cross and God transformed another person to appear exactly like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus. Jesus ascended bodily to Heaven, being in a state of stasis until his Second coming in the End days.

The substitute has been a great source of interest among Muslims. Two categories of people emerge: volunteers and victims. One interpretation is that God used the substitution to punish one of Jesus' enemies. Judas Iscariot, Jesus' traitor, is most often cited, including by the medieval Gospel of Barnabas. Other possibilities are Titawus, a Roman soldier, or an anonymous guard put to watch Jesus when arrested.

The converse interpretation is that God asked for someone to volunteer to be crucified instead of Jesus. Simon of Cyrene is the most commonly accepted person to have done this, perhaps because according to the Synoptic gospels he was compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus' cross for him, (there is no indication in the Gospels that he volunteered). Al-Baidawi writes that Jesus told his disciples in advance that whoever volunteered would go to heaven. The following narration recorded in the Qur'anic exegesis of Ibn Kathir is graded as authentic by orthodox Sunni scholars and provides a plausible explanation for the Qur'anic verse related to the substitution of Jesus;

Ibn Abbas said, “Just before Allah 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, ‘Allah remained with us as long as He willed and then ascended to Heaven.’ Another group, the Nestorians, said, ‘The son of Allah was with us as long as he willed and Allah took him to Heaven.’ Another group, the Muslims, said, ‘The servant and Messenger of Allah remained with us as long as Allah willed, and Allah then took him to Him.’ The two disbelieving groups cooperated against the Muslim group and they killed them. Ever since that happened, Islam was then veiled until Allah sent Muhammad.” An-Nasai, Al-Kubra, 6:489

Jesus died

Yusuf ibn Abd-al-Barr, an 11th century Maliki jurist, writes that there have been differences of opinion on this issue[6] and Sunnis accept the second coming of Jesus only through individual reports by narrators who are of sound character - a view supported by majority of Muslims.[7]. (see Jesus' second coming) However, some Islamic scholars like Sheikh Mohammed Al-Ghazali, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, and Amin Ahsan Islahi argue that Jesus was indeed rescued but was given death by God before he was ascended bodily as God never allows to dishonor His messengers, even their dead bodies.[2][8][9][10]

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 however adds that "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."

Verses used in support of the contention that Jesus died are listed below.

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

I was a witness of them so long as I was among them, but when Thou didst cause me to die, (literally mutawafik) Thou wert the watcher over them, and Thou art witness of all things.

The majority of Muslims translate verb "mutawafik" (متوفيك) "to terminate after a period of time" while others translate it "to die of natural causes." Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi and Amin Ahsan Islahi consider it as physical death of Jesus, and hence question the return of Jesus.[8][9] Geoffrey Parrinder discusses different interpretations of the Qur’anic verse [Qur'an 19:33] and writes in his conclusion that ‘the cumulative effect of the Qur’anic verse is strongly in favor of a real death’.[11] This verse could also refer to the Second Coming of Jesus. According to Muslim tradition, after his 2nd coming, Jesus will die.

One should note, Jesus will die is in direct opposition to most Christian teaching. Most Christian doctrine teaches Isa will rein supreme over the nations forever and most Christians also view Isa, known as Yeshua or Jesus as the son of God. See Yeshua, Jesus or below for more information.

For understanding the traditional Muslim translation, see this article.

The following translations or translators translate "to die" [12]

However, majority of Quranic translators including Yusuf Ali, M. H. Shakir and Marmaduke William Pickthall, do not translate as "to die".

Esoteric interpretations

An alternative, more esoteric interpretation is expounded by certain Islamic philosophers and some Sufi and Isma'ili commentators. They interpret the Quranic passages on the death of Jesus thus: the Jews intended to destroy the person of Jesus completely; in fact, they crucified only his nasut (material being), his lahut (spiritual being) remained alive.[13]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0060616628. "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus...agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact."
  2. 2.0 2.1 Tariq Hashmi. The Second Coming of Jesus. Renaissance - Monthly Islamic Journal, 14(9). September 2004.
  3. The death of Jesus: Reality or Delusion (Muslim World 70 (1980) pp. 91-121)
  4. Josephus Antiquities 18.3.3
  5. Sanhedrin 43a.
  6. Yusuf ibn Abd-al-Barr, Al-Istidhkar, Ist ed., vol. 26, (Cairo: Daru’l-Wa‘i Halb, 1993), p. 235
  7. Yusuf ibn Abd-al-Barr, Al-Istidhkar, Ist ed., vol. 26, (Cairo: Darul Wa‘i Halb, 1993), p. 236
  8. 8.0 8.1 Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Qur'anic Verse regarding Second Coming of Jesus.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Islahi, Amin. Tadabbur-i-Qur’an (1st ed.). Lahore: Faran Foundation. OCLC 60341215.  vol.2, p.243
  10. Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali (Al-Azhari). "The thematic commentary of the Qur’an", explanation of verse 3:55
  11. Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Quran, p.121, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-85168-094-2
  12. Compared Translations of the meaning of the Quran - 3:55
  13. Encyclopedia of Islam, Jesus article. cf. L. Massignon, Le Christ dans les Évangiles selon Ghazali, in REI , 1932, 523-36, who cites texts of the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-Safa, a passage of Abu Hatim al-Razi (about 934), and another of the Isma'ili da'i Mu'ayyad fid-din al-Shirazi (1077).

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