Muslims regard the Koran as coming from God, and only authority in matters of religion. They also think that Jesus would not have died. They believe that all Christians are mistaken about Jesus. But does the Koran really dispute the death of Jesus?
In the majority of cases, my Muslim friends will immediately quote these verses which say:
And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.
(Quran, Sura 4: 157-158)
وقولهم إنا قتلنا المسيح عيسى ابن مريم رسول الله وما قتلوه وما صلبوه ولكن شبه لهم وإن الذين اختلفوا فيه لفي شك منه ما لهم به من علم إلا اتباع الظن وما قتلوه يقينا بل رفعه الله إليه وكان الله عزيزا حكيما.
According to them, this verse teaches that God would never allow a great prophet like Jesus to be crucified by his enemies.
Does this verse really say that Jesus did not go through death? What does it mean: “But they neither killed nor crucified him; But it appeared to them so”?
The Arabic verb “choubbiha” (“appeared” or “appeared to them”) implies a difference between what the Jews believe and what actually happened. The whole question is whether the difference lies between the visual perception that witnesses of the crucifixion have of what is happening and what actually happened, or between the Jewish interpretation of this episode and what really happened.
Muhammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, an Islamologist, a Doctor of State in classical Islamology from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and Paris III University, explains:
“These verses are extremely allusive, if not ambiguous. The proof is that the Muslim commentators had trouble giving a plausible explanation to these verses, especially in regard to the end of the sentence “choubbiha lahoum” (But this appeared to them so). I think, for example, of a Muslim exegete, Al-Qasimi (1866-1914) who devoted nearly a hundred pages just to explain this end of sentence.
As for Abdelmajid Charfi, a professor emeritus at the University of Manouba, Tunis, and a specialist in civilization and Islamic thought, he says about Sura 4: 157:
“I would say that in French translations of the sentence “Choubbiha lahoum” in well-known translations, which are on the market, it is very difficult to choose the right one, because the term “choubbiha” is not a clear term.
Thus, Sura 4: 157-158, and in particular the term “choubbiha lahoum” (appeared to them so), has been the subject of many interpretations and ongoing controversies. One of them appeals to the false belief that some Jews had gained a great victory by killing Jesus. They believed they had control over events and God had been defeated. They said, “We killed him, we crucified him, we ended his mission,” but in fact it was only an “illusion”, for it was not their victory, but that of God who had himself foreseen, decided and allowed Jesus to be killed on a cross by the hand of unbelievers.
For example, Al-Hallaj (875-922) the great Muslim mystic of the 10th century believes that Jesus was indeed killed, but not because of his judges. It was God’s will. He said that they could not have killed his Person, his true Self anyway, but only his physical manifestation. According to Al-Hallaj’s interpretation, the crucifixion of Jesus did take place, but it is not the work of men but of God. This, he said, was part of God’s plan.
By the death of Jesus, as we shall see later, the ransom payment for the sin of men was paid, salvation was offered to sinners, and Satan was defeated. Shortly after, by the resurrection of Jesus, Death was defeated. It was indeed a great victory of God.
What do we infer from this? It is impossible, contrary to what many think, to arrive at an absolute conclusion, based on a single verse of difficult interpretation to say categorically that the Koran denies the crucifixion of Jesus. The opinions of Muslim scholars diverge about the end of the earthly life of Jesus. Many wonder if Jesus was taken to heaven already dead or alive. Indeed, other verses in the Koran clearly state that Jesus went through death.
In this verse it is said about Jesus:
“Peace be upon me the day that I was born, the day that I die, and the day when I will be raised alive!”
(Sura 7:33 Mary)
.والسلام علي يوم ولدت ويوم أموت ويوم أبعث حيا
Before this verse, Muslim scholars, who deny Jesus’ death, face a dilemma or contradiction. They then try to solve it by saying that this death is yet to come. It will be after the return of Jesus, they believe, that he will die after performing miracles and wonders.
However, about John the Baptist (يحيى), we read in the same Surah Mary 19:15:
“Peace be upon him the day that he was born, the day he died, and the day he was raised alive!”
وسلام عليه (يحيى) يوم ولد ويوم يموت ويوم يبعث حيا
Muslims are unanimous that John was indeed killed and buried. Abdullah Yusuf Ali comments on this verse by saying:
“This applies directly to the life of John the Baptist. The blessings of God’s peace was upon him at birth, and continued at the time of his unjust death at the hands of a tyrant and is especially manifest in the judgment.”
I do not know any Muslim who would say the death of Yahya, that is, John the Baptist, is still something that will only occur in the future. Everyone acknowledges that it took place at the time of Christ. Similarly, by following the true meaning of the parallel verse containing identical statements and identical sentence structure, no one can interpret the same words said about Jesus in a way that postpones His death to some future date. In fact, there is no verse from the Koran that suggests that Jesus will return in order to die. Yahya is dead, he will rise again at the end of the world. The affirmation “will be resurrected alive” underlines the miracle performed by God and clearly shows that Jesus died before rising again.
When Jesus comes back, it will be precisely at the end of the world to judge men, and even Muslims believe that.
Another passage in the Koran that speaks of Jesus’ death is Surah Al-Imran 3:55:
“(Remember) when Allah said: “O Jesus, indeed I will end your earthly life raise you to Myself [in Arabic: mutawaffeeka means ‘I will cause your death’], to rid you of those who did not believe and to put up those who follow you above those who do not believe until the Day of Resurrection.”
إذ قال الله يا عيسى إني متوفيك ورافعك إلي ومطهرك من الذين كفروا وجاعل الذين اتبعوك فوق الذين كفروا إلى يوم القيامة
“And I witnessed them as long as I was among them. Then when You reminded me [tawaffaitani means in Arabic “to cause my death”], You were their watchful observer. You are Witness of all things ”
(Surah 5: 117)
.فلما توفيتني كنت أنت الرقيب عليهم وأنت على كل شيء شهيد
Dr. Mahmud Shaltut, former Rector of Al-Azhar University, explains that:
“the Arabic phrase” tawaffaitani “in this particular verse refers mainly to natural death. Consequently, it is misleading to claim that the death of Jesus must occur after his triumphant return to Earth. It would be illogical. This verse deals with the relationship between Jesus and the people of his time and not with those of the time of his return.”
Even though these Koranic verses do not deal with the way Jesus died, they still put forward the idea that he died before the Koran was written, and indeed, at the end of His earthly ministry at the age of about 30.
If the Bible and other historical narratives were false, it goes without saying that we would expect the Koran return again and again to state that Jesus did not die on the cross, to correct what would have been viewed as a corruption of the Biblical text, and to clearly affirm that Jesus absolutely did not die. However, by contrast, of the more than 6,000 verses contained in the Koran, there are none that clearly refute the crucifixion of Jesus.
Finally, even the Koran admits that it is not impossible that Christ may have died:
“Then who could prevent Allah at all if He had intended to destroy Christ…”