Resurrection or Ascension of Jesus?
The notion that Jesus was raised to heaven [with his body] and that he shall return someday is another common belief among many Muslims borrowed from Christianity. To support this notion, zealot Muslim clerics along with the Christian clergy come forward with such verses as
إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَىٰ إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا
Behold! Allâh said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; [as translated by Yusuf ‘Alî]( 3:55)
Here are two words that need some consideration; the first is mutawaffîka مُتَوَفِّيكَ, and the second is râfi‘uka رَافِعُكَ. If either of these words is a proof of the raising of Jesus with his body to heaven, the question is which one? Another verse brought in to support this misconception is 4:158 where we read about Jesus: بَل رَّفَعَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَيْه “Allâh raised him up unto Himself;” [Translated by Yusuf ‘Alî]. Here again the word râfi‘a رَّفَعَ is used. Let us suppose râfi‘a رَّفَعَ suggests that he ascended, resurrected or was raised to heaven (may be with his body). You would have to give that word the same meaning elsewhere in the Holy Qur’ân (see 4:154; 43:32; 58:11). Reflect on the following verse: فِي بُيُوتٍ أَذِنَ اللَّهُ أَن تُرْفَعَ وَيُذْكَرَ فِيهَا اسْمُهُ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ فِيهَا بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالْآصَالِ “(This light is now lit) in houses (of the Companions) which Allâh has ordained to be exalted [تُرْفَعَ from the root rafa‘a] and His name be commemorated in them” (24:36). Should you honestly believe here that these houses would be raised to heaven along with their walls and foundations? What about وَرَفَعْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِّيَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُهُم بَعْضًا سُخْرِيًّا “We exalt [from the root rafa‘a] them (in rank) one over another so that some of them may take others in service” (43:32); are you to believe that the bodies of each of these men of importance were raised to heaven? And what about Prophet Idrîs (Enoch)?
وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِدْرِيسَ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَّبِيًّا وَرَفَعْنَاهُ مَكَانًا عَلِيًّا
“And give an account of Idrîs [Enoch] in this Book. He was a very truthful man, a Prophet. And We raised [from the root rafa‘a] him to an exalted position” (19:56–57).
The root word rafa‘a رَفَعْ is used in the Holy Qur’ân at least thirty times, but only in the case of Jesus in 3:55 and 4:158 do the zealous teachers of simple Muslims give this word the meaning of “raised to heaven with body”. In fact, the words “to heaven or with body” are added very often to the Holy Qur’ân in many explanatory notes without any justification. The rendering of râfi‘a رَّفَعَ into “to raise” make the real meaning confusing and misguiding. This rendering bring the underlying Divine messages of rejecting the divinity of Jesus in doubt and raise Jesus into heaven near to the seat of the God Who is Raf‘î al-Darajât – the Exalted One in ranks
Sometimes the word mutawaffîka مُتَوَفِّيكَ (whose root is wafa) is translated as “take you away”, “took him up”, or “shall take you away” instead of saying in clear words, “will cause you die a natural death. Such a rendering is intended to be understood as “raise to heaven with body”. The root word wafa, in its twenty-eight forms, occurs more than sixty-five time in the Holy Qur’ân. Only in relation to two verses on Jesus (3:55 and 5:117) is the word translated as “take away”, “take him up,” and “will take thee up”. In verse 12:101 تَوَفَّنِي مُسْلِمًا وَأَلْحِقْنِي بِالصَّالِحِين the word Tuwaffanî تَوَفَّنِي in the statement from Joseph is clearly meant in the sense of dying and not in the sense of a physical body rising to heaven.
Here is an example how the real message of Exalted Lord has to adapt to the fancies of misconceived belief of ignorant Muslim clergy. Amatul Rahmân Omer, the first ever Muslim woman to translate the Holy Qur’ân, renders the above verse 3:55 as follows: “(Recall the time) when Allâh said: O Jesus! I will cause you to die [a natural death – mutawaffika], and will exalt you [râfi‘uka] to Myself, [thereby] clear you of the unchaste accusations of those who disbelieve” (3:55). This translation is very near to the truth.
Jesus elevation was elevation in ranks and degrees and not in body. The Elevated One (Raf‘ỉ al-Darajât) is one of Gods Attribute and not of Jesus. Jesus was elevated because of his actions and he was elevated in degree because of his knowledge. God unites the two kinds of elevation in the “Houses in which His Name is commemorated day and night” (cf. 24:36). So was Prophet Idris (Enoch) elevated. There will be some who will continue to disagree and still argue concerning mutawaffîka and râfi‘uka that these Words refer to the raising of Jesus to heaven. However, they must acknowledge the following verses: “They [Jesus and Mary] both used to eat food” (5:75). Jesus, if living bodily in heaven, is somehow taking in his daily food and somehow getting rid of the digested food. Then you read, “Nor did We give them [the Prophets] such bodies as could go without food, neither were they people given unusually long lives” (21:8). The final judgment on this affair comes from Allâh, the Most High, when He says:
مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ
“The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger; all Messengers have (like him) passed away before him” (5:75)
وَمَا مُحَمَّدٌ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ
“And Muhammad is but a Messenger. Surely, all Messengers have passed away before him.” (3:144)
At the time of the death of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), many—including ‘Umar Ibn Khattâb(rz), who would become the second Caliph—overwhelmed with grief, were in doubt that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had died. On this occasion, the first Caliph, Abû Bakr(rz), emphatically recited the Qur’ânic verse: قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ “All Messengers have passed away before him” (3:144). Not a single person questioned his statement by interrupting, “except Jesus.” Great Muslim scholars—those such as Imâm Mâlik ibn Anas, Imâm Ibn Hazm, and Imâm Ibn Ismâ‘îl al-Bukhârî—never mentioned that Jesus was alive in heaven and that the same Jesus would return one day. In the same way, such learned men as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim were of the same view. It would be a daring invention to say that the ascending and descending of Jesus from heaven, along with his body, is a matter of contention. Modern Islamic muftîs from Jamî‘at al-Azhar in Cairo, such as Muftî Mahmûd Shaltût (in al-Fatâwa), Muftî Mustafâ Al-Marâghî and Muftî Muhammad ‘Abduh, have been of the same opinion. Now reflect on verses 5:116-117:
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَـٰهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ ۖ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ ۚ إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ ۚ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلَا أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ مَا قُلْتُ لَهُمْ إِلَّا مَا أَمَرْتَنِي بِهِ أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ رَبِّي وَرَبَّكُمْ ۚ وَكُنتُ عَلَيْهِمْ شَهِيدًا مَّا دُمْتُ فِيهِمْ ۖ فَلَمَّا تَوَفَّيْتَنِي كُنتَ أَنتَ الرَّقِيبَ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ وَأَنتَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ
“And when Allâh said, O Jesus the son of Mary! Did you say to people, “Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allâh”? He [Jesus] replied, Glory be to You! It was not possible and proper for me to say a thing to which I had no right (to say). If I had said it, you would indeed have known it, (for) You know all what is in my mind but I do not know what is in Yours. It is You alone Who truly knows all things unseen. I said nothing to them except what You had commanded me, “Worship Allâh, my Lord as well as your Lord.” I was a witness over them (only) so long as I remained among them but ever since You caused me to die, You Yourself have been the Watcher over them and You are the Witness to everything” (5:116–117).
When is this question being asked by Allâh to Jesus? Obviously, this question is being asked on the Day of Judgment and not while he was living among his people or hanging on cross. Jesus reply is that he had no knowledge that some people took him and his mother as gods. If Jesus is referring to his first and only life on earth, then he is telling the truth. He could not have known that after his death some followers of his had started to worship him as god. If he were living with his body somewhere in heaven, then in this conversation he would be lying to Allâh, since he would have known that he was being worshiped. What about his second advent? If he must come again to earth in order to wipe out sin, vice, and to establish Truth, then at the Day of Judgment he would have had to know that some people were worshiping him and his mother like gods. Why would he be lying before Allâh? You read in another Qur’ânic verse, which more clearly testifies that Jesus is no longer living alongside Allâh in heaven:
يَوْمَ يَجْمَعُ اللَّهُ الرُّسُلَ فَيَقُولُ مَاذَا أُجِبْتُمْ ۖ قَالُوا لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ
“(Imagine) the day when Allâh will gather together all the Messengers and ask, What response did you receive? They will say, We have no real knowledge, surely it is You alone Who have true and perfect knowledge of all things unseen.” (5:109)
If the same Jesus has to come again, how can he give such a reply to Allâh? Is he lying again? Moreover, Allâh has promised, whosoever enters the heavenly paradise would never leave it. In other words, there is no exit door (see 15:48). Now, if there is no expulsion from paradise, the simple minded who believe in the ascending and returning of Jesus, have to invent a third place, a place other than paradise and hell, to put Jesus. Reason tells you that it is not possible that a mortal body should ascend to heaven and discard all the requirements of earthly life, such as eating, drinking, and breathing, for thousands of years and return to earth again.
The Muslims believe in the finality of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), that he is the last of the Prophets, “the Seal of the Prophets,” as stated in the Holy Qur’ân (33:40). Jesus was a Prophet of Allâh, as all Muslims know and believe, and Muhammad (pbuh) is the last of the Prophets. Now, if Jesus, who is a Prophet in view of Muslims, has to come again, then what about the finality of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)? Either these Muslims have to negate that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the last of the Prophets (khâtim al-Nabiyyîn), or they would have to deny the second advent of Jesus. A strange solution to this dilemma is offered by the zealots: They say that at the time of the second advent of Jesus, Allâh will deprive Jesus of his prophethood. From where did these people get such information? Why should Allâh degrade him and rob him of his title of prophethood after keeping him alive for thousands of years in His presence? What would be the purpose and benefit of such a Jesus?
Those among the Muslims who believe in the bodily ascent of Jesus into heaven and his second advent refer to some Traditions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). All of these Traditions need careful reflection and interpretation. Any Tradition that stands in contradiction to the Holy Qur’ân, that conflicts with any statement of the Holy Book, either must be rejected as fabricated or must be subjected to careful thought in order to comprehend the metaphoric meanings embedded in such hadîth.
The belief of some Muslims who imagine that Jesus ascended to heaven and that he is alive and he will return one day is based on misinterpretation of some Traditions (ahâdîth) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). There are many controversies in interpreting these Traditions, and each interpretation invites a number of objections. However, people with knowledge have no difficulty in their understanding. These beliefs originated in the middle Ages, which was as a period of great distortion. The foundations of these beliefs were laid by Christian preachers and have been reinforced during the present dark age of Islam. These Muslims raise the status of Jesus almost to divinity. Reflect on some other Qur’ânic verses to arrive at an answer:
وَمَا جَعَلْنَا لِبَشَرٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ الْخُلْدَ ۖ أَفَإِن مِّتَّ فَهُمُ الْخَالِدُونَ
“And We have not assigned to any human being before you an unusually prolonged life. If you [Muhammad] should die then shall they live (an) unusually long while (here)?” (21:34).
وَمَا جَعَلْنَاهُمْ جَسَدًا لَّا يَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَمَا كَانُوا خَالِدِينَ
“Nor did We give them such bodies as could go without food, neither were they people given unusually long lives (to enjoy)” (21:8).
What Ahȃdîth and Islamic scholars say about Jesus’ death?
- There is a testimony of ‘Âishah(rz), wife of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) who relates that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Jesus, son of Mary, lived to the age of 120 years.” (Hujjaj al-Kirȃmah, p. 428)
- There is a similar testimony of Fâtima(rz), daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) who relates from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that he said: “Jesus, son of Mary, lived to the age of 120 years.” (Kanz al-‘Ummȃl, vol. vi, p. 120)
- In the Mustadrak it is reported from Ibn ‘Umar that Jesus lived to the age of 120 years. It is likewise also in the Asȃbah.” (Tafsir Kamȃlain).
- Imâm Hasan(rz) ascended the pulpit after the martyrdom of ‘Alî (rz) and said: “He died on the night on which the soul of Jesus, son of Mary, was taken up, that is the twenty-seventh of Ramadzân.” (Tabaqat Kabîr, vol. iii, p. 26)
- Explaining the Qur’ânic verse, “O Jesus, I will cause you to die (mutawaffī-ka)”, Ibn ‘Abbâs is recorded as saying: mutawaffī-ka means ‘I will cause you to die (mumītu-ka)’.” (Bukhârî, Kitâb al-Tafsîr, on verse 5:110).
- Regarding Imâm Mȃlik, one of the four imâms of jurisprudence (fiqh), it is written:. “While most people believe that Jesus did not die, Mālik said that he died.” (Majma’ Bihār al-Anwȃr, vol. i, p. 286). In the ‘Utbiyya it is written that Mālik said that Jesus, son of Mary, died. (Ikmāl al-Ikmāl, Commentary of Abû Muslim, vol. i, p. 265)
Other great scholars of the Islamic history were of the same opinion when commenting on verses 5:110 and 3:55.
- Ibn Hazm al Qurtabi (Muhalli fil-Fiqh, p. 23); (Jalȃlain, under verse 3:55)
- Ibn Taymiyya: Al-Jawwȃb as-Sahîh li-man baddala dīn al-Masīh, (vol. ii, p. 280)
- Ibn Qayyim: Zȃd al-Ma‘âd, (vol. i, p. 20)
- Abû Hayyân: Bahr al-Muhît, (vol. iv, p. 4)
- Shaukânî: Fath al-Qȃdir Qalmî, (p. 4)
- Muhammad Abduh: Qasas al-Anbiyȃ by Abdul Wahâb al-Najar, p. 428); (Al-Manār)
- Allama Rashîd Razâ disciple of Mufti Muhammad ‘Abduh (Qur’ânic Commentary by Al-Sayyid Rashîd Raza, part vi, pp. 42, 43)
- Mahmûd Shaltût: Al-Fatȃwā, published by Al-Idâra al-‘Ama lil-Thaqâfat al-Islamîyya bil-Azhar, pp. 52-58)
- Mustafâ al-Marâghî: Tafsīr al-Marȃghî, part iii, p. 87 and p. 165)
- Zain al-‘Âbidîn Qur’ânic commentary published with the support of the Iranian Government, (vol. i, p. 268).