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Book's List > Muhammad and Christ > Chapter 5: Circumstances Relating to Death > Section 2: The Death of Jesus

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Chapter 5:
Circumstances Relating to Death --
Section 2: The Death of Jesus
:

We will now take the next argument of Christ's superiority:

It is one of the admissions made by Islam that Christ is alive up to this time in the heavens with this body of clay, and that notwithstanding a mortal body he is free from the needs of a mortal, i.e. does not stand in need of eating and drinking, and in spite of being a mortal he fulfils the (Divine) attribute of being now as he ever was. As against this, it is written thus of the children of Adam in the Qur'an: "Therein shall you live and therein shall you die and from it shall you be raised." And elsewhere: "Have We not made the earth to draw together to itself the living and the dead?" Again it is written of all the prophets: "And We did not make them bodies not eating the food and they were not to abide," i.e. We have not made for them such bodies that they should be able to live for ever without eating and drinking. Therefore one who can live without eating and drinking notwithstanding a mortal body is unique and superior to all the other prophets, otherwise this Qur'anic verse shall have to be admitted as being wrong. Christ who from about two thousand years is alive in the heavens without food and drink cannot be counted as one of the apostles and the prophets whose life depends on eating and drinking. If then Muhammad does not possess these attributes, is it not manifest that Christ is superior to and by far greater than he?

If Christ's bodily ascent to heaven turns out to be only a pious fabrication of the Christians innocently taken up as a fact by some Muslim commentators, his being alive in heaven meets the same fate. As regards the Qur'an, it has been made clear already that it nowhere speaks of a bodily ascent; it only speaks of his spiritual exaltation. The writer quoted above is aware of the fact that the Holy Qur'an does not contain the slightest evidence of Jesus' being alive in the heavens, and therefore he takes shelter in the so-called admissions of Islam. Now to call that an admission of Islam which is believed by one portion of the Muslim world, even if the belief is held by a majority, is a grave misrepresentation. Nothing can be said to have been admitted by Islam that is not admitted in the Holy Qur'an or trustworthy sayings of the Holy Prophet. But it is a fact that both the Holy Qur'an and the collections of Reports do not contain a single word as to Jesus' being alive in the heavens, and among the Muslims there have always been men who have held that Jesus Christ was dead. The name of Malik, one of the four great Imams recognised by the Ahl al-Sunnat, may be mentioned here. The Majma` al-Bihar, a dictionary of Reports, says in plain words when discussing the meaning of the word hakam: "And Malik says that he (i.e. Jesus Christ) died". Similarly Ikmal al-Mu`lam, a commentary of the Sahih Muslim, admits that it is written in the `Utabiyyah that Malik believed in the death of Jesus Christ.

I have said that the Holy Qur'an does not contain a single word showing that Christ is alive in the heavens. On the other hand, it plainly speaks of his death. The following verses can bear no other significance:

And when Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary! did you say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah, he will say, Glory be to Thee, it did not befit me that I should say what I had no right to say ... I did not say to them aught save what Thou didst enjoin me with, That serve Allah, my Lord and your Lord; and I was witness of them so long as I was among them, but when Thou didst cause me to die, Thou wert the Watcher over them, and Thou art witness of all things (5:116-117).

These words afford a conclusive testimony that the teachings of Jesus Christ were not corrupted until after his death -- the words when Thou didst cause me to die being too clear to allow any other interpretation. The word tawaffa which is used here carries the significance of causing death, and this is also the interpretation of Ibn `Abbas as noted in the Bukhari. There is no room for the slightest doubt here, while further light is thrown on this point by a report recorded in the Bukhari, according to which the Holy Prophet used concerning himself the very words which are here put into the mouth of Jesus. He is reported to have said (see chapter on the commentary of al-`Imran) that he would be shown on the Day of Resurrection certain men who had gone against his teachings, and that he would thereon say:

What the righteous servant (i.e. Jesus) said, I was witness of them so long as I was among them, but when Thou didst cause me to die, Thou wert the Watcher over them.

This report is another conclusive testimony that it was in the one case after the death of Jesus, and in the other after that of the Holy Prophet, that their respective followers went against their teachings. This is also in accordance with what the Gospel says: "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name" (John 17:12).

There are other reports also plainly speaking of the death of Jesus Christ. According to one of these, the Holy Prophet is reported to have said: "Had Moses and Jesus been alive, nought would have availed them but that they should follow me." According to another still we are told that "Jesus lived for one hundred and twenty years." With such clear testimony before us, it is a mistake to hold that the Holy Qur'an and the sayings of the Holy Prophet speak of Jesus as being alive in the heavens, on the basis simply of the prophecy relating to his re-appearance which must be interpreted in the same manner as the prophecy of the re-appearance of Elijah was interpreted by no less an authority than Jesus Christ, viz. that it necessitates the appearance, not of the person named, but of somebody else who should appear in his spirit and power, but more of this later on.

If any inference as to Jesus' being alive is drawn from the words, "And they did not kill him, nor did they put him to death on the cross" (4:157), it can only be drawn in defiance of logic. If it is related of a person who lived two thousand years ago that he was not killed or that he did not meet with his death on the cross, is there a sane person in this world who would draw from this the conclusion that he is still alive? But it may be asked, what does the Holy Qur'an then say as to what happened to him? The answer to this has already been given; the Holy book states in the clearest possible words that God caused him to die a natural death. And here after negativing Jesus' death on the cross or by killing, it goes on to say, "But the matter was made dubious to them," or the same words may be interpreted as meaning, "But he was made to resemble (one dying on the cross) to them." Both interpretations carry the same significance, viz. that his enemies thought they had put him to death on the cross while he was actually left alive. And when we go to the Gospels we find ample testimony of the truth of this assertion.

It appears from the Gospels that Jesus escaped with his life from the cross, and though he was treated as a dead man, yet there were circumstances which even then made the people doubt his death. It has never been seriously contended that Jesus remained on the cross for a very short time, so short indeed that it was impossible that the tardy method of putting to death by crucifixion should kill a man within such a short interval. As further proof of this we find that the two men crucified along with Jesus were still alive when taken down. Secondly, the breaking of legs was resorted to in the case of the other two but was dispensed with in the case of Jesus (John 19:31-33). Thirdly, the side of Jesus being pierced, blood rushed out which was a sure sign of life (John 19:34). Fourthly, when Pilate was told that Jesus had died, he did not believe (Mark 15:44). Fifthly, Jesus was not buried like the ordinary culprits but was given into the charge of a wealthy disciple (John 19:38) who put him into a spacious room hewn into the side of a rock, a stone being rolled against the door (John 19:41; 20:1). Sixthly, when the tomb was visited on the third day, the stone was found to have been removed from its mouth (John 20:1). This was clearly done to enable Jesus to walk out of his resting-place when he had recovered on the third day. Seventhly, Jesus disguised himself as a gardener after he had recovered, as is shown by the fact that Mary when she saw him believed him to be the gardener (John 20:15). Such disguise would not have been needed, if Jesus had risen from the dead. Eighthly, it was in the same body of flesh that the disciples saw Jesus (Luke 24:39), and the wounds were still deep enough for a man to thrust his hand in (John 20:27). Ninthly, he still felt hunger and ate as his disciples ate (Luke 24:39-43). Tenthly, in all post-crucifixion appearances Jesus is found concealing and hiding himself for he feared being discovered (John 20:19) .

All these facts point conclusively to the truth of the statement made in the Holy Qur'an that Jesus was not killed, nor did he die on the cross, but was likened to one dead and thus escaped with his life, afterwards dying a natural death, as is affirmed by the Holy Qur'an.

As to the second statement that other prophets ate food and that Jesus possesses a unique mortal body inasmuch as he does not stand in need of food, it is also devoid of truth. In fact, when it is shown that Jesus died a natural death, all assertions based on the supposition of his being alive fall to the ground. It is, however, a noteworthy fact that both the Gospels and the Holy Qur'an speak of Jesus as standing in need of food like ordinary mortals. In the Gospels there are many incidents showing how Jesus felt hunger. In the first place, "when he had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered" (Matt. 4:2). With such a clear statement in the Gospels, it is a foolish attempt to sit down to prove that Jesus possessed a unique body which did not stand in need of food. Another incident shows rather the darker side of this human frailty:

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever (Mark 11:12-14) .

To curse a tree for not giving fruit when it was not the time for it to give fruit yet, is the most strange thing that a sensible person can do. And if in response to that curse God too proved so partial to Jesus that he made the fig-tree to wither away presently, that is still more strange. Can this action of Jesus Christ be distinguished, if the Gospel record is to be believed true, from the action of a man who blinded by anger ascribes his own fault to another and forthwith curses him? Was it not Jesus' own fault that, pinched by hunger, he ran to a tree to find figs on it while it was not the time of figs. J.R. Dummelow says commenting on this incident that "Jesus was not really hungry or expected to find figs". A strange comment in the face of the clear words in the Gospels that he was hungry and that he came to the tree that haply he might find anything thereon! And then we are told that this miracle of wrath was wrought on a tree and not upon a man to give proof of his great love for man. But the question is, what testimony does the incident afford as to Jesus himself being so overcome by hunger as not to know what the Gospel-writer knew, that it was not the time of figs yet, and then being so overcome by anger that he cursed a tree for not bearing fruit out of season. What would we think of a man living in the Punjab or Northern India running to a mango-tree in mid-winter or in the spring season and then cursing the mango-tree for not having ripe mangoes on it?

There are other instances showing how Jesus felt hungry at times. Even when risen from the dead, according to Christian belief, he stood in need of food. "Have you any meat?" was his first query when he met the apostles. "And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb And he took it, and did eat before them" (Luke 24:42-43). If the Gospels then show Jesus as standing in need of food even after rising from among the dead, it is sheer folly to turn over the leaves of the Holy Qur'an to make out a case for Jesus living without food. If, however, we turn to the Holy Qur'an, we find it not only including Jesus among the mortal prophets when it says: "And We did not make them bodies not eating the food and they were not to abide," but going further and making the same statement about Jesus Christ in particular. Thus it says: "The Messiah, son of Mary, is but an Apostle; apostles before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman; they both used to eat food" (5:75). Why should Jesus be specially mentioned as possessing a mortal body which could not live without food when a general statement had already been made? My answer is: to leave no ground for those who should try to make Jesus an exception. But what is more, Jesus' eating food is mentioned here as an argument of his passing away like other apostles. The Messiah is only an apostle and apostles before him have passed away; hence he too must pass away and die like other mortal apostles; and to make the argument conclusive, it is added that both he and his mother ate food, because one who eats food cannot abide for ever, but must grow to a certain limit after which decline takes the place of growth. The momentary change that is taking place in the human body, the loss to which the mortal body is subject, requires food, and therefore the statement that Jesus required food is a conclusive argument that he suffered death.

This is also the reason why the Holy Qur'an mentions Jesus' speaking in the cradle and old age. It is merely to point out that he possessed a body in no way differing from the ordinary mortal body. His first state is that of a baby in the cradle, and following the law of growth he attains to the prime of manhood, then he begins to decline and the signs of decrepitude appear in the hoary head of old age which must of necessity be followed by death.

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