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Book's List > Muhammad and Christ > Chapter 1: Miracles > Section 2: Raising the Dead to Life

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Chapter 1: Miracles --
Section
2: Raising the Dead to Life:

The mightiest work of Jesus is said to be the raising of the dead to life, and it is in this, we are told, that the proof of Christ's divinity is met with. Here is the argument:

Christ's raising the dead to life is admitted by the Muslims on the basis of the Holy Qur'an, and raising the dead to life is beyond the power of man and only an attribute of Divine Being ... And in this attribute of Divinity no other mortal partakes with Jesus.

As to what the Holy Qur'an says, we shall see later on. Let us first closely consider the claim made on the basis of the Christian sacred scriptures. The argument is that Jesus is a Divine person because he raised the dead to life. This argument could only be advanced by a man who believed that no other mortal had ever raised the dead to life. But the Bible belies this argument. It contains instances of other mortals who raised the dead to life, and therefore even if Jesus actually wrought this miracle, the inference of his divinity from it is quite illogical; or if he was Divine because he raised the dead to life, Elisha had as much divinity in him. In 2 Kings 4 we are told that a child had died and his death had been well made sure when Elisha came in:

And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord ... and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes (2 Kings 4:32-35).

Elijah also raised the dead to life.

And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord, my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? ... I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again and he revived (1 Kings 17:19-22).

Thus the Bible does not give to Jesus any exclusive claim to divinity on the score of raising the dead to life. Indeed, in one respect Elisha's power of raising the dead to life was greater than that of Jesus, for even his dry bones after his death had the efficacy of giving life to a dead man:

And it came to pass as they were burying a man ... and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet (2 Kings 13:21).

It is sometimes asserted that Jesus wrought the miracles by his own power, while in the case of other prophets, it was God Who worked the miracles through them. This fantastic distinction does not prove of much value, for in the case of Jesus too it was God Who did the miracles:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you (Acts 2:22).

It is very probable that the stories of Elijah and Elisha raising the dead to life produced the pious desire in the minds of the early followers of Jesus Christ to ascribe similar deeds to their Master. There are clear traces of this in the narratives themselves. Matthew, Mark and Luke narrate the raising of the ruler's daughter about whom Matthew quotes Jesus as saying: "The maid is not dead but sleepeth. (9:24)" The others omit these words, but their presence in Matthew is sufficient to disclose the nature of this miracle. It is remarkable that John does not speak of this miracle at all but mentions instead a miracle which is not known to the Synoptists, viz. the raising of Lazarus after he had been in the grave for four days (11:38-44). How did it happen that the Synoptists, one and all, had no knowledge of such a great miracle, and how was it that John had no knowledge of the raising of the ruler's daughter? The inference is clear that John, writing later, had his doubts about the raising of the ruler's daughter, and he instead made some symbolical story read as if it were an actual occurrence. In addition to these two miracles, Luke alone mentions a third case, the raising of the widow's son at Nain (7:11-17), which is known neither to the other Synoptists nor to John.

We may, however, refer here to the height of absurdity to which the love of wonderful stories carried the early Christian writers. Matthew was not satisfied with the single miracle of raising the sleeping girl, and he therefore makes the dead rise out of the graveyard and walk into Jerusalem as soon as Jesus gave up the ghost:

And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared unto many (27:51-53).

This wonderful miracle passes all imagination: only the evangelist does not give the details as to what clothes these skeletons had on as they walked into the city; as in the case of Lazarus, the writer is careful enough to add that the dead man came forth bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin and an order to loose him had to be given by Jesus Christ. Probably the grave clothes of these saints who had perhaps been dead for centuries, or at any rate for long years, had been preserved intact to assist in the performance of the miracle. Not all the commentators have the courage to read this wonderful story literally, and accordingly we have the following comment by the Rev. J.R. Dummelow:

This incident seems to be a pictorial setting forth of the truth that in the Resurrection of Christ is involved the Resurrection of all his saints, so that on Easter Day all Christians may be said in a certain sense to have risen with him.

Herein lies the truth about all the miracles of raising the dead to life. Jesus talked in parables, and symbolical language was used by him freely. "`Let the dead bury their dead', said he" (Matt. 8:22). And again:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth in Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God: and they that hear shall live ... Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth.

Now in all these cases, by the dead, even by those in the graves, are meant the spiritually dead, those dead in sin, and by life is meant the life spiritual. Similar figurative language was used by the Jews. According to a Jewish tradition, "the wicked, though living, are termed dead." Jesus Christ sent word to John the Baptist:

Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (Matt. 11:4, 5).

The concluding words of this message throw light on what Jesus meant, for he was not actually preaching the Gospel to only the poor. He was talking symbolically, but his words being misunderstood, it was thought necessary to add to the story of his life these stories of the raising of the dead to life. The whole fault lies in Jesus' too free use of the symbolic language so that it was not the Jews alone who had to be told that they did not understand his symbolic language (John 8:43), but even the disciples often misunderstood him, taking his symbolic language in a literal sense. The following incident is worth noting:

Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread ... And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? Perceived ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes see ye not (Mark 8:14-17)?

Indeed we find the disciples themselves complaining of his resorting too much to symbolic language and pleading their inability to follow him. Herein lies the solution of the stories of raising the dead to life.

Next we come to what the Holy Qur'an says about the raising of the dead to life. To say that the Holy Qur'an speaks of Jesus exclusively as raising the dead to life betrays sheer ignorance of its contents. It speaks as clearly of the Holy Prophet raising the dead to life. Thus it says:

O you who believe, answer the call of Allah and His Apostle when he calls you to that which gives you life (8:24)!

The mistake arises from the invidious distinction made between the prophets of God, so that when the Holy Qur'an speaks of the Holy Prophet raising the dead to life, the meaning is said to be the giving of spiritual life to those who were dead in ignorance, but when it speaks of Jesus' raising the dead to life, the words are looked upon as meaning the bringing back to life of those who were dead physically. Why should not the same meaning be attached to the same words in both places? As to what that meaning is, the Holy Qur'an explains itself. It speaks of the dead again and again and means the spiritually dead. It speaks of raising them to life and means the life spiritual. I will give a few examples to show this, as this point has been much misunderstood. It says in one place:

Is he who was dead, then We raised him to life and made for him a light by which he walks among the people, like him whose likeness is that of one in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth (6:123)?"

Here we have the dead man raised to life in clear words, yet by this description is meant not one whose soul has departed from, and been brought back to, this body of clay, but one whose death and life are both spiritual. In another place we have:

Surely you do not make the dead to hear, nor make the deaf to hear, when they go back retreating (27:80).

Mark the combination here of the dead with the deaf. They are both placed in the same category. The Prophet cannot make them hear when they do not stay to listen and go back retreating. In the same sense it is stated elsewhere:

Neither are the living and the dead alike. Surely Allah makes whom He pleases hear, and you cannot make those hear who are in the graves (35:22).

Here it is not only the dead, but those who are in the graves. Yet the dead bodies that rest in their coffins beneath the earth are not meant. Nor are the words to be taken as meaning that the Prophet cannot give life to those who are spiritually in the graves. What is implied is only this that the Prophet as a mere mortal could not do what was almost impossible, the giving of life to those who were in their graves: it was the hand of Allah working in the Prophet that would bring about such a mighty change.

It is clear from this that when the Holy Qur'an speaks of the prophets of God as raising the dead to life, it is spiritual death and spiritual life to which it refers, and it is in this sense that it speaks of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ as raising the dead to life. This becomes the more clear when it is considered that according to the Holy Qur'an the dead shall actually be raised to life only on the day of Judgement and their return to this life before the Great Day is prohibited in the clearest words. Thus:

Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not, during their sleep; then He withholds those on whom He has passed the decree of death and sends the others back till an appointed time (39:42).

This verse affords a conclusive proof that the Holy Qur'an does not admit the return to life in this world of those who are actually dead. Once the decree of death is passed, the soul is withheld and under no circumstances is it sent back. The same principle is affirmed in the following verses:

Until when death overtakes one of them, he says: Send me back, my Lord, send me back, haply I may do good in that which I have left. By no means! it is a mere word that he speaks, and against them is a barrier until the day they are raised (23:99, 100).

Thus we are told in the clearest possible words that no one who has passed through the door of death into the state of barzakh is allowed to go back into the previous state.

A third verse may also be quoted:

And it is binding on a town which We destroy that they shall not return (21:95).

A few words of comment may be added to this last verse from a saying of the Holy Prophet. The following incident is recorded in Nisa'i and Ibn Majah, two out of the six authentic collections of reports. Jabir's father `Abdullah was slain in a battle with the enemies of Islam. The Holy Prophet one day saw Jabir dejected. "What makes you dejected?" asked the affectionate Teacher of his sorrowful companion. "My father died and he has left behind a large family and a heavy debt" was the reply. "May I not give you the good news of the great favour that your father met with from Allah?" said the Holy Prophet ... "God said, O My servant! express a wish and I will grant you. He said, My Lord! give me life so that I may fight in Thy cause again and be slain once more. The word has gone forth from Me, said the Mighty Lord, that they shall not return." The pious wish of `Abdullah to come back to life and fight the enemies of Islam had only one barrier in its way -- "that they shall not return," -- these words being exactly the concluding words of the verse I have quoted last. Similar evidence as to the Holy Prophet's comment on this verse is met with in the Sahih Muslim, where the martyrs are generally spoken of in almost the same words. "What more do you desire?" they are asked by the Almighty. "What more may we wish for, our Lord?" is the reply. The question is repeated and they say: "Our Lord, we desire that Thou shouldst send us back to the world that we may fight again in Thy cause." And what is the reply to this holy wish at a time when the addition of a single person to the ranks of Islam was looked upon as the greatest Divine favour? "I have written that they shall not return." Nothing in the world can subvert the clear dictum of the Holy Qur'an that those once dead shall not return to life in this world; and the return to life shall only take place on the great day of Resurrection.

 

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Chapter 1: Miracles; Section 1: General Remarks

Chapter 1: Miracles; Section 3: Healing the Sick

Book's List > Muhammad and Christ > Chapter 1: Miracles > Section 2: Raising the Dead to Life

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