An Analysis of the different Islamic opinions regarding the "death" and "return" of Prophet Isa (as). (PART 1)
Written By: Shaykh Atabek Shukurov
Edited By: Moneeb Minhas
Posted On: May 5th 2018
In July 2014, Shaykh Atabek Shukurov wrote a series of posts on his facebook page (please see the link above) regarding the "Issue of the death and return of Prophet Isa (as)." At the time, many people requested Shaykh to formulate the series of posts into a book or an article to benefit the academics of our society. Unfortunately, Shaykh's religious commitments at the time did not allow this to occur. As a result, I took it upon myself, as one of his students of sacred knowledge, to download, edit and formulate it into an article. Below is the article, compiled from the facebook posts of Shaykh Atabek and written as if from his perspective. Please note that all of the references or content within this article are the research and efforts of Shaykh Atabek Shukurov and I have adopted the role of an editor to formulate it into an article for the benefit of the people. I request readers to study the article with an open mind and without bias to obtain the most from it, as the author, Shaykh Atabek Shukurov had carried out the research on this topic in his passion for the truth and this research is only being made available upon the requests of his students and those who follow his posts on facebook.
On this note, I would like to mention that if there are any mistakes in the editing or wording of the article then please refer them to me (Moneeb Minhas) and not my teacher, therefore, it can be adjusted if necessary as soon as possible. May Allah accept my efforts but moreover, bless my teacher (Shaykh Atabek Shukurov) for his efforts and precious time he spent in carrying out this unique research.
In July 2014, I wrote a series of posts on my facebook page regarding the "Issue of the death and return of one of the most honourable Prophets of Islam: Isa ibn Maryam (as)". I received multiple types of different reactions. Some very positive whilst others critical, not understanding that I was not leaning towards any particular opinion on the matter, rather stipulating the different scholastic studies on the subject so people can understand, that the issue is not as clear as black or white. Majority of us fail to understand that perhaps there is a potential of more than one interpretation or viewpoint. As a result of the posts, I was blissfully requested by many readers to reproduce the posts as an article, to make it more accessible and user-friendly for academics and students of knowledge worldwide.
The Messenger (ﷺ) in this discussion needs no introduction, as without a doubt he is notorious amongst billions globally. To the Jews, he is known as Iēsous, to the Western Christendom as Jesus Christ, to Eastern Christendom as Yassu Mesih and to the Muslim world as Hadhrat Nabi Isa alayhis salaam. A personality, that not only holds many variations in names but also many historical differences amongst different faiths. However, the focus of this article is not to delve into the differences between the religions upon Prophet Isa (as), but rather an academic study of the different opinions within Islam regarding his death and return, or "second coming."
On the topic of Isa's (as) "death and second coming", there are a few opinions that are worthy of discussion. In this article, we will explore and study the two sides of the opinions and every other opinion will potentially fall under one of these two. The first opinion being the most famous (mashur) one in today's day and age amongst Muslims and Contemporary Scholars and the second one being less famous (mashur) but holds weight nonetheless:
"Prophet Isa (as) did not die and will return again to this world" This is the most famous opinion held by the scholars.
"Prophet Isa (as) died and will not return again" This is the second opinion held by some scholars.
Even though, majority of the Muslims will uphold one of these two opinions, on the other hand, you will find some scholars or sects will believe in a mixture of opinions. For example, the statement "Prophet Isa did not die" as is the first opinion, and "Prophet Isa will not return" as is the second opinion. Consequently, we have four potential stances and according to the evidences and discussions, one will combine two stances out of four to formulate their own opinion:
Prophet Isa (as) did not die
Prophet Isa (as) died
Prophet Isa (as) will return
Prophet Isa (as) will not return
To simplify the academic analysis and understanding for the general public, I will break the article into two parts. The first article will discuss the opinion "Prophet Isa (as) died and will not return" and the second article will discuss "Prophet Isa (as) did not die and will return again to this world." When I make a point for one side, I will also try and give the argument of the other side at that conjecture, so it becomes more of a deeper analysis of the point at hand.
Chapter one: "Prophet Isa (as) did not die and will return again to this world."
Chapter two:: "Prophet Isa (as) died and will not return to this world again."
It has been over two thousand years since the advent of Isa (AS) and over one thousand four hundred years since Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), so some people may contend, why now? One may question, why should we, or why are we discussing this topic in today's age. I say, there is fathomable reasoning for everything that takes place. In my opinion, the reasoning behind this is that we can relate it to the recent Qadiani movement, whose message was directly connected to Prophet Isa (AS). This Qadiani group originated from the subcontinent and even though they believe in the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and the Quran, they have claimed to have their own Prophet named "Ghulam Mirza Ahmed Qadiyan." According to Qadianis (or also known as Ahmadis), Ghulam Mirza is the promised Messiah (Isa Masih), who was prophesied to return. Their belief in the Quran has led them to interpret it in their own way and claim that they have verses (ayaat) from the Quran that provide authentic evidence for their belief system. However, as the law of the universe stipulates, "with every cause, comes an effect", and we find no difference in this circumstance. As the Qadiani group expanded, it caused the Muslim Scholars of the time to research deeper about the topic of "Prophet Isa's (AS) second coming", in order to be able to have an academic dialogue with the Qadianis.
The research of the Scholars precipitated two things:
This topic became conspicuous and popular
The most famous opinion of Prophet Isa (AS) being alive and to return was challenged, to the extent that some of the scholars changed their opinion and supported the death of Prophet Isa (AS) and him not returning again.
On the other hand, as for the early scholars and sources we know that this issue was not as big as it is today. We find some of the early scholars amongst the Sahaba and Tabi'een are silent about this issue and the ones who speak about it, do so in a trivial manner. The latter scholars later on included this within the books of Aqeedah (both Maturidis and Ash'aris), many to the extent stating that it would necessitate kufr (disbelief) for the one who rejects the "death and second arrival of Isa (as")." Whether this issue can cause disbelief of not will also be discussed later on.
Many Muslims today, both those engrossed in the field of sacred knowledge and those not, wholeheartedly believe that the "Prophet Isa (as) did not die and will return again to this world." Some earnestly wait for his return with certainty and are not willing to hear the opposite side to this opinion at all. Or some do not think that any other opinion on this matter even exists. However, throughout history we find many groups and notable Scholars who held the opposite opinion that the Prophet Isa (as) will not return to the world and died 2000 years ago. Just to mention a few of them:
1. Most of the Khawarij
2. Some of the Mu'tazila (including some of the Hanafi Mu'tazila)
3. Some of the latest scholars of Ahl Sunnah (Hanafis and Shafi'is), which included:-
Sheikh Mahmood Shaltut (Sheikh of Al Azhar)
Sheikh Muhammad Rasheed Ridha
Sheikh Muhammad Abduh
Sheikh Mustafa Maraghi (Sheikh of Al Azhar)
Sheikh Muhammad Ghazali
Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zuhrah
The scholars who rejected the notion of the arrival of Nabi Isa (as) gave a few arguments in support to their opinion. Primarily, they argue that Nabi Isa (as) is not an insignificant person but a major Prophet of Islam, whose mention is made in the Quran twenty five times and in grave detail. As a result, the issue of him returning to the world is not a trivial matter, but if this was the case then Allah would most likely have mentioned it. Consequently, the question arises, why would God not include it in the Quran? They further argue that each holy scripture predicted or prophesied the Prophet that will be coming next, so why is Quran silent, if Isa (as) is to come after Prophet Muhammad (as). Moreover some verses speak about the death of Nabi Isa (as) directly and some indirectly (This will be explained and evidenced later on in the article). There are numerous Ahadtih regarding Nabi Isa's (as) arrival that one will find quite controversial or contradictory that makes it hard to avoid. There are even some narrations that mention Nabi Isa (as) will abrogate some of the principles of Islam. But is it not that Islam is abrogating, but not abrogated? We also know that many Jews and Christians pretended to accept Islam during the time of the early Muslim generations and it is quite clear, looking at some ahadith in books of muhaditheen that some narrations look like they have been inserted into Islam or at least the books of Ahadith.
Additionally, if you study the earliest and most classical collections of Ahadith, the peculiar thing we find is, we actually do not find any Ahadith that discuss or even mention this major event. Another question we can pose as academics is, if RasoolAllah (ﷺ) had completed the faith, perfected it and given everything mankind needed to live a happy life, then what is the wisdom behind sending Nabi Isa (as)?
Analysis of Quran verses used to support the 'death of Isa (as)'
Before we delve into Ahadith and the different arguments pertaining, we will first look at the various ayah's of the Quran that the scholars put forward in support of their argument. The first one we will discuss is the verse from Surah Ale Imran:
إِذ قالَ اللَّهُ يا عيسىٰ إِنّي مُتَوَفّيكَ وَرافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ الَّذينَ كَفَروا وَجاعِلُ الَّذينَ اتَّبَعوكَ فَوقَ الَّذينَ كَفَروا إِلىٰ يَومِ القِيامَةِ ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَيَّ مَرجِعُكُم فَأَحكُمُ بَينَكُم فيما كُنتُم فيهِ تَختَلِفونَ
"[Mention] when Allah said, "O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve.
And make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection.
Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ."
Quran - 3:55
Let us analyse this and look at both sides of the arguments: The scholars in support of the opinion that Prophet Isa (as) did not die and will return, I will address as "Group one" or the "First group" and the scholars in support of the opposite opinion, that he (as) has died and will not return as "Group two" or the "Second group."
The second group of scholars say Allah in this verse uses the word "Mutawaffeeka." "Tawaffee" literally means "taking something as a whole." But in the Arabian language and in other places of the Quran where this word is used (eg: Surah 2:240 it says "Waallatheena yutawaffawna minkum" - "And if any of youdie and leave wives behind..." it is translated as "death" or its synonymous terms. Another example of this in the Quran is:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَوَفَّاهُمُ الْمَلآئِكَةُ ظَالِمِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ قَالُواْ فِيمَ كُنتُمْ
"Indeed, those whom the angels take (in death) while wrongdoing themselves, the angels will say: "In what (condition) were you..."
Quran - Surah An Nisa - 4:97
Here the word "tawaffahum" or "wafaat" is translated as "death", therefore, in the verse in the discussion above, the scholars of group two argue; wouldn't the word have the same meaning, and if not then why not. On the other hand, the first group of scholars say "wafat" does not only mean death, but rather it could also mean "taking as a whole." God uses this word of "tawaffee" in different places of the the Quran too. For example:
اللَّهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَى عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَى إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
"It is Allah who takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that do not die [He takes] during their sleep. Then He keeps those for which He has decreed death and releases the others for a specified term. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought"
Quran - Surah Az-Zumar - 39:42
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمْ تَفَسَّحُوا فِي الْمَجَالِسِ افْسَحُوا يَفْسَحِ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۖ وَإِذَا قِيلَ انْشُزُوا فَانْشُزُوا يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
"Oh you who have believed, when you are told "space yourselves" in assemblies, then make space; Allah will make space for you. And when you are told, "Arise," then arise; Allah will raisethose who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allah is acquainted with what you do"
Quran - 58:11
"Tawaffee" in the example above was not translated as "death" but rather "take" and to make this word to mean death, God gives further explanation in this verse and specifically says "at the time of their death (mowtiha)."Correspondingly, if God was to mean "death" in the case of Nabi Isa (as) then he would have given extra explanation as proof beside the word itself. They further argue that in the same verse given previously (Quran - 3:55) God says "Oh Isa, indeed I will take you and raise you up to myself", and by saying so He is applying two actions towards Prophet Isa (as), the first being "Taking" and the second "Raising." He is not applying death but some other abnormal incident, which therefore can be applied that Nabi Isa (as) being taken up "alive" to heaven.
According to my humble understanding, this verse does not give one hundred percent certainty for either side of the argument. There are several points that require further discussion and elaboration:
Firstly, the word "Mutawaffeeka", when used independently, it means "death" no doubt, however, when there is a condition attached to it, then it can mean "taking the ownership as a whole." There is a strong point that can be made at this conjecture. If we take the meaning that "Allah is taking the ownership as a whole", is it not that everything belongs to Allah as a whole and is under His ownership anyway. As for the other verse, where the same term is used (Quran - 39:42) referring to God "...taking the souls at the time of their death and while they sleep", has a total different context completely. "Tawaffee" in this verse is attached to the "Souls" and not to the person as it is in the verse of Surah Ale Imran (3:55). Moreover, when "tawaffee" is attached to the "souls" it will mean "sleeping." As a result, is it possible that this could mean Prophet Isa (as) was taken in a "sleeping status." I say "no", this cannot be the case as "Tawaffee" will only apply sleeping when it is attached to the "Soul", however if it is attached to the person, it has more inclination towards the meaning of "death."
As a matter of fact, I do not think this evidence is adequate to apply death at all. "Tawaffee" no doubt, without any condition attached does denote "death." However, notice how both groups of scholars are over twisting the verse to support their positions. "Tawaffee" means death, but does not say when exactly (the tense is not given). However, those supporting the death of Prophet Isa (as) are alleging that he died specifically in that incident. Considering the verse does not state when, it can be applied that death will overcome Prophet Isa (as) but in the future, or even in his second coming.
Conversely, the argument of the first group of scholars that are claiming "tawaffee" to mean "God will take Isa (as) in His ownership as a whole" have a few counteract questions that need addressing. The first question we can academically pose to them is: if you are deriving this meaning from the ayah, then under whose ownership was Isa (as) before that? Secondly, what about the rest of creation? Are they not under the ownership of God, or is it only those whom God takes up to Him?" To conclude, neither of the sides have a strong argument on the word of "Mutawaffeeka" and it can be broken down academically as I have just demonstrated.
Secondly, we move onto the word "Rafi'uka (Raising you)." This word is used in the Quran in several places. For instance in Surah Al Mujadilah Allah says:
يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُومِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ
''...Allah will raise those who have believed among you, and those who were given knowledge (Scholars)''
Quran - Surah Al Mujadilah - 58:11
From this ayah, we do not find any commentary that states that "Allah will take those whom believed and the scholars to heaven" but rather the meaning is that they will be raised in ranks (spiritual not physical). The question that arises is what is then the meaning of this verse?
To understand the meaning of this properly the context must be taken into consideration. In this scenario, the Prophet Isa (as) understood that people are planning to kill him and seeing that some of his disciples had already disowned him, he assumed that death is unavoidable as the Roman soldiers were on their way. They planned on how to trap and kill him. Thereafter, most of his companions left him except a few of them who did not have the means or strength to fight well-trained and armed soldiers. God then reveals to him His promise saying to Prophet Isa (as), "to not worry, you will die a natural death, just not humiliated or killed by the hands of these people. God will protect you from those trying to harm you and increase your status of Prophethood. Moreover, those that follow you, I will give them a status above the disbelievers." As a consequence, this verse is not talking about any of the two issues, but rather giving Isa (as) strength and spirit for the incident at that time. The explanation of this incident can also be found in Tafseer Kabir narrated by Imam Razi (ra).
To sum up, if we have only two options: "death" or "taken to heaven", then the verse from Surah Ale Imran mentioned above (3:55) cannot be used to prove any of that. Both Tawaffee and Rafiuka have two meanings and none of the two groups have taken the literal meaning. Upon further analysis, the verse in discussion is not giving any time limit. As a result, we cannot prove or disprove that the mission of Prophet Isa (as) is finished prior to the disbelievers coming to kill him. However, we can understand the following from the verse:
God is promising to Isa (as) that he will not be killed.
Isa (as) death will be a natural one and not a murder by the hands of the people.
Isa (as) level will be raised higher.
Isa (as) followers will be stronger than the disbelievers till the day of judgement.
On these points, please note that time limit is mentioned about his followers but regarding the promise about Isa (as) himself there is no time mentioned.
The second verse used by the group in support of Isa (as) death is:
مَا المَسيحُ ابنُ مَريَمَ إِلّا رَسولٌ قَد خَلَت مِن قَبلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدّيقَةٌ ۖ كانا يَأكُلانِ الطَّعامَ ۗ انظُر كَيفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الآياتِ ثُمَّ انظُر أَنّىٰ يُؤفَكونَ
"Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded."
In this verse, Allah clearly says that Isa (as) is one of the Prophets, to whom the natural principles of life and death are applied. Two things point towards his death here. The first being; the ayah is mentioning Isa (as) in comparison to other Prophets that have "passed on," or in other terms, passed away (died) before him. The second being; Allah says both Isa (as) and his Mother Maryam (as) "used to eat" denoting that they were humans, applying that they were not exempted from the principles of human life (eg: living, dieing, eating, feeling emotions etc).
It would seem the group in support of the death of Isa (as) have a strong argument. On the other hand, it can be argued that God was not discussing or referring to the death of Isa (as) but rather commenting on the fact that he is not divine but a human, and in doing so God is mentioning several points supporting this point:
Prophet Isa, son of Mary PBUH is no more than a Prophet and Prophet cannot be God.
He is no different in prophethood to the prophets who came before him, and none of the previous Prophets were God, so Jesus cannot be God.
He had a kind and honoured mother and God does not have a mother.
He used to eat, and God does not eat, nor sleep, nor do any of the actions that humans do.
As for the point of the previous Prophets dying, I say it is not a strong argument as some of the prophets become a prophet while other prophets were still alive, such as Haroon (as) who became a Prophet whilst Musa (as) was still alive or Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist) (as) who was alive whilst Isa (as) was preaching as a Prophet of God. This proves that the death of the previous prophet is not a condition for the next one to be sent.
In conclusion, I say this verse can be used in support of Isa (as) dieing but it does not give certain proof as the context is referring to the non-divinity of Isa (as) not that he died or did not.
وَما مُحَمَّدٌ إِلّا رَسولٌ قَد خَلَت مِن قَبلِهِ الرُّسُلُ ۚ أَفَإِن ماتَ أَو قُتِلَ انقَلَبتُم عَلىٰ أَعقابِكُم ۚ وَمَن يَنقَلِب عَلىٰ عَقِبَيهِ فَلَن يَضُرَّ اللَّهَ شَيئًا ۗ وَسَيَجزِي اللَّهُ الشّاكِرينَ
Muhammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. So if he was to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to unbelief]? And he who turns back on his heels will never harm Allah at all; but Allah will reward the grateful.
Quran - 3:144
Shaykh Muhammad Ghazali (ra) used this verse as one of his arguments to prove that Isa (as) had died. His main point is God does not make any exemption on the Prophets that have passed away before RasoolAllah (ﷺ).
The response to this would be similar to the previous one given for verse two. I say the text or context of this does not give certainty to the argument: Firstly, God is only explaining that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is one of the Prophets who died or will die and his death should not make anyone go back to disbelief. In reality it is discussing the issue being a norm for Prophets of God as they are humans and not divine. Secondly, upon studying the context, it shows that the verse was revealed after the Battle of Uhud, where some misunderstanding occurred during the battle and someone from the Mushrikeen (polytheists of Makkah) killed Mus'ab bin Umair and thought that he had killed RasoolAllah (ﷺ). Thereafter he shouted "I killed Muhammad!" causing some of the Sahaba to panic. This verse was then revealed to clarify to the Sahaba (ra) that death for Prophets including RasoolAllah (ﷺ) is a natural occurrence. Taking these points into consideration, I say still it is not enough proof to prove the death of Isa (as) in the past.
أَمواتٌ غَيرُ أَحياءٍ ۖ وَما يَشعُرونَ أَيّانَ يُبعَثونَ
إِلٰهُكُم إِلٰهٌ واحِدٌ ۚ فَالَّذينَ لا يُؤمِنونَ بِالآخِرَةِ قُلوبُهُم مُنكِرَةٌ وَهُم مُستَكبِرونَ
"And those they invoke other than Allah create nothing, and they [themselves] are created.
They are, [in fact], dead, not alive, and they do not perceive when they will be resurrected."
Quran - 16:21-22
Many use this ayah as an argument to prove the death of Isa (as). They state, that this ayah is referring to anyone who is worshipped or invoked upon, is dead and that hey do not know when they will be resurrected. Prophet Isa (as) is a personality, who is worshipped besides Allah in this world by many. According to this ayah, Prophet Isa (as) is dead because God did not give any exception of anyone including Prophet Isa (as).
According to the first group, they argue a few points contrary to this. Firstly, the verse used is speaking about idols and not humans. It is referring to idols not being worthy of worship as they cannot even do anything for themselves.
In my opinion, there are several points that can be deduced from the verses that support both groups. In support of the first group, the verses are talking about everything worshipped besides God. This includes Prophet Isa (as) because God uses the word "Amwat" which means "dead" and idols cannot die, because they were never living in the first place. Furthermore, the ayah thereafter says "wal ladheena" and according to the rules of nahw (arabic grammar) this word is mainly used for living things and in particular referred to humans. Thirdly, the verse goes into saying "They do not know when they will be resurrected" and it is common knowledge that only humans (and animals according to some) will be resurrected.
وَما جَعَلنا لِبَشَرٍ مِن قَبلِكَ الخُلدَ ۖ أَفَإِن مِتَّ فَهُمُ الخالِدونَ
And We did not grant to any man before you eternity [on earth]; so if you die - would they be eternal?
Quran - 21:34
Every learned or unlearned man will be able to determine how the second group will derive their evidence using this ayah. In this ayah, Allah is saying to the Messenger (ﷺ) that no one who lived before you had eternal life, this would automatically include Prophet Isa (as) into this category as he was a human and came before the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). This argument seems very strong in the offset but I say this verse cannot be used to prove the death of Prophet Isa (as). Firstly, because the verse is clarifying that immortality does not belong to humanity and in order to prove that, God is taking our attention towards people of the past. If we are to take this verse literally, rather than its general meaning, it will necessitate the possibility that some humans will have immortal life after the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), which we know is impossible. Furthermore, if taken literally, then we know that many people were born before the Prophet (ﷺ) and were still alive during the revelation and continued to live on after the Messenger (ﷺ), so the literal meaning would mean that everyone who is born before the Prophet (ﷺ) would have to die, which did not occur and would be impossible as no one would be living today.
As a result, we can deduce that God is not talking about the death of each single human who lived before the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), instead the meaning of this verse would be "Oh Prophet, those who are insulting you or refusing the truth will not live forever and are neither immortal, but they will meet their death like every human has in the past."
وَإِذ قالَ اللَّهُ يا عيسَى ابنَ مَريَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلتَ لِلنّاسِ اتَّخِذوني وَأُمِّيَ إِلٰهَينِ مِن دونِ اللَّهِ ۖ قالَ سُبحانَكَ ما يَكونُ لي أَن أَقولَ ما لَيسَ لي بِحَقٍّ ۚ إِن كُنتُ قُلتُهُ فَقَد عَلِمتَهُ ۚ تَعلَمُ ما في نَفسي وَلا أَعلَمُ ما في نَفسِكَ ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلّامُ الغُيوبِ
ما قُلتُ لَهُم إِلّا ما أَمَرتَني بِهِ أَنِ اعبُدُوا اللَّهَ رَبّي وَرَبَّكُم ۚ وَكُنتُ عَلَيهِم شَهيدًا ما دُمتُ فيهِم ۖ فَلَمّا تَوَفَّيتَني كُنتَ أَنتَ الرَّقيبَ عَلَيهِم ۚ وَأَنتَ عَلىٰ كُلِّ شَيءٍ شَهيدٌ
"And when Allah said, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, 'Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?
He said, "Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have surely known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.
I said not to them except what You commanded me - to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness".
Quran - 5:116-117
This ayah is referring directly to Prophet Isa (as) and narrates a conversation between God and his Messenger Isa (as). The verse quite clearly states that Prophet Isa (as) died because he said: "And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me, You were the Observer over them..." This statement made by Prophet Isa (as) is quite explicit in demonstrating he was unaware about what his nation did after him, because he says: "I know what they did when I was there", but if he was to come back again then would he not know exactly what the Christians did after him. If he was to return then his answer would not be this but contrary to it.
On the other hand, group one argue that here "You took me" does not specify dead or alive. It is quite possible that Prophet Isa (as) could have been taken alive. Furthermore, Prophet Isa (as) could have said "but when You took my soul", which would have applied he has passed away, but instead he says "You took me" which could be dead or alive. As a result this ayah is a weak argument according to group one.
إِن هُوَ إِلّا عَبدٌ أَنعَمنا عَلَيهِ وَجَعَلناهُ مَثَلًا لِبَني إِسرائيلَ
"He (Jesus) was not but a servant upon whom We bestowed favor, and We made him an example for the Children of Israel."
Quran - 43:59
The second group argue that in this verse Prophet Isa (as) can be described as the following:
A Prophet/Messenger of Allah
An example for the children of Israel
As a result, they pronounce he is not described as a savior for humanity from the sin of their father Adam (original sin) as the Christians claim and nor is he a savior for the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) from the Dajjal as the Muslims claim, or else the ayah would have mentioned it. Moreover, the ayah defines he is only for the children of Israel and if he was destined to come back, then Allah would describe him as "an example for the children of Israel and Ishmael too."
On the other hand, group one argue that the fact that Allah did not mention he (Jesus) is the saviour for the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) from Dajjal is because the context of the ayah or ayahs leading to this ayah is Allah speaking to the "Children of Israel" so as a result, the mention of this point was not necessary in this context.
وَجاهِدوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهادِهِ ۚ هُوَ اجتَباكُم وَما جَعَلَ عَلَيكُم فِي الدّينِ مِن حَرَجٍ ۚ مِلَّةَ أَبيكُم إِبراهيمَ ۚ هُوَ سَمّاكُمُ المُسلِمينَ مِن قَبلُ وَفي هٰذا لِيَكونَ الرَّسولُ شَهيدًا عَلَيكُم وَتَكونوا شُهَداءَ عَلَى النّاسِ ۚ فَأَقيمُوا الصَّلاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكاةَ وَاعتَصِموا بِاللَّهِ هُوَ مَولاكُم ۖ فَنِعمَ المَولىٰ وَنِعمَ النَّصيرُ
"...[It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. Allah named you "Muslims" before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people."
Quran - 22:78
This ayah is implicitly used by the second group to imply that Jesus will not return. The ayah states that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is a witness upon the Muslims, and Muslims are witnesses upon the rest of the nations. However, if Prophet Isa (as) would come back then He also would be witness upon Muslims and upon other nations too, as a result it is proof that he will not come back.
I say, in order to use this verse to prove the death of Prophet Isa (as) then we need to first resolve the following questions. In this verse it says: "He named you Muslims before, and in this one, so the Prophet can be witness over you and you can be witness over the people..." Many questions arise:
Who is the one who called us "Muslims"?
What are the "previous ones"and "this one"?
What is the meaning of being a "witness"?
As for the one who called us "Muslims", there are two opinions: Some say it is referring to Prophet Ibrahim (as) and some said it is Allah Himself. If it is the former then most likely this verse cannot be used to prove the death of Prophet Isa (as). But if it is God, then we need to answer the rest of the questions.
As for the part referring to "before" and "this one", majority of the Ulama (if not all) say "before"here is referring to or meaning before the Quran was revealed ie: in the previous scriptures. Therefore, "In this one" would then be referring to Quran. Upon analysis, my opinion is thus. According to this it cannot be Prophet Ibrahim (as), as the one who called us "Muslims" in the previous nations and in the Quran is the One (Allah) who has sent it.
When we look at the word "witness" used here and its meaning. Scholars say that the Prophet witnesses against us that he has passed on what God ordered him to pass on, whereas some scholars said it refers to the Prophet (ﷺ) being a witness for us to affirm we believed in him and Allah. In my opinion, the latter meaning is clashing with the narration, where it says that some group of his nation will be taken away from him and the Prophet (ﷺ) will say "Oh God, they are my companions (in another narration "my nation" is used). Angels will then say: "Oh Messenger (ﷺ) you do not know what they have done after you." Thus, if we take the second meaning then it will only include the believers who were in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) ie: the Sahaba.
Additionally, for the part mentioning the Muslims as "witnesses" scholars say it means Muslims will be witnesses or the Prophets, against their nations. In support to this, they gave a narration (hadith) where it says that in the day of Judgement some nations will reject the testimony of their Prophets (as). Thereafter, God will ask the Prophets for witnesses, so they will say: Muhammad and his nation! Then we will give a testimony... (narrated in Bukhari). If this narration is accurate then we have a few options:
It is not only the Muslims who are witnesses over the people but Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) too. However, Quran says that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is a witness over the Muslims.
In the dispute between the Prophets and their nations, there are many other witnesses according to the Quran: Angels, Books, hands and legs of people and even their skins. Quran says "Their mouths will be sealed and their hands and feet will speak to Us and testify" - Quran 36:65
Moreover, "Being a witness" could be because of the following:
If it is attached to ''Irka'oo'' it means Prophet (ﷺ) is a witness for our good deeds.
If it is to ''Ijtabakum'' then Witnessing of the Prophet can be only over the Muslims
If it is to ''sammakum'' then it means against witnessing over this nation
As a result, we can conclude that this verse cannot prove that Prophet Isa (as) is dead, as the context does not reflect this issue and also many parts of this narration are clashing with Quran. The actual meaning one can derive from this is thus; "Do good deeds so your Prophet (ﷺ) can be a witness over you and you can be a witness over the people."
Most of the Muffassireen state Muslims are witnesses over the whole of humanity. However, I would argue contrary to this because Quran did not mention all of the Prophets and all of the nations. Hence, we cannot witness over the whole of humanity. As a result, the Quran is clear that the Prophet (ﷺ) is a witness over us (Muslims) and we are witnesses over the people that we saw and lived with. Nevertheless, one should not be mistaken that RasoolAllah (ﷺ) does not have knowledge of the previous Prophets and nations. It is an agreed upon matter that the Prophet (ﷺ) has knowledge of this and much more, beyond our comprehension (Allah and His Messenger knows best). Respectively, using this verse to prove Prophet Isa (as) has passed away is quite far-fetched as the verse is actually referring to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) being a witness over us (Muslims).
The second group may argue that "If Prophet Isa (as) is alive or if he is coming back then the ayah would have mentioned him also as "a witness over us" because he would be here then to witness over the Muslims. I argue this is not necessary, as if just by seeing us is enough to be a witness over us, then God would or should have mentioned Non-Muslims as well, as they will be present and seeing us. Quran does not mention them at all, as a result, I say, just seeing is not the condition of "witnessing" or what Allah is speaking about is some other type of witnessing, and not in its literal sense. Therefore, the second group cannot use this verse to prove the death of Prophet Isa (as).
I think it is safe to conclude that this verse does not prove or disprove the death or life of any of the blessed Prophets (as), including Nabi Isa (as).
وَكَذٰلِكَ جَعَلناكُم أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِتَكونوا شُهَداءَ عَلَى النّاسِ وَيَكونَ الرَّسولُ عَلَيكُم شَهيدًا ۗ وَما جَعَلنَا القِبلَةَ الَّتي كُنتَ عَلَيها إِلّا لِنَعلَمَ مَن يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسولَ مِمَّن يَنقَلِبُ عَلىٰ عَقِبَيهِ ۚ وَإِن كانَت لَكَبيرَةً إِلّا عَلَى الَّذينَ هَدَى اللَّهُ ۗ وَما كانَ اللَّهُ لِيُضيعَ إيمانَكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِالنّاسِ لَرَءوفٌ رَحيمٌ
"And thus we have made you a just community, that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.
Quran - 2:143
Continuing on from the previous argument, we can say that this ayah gives extra proof to the second group over the first. This is because, God confirms that it is only Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) who will be a witness over the Muslims and no other Prophet (as) is made mention of. It further acknowledges that the Muslims are only the witnesses over the rest of the nations and again no mention of Prophet Isa (as) with them is made.
The first group in argument to this respond, the Ahadith mentions Prophet Isa's (as) return but not as a new Prophet and we all know and agree that there will be no new prophet to come after Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). Furthermore, it is possible to have two Rasools or Prophets in one time. For example: Hazrat Ibrahim (as) and Hazrat Lut (as) were both Prophets simultaneously, as well as Prophet Musa (as) and Prophet Harun (as). As a result, it is possible for Isa (as) to come back within the same nation or Prophetic period as Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). I say this verse is talking about two main things: Firstly, that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) being a witness over Muslims for the Muslims to be a "just" (wasat) nation. Secondly, the Muslims being a witness over the people for the same reason, as they should be a "just" nation. The ayah is not specifying that one must be a Prophet to be a witness but rather to be a "just" nation and community.
The first group may argue that the Prophet Isa (as) is actually going to be "one of the ummatis of the Prophet (ﷺ)." First and foremost, the second group can argue, as it is not an authentic claim because if we are to accept this claim then the verse cannot prove the return of Prophet Isa (as). This is because as an ummati of the Prophet (ﷺ), he will not witness over us but over the same people whom the rest of the Muslims will witness over.
إِذ قالَ اللَّهُ يا عيسَى ابنَ مَريَمَ اذكُر نِعمَتي عَلَيكَ وَعَلىٰ والِدَتِكَ إِذ أَيَّدتُكَ بِروحِ القُدُسِ تُكَلِّمُ النّاسَ فِي المَهدِ وَكَهلًا ۖ وَإِذ عَلَّمتُكَ الكِتابَ وَالحِكمَةَ وَالتَّوراةَ وَالإِنجيلَ ۖ وَإِذ تَخلُقُ مِنَ الطّينِ كَهَيئَةِ الطَّيرِ بِإِذني فَتَنفُخُ فيها فَتَكونُ طَيرًا بِإِذني ۖ وَتُبرِئُ الأَكمَهَ وَالأَبرَصَ بِإِذني ۖ وَإِذ تُخرِجُ المَوتىٰ بِإِذني ۖ وَإِذ كَفَفتُ بَني إِسرائيلَ عَنكَ إِذ جِئتَهُم بِالبَيِّناتِ فَقالَ الَّذينَ كَفَروا مِنهُم إِن هٰذا إِلّا سِحرٌ مُبينٌ
"(The Day) when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother; when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, "This is not but obvious magic." And [remember] when I inspired to the disciples, "Believe in Me and in My messenger Jesus." They said, "We have believed, so bear witness that indeed we are Muslims [in submission to Allah]."
Quran - 5:110
This verse is a very powerful verse. Not only does it go through the miracles of Prophet Isa (as) but moreover, talks about the day of judgement when Allah will converse with Prophet Isa (as) asking him to recall His (Allah's) favours bestowed upon him. If one analyses this verse closely, one finds that Allah mentions no more than nine different favours He granted to Prophet Isa (as), including curing the sick. However, a point to note here is that Allah does not make any mention of the favour on Prophet Isa (as) of returning to the world again. No doubt, Prophet Isa's (as) return to the world in order to kill the Anti-Christ (Dajjal), see or be a part of the nation of the last Prophet (ﷺ) and have a chance to eradicate the lies the Jews and Christians have attributed on him, are much greater than curing of the sick. According to the second group this is a substantial proof that Prophet Isa (as) will not return or else this would be the place Allah would mention it.
I say, this episode from the Quran is mentioning some of the grants of Allah upon Prophet Isa (as) but not all of them. Allah has granted Prophet Isa (as) numerous amount of favours as He has granted us all numerous amount of favours. Therefore, to argue that the favour of Prophet Isa (as) return has not been mentioned, for that reason, he died and will not return is weak. Subsequently, God does not mention in this verse that He has given Prophet Isa (as) knowledge of the unseen (ie: "...he could say what people are eating and storing in their houses"). The ayah also mentions Hazrat Maryam (as) but does not mention the grants specifically, except in general wording. Moreover, it also mentions "Ma'idah" that is granted to the Apostles but does not mention that the followers of Prophet Isa (as) are victorious until the day of Judgement, as is mentioned in Surah Ale Imran 3:55 ("...superior to those who disbelieve and make those who follow you (O Isa) superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection...").
Consequently, we can derive that God's conversation with Prophet Isa (as) is to not count each and every bounty He has given to Prophet Isa (as), but it was only to make mention of some. The main outcome of the conversation is to demonstrate to the Ahle Kitab that God is above Prophet Isa (as) in status and nature, not equal as they claim and it is by Allah he is doing all the things he does and not on his own accord. Ultimately, within this argument this verse cannot be used to support the claim on either side.
إِذ قالَتِ المَلائِكَةُ يا مَريَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِنهُ اسمُهُ المَسيحُ عيسَى ابنُ مَريَمَ وَجيهًا فِي الدُّنيا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ المُقَرَّبينَ
وَيُكَلِّمُ النّاسَ فِي المَهدِ وَكَهلًا وَمِنَ الصّالِحينَ
قالَت رَبِّ أَنّىٰ يَكونُ لي وَلَدٌ وَلَم يَمسَسني بَشَرٌ ۖ قالَ كَذٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخلُقُ ما يَشاءُ ۚ إِذا قَضىٰ أَمرًا فَإِنَّما يَقولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكونُ
وَيُعَلِّمُهُ الكِتابَ وَالحِكمَةَ وَالتَّوراةَ وَالإِنجيلَ
وَرَسولًا إِلىٰ بَني إِسرائيلَ أَنّي قَد جِئتُكُم بِآيَةٍ مِن رَبِّكُم ۖ أَنّي أَخلُقُ لَكُم مِنَ الطّينِ كَهَيئَةِ الطَّيرِ فَأَنفُخُ فيهِ فَيَكونُ طَيرًا بِإِذنِ اللَّهِ ۖ وَأُبرِئُ الأَكمَهَ وَالأَبرَصَ وَأُحيِي المَوتىٰ بِإِذنِ اللَّهِ ۖ وَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِما تَأكُلونَ وَما تَدَّخِرونَ في بُيوتِكُم ۚ إِنَّ في ذٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لَكُم إِن كُنتُم مُؤمِنينَ
وَمُصَدِّقًا لِما بَينَ يَدَيَّ مِنَ التَّوراةِ وَلِأُحِلَّ لَكُم بَعضَ الَّذي حُرِّمَ عَلَيكُم ۚ وَجِئتُكُم بِآيَةٍ مِن رَبِّكُم فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطيعونِ
إِنَّ اللَّهَ رَبّي وَرَبُّكُم فَاعبُدوهُ ۗ هٰذا صِراطٌ مُستَقيمٌ
"[And mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].
He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous."
She said, "My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?" [The angel] said, "Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is. And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel. And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say]. 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And [I have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey me."
Quran - 3:45-51
The second group in analysis of this passage say; God has mentioned what He has given to Jesus (as) which includes Jesus (as) informing the people what they eat and what they store, but did not mention that He granted him the miracle or ability to return to this world again. Surely Jesus (as) returning to this world for the second time is a much greater miracle than informing about what people will eat (knowing the unseen).
In my opinion, this argument from a logical perspective holds immense weight, however, the point can be broken down using the same analysis as the previous one. Such as God only mentions some of the grants He has granted to Prophet Isa (as) and not all of them. Further, God only mentions what is relevant to the topic of conversation between Him, Prophet Isa (as) and his apostles.
ما كانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبا أَحَدٍ مِن رِجالِكُم وَلٰكِن رَسولَ اللَّهِ وَخاتَمَ النَّبِيّينَ ۗ وَكانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيءٍ عَليمًا
Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah , of all things, Knowing.
Quran - 33:40
The second group allege if Prophet Isa (as) will return then how can Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) be the last Prophet. However, we assessed this issue in the previous sections. To add to the previous points, the word "Khatam" is recited in two ways: "Khatam" and "Khatim." The meaning of Khatim is finalizing and the meaning of Khatam in arabic is "a seal." As for the "seal" it is a metaphor according to majority of the mufassir. As a result, in both cases it still holds the meaning of the "last." Therefore, the "Last Prophet can be any of the following:
1. Last to come
2. Last to exist
3. Last to function as a Prophet
4. Last to die
5. Last to be appointed as a Prophet
6. Last to receive a revelation
7. Last to bring a new revelation from God
8. Last to guide the people
9. Last to be sent
10. Last to be born
11. Last to bring a religion
These are the potential primary meanings of the term "Last Prophet" that can be derived from this. The first nine are applicable on Prophet Isa (as) according to most, if not all. Most of the Ahle Sunnat believe that Prophet Isa (as) abrogates few issues of Islam, whereas some of the Ahle Sunna have endeavoured to justify it by saying "it is not abrogating." However, this needs some evidence to back it up.
In conclusion, the scholars who deny the arrival of Prophet Isa (as), accept all of the meanings of the "Last Prophet" and applied them on Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The scholars who believe in the arrival of Prophet Isa (as) only accepted a portion of the meaning of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) being the last Prophet. However, the first group argue that point 3,6,7 and 11 can be applied to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) whilst still believing in the arrival of Prophet Isa (as). I say it is not applicable because of the following issues:
Point 3 (last to function as a Prophet) cannot be done as some narrations (ahadith) state that Prophet Isa (as) will be sent for a duty to kill the Dajjal by the order of God and being sent by the order of God denotes being a Prophet. The order here is not takweeni.
Point 6 (last to receive a revelation). It is vivid within the narrations that he will receive a revelation from God. For example, a revelation of taking the believers to Mount Tur etc.
Point 7 and 11. (Last to bring a new revelation from God) and (Last to bring a religion). According to the narrations, he will ignore jizyah, will kill the pigs and destroy the cross, which are properties outside of the shariah or laws of Islam. As a result, we can conclude that he will bring a new revelation or law (religion).
Overall, I will leave it to the reader, academics and respected ulama to make the decision as to which side they thought had the strongest argument for this section of analysis. However, making an impartial decision at this point would be difficult and inappropriate, as we still need to analyse the other side of the spectrum. This article only focussed on the Quran and the ayahs put forward by the second group (Prophet Isa (as) has died and will not return). Whereas, we still have a huge wealth of Ahadith waiting to be analysed on this topic and put forward by group two. Thereafter, we would then have to analyse the Quran ayahs and Ahadiths put forward by group one (Jesus did not die and will return) before we can make any sort of conclusive decision on this topic. If Allah permits I will write the next parts to this article in the near future. Please do dua I can give justice to the topic and if I have made any mistakes then may Allah forgive me for them and increase our knowledge and understanding on this topic.
Please Note: This article was sourced and edited from Shaykh Atabek Shukurov's Facebook post. (July - August 2014)
Link to Facebook posts below: