Islamic beliefs on “Death of Jesus and Crucifixion”
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Beliefs related to Jesus’ Death / Crucifixion
Beliefs surrounding the events of the death of Jesus differ between Christians and Jews. The Quran clearly states that Jesus never died and instead was ascended to the heavens by Allah.
Story of Jesus by Ibn Kathir (The misunderstanding of crucifixion)
In his book “Qasas-ul-Anbiya (Stories of Prophets)” Ibn Kathir has narrated the story of Jesus (based on Quran and authentic narrations) in detail. According to him a group of Jews conspired against Jesus because he was a potential threat to their interests and Jesus’ message was driving people away from their “establishment”. Jesus was also questioning the way some were interpreting the Jewish sacred revelations and provided many clarifications to that effect. Ibn Kathir writes:
“Like an opposing force, the message of Jesus came to denounce the practices of the Pharisees and to reinforce the Law of Moses. In the face of a materialistic age of luxury and worship of gold, Jesus called his people to a nobler life by word and deed.
This exemplary life was the only way out of the wretchedness and diseases of his age. Jesus’ call, from the beginning, was marked by its complete uprightness and piety. It appealed to the soul, the inner being, and not be a closed system of rules laid down by society.
Jesus continued inviting the people to Almighty Allah His call was based on the principle that there is no mediation between the Creator and His creatures. However, Jesus was in conflict with (some of) their superficial interpretation of the Torah. He said that he did not come to abrogate the Torah, but to complete it by going to the spirit of its substance to arrive at its essence.
Jesus preaching to the Jews
He made the Jews understand that the Ten Commandments have more value than they imagined. For instance, the fifth commandment does not only prohibit physical killing, but all forms of killing; physical, psychological, or spiritual. And the sixth commandment does not prohibit adultery only in the sense of unlawful physical contact between a man and a woman, but also prohibits all forms of unlawful relations or acts that might lead to adultery. The eye commits adultery when it looks at anything with passion.
Jesus was, therefore, in confrontation with the materialistic people. He told them to desist from hypocrisy, show, and false praise. There was no need to hoard wealth in this life. They should not preoccupy themselves with the goods of this passing world; rather they must preoccupy themselves with the affairs of the coming world because it would be everlasting.
Jesus told them that caring for this world is a sin, not fit for pious worshippers. The disbelievers care for it because they do not know a better way. As for the believers, they know that their sustenance is with Allah, so they trust in Him and scorn this world.
Jesus continued to invite people to worship the only Lord Allah Exalted He just as he invited them to purify the heart and soul.
His teaching annoyed the priests, for every word of Jesus was a threat to them and their position, exposing their misdeeds (Kathir I. , Stories of Prophets, p. 186).
Conspiracy Against Jesus (related to crucifixion)
It was due to this reason that some tried to conspire against Jesus. They decided to embarrass him and to humiliate him. So they came up with a plan and brought an adulterous woman in front of him and asked him whether she should be stoned to death or not. They knew that doing this would leave Jesus with two choices.
On the one side he had mercy and clemency he preached while, on the other side, he had to follow the Mosaic Law which stated that adulteress should be stoned to death. Ibn Kathir has written about this plan in detail:
However, the priests started to plot against Jesus. They wanted to embarrass him and to prove that he had come to destroy the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law provides that an adulteress be stoned to death. They brought him a Jewish adulteress and asked Jesus:
“Does not the law stipulate the stoning of the adulteress?” Jesus answered: “Yes.” They said: “This woman is an adulteress.” Jesus looked at the woman and then at the priests. He knew that (some of them) were more Sinful than she. They agreed that she should be killed according to Mosaic Law, and they understood that if he was going to apply Mosaic Law, he would be destroying his own rules of forgiveness and mercy.
Jesus understood their plan. He smiled and assented: “Whoever among you is sinless can stone her.” His voice rose in the middle of the Temple, making a new law on adultery, for the sinless to judge sin. There was none eligible; no mortal can judge sin, only Allah the Most Merciful.
As Jesus left the temple, the woman followed him. She took out a bottle of perfume from her garments, knelt before his feet and washed them with perfume and tears, and then dried his feet with her hair. Jesus turned to the woman and told her to stand up, adding:
“O Lord, forgive her sins.” He let the priests understand that those who call people to Almighty Allah are not executioners. His call was based on mercy for the people, the aim of all divine calls
(Kathir I. , Stories of Prophets, p. 187).
The Plot to Kill Jesus
And when this plan failed and Jesus continued to preach, Jews became worried and decided to kill Jesus. Ibn Kathir narrates the story in the following manner:
“The Sanhedrin, the highest judicial and ecclesiastical council of the Jews, began to meet to plot against Jesus. The plan took a new turn. When they failed to stop Jesus’ call, they decided to kill him. The chief priests held secret meetings to agree on the best way of getting rid of Jesus.
While they were in such a meeting, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, Judas Iscariot, went to them and asked: “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” Judas bargained with them until they agreed to give him thirty pieces of silver known as shekels. The plot was laid for the capture and murder of Jesus.
It was said that the high priest of the Jews tore his garment at the meeting, claiming that Jesus had denied Judaism. The tearing of clothes at that time was a sign of disgust.
The priests had no authority to pass the death sentence at that time, so they convinced the Roman governor that Jesus was plotting against the security of the Roman Empire and urged him to take immediate action against him. The governor ordered that Jesus be arrested.” (Kathir I. , Stories of Prophets, p. 187)
After these orders were given, the Roman army started searching for Jesus. According to the Christian version they found him and crucified him. However, the Quran states the story differently. According to the Quran:
156. And because of their disbelief and uttering against Maryam (Mary) a grave false charge (that she had illegal sexual relations);
157. And because of their saying (in boast), “We killed Messiah Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), the Messenger of Allah,” – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it appeared so to them [the resemblance of Isa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man)], and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no (certain) knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely; they killed him not [i.e. Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam.
158. But Allah raised him [Isa (Jesus)] up (with his body and soul) unto Himself (and he is in the heavens). And Allah is Ever All-Powerful, All-Wise
Quran (Surah An-Nisa, Verses 156-158)
Islamic view on who was put on the Cross instead of Prophet Jesus
In his tafseer Ibn Kathir has elaborated on this in the following words:
(The people conspiring against Jesus) “envied him because of his prophethood and obvious miracles; curing the blind and leprous and bringing the dead back to life, by Allah’s leave. He also used to make the shape of a bird from clay and blow in it, and it became a bird by Allah’s leave and flew. `Isa performed other miracles that Allah honored him with, yet some defied and belied him and tried their best to harm him.
Allah’s Prophet `Isa could not live in any one city for long and he had to travel often with his mother, peace be upon them. Even so, some of the Jews were not satisfied, and they went to the king of Damascus at that time, a Greek polytheist who worshipped the stars. They told him that there was a man in Bayt Al-Maqdis misguiding and dividing the people in Jerusalem and stirring unrest among the king’s subjects.
The king became angry and wrote to his deputy in Jerusalem to arrest the rebel leader, stop him from causing unrest, crucify him and make him wear a crown of thorns. When the king’s deputy in Jerusalem received these orders, he went with some Jews to the house that `Isa was residing in, and he was then with twelve, thirteen or seventeen of his companions. That day was a Friday, in the evening.
They surrounded `Isa in the house, and when he felt that they would soon enter the house or that he would sooner or later have to leave it, he said to his companions, “Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise.”’ A young man volunteered, but `Isa thought that he was too young.
He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting `Isa to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” Allah made the young man look exactly like `Isa, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and `Isa was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep. Allah said, “O `Isa! I will take you and raise you to myself.” When `Isa ascended, those who were in the house came out.
When those surrounding the house saw the man who looked like `Isa, they thought that he was `Isa. So they took him at night, crucified him and placed a crown of thorns on his head. They then boasted that they killed `Isa and some Christians accepted their false claim, due to their ignorance and lack of reason.
As for those who were in the house with `Isa, witnessed his ascension to heaven, while the rest thought that the Jews killed `Isa by crucifixion. They even said that Maryam sat under the corpse of the crucified man and cried, and they say that the dead man spoke to her. All this was a test from Allah for His servants out of His wisdom.
Allah explained this matter in the Glorious Quran which He sent to His honorable Messenger, whom He supported with miracles and clear, unequivocal evidence. Allah is the Most Truthful, and He is the Lord of the worlds Who knows the secrets, what the hearts conceal, the hidden matters in heaven and earth, what has occurred, what will occur, and what would occur if it was decreed (Kathir I. , Tafsir Ibn Kathir).
At another place in his Tafseer, Ibn Kathir narrates the same story and links it to Muslims:
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, “Just before Allah raised `Isa (Jesus) to the heavens, `Isa went to his companions, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping water and he said, ‘There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after he had believed in me.’ He then asked, ‘Who volunteers that his image appear as mine, and be killed in my place.
He will be with me (in Paradise).’ One of the youngest ones among them volunteered and `Isa asked him to sit down. `Isa (Jesus) again asked for a volunteer, and the young man kept volunteering and `Isa asking him to sit down. Then the young man volunteered again and `Isa (Jesus) said, ‘You will be that man,’ and the resemblance of `Isa was cast over that man while `Isa ascended to heaven from a hole in the house.
When the Jews came looking for `Isa, they found that young man and crucified him. Some of `Isa’s (Jesus’) followers disbelieved in him twelve times after they had believed in him. They then divided into three groups. One group, Al-Ya`qubiyyah (Jacobites), said, ‘Allah remained with us as long as He willed and then ascended to heaven.’
Another group, An-Nasturiyyah (Nestorians), said, ‘The son of Allah was with us as long as he willed and Allah took him to heaven.’ Another group, Muslims, said, ‘The servant and Messenger of Allah remained with us as long as Allah willed, and Allah then took him to Him.’
The two disbelieving groups cooperated against the Muslim group and they killed them. Ever since that happened, Islam was then veiled until Allah sent Muhammad.”’ This statement has an authentic chain of narration leading to Ibn `Abbas, and An-Nasa’i narrated it through Abu Kurayb who reported it from Abu Mu`awiyah
(Kathir I. , Tafsir Ibn Kathir, p. 771).
In his article “Before Nicea” Abdul-Haq ibn Kofi ibn Kwesi ibn al-Ashanti has provided another reference to the same event. According to him:
Some of the first groups that followed the way of Jesus and also several other historical sources other than the Quran confirm that Jesus did not die on the cross. John Toland in his work ‘The Nazarenes’ mentions that Plotinus who lived in the 4th century stated that he had read a book called ‘The Journeys of the Apostles’, which related traditions of Peter, John, Andrew,
Thomas and Paul. Among other things, the book stated that Jesus was not crucified, but rather another in his place, and therefore, Jesus and the apostles had laughed at those who believed Jesus had died on the cross. Similar was the belief of Basileides and his followers/students who were known as the Basildians.
Allah knows Best