Last Updated on 25th January 2023
Romaan Basit, Graduate, Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
The Holy Quran is the only scripture that has stood the test of time; never has it successfully been interpolated. In Surah al-Hijr, Allah takes on the responsibility of safeguarding the Holy Quran Himself – both in letter and spirit.
Logically, how can a Muslim claim another has successfully misled others by altering the Holy Quran? The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been accused of committing tahrif (alteration) in the Holy Quran and its meaning. Should this claim be true, what can be said about the promise and responsibility of God?
Anyone can pick up a copy of the Holy Quran published by the Ahmadiyya Community and verify that not a single word or punctuation mark has ever been altered. However, this allegation – stemming from disagreement on certain translation matters – is made to appear as if the Ahmadiyya Community has altered the text, God forbid.
In this piece, I will take a look at the two main verses that have become a point of contention. These are the two themes that must be explored:
1. The finality of prophethood
2. The death of Isaas (Jesus)
Khatam an-nabiyyin: Finality of Prophethood
Let’s begin with the finality of prophethood. In Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.41, the following is written about the Holy Prophetsa:
مَا کَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ اَبَاۤ اَحَدٍ مِّنۡ رِّجَالِکُمۡ وَلٰکِنۡ رَّسُوۡلَ اللّٰہِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِیّٖنَ ؕ وَکَانَ اللّٰہُ بِکُلِّ شَیۡءٍ عَلِیۡمًا
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah has full knowledge of all things.”
The general Muslim stance is that the Holy Prophetsa was the last and final prophet. Hence, ‘khatam an-nabiyyin’ has been translated by so many as ‘the last of the prophets’. Here is the translation of Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali:
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last (end) of the Prophets. And Allah is Ever All-Aware of everything.” (Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’ân in the English Language)
Both have worked at the Islamic University of Medina, and this commonly used Quran translation has been published by Darussalam – the renowned publisher of Islamic literature. Various other translations are in agreement with this, including those of Muhammad Sarwar, Muhammad Habib Shakir and the Sahih International translation.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim translation, however, is different:
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah has full knowledge of all things.”
The Holy Prophetsa is instead referred to as the ‘Seal of the Prophets’. Is this an attempt at interpolation? Not at all. In fact, the vast majority of other translations by non-Ahmadi Muslims and orientalists alike correspond to the Ahmadiyya Community’s translation, which translates the text in this way. Here are a few scholars who have done the exact same:
1. Muhammad Asad (The Message of the Qur’an)
2. Abdullah Yusuf Ali (The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an)
3. Prof. Abdel Haleem (The Qur’an)
4. Arthur Arberry (The Quran Interpreted)
So, can they be accused of interpolation, too? None of them is an Ahmadi. The ‘Seal of Prophets’ is by no means a false translation.
Was the Holy Prophetsa the last prophet?
The Ahmadiyya stance is that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was the last law-bearing prophet. However, as all other Muslims believe, a Messiah was to come in the Latter Days from among the very followers of the Holy Prophetsa. This stance is supported by the Quran and the Hadith. Let’s take a look at classical Islamic scholarship to shed light on this matter. Was the Holy Prophetsa really the last prophet in every possible way?
Imam Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti has referred to a narration of Hazrat ‘A’ishara in his book, ad-Durr al-Manthur, in which she says:
قولوا خاتم النبيين، ولا تقولوا لا نبي بعده
“Say he is the Seal of the Prophets, but do not say there is no prophet after him!” (ad-Durr al-Manthur, Imam as-Suyuti, under 33:40)
Shah Waliyyullah Muhaddith Dehlvi, a prominent scholar with a huge following, explained:
“وخُتم به النبييون… أي لا يوجد من يأمره الله سبحانه بالتشريع على الناس.”
“The prophets have been sealed by him (i.e., the Holy Prophetsa), that is to say that there will now be none who Allah the Exalted will commission with a new law for mankind.” (at-Tafhimat al-Ilahiyya, Vol. II, , p. 72-73)
This is exactly what the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat says!
Nur al-Hasan Khan (d. 1917), the son of Nawab Siddiq Hassan Khan (d. 1890), a leading figure of the Ahl-i Hadith movement, saw it as such:
لا نبی بعدی آیا ہے جس کے معنی نزدیک اہل علم کے یہ ہیں کہ میرے بعد کوئی نبی شرع ناسخ نہ لاوے گا
“La nabiyya ba’di [the hadith of the Holy Prophetsa that states that there is no prophet after him) is found, which, according to the people of knowledge, means there shall be no prophet after me who shall bring an abrogating divine system of law.” (Iqtarab as-Sa’ah, 1883, p. 162)
Qasim Nanautvi, one of the main founders of Dar al-Ulum Deoband – again, with a vast following – said:
“According to the layman, the Messengersa of Allah being the ‘khatam’ (seal), is supposed to have appeared after all the previous prophets. But men of understanding and wisdom know it very well that being the first or the last, chronologically, does not carry any weight. How could, therefore, the words of the Holy Quran: ‘But he is the Messenger of Allah and the Last of the Prophets’ (33:41) glorify him?” (Tahdhir an-Nas, pp. 4-5)
He went on to say: “If we accept this view, it shall not at all contravene his finality, even if someone in the future does rise to the high status of prophethood” (Ibid, p. 34)
Imam ‘Abd a-Wahhab ash-Sha’rani, the Shafi‘i mystic and scholar, wrote:
فقوله صلى الله عليه وسلم لا نبي بعدي ولا رسول بعدي أي ما ثمّ مَن يشرع بعدي شريعة خاصة
“And the statement of the Holy Prophet that there is no prophet after me and no messenger after me means that there will be nobody after me who legislates with a new law (a new Shariah).” (al-Yawaqit wa-l-Jawahir, Vol. II, p. 39)
These are just a few examples, and by no means is this an exhaustive list. Many other great scholars of Islam hold this view, including Ibn ’Arabi, Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, Muhammad Tahir al-Fattani, al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi, Imam ar-Raghib, Rumi and more. They all use and prefer the translation of Khataman Nabiyyin to mean “Seal of the Prophets”, as opposed to the “last” and “final” messenger.
A strange approach is observed in some scholars like Abu l-A‘la Maududi – who has influenced modern-day scholars – that he simply shies away from translating the word khatam and puts it down as “Khatam of the Prophets” in his Tafhim al-Quran.
Why not give the meaning when the whole idea of a translation is to translate?
Resorting to explaining the word in tafsir, without translating it, shows that the agenda was probably to avoid having it taken as “seal” and to make readers more inclined towards accepting the element of finality.
Maududi’s contemporary and confidant, Amin Ahsan Islahi, has taken a similar approach in his commentary, Tadabbur-e-Quran; not translating the word, and ushering readers to their interpretation of the Prophetsa being “the final”.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim stance that Khatam-an-Nabiyyin means “The Seal of the Prophets” is in line with the early, classical, medieval and modern Islamic understanding of the term khatam and is confirmed by all major lexicons of the Arabic language. Yes, disagreement in interpretation has been there and is still there, but that does not, in any way, amount to tahrif by any definition.
Death of ‘Isaas (Jesus) – Spiritual Ascension
In Surah Aal-e-Imran, verse 56, Allah says regarding ‘Isaas:
اِذۡ قَالَ اللّٰہُ یٰعِیۡسٰۤی اِنِّیۡ مُتَوَفِّیۡکَ وَرَافِعُکَ اِلَیَّ وَمُطَہِّرُکَ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا وَجَاعِلُ الَّذِیۡنَ اتَّبَعُوۡکَ فَوۡقَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡۤا اِلٰی یَوۡمِ الۡقِیٰمَۃِ ۚ ثُمَّ اِلَیَّ مَرۡجِعُکُمۡ فَاَحۡکُمُ بَیۡنَکُمۡ فِیۡمَا کُنۡتُمۡ فِیۡہِ تَخۡتَلِفُوۡنَ
Special attention needs to be paid to the participles مُتَوَفِّیۡکَ (mutawaffika) – derived from “tawaffa” – and رَافِعُکَ (rafi‘uka), which has been derived from “rafa‘a”. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who earlier translated this verse in line with the Ahmadiyya translation in the first edition, later shifted to translating it as:
“Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.’” (The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an)
Abdullah Yusuf Ali later translated “tawaffa” as “to take”, and “rafa‘a” as “to raise”. Many other translators have done the same, including Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali.
The Ahmadi Muslim translation, however, translates “tawaffa” as “to die a natural death”, and “rafa’a” as “to exalt in status”:
“When Allah said, ‘O Jesus, I will cause thee to die [a natural death] and will exalt thee to Myself, and will clear thee from [the charges of] those who disbelieve, and will place those who follow thee above those who disbelieve, until the Day of Resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, and I will judge between you concerning that wherein you differ.’”
Still a majority of Muslims believes that ‘Isaas (Jesus) was raised to heaven alive and will return in the latter days. Ahmadi Muslims, however, believe ‘Isaas died a natural death like all other prophets, and his second coming was to be in power and spirit (like the biblical case of Elijah and John the Baptist). This was fulfilled in the person of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
First of all, it must be remembered that elsewhere in the Quran where the Arabic verb “tawaffa” has been used in this context (where Allah is the subject, anything with a soul is the object, and it is in Form V (bab at-tafa‘‘ul)), it always means either death or sleep. Unless there is a clear indication (qarina) of sleep, for example, the word night is present, “tawaffa” always translates as death. It occurs a total of 25 times in the Quran; twice for sleep and the rest for death. Any translation can be checked to verify the claim.
This was a challenge from the Promised Messiahas, who wrote:
“If anyone can cite a single instance from the Holy Quran or the Hadith, or from classical or modern Arabic poetry and prose, that the word tawaffa, when applied to anything with a soul, God being the subject, has been used in any connotation other than death […], I bind myself on oath that I shall pay that person one thousand rupees in cash by selling some of my property and shall always hold him in high esteem as a great scholar of the Holy Quran and Hadith.” (Izala-e-Auham, Part II, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3, p. 603)
No one to this day has been able to disprove this challenge. He also wrote in the same book:
“What I discovered on checking every page of the compilations of Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Darimi, Muwatta, and Sharh as-Sunna, etc., was that the expression ‘tawaffa’ has been used three hundred and forty-six times, and in no single instance has it been used, either by the Holy Prophetsa or by his Companionsra, to mean anything other than ‘death’, or ‘taking possession of the soul’. I have gone through these books with great care, line by line, and I can say that on each and every occasion the expression tawaffa has been used only in the connotation of death or taking possession of the soul.” (Ibid, pp. 583-585)
Ibn ‘Abbasra, about whom the Holy Prophetsa prayed to be blessed with a special insight into the religion, stated the following about this verse:
“Mutawaffika means mumituka (I will cause thee to die).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab at-Tafsir, Surah al-Ma’idah, V. 118)
Imam al-Qurtubi quotes this narration of Ibn ‘Abbasra in his Tafsir:
وروی ابن طلحة عن ابن عباس معنی متوفیك مميتك
“Ibn Abi Talhah narrates from Ibn ‘Abbasra, that the meaning of ‘mutawaffika’ is ‘I will cause thee to die’.” (Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Vol. 5, p. 153)
Imam az-Zamakhshari, in his book of Tafsir (Kashshaf), explains one of the meanings of ‘tawaffa’ as being:
وممیتک حتف انفک
“wa-mumituka hatfa anfika (I will cause thee to die).” (Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Imam az-Zamakhshari, under 3:56)
Imam Ibn Kathir, in his widely-accepted work of Tafsir, writes the following Hadith under the commentary of verse 3:81:
لو کان موسی وعیسی حیین لما وسعھما الا اتباعي
“If Mosesas and Jesusas were alive, they would have had no choice but to follow me.” (Tafsir ibn Kathir, Under 3:81)
Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a great scholar of Islam and student of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, states in a very similar manner:
لو کان موسی وعیسی فی حیاتھما لکانا من اتباعه
“Had Prophet Mosesas and Prophet Jesusas lived (till the time of the Holy Prophetsa), they would certainly have been among his followers.” (Madarij as-Salikin, Vol. 2, p. 263)
Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, social reformer and founder of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (which later became the Aligarh Muslim University), wrote:
“Jesus was not killed by the Jews, either by stoning or by crucifixion, but he died his natural death, and God raised him in rank and status […]. From the first three verses, it is clear that Jesus died a natural death. However, as the Ulema of Islam had followed the Christians in accepting that Jesus had gone up to heaven alive before looking at the Quran, so they have tried to interpret some of the words in these verses to accord with their unsound belief” (Tafsir al-Quran, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Vol. 2, p. 48)
Muhammad Asad, the Jewish convert to Islam and celebrated by the whole Muslim Ummah as a great scholar of Islam, has translated the verse Surah Al ’Imran, Ch.3: V,56 in the following manner:
“Lo! God said: ‘O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee [far] above those who are bent on denying the truth, unto the Day of Resurrection. In the end, unto Me you all must return, and I shall judge between you with regard to all on which you were wont to differ.’” (The Message of the Qur’an)
As if testifying to the above challenge of the Promised Messiah, he states in his commentary on verse Surah an-Nisa’, Ch.4: V.158:
“Where God says to Jesus, ‘Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto me.’ The verb rafa‘ahu (lit., ‘he raised him’ or ‘elevated him’) has always, whenever the act of raf’ (‘elevating’) of a human being is attributed to God, the meaning of ‘honouring’ or exalting’. Nowhere in the Quran is there any warrant for the popular belief that God has ‘taken up’ Jesus bodily, in his lifetime, into heaven. The expression ‘God exalted thee unto Himself’ in the above verse denotes the elevation of Jesus to the realm of God’s special grace – a blessing in which all prophets partake, as is evident from 19:57, where the verb rafa’ahu (‘We exalted him’) is used with regard to the Prophet Idris.” (The Message of the Quran, Muhammad Asad, p. 135)
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, whose translation has been previously cited, states in his commentary on Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.56:
“The Jews neither crucified nor killed Jesus, but that another was killed in his likeness. The guilt of the Jews remained. But Jesus completed his life when he died and was taken up to God.” (The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, First Edition, Footnote of 3:56)
Here are all the verses in which ‘tawaffa’ is used in the Quran:
2:235, 2:241, 3:56, 3:194, 4:16, 4:98, 5:118, 6:62, 7:38, 7:127, 8:51, 10:47, 10:105, 12:102, 13:41, 16:29, 16:33, 16:71, 22:6, 32:12, 40:68, 40:78, 47:28, 6:61, 39:43
In Surah al-An`am, Ch.6: V.61, and Surah az-Zumar, Ch.39: V.43, it means sleep as the words ‘night’ and ‘sleep’ are clearly present. In the rest of the 23 verses, the verb always means death.
All Muslims, from the classical to mediaeval period and mediaeval to modern, have all unanimously agreed that ‘tawaffa’ in this context means death. So why then should it be any different for Jesus? According to this, the Ahmadiyya translation is correct.
So, who would still want to argue that the Ahmadiyya translation of the Holy Quran is an interpolation? And, if it is, then an abundance of translations need to be checked and revised, not just the Ahmadiyya one.