Last Updated on 23rd October 2020
Ayyaz Mahmood Khan, UK
In the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty states:
اِذۡ قَالَ اللّٰہُ یٰعِیۡسٰۤی اِنِّیۡ مُتَوَفِّیۡکَ وَ رَافِعُکَ اِلَیَّ وَ مُطَہِّرُکَ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا وَ جَاعِلُ الَّذِیۡنَ اتَّبَعُوۡکَ فَوۡقَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡۤا اِلٰی یَوۡمِ الۡقِیٰمَۃِ ۚ ثُمَّ اِلَیَّ مَرۡجِعُکُمۡ فَاَحۡکُمُ بَیۡنَکُمۡ فِیۡمَا کُنۡتُمۡ فِیۡہِ تَخۡتَلِفُوۡنَ
“And when Allah said, ‘O Jesus, I will cause thee to die a natural death and will exalt thee to Myself, and will clear from thee 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.’” (Surah al-e-Imran, Ch3: V.56)
Natural order of events as specified by Allah
This is another crystal-clear verse of the Holy Quran which evidently proves the death of Jesusas. From the outset, even a quick reading of this verse would prove this fact without a shadow of doubt.
In this verse, Allah the Almighty has mentioned the word, mutawaffika ([I] will cause thee to die a natural death) first, and the word rafi‘uka ([I] shall exalt thee) has been mentioned afterwards.
In this verse, Allah has alluded to a natural phenomenon of life and death which is not specific to Jesusas alone; rather, every individual experiences this natural system as set in place by Allah. Since the Arabic word mutawaffika ([I] will cause thee to die a natural death) has been mentioned first, we must accept that Jesusas died a natural death, before he was lifted into the heavens.
We have no right to change or alter the order of events as stipulated by Allah Himself in this verse. It is not within our jurisdiction to assert that Jesusas would ascend into the heavens first and die later (after his second advent).
The importance of following the order which Allah the Almighty has set out is vital. There is a narration in which the companions of the Holy Prophetsa enquired of him at one occasion as to whether he would begin his running between Safa and Marwah from Safa first or Marwah. In response to this, the Holy Prophetsa responded: “I shall begin from where Allah has begun.” (Sahih Muslim)
Therefore, in order to understand the true meaning of this verse, we must comprehend it in light of the systematic order which Allah the Almighty has employed herein. It is not appropriate that we alter the natural order which Allah the Almighty has stipulated in this verse.
However, as our non-Ahmadi Muslim opponents assert, if we are to accept that Jesusas has physically ascended into the heavens and would die after his physical descent, then we would have to accept that the order as stipulated in this verse does not accord with the transpiring of the actual events of the life of Jesusas. This is something which cannot be accepted, because this would justify a lack of wisdom on the part of Allah in the textual arrangement of this verse, God forbid.
If we were to accept that our non-Ahmadi opponents are correct in their claim that Jesusas has physically ascended into the heavens and would return in the latter days and die thereafter, we are, in effect, altering the order of the events stipulated in the verse. And of course, this is not permitted. If this was permitted, we would open a pandoras box.
For example, in the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty has taught the manner in which to perform ablution in the following words:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اِذَا قُمۡتُمۡ اِلَی الصَّلٰوۃِ فَاغۡسِلُوۡا وُجُوۡہَکُمۡ وَ اَیۡدِیَکُمۡ اِلَی الۡمَرَافِقِ وَ امۡسَحُوۡا بِرُءُوۡسِکُمۡ وَ اَرۡجُلَکُمۡ اِلَی الۡکَعۡبَیۡنِ
“O ye who believe! when you stand up for Prayer, wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and pass your [wet] hands over your heads, and [wash] your feet to the ankles …” (Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.7)
We now ask our opponents, is it permissible for someone to perform ablution in a manner where he first washes his feet to the ankles, then passes his wet hands over his head, then washes his hands to the elbows and finally washes his face? Would any scholar consider such an ablution to be in accordance with the Holy Quran? Most definitely not.
It is an assumed fact that wherever Allah has mentioned a process, practice or phenomenon which comprises various events or actions, He has done so in a correct order. Why then should we disrupt that order? Just as it is not permissible to alter the order of the ablution so too it is impermissible to present an ideology with regards to the life and death of Jesusas which does not accord to the order as specified in the verse under discussion.
Mutawaffika as understood by our opponents
Our opponents also raise the objection that the word mutawaffika does not mean “death”; rather, it implies the complete “physical ascension” of Jesusas into the heavens. They assert that the word mutawaffi means “the taking of something in its physical entirety” – meaning that Allah raised Jesusas physically into the sky towards Himself. This is a very interesting and exotic argument, but alas, it is completely bereft of even the most rudimentary logic and rationality.
We shall discuss the word tawaffa from a linguistic perspective shortly hereafter. However, we would like to take up this argument from the perspective of logic and common sense first. If the word mutawaffika refers to the physical ascension of Jesusas as our non-Ahmadi opponents assert, then why would Allah the Almighty use the words rafi‘uka ilaiyya (raise you to Myself) after it? The physical ascension ideology does not hold true to this verse, because in such a case, there would be unnecessary repetition in this verse.
If the word mutawaffika is understood as our non-Ahmadi opponents would like, the translation of this verse would be:
“And when Allah said, ‘O Jesus, I will cause thee to physically ascend with thy body and soul and will exalt thee to Myself…”
(The words “body and soul” have been inserted here, not because these words are present in the verse, rather due to the fact that the ascension of both these two things are naturally implied in the non-Ahmadi interpretation, because one cannot remain without the other, at least in a state of life of course. The separation of body and soul is but another name for death. The non-Ahmadi ideology states that the word mutawaffika means to “take something completely or fully”. Therefore, when this word is used to refer to Jesusas in this verse, it refers to the physical ascension of Jesusas into the heavens, without having tasted death. In other words, Jesusas ascended into the heavens and took his place beside God whilst still in a living state. It is for this reason that I have inserted the words “body and soul” in the hypothetical translation of the verse, if we were to accept the non-Ahmadi interpretation.)
Now, the obvious question is that if the word mutawaffika refers to the ascension of Jesusas into the heavens, with body and soul, then what more is left? After having reached God, is there a further point of ascension for which the Arabic words rafi‘uka ilaiyya was required?
The non-Ahmadis are very adamant in their assertion that the word mutawaffika does not mean death. They state that this word refers to the taking of something completely, and therefore, Jesusas went into the heavens whole. If this is the case, then, the word mutawaffika should have been enough. Allah would not have used the words rafi‘uka ilaiyya after the word mutawaffika.
Do our opponents suggest the notion that Allah has used unnecessary repetition in this verse? Such redundancy can be found in the writings of man, but not in the revelation of Allah, the Lord of all the worlds, Who is pure of all weakness. Non-Ahmadis also raise the issue of taqdim and takhir whilst discussing this verse.
Many Muslim scholars claim that it is alright to change the order of the events stipulated in the verse under discussion. As such, although the verse states, “Inni mutawaffika wa rafi‘uka”, it is alright for these events to transpire in the reverse order. That is to say that Jesusas would first undergo his rafa‘ (raising) and then his mutawaffi (death).
Without getting into a discussion about taqdim and takhir, simply put, keeping in mind the interpretation of non-Ahmadis, this verse does not allow for the events to transpire in the reverse order. The obvious reason for this is because non-Ahmadis understand both the words mutawaffika and rafi‘uka to mean more or less the same thing. They interpret mutawaffika to mean “to take someone in his entirety” and the word rafi‘uka is interpreted by them to mean “physical bodily ascension.”
Therefore, one word was enough to fulfil the purpose of non-Ahmadis. If Allah had simply used the word rafi‘uka alone, it would have been enough. Similarly, if Allah had only used the word mutawaffika, this still would have been enough. What need was there for this unnecessary redundancy? As we have mentioned, such ignorance cannot be attributed to the word of God.
This verse can only make sense if we understand the word mutawaffika to mean “death”. In this case, the verse would make perfect sense. As such, the verse would mean that after Allah caused Jesusas to die a natural death, his body remained in the world, as all bodies do, but his soul was exalted towards Allah. And as we know, this is the case with all people. They receive a spiritual elevation of the soul after their demise (if they are righteous people of course), but their physical body of flesh and bone remains here.
The plan of the Jews
Now to further elaborate this point. It is important to explain that if this process of physical death and spiritual ascension is a common phenomenon experienced by all righteous men, and if it is in fact Allah, who causes everyone to die through His divine decree, why then have these two very common actions of Allah been especially attributed to Jesusas in this verse of the Holy Quran.
In order to understand the wisdom behind Allah attributing a very common and natural phenomenon to Jesusas, we must understand the context in which this statement is being made. If we study the verses prior to the one under discussion from verse 49 onwards, a clear story and chain of events begin to unravel.
Allah begins by speaking of the miraculous birth of Jesusas. After this, the words of Jesusas have been recorded which contain the details of his personality and qualities. Moreover, the words of Jesusas are recorded where he invites his people towards Allah and says, “I come to you with a Sign from your Lord; so fear Allah and obey me.” (Surah al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.55)
In verse 53, it is written that Jesusas began to perceive the disbelief and opposition of his people, and called for helpers in the way of Allah. This phenomenon of opposition is faced by all prophets of God, and this was the case with Jesusas as well.
If we study history, it becomes evident that the Jews continued to grow in their enmity and animosity towards Jesusas and rejected him as a prophet. Their opposition became so fierce that they wished to crucify Jesusas; death on crucifixion, was an attempt to prove Jesusas was a false prophet. In the Mosaic law, it is written that anyone who is hung on the cross and killed, dies an accursed death. (Deuteronomy, 21:22-23, Galatians, 3:13)
It is for this reason that the Jews wished to prove that, God forbid, Jesusas was an accursed man, let alone a prophet of God. The following verse of the Holy Quran, which directly precedes the verse under discussion alludes to this very fact. Allah states in Surah al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V. 55:
“And they planned, and Allah [also] planned; and Allah is the Best of planners.”
Here, “And they planned” means the Jews planned to crucify Jesusas and prove that he was, God forbid, an accursed man. But “Allah also planned” to save Jesusas from the evil designs of the Jews and protect His prophet from the wrath of the people; the custom of Allah for all His beloved ones. Considering this context, directly after the above-mentioned verse, Allah states:
“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.’”
This famous verse of the Holy Quran, which is used by our opponents to prove the physical bodily ascension of Jesusas is the direct continuation of many verses preceding it. This verse is part and parcel of an entire context, an entire story and it must be understood considering that context.
If we separate and isolate this verse from the context in which it has appeared in the Holy Quran, we will not be able to fully understand the true meaning of this verse. The Jews wished to crucify Jesusas in order to disprove his prophethood and to establish him as a man who was not even worthy of being deemed a righteous man. They wished to crucify him in order to prove that he died an accursed death in accordance with the Mosaic law.
However, in response to their evil plan, Allah planned to protect his beloved prophet. Furthermore, Allah went on to state that the Jews can exert all their efforts to kill Jesusas on the cross to send him into a death of damnation and curse, as per the Torah.
However, quite contrarily, Allah announces, that it is He, and no one else, who shall cause Jesusas to die. Moreover, Allah states that not only would He protect Jesusas from the Jews, and cause him to die a natural death, but He would exalt Jesusas to himself.
In other words, if the Jews wished to degrade the spiritual status of Jesusas in the eyes of the people by crucifying him, Allah would do the exact opposite and elevate the spiritual status of Jesusas to that of great honour and prestige.
Therefore, in the verse under discussion, Allah has given a powerful response to the two evil intentions of the Jews:
1. In their enmity and opposition the Jews wished to crucify Jesusas. However, Allah responded by saying that they would not be able to inflict an accursed death upon His beloved Messenger for it is He who shall cause Jesusas to die a natural death.
2. The Jews wished to crucify Jesusas in order to prove that he died an accursed death, as per the law of the Torah. However, Allah responded by saying that they would never be able to degrade his spiritual status and rank which He had bestowed upon His servant, by way of their filthy intentions.
Contrary to what they intended, after having caused Jesusas to die a natural death, Allah would elevate his soul to Himself and grant him a lofty spiritual status in paradise. It is for this very reason, and in light of this context, that Allah the Almighty further goes on to state in the verse under discussion, “I shall clear thee from the charges of those who disbelieve.”
What charges exactly was Jesusas to be cleared of by Allah the Almighty? Of course, the charges of the Jews which have just been explained above. In actuality, the words, “And I shall clear thee from the charges of those who disbelieve,” is an explanation of the true meaning of the words mutawaffika and rafi‘uka ilaiyya.
If the physical ascension of Jesusas was being alluded to in this verse, as our opponents assert, then what relation do the words, “And I shall clear thee from the charges of those who disbelieve” have in this context? This statement would seem very much out of place.
However, if the definition of the words mutawaffika and rafi‘uka ilaiyya are understood in the context we have presented above, then not only does the phrase “I shall clear thee from the charges of those who disbelieve” fit soundly and perfectly in place, but the verses prior to the one under discussion also seamlessly fit into place as pieces of a puzzle.