Proving the death of Jesus from the Holy Quran: Surah al-Maidah and “tawaffa”

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Ayyaz Mahmood Khan, Missionary UK

In the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty states:

وَ اِذۡ قَالَ اللّٰہُ یٰعِیۡسَی ابۡنَ مَرۡیَمَ ءَاَنۡتَ قُلۡتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُوۡنِیۡ وَ اُمِّیَ اِلٰہَیۡنِ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ ؕ قَالَ سُبۡحٰنَکَ مَا یَکُوۡنُ لِیۡۤ اَنۡ اَقُوۡلَ مَا لَیۡسَ لِیۡ بِحَقٍّ ؕ اِنۡ کُنۡتُ قُلۡتُہٗ فَقَدۡ عَلِمۡتَہٗ ؕ تَعۡلَمُ مَا فِیۡ نَفۡسِیۡ وَ لَاۤ اَعۡلَمُ مَا فِیۡ نَفۡسِکَ ؕ اِنَّکَ اَنۡتَ عَلَّامُ الۡغُیُوۡبِ

مَا قُلۡتُ لَہُمۡ اِلَّا مَاۤ اَمَرۡتَنِیۡ بِہٖۤ اَنِ اعۡبُدُوا اللّٰہَ رَبِّیۡ وَ رَبَّکُمۡ ۚ وَ کُنۡتُ عَلَیۡہِمۡ شَہِیۡدًا مَّا دُمۡتُ فِیۡہِمۡ ۚ فَلَمَّا تَوَفَّیۡتَنِیۡ کُنۡتَ اَنۡتَ الرَّقِیۡبَ عَلَیۡہِمۡ ؕ وَ اَنۡتَ عَلٰی کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ شَہِیۡدٌ

“And when Allah will say, ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, “Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?”’, he will answer, ‘Holy art Thou. I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art the Knower of hidden things. I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me – “Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them, but since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher over them; and Thou art Witness over all things.’” (Surah al-Maidah: Ch.5: V.117-118)

In these two verses of the Holy Quran, a dialogue between Allah the Almighty and Jesusas has been recorded. Allah enquires of Jesusas as to whether he was the one who taught his followers to take Jesusas and his mother as gods. Jesusas responds to this question posed by Allah the Almighty by stating, “I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them”.

In this brief statement, Jesusas takes full responsibility for his community while he was alive and a guardian over them. He assures Allah the Almighty that for as long as he was present among his people, he ensured that they followed the right path, and believed in only one God.

However, in the next part of his response, Jesusas states that he cannot be held responsible for his people’s misguidance after Allah caused him to die, because he was no longer among them to correct their false beliefs.

Jesusas explains his lack of knowledge in regard to what transpired following his demise and states, “[O Allah,] Since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher over them.”

In this scenario, the word “tawaffaytani” can mean nothing other than death. Moreover, this also naturally leads to the conclusion, that the physical descent of Jesusas in the latter days is also an ideology that the Holy Quran does not support, for if we were to accept that Jesusas physically ascended into the heavens 2,000 years ago, and shall physically descend in the Latter Days, then this response, as mentioned in the verse under discussion, would not hold true.

If Jesusas is to descend in the Latter Days, how then can he express his complete lack of knowledge as to the false ideologies of his followers before God Almighty on the Day of Judgement, when this question is asked of him? It is obvious that when Jesusas claims that Allah was a watcher over his people after his departing from the physical world, this means that he is unaware of the path of misguidance that his people began to follow in his absence.

If we are to suppose that Jesusas physically returns in the Latter Days, then most definitely, he shall be fully aware of his nation’s misguidance and in such a case, for Jesusas to answer Allah by saying that he has no idea as to what happened after him, is a lie, God forbid.

Therefore, if we analyse this verse logically and rationally, there are only two options.

The first option is that considering the context of this verse, we must interpret the word “tawaffaytani” to mean death. This is because if we accept that Jesusas has passed away and he shall not return to this physical world again, then – and only then – can Jesusas express his lack of knowledge before God with regard to the polytheistic ideologies of his people on the Day of Resurrection.

In the second case, if we accept the non-Ahmadi Muslim interpretation of this verse, which purports that Jesusas will return physically in the Latter Days to reform mankind, then Jesusas cannot express his lack of knowledge before God with regard to his nation’s polytheistic views, which deify Jesusas. The reason for this is because Jesusas will have seen and witnessed the dire state of his people during his second advent.

As such, in this case, the abovementioned verses would lose their meaning completely and the statement of Jesusas that he is not aware of what transpired after him would prove to be a lie.

The latter is not an option for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community because we believe that Jesusas is indeed a beloved and truthful prophet of God and it does not behove a prophet of God to lie before his Lord. If Jesusas was to return in the latter days, he would have spoken of his second coming and physical descent, as well as his preaching endeavours etc. He would explain to Allah the steps he took towards reforming his nation and the efforts he exerted in bringing them back to the concept of unity.

Verdict of the Holy Prophetsa

Our opponents assert that the meaning of the word “tawaffi” in this verse does not mean death; rather, it means “the taking of something in its physical entirety”, and thus, alludes to the bodily ascension of Jesusas into the heavens. We have already proven by means of logic and rationality that the context of these verses clearly proves that the word “tawaffaytani” can mean nothing other than death.

If we are to accept that this word alludes to the bodily ascension of Jesusas and that he shall descend in the Latter Days, the verse would fail to make sense. If, however, the word “tawaffaytani” as used in this verse is taken to mean death, the subject matter of the verse makes perfect sense.

We shall discuss the meaning of this word from a linguistic perspective later on. However, at this instance it seems most appropriate to present a very authentic hadith of the Holy Prophetsa, which sheds light on the true meaning of the word “tawaffi” in this verse as understood by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa himself.

There is no doubt that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, upon whom the Holy Quran was revealed, possessed the greatest and most profound knowledge of the Holy Quran. If it is proven that the Holy Prophetsa also understood the word “tawaffaytani” to mean “death” in this verse, then the matter becomes clear. There is no need for any further verdict.

The Holy Prophetsa said:

“Verily! Some men from my followers will be brought and then [the angels] will drive them to the left side [hellfire]. I will say, ‘O my Lord! (They are) my Companions!’ A reply will come, ‘You do not know what they did after you.’ Then I will say as the pious slave [Jesusas] said: ‘… And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them, but since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher over them’. (Surah al-Ma’idah: Ch.5.: V.118) “Then it will be said, ‘These people continued as apostates since you left them.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tafsir)

The Holy Prophetsa was the most eloquent of the Arabs and his knowledge of Arabic was second to none. If the Holy Prophetsa understood this word to mean “physical ascension” or the “taking of something in its physical entirety,” he would not have used this word for himself in the context of death, whilst referring to a scenario of the day of resurrection in the abovementioned hadith.

Linguistic analysis of the word “tawaffi

In the verse presented above, there is no doubt that the word “tawaffi” has been used to mean “death”. The word “tawaffi” is the infinitive form of the verb “tawaffa”. When this verb appears in the form known as Bab Tafa‘ul, the subject is Allah or the angels, the object upon which the verb is applied possesses a soul and there is no specific mention of night or sleep, the meaning always infers death.

Hence, in accordance with this principal the word “tawaffi” has been used numerous times throughout the Holy Quran to infer death. (Surah al-Baqarah Ch2: V.235; Surah Al-e-Imran Ch.3: V.194; Surah al-Nisa Ch.4: V.16; Surah al-Nisa Ch.4: V.98; Surah al-An‘am Ch.6: V.62; Surah al-A‘raf Ch.7: V.38; Surah al-A‘raf Ch.7: V.127; Surah al-Ra‘d, Ch.13: V.41; Surah Yunus Ch.10: V.47; Surah Yusuf Ch.12: V.102; Surah al-Nahl Ch.16: V.33 & 71; Surah al-Hajj Ch.22: V.6; Surah al-Sajdah Ch.32: V.12; Surah al-Zumar Ch:39: V.43; Surah al-Mu‘min Ch.40: V.68 & 78; Surah Muhammad Ch.47: V.28; Surah al-An‘am Ch.6: V. 61; Surah al-Anfal Ch.8: V.51; Surah Yunus Ch.10: V.105)

Even if one puts the Holy Quran and the ahadith to one side and merely studies the word “tawaffi” in its common understanding, the word infers a meaning of death. For example, in Arabic and in the Urdu language as well, the word “mutawaffa” refers to a “deceased person”.

Similarly, in the funeral prayer we are taught by the Holy Prophetsa to recite the following words:

وَمَنْ تَوَفَّیْتَہُ مِنَّا فَتَوَفَّہُ عَلَی الْاِیْمَان

“And whoever You cause to die from among us, grant them death upon belief.”

In Qamus, it is written:

الوَفَاۃُ الموت وتَوَفَّاہُ اللہ قبض روحہ

“‘Al-wafatu’ means ‘death’ and ‘tawaffahullahu’ means ‘to subdue the soul, i.e. death’”.

In Taj-ul-Urus, it is written:

عزّوجلّ اذا قبض نفس تَوَفّاہُ اللہ

“‘Tawaffahullahu azzawajall’ means ‘when Allah subdues the soul, i.e. causes death.’”

Explanation of the word “tawaffi” by Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra

Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra has also understood the word “tawaffi” to mean death. It is for this reason that in Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tafsir, under the verse “Falamma tawaffaitani…”, Hazrat Imam Bukharirh has quoted the following statement of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra with relation to this verse:

قال ابن عبّاس متوفّیک ممیتک

“Ibn-e-Abbasra states, ‘“Mutawaffika” means we caused you to die.’”

Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra was a great commentator of the Holy Quran. He was from amongst the greatest of Companions and was granted special knowledge and insight into the hidden secrets of the Holy Quran by Allah the Almighty. The reason for his breadth of knowledge and deep insight into the Holy Quran was due to a prayer of the Holy Prophetsa for Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra.

Therefore, his statement cannot be ignored or casually overlooked to hold little or no value. This statement of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra is a great proof of the fact that the word “mutawaffika” means “death”.

Our opponents often try to disprove this argument by stating that Ahmadis misrepresent Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra by quoting a single reference and leave out all the other references where Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra has clearly spoken of the physical ascension and descent of Jesusas. These other narrations contain the words “ilassama” (i.e. from the heaven), “bi jasadihi” (with his physical body) etc.

However, this is a very weak rebuttal. Non-Ahmadi Muslims forget one very crucial point when they present these alternate references. They believe these references to be an irrefutable proof of the physical ascension of Jesus, but unfortunately (for them of course) this is not the case.

The narration of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra, which is presented by Ahmadi Muslims is quoted in Sahih al-Bukhari, which is:

اصح الکتب بعد کتاب اللہ

“The most authentic of all books after the Book of Allah.”

However, the other quotations of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra, which apparently show him to have believed in the physical ascension and descent of Jesusas, are not quoted in Sahih al-Bukhari or any other of the six authentic books of hadith (Sihah Sittah) for that matter. These references are taken from various tafasir or commentaries of the Holy Quran and anyone who possesses even elementary knowledge of the science of hadith knows full well that narrations of sirat and tafsir are not as authentic as narrations of the Sihah Sittah.

Moreover, those narrations which are attributed to Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra in books such as Tafsir Ibn-e-Abbas are also not an authentic source by which to deduce the true belief of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra, because the scholars are at an agreement that these are fabricated narrations. Imam Shaukani states:

تفسیر ابن عباس فانہ مروی و من جملة التفاسیر التی لا یؤثق بھا من طریق الكذابین

“Among the various commentaries that are unauthentic, one such commentary is that of Ibn-e-Abbas, because it is related by a chain of narrators who are liars.” (Al-Fawa‘id-ul-Majmu‘ati fil-ahadith-il-Maudu‘ah)

Therefore, the reference of Ibn-e-Abbasra, which is presented by Ahmadis, is a true representation of the belief of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra. However, the references that are presented by non-Ahmadis are not authentic and therefore cannot be deemed a true representation of the belief of Hazrat Ibn-e-Abbasra.

Challenge of the Promised Messiahas regarding “tawaffi

It seems very appropriate to conclude this linguistic analysis of the word “tawaffi” with an open challenge of the Promised Messiahas. He declared:

“If anyone can cite a single instance from the Holy Quran or Hadith, or from ancient or modern Arabic poetry and prose, that the word ‘tawaffi’, when applied to a human being – God being the subject – has been used in any connotation other than death and taking possession of the soul, for instance, in the connotation of the taking the body, then I bind myself on oath that I shall pay that person 1,000 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, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3, p. 603)

To this day, no Muslim scholar of any calibre has stepped forward to this challenge.

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