The true meaning of rafa‘a: Proof that Jesus has passed away


Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam

“Let Jesusas die for therein lies the glory of Islam.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 10, p. 458)

The Holy Quran, on numerous occasions, has very clearly stated that Jesusas has indeed passed away. It is both astonishing and depressing that “scholars” of the Muslim Ummah have labelled Ahmadis as non-Muslims for believing in the Messiah of the age. They are waiting to board an ark, yet laugh and mock those who have already boarded. 

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The majority of the Muslim Ummah believes that the Holy Prophetsa was the last prophet; yet, in the same breath, they await Prophet Jesusas to physically descend from Heaven.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas writes in his book, Noah’s Ark:

“If Jesus was still alive, then death would be a dishonour to our Messenger. For as long as you do not believe in the death of Jesus, you will stand in defiance of both the Quran and Sunnah.” (Noah’s Ark, p. 29)

Muslims who believe in the physical ascension of Prophet Jesusas present the following verse of the Holy Quran:

اِذۡ قَالَ اللهُ 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, Ch.3: V.56)

Here, in believing that رَافِعُكَ‭ ‬اِلَيَّ means “physical ascension”, some Muslims assert that God Almighty raised Jesusas physically to Himself. This notion has led to much confusion and error within the Muslim Ummah.  

Upon reading, pondering and studying the Holy Quran, it becomes emphatically clear and evident that nowhere in the Holy Quran has the word rafa‘a (to exalt) been used to mean or imply a physical ascension into the Heavens. In fact, whenever Allah is the subject of this verb and the object is a human being and provided that the context is not of sleep, it always, without fail, means spiritual elevation in rank and status.  

In Surah al-A‘raf, Allah states:

وَ‭ ‬لَوۡ‭ ‬شِئۡنَا‭ ‬لَرَفَعۡنٰهُ‭ ‬بِهَا‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬لٰكِنَّهٗۤ‭ ‬اَخۡلَدَ‭ ‬اِلَى ‬الۡاَرۡضِ‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬اتَّبَعَ‭ ‬هَوٰهُ

“And if We had pleased, We could have exalted him thereby; but he inclined to the earth and followed his evil inclination.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.177) 

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Photo courtesy of Suhaib Ahmad

Here, the verse has been applied and referred to Bal‘am bin Baur who, according to many scholars, was an Israelite who lived at the time of Prophet Mosesas and was reported to be a righteous man but eventually came under the influence of pride.

By applying the logic of the “scholars” today who say that rafa‘a means to physically ascend, are we to believe that God wished to physically raise Bal‘am bin Baur, but he, out of his own will, pulled himself down towards the earth as if a fierce match of tug of war was taking place between Allah and Bal‘am bin Baur? Can we attribute such a thing to the Holy Quran? 

Furthermore, in Surah Maryam, God states:

وَ اذۡکُرۡ فِی الۡکِتٰبِ اِدۡرِیۡسَ اِنَّہٗ کَانَ صِدِّیۡقًا نَّبِیًّا۔ وَّرَفَعۡنٰہُ مَکَانًا عَلِیًّا

“And relate the story of Idris as mentioned in the Book. He was a truthful man and a Prophet. And We exalted him to a lofty station.” (Surah Maryam, Ch.19: V.57-58)

Again, alluding to Prophet Idrisas, God has used the word رَفَعۡنٰهُ. With a simple glance at this verse, is it logical to say that Allah the Almighty physically raised Prophet Idrisas

Moreover, in Surah al-Waqiah, the Holy Quran has described the Day of Judgment by saying that it shall debase some and exalt others. (Surah al-Waqiah, Ch.56: V.4)

اِذَا وَقَعَتِ الۡوَاقِعَۃُ۔ لَیۡسَ لِوَقۡعَتِہَا کَاذِبَۃٌ۔ خَافِضَۃٌ رَّافِعَۃٌ

“When the Event comes to pass – None can say that its coming to pass is a lie – Some it will bring low, others it will exalt.” (Surah al-Waqiah, Ch56: V.2-4)

This further strengthens the understating of the word rafa‘a to mean raise and exalt in status and rank, for it would be foolish for anyone to say that on the Day of Judgment, when mankind will be presented before Allah, God will begin to physically raise people. The Holy Quran clearly states that it is our soul and not our physical body that will appear before our Lord.

یٰۤاَیَّتُہَا النَّفۡسُ الۡمُطۡمَئِنَّۃُ۔ ارۡجِعِیۡۤ اِلٰی رَبِّکِ رَاضِیَۃً مَّرۡضِیَّۃً 

“And thou, O soul at peace! Return to thy Lord well pleased with Him and He well pleased with thee.” (Surah al-Fajr, Ch.89: V.28-29)

Another example found in the Holy Quran is in Surah al-Nur:

فِیۡ بُیُوۡتٍ اَذِنَ اللهُ اَنۡ تُرۡفَعَ وَ یُذۡکَرَ فِیۡہَا اسۡمُہٗ ۙ یُسَبِّحُ لَہٗ فِیۡہَا بِالۡغُدُوِّ وَ الۡاٰصَالِ

“This light is now lit in houses with regard to which Allah has ordained that they be exalted and that His name be remembered in them.” (Surah al-Nur, Ch.24: V.37)

Again, without a shadow of a doubt, this also provides the connotation of spiritual elevation, as opposed to physical ascension. 

In Surah Fatir, God states:

وَ‭ ‬الۡعَمَلُ‭ ‬الصَّالِحُ‭ ‬يَرۡفَعُهٗ

“… the righteous work of a man exalts him” (Surah Fatir, Ch.35: V.11)

Reflecting on this verse, if we take the meaning of rafa‘a, as many Muslim “scholars” believe, to mean to physically raise, are we to then say that there was or is not a single person in the entire Muslim Ummah who did not commit any righteous deed or work? This verse, if understood in the context of the “scholars”, would denote that a righteous deed results in a person’s physical ascension. However, we see that this is in fact not the reality. 

Thus, we are left with the only logical and sensible notion that rafa‘a cannot mean physical ascension; rather, when the object of the verb is a human being and Allah the subject, it means spiritual ascension and exaltation in one’s rank and status (unless the context is that of sleep).

Now, let us observe how the word rafa‘a has been used by the Holy Prophetsa and the Companionsra.

Whilst mentioning the virtue of the one who acts in accordance with the Holy Quran and teaches it and the virtue of the one who learns wisdom from fiqh or other types of knowledge then acts upon it and teaches it, Sahih Muslim has recorded the following hadith:

إِنَّ‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬يَرْفَعُ‭ ‬بِهَذَا‭ ‬الْكِتَابِ‭ ‬أَقْوَامًا‭ ‬وَيَضَعُ‭ ‬بِهِ‭ ‬آخَرِينَ‭ ‬‏

“By this book [i.e. the Holy Quran], Allah would exalt some peoples and degrade others.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Salat al-Musafirin wa Qasriha, Hadith 817)

With a quick glance and a simple study of this hadith, we see that even the Holy Prophetsa himself has used the word rafa‘a to mean exalt and raise in status. 

Even if one is to continue to believe and persist that rafa‘a means to physically raise, then does that mean, God forbid, the Holy Prophetsa was wrong to say these words, as we know that not a single person was physically raised; rather, we can say for certain, as history affirms, that indeed, through the Holy Quran, Allah did exalt those who held fast to the teachings of the Holy Quran.

With regard to the verse of Surah al-Rahman:

كُلَّ‭ ‬يَوۡمٍ‭ ‬هُوَ‭ ‬فِىْ ‬شَاۡنٍ

“Every day He reveals Himself in a different state” (Surah al-Rahman, Ch.55: V.30), it is recorded in Sunan Ibn Majah that the Holy Prophetas, whilst explaining and providing the commentary of the verse, said:

مِنْ‭ ‬شَأْنِهِ‭ ‬أَنْ‭ ‬يَغْفِرَ‭ ‬ذَنْبًا‭ ‬وَيُفَرِّجَ‭ ‬كَرْبًا‭ ‬وَيَرْفَعَ‭ ‬قَوْمًا‭ ‬وَيَخْفِضَ‭ ‬آخَرِينَ

“His affairs include forgiving sins, relieving distress, raising some people and bringing others low.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Muqadmah, Hadith 202)

Upon reading this hadith, would it be logical for anyone to say that the raising of a physical human body is being referred to here?

Further, it is recorded in Sahih Muslim in the Book of Virtue, Enjoining Good Manners and Joining Ties of Kinship, that the Holy Prophetsa said:

مَا‭ ‬نَقَصَتْ‭ ‬صَدَقَةٌ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬مَالٍ‭ ‬وَمَا‭ ‬زَادَ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عَبْدًا‭ ‬بِعَفْوٍ‭ ‬إِلَّا‭ ‬عِزًّا‭ ‬وَمَا‭ ‬تَوَاضَعَ‭ ‬أَحَدٌ‭ ‬لِلهِ إِلَّا‭ ‬رَفَعَهُ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ

“Charity does not decrease wealth; no one forgives another except that Allah increases his honour and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah raises his status.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Bir wa al-Silah wa al-Adab, Hadith 2588) 

Once more, with a simple study of this hadith, we see that the word rafa‘a has been used. However, it still does not connote or imply the meaning of physical ascension.  

In Sunan Ibn Majah, Hazrat Ibn Abbasra narrates:

عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللہِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ بَيْنَ السَّجْدَتَيْنِ فِى صَلاَةِ اللَّيْلِ رَبِّ اغْفِرْلِى وَارْحَمْنِى وَاجْبُرْنِى وَارْزُقْنِى وَارْفَعْنِى

“When praying at night, the Messenger of Allah, between the two prostrations, used to say, ‘O Lord, forgive me, have mercy on me, improve my situation, grant me provision and raise me in status.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab Iqamah al-Salat wa al-Sunnah Fiha, Hadith 898)  

This hadith is narrated by Hazrat Ibn Abbasra who was well known for his knowledge of the Quran. Here, he has mentioned the prayer that the Holy Prophetsa taught us all to recite duringNamaz. Every day, devout practicing Muslims, who pray five times a day, recite this prayer between the two prostrations. However, despite this, not a single Muslim has ever been physically raised; not even the Holy Prophetsa.  

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A manuscript copy of Hadith by al-Bukhari, Mamluk era, 13th century, Egypt. Adilnor Collection, Sweden

Moreover, it is recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari that during the spiritual journey of Mi‘raj, it is recorded that Prophet Mosesas, after meeting with the Holy Prophetsa, began to weep and said:

رَبِّ‭ ‬لَمْ‭ ‬أَظُنَّ‭ ‬أَنْ‭ ‬يُرْفَعَ‭ ‬عَلَىَّ‭ ‬أَحَدٌ‏

“O Lord! I thought that none would be raised up above me.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tauheed, 7517)

Here, Hazrat Mosesas has himself used the word rafa‘a and has clearly used it in the sense of spiritual exaltation, for if we take it to mean physical ascension, are we to believe that Hazrat Mosesas was physically raised? 

Thus, ample evidence and references from the Holy Quran and hadith point to the fact that the word rafa‘a, when used by Allah and the object of the verb is a human being, implies spiritual elevation in rank and status. 

The Promised Messiahas states:

“Remember, the religion of the cross cannot die unless the Messiah is allowed to pass away. After all, what benefit is there in considering him alive in contradiction to the teaching of the Quran? Let him die so that this faith [Islam] may live again.” (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, Noah’s Ark, p. 28)

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