Before coming to the subject under discussion there is an important principle which needs to be discussed.
HOW DOES THE QUR’AN EXPLAIN ITS SUBJECTS ?
The Qur'an is not like an ordinary book whose chapters are bifurcated according to subject at one place, rather the Quran has its topics scattered within its Sura's (Chapters) at many places. So if one needs to understand a topic then he has to look into all the locations within the Qur'an where that subject occurs and compile all the verses related to it. If we do this excersize, then we observe that all the verses about one particular subject explain and clarify each other. And once we organize those verses according to subject, we see what it really is that the Qur'an is saying about that topic. This manner of Qur'anic study is not my own invention but already presented in the Qur'an. The following verses identify this aspect:
“And thus do We REPEAT the Ayat <nussariful ayat> and that they may say: You have read; and that We may make it clear to a people who know.” (6:105)
“And certainly We have REPEATED <sarrafna> for men in this Quran every kind of similitude, but most men do not consent to aught but denying.” (17:89)
It is by repeating the Ayat at different places within the Quran that Allah discusses different subjects, and by gathering and analyzing those Ayat, we get the explanation <Tafseel> of the Book of Allah, as said in the following verse:
“And this Quran is not such as could be forged by those besides Allah, but it is a verification of that which is before it and a clear explanation of the book, <tafseel al kitab> there is no doubt in it, from the Lord of the worlds.” (10:37)
The above verse informs us that the Quran is itself <Tafseel al Kitab>, i.e. “A detailed explanation of the Book”. Whatever may be the subject under discussion, the Quran elucidates it by it self. What is not clear in one verse is clarified through some other passage of the Qur'an itself. So it is by this method that research should be conducted on the Qur'an, and it is by this method that this topic will be presented to you.
BODILY ASCENSION OF JESUS - THE ORIGIN OF THIS BELIEF
It is popular among many that Jesus was not crucified but ‘taken up into heaven alive’ and will be coming back (in his own person) before the Day of Judgement. Almost all over the World, many people have this belief as an article of faith. Where does this belief originate from? In very clear terms it is to be found in the Bible. Here are some references:
ASCENSION OF JESUS:
“So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was RECEIVED UP INTO HEAVEN,AND SAT ON THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” - MARK 16:19
“And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, AND CARRIED UPINTO HEAVEN.” - LUKE 24:51
The above verses from the Christian Bible leave no ambiguity in demonstrating that the Acsension of Jesus is Christian idea. Further more the Jews also have the concept of 'bodily acsension into heaven regarding "Elijah", as stated in the Jewish scriptures:
“And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; AND ELIJAH WENT UP BY A WHIRLWIND INTO HEAVEN.” - KINGS 2:11
“And Enoch walked with God; and he was not; FOR GOD TOOK HIM.” - GENESIS 5:24
Apart from these many other faiths also have the concept of a coming ‘Saviour’ and Ascensions in body. As we have seen that this faith is that of the Jews and the Christians, now let us proceed to see as to what does Al-Qur'an say about this matter. It should be kept in mind that to be a Muslim one has to believe in and agree with what the Qur'an is saying. Even the slightest disagreement with the Qur'an invalidates the claim to be a Muslim. (See 41:26)
DEPARTURE OF JESUS FROM THIS WORLD- A QURANIC PERSPECTIVE
When Jesus (p) propagated the message of Allah, and invited people to obey the laws of Allah alone, the Religious leaders and Priests felt threatened, as in a Social order where subservience and obedience is only for Allah's Laws, there is no room left for the Clergy and they in turn showed severe opposition to the mission of Jesus:
“But when Isa perceived UNBELIEF <kufr> on their part, he said Who will be my helpers in Allah's way? The disciples said: We are helpers (in the way) of Allah: We believe in Allah and bear witness that we are submitting ones <muslims>.” (3:52)
Now the unbelievers in Jesus' message plotted to stop the message of Allah from gaining ground, so they plotted against the person of Jesus.
“And (the unbelievers) plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah.” (3:54)
But Jesus himself stated that the unbelievers would not be able to kill him but instead his death would be in peace:
“And PEACE IS ON ME on the day I was born, and on the DAY THAT I DIE, and on the day I shall be raised up to life (again).” (19:33)
Allah himself assured Jesus that the unbelievers will not kill him, instead it is Allah who will complete his period of life and cause him to die, as said in the following verse:
“Lo ! God said: `O Jesus! Verily I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto me, and cleanse thee of those who are bent on denying the truth;and I shall place those who follow thee 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.” (3:55) Muhammed Asad's translation.
The expression in arabic <MUTE VA FEEKA> comes from the root word <VAFFA> which carries the meaning of ‘Completing something or some task to such an extent that nothing else is left out’. In the same manner <Vafaat> means ‘Death’, as in Death the life term of a person is fully completed. Following are some references from Standard Arabic dictionaries which tell us about the meaning of the word <VAFFAT>.
‘VAFFAT’ = “Death”, “Decease” (An advanced Learners Arabic-English Dictionary by H. Anthony Salmone pp1222)
‘VAFFAT’ = “Death”, “Demise”, “Decease” (Al Mawrid Arabic-English Dictionary pp 1240)
‘TUVAFA’ = “To take the life of anyone” (A Dictionary & Glossary of the Koran by J. Penrice pp 161)
‘TUUFFA’ = “To die”, “Expire”, “Pass away”, “Give up the ghost”, “Breath ones last”, “Part ones life” (Al Mawrid Arabic-English Dictionary pp 391)
In English to Arabic dictionaries ie reverse the meaning of ‘vaffat’ is again confirmed;
“DEATH” = ‘vaffat’ (Al Manar English-Arabic Dictionary pp 157)
“DEATH” = ‘vaffat’ (Al Asri English-Arabic Dictionary pp 193)
“DEMISE” = ‘vaffat’ (Al Mawrid English-Arabic Dictionary pp 259)
“DEATH” = ‘vaffat’ (Al Mawrid Eng Arabic Dictionary pp 251)
And much more.
However apart from General Arabic works of Reference, this word has also been used in the sense which conveys the meaning of death or demise or completion of one's life term in the Qur'an it self. Where ever the word “TUVAFA” or “MUTE VA FEEKA” is used in Al-Quran where Allah or His Angle is one who is doing TAVAFA and human beings are one whose TAVAFA is being done it always means the “seperation of soul from the body. although, it may be partial and temporary (i.e. at the time of sleep) or it may be complete and permanent (i.e. at the time of death)” as Allah says:
It is Allah that takes the souls <yatavafa> (of men) at death: and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death He keeps back (from returning to life) but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed. Verily in this are Signs for those who reflect. Sura Az-Zumar verse 42. (Translation by A. Yousaf Ali).
Here Allah clearly says that there are only two ways in which He does the “Tuvafa” of human being but regret for those who attributes a third type of “Tavafa” (i.e. bodily ascension) to Allah (In the case of Jesus / Essa only) without fear of Allah.
The following verses are very clear in ascertaining the meaning of “Vaffa”, “Tuvafa”, “Mutavafa” etc in the Qur'an itself.
Verses of Holy Quran where Allah (or His angle) does “Tuvafa” and human being is one whose “Tuvafa” is done means seperation of soul from body (i.e. death):
“Our Lord! surely we have heard a preacher calling to the faith, saying: Believe in your Lord, so we did believe; Our Lord! forgive us therefore our faults, and cover our evil deeds and MAKE US DIE <tuwaffana> with the righteous.” (3:193)
“And you do not take revenge on us except because we have believed in the communications of our Lord when they came to us! Our Lord: Pour out upon us patience and CAUSE US TO DIE <tuwaffana> in submission.” (7:126)
“My Lord! Thou hast given me of the kingdom and taught me of the interpretation of sayings: Originator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art my guardian in this world and the hereafter; MAKE ME DIE A MUSLIM <tuwaffani muslim an> and join me with the good.” (12:101)
“But how will it be when the angels CAUSE THEM TO DIE <tawafat'hum> smiting their backs.” (47:27)
“And Allah has created you, then He CAUSES YOU TO DIE <yatawaffa'kum>, and of you is he who is brought back to the worst part of life, so that after having knowledge he does not know anything; surely Allah is Knowing, Powerful.” (16:70)
“O people! if you are in doubt about the raising, then surely We created you from dust, then from a small seed, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh, complete in make and incomplete, that We may make clear to you; and We cause what We please to stay in the wombs till an appointed time, then We bring you forth as babies, then that you may attain your maturity; and of you is he who is CAUSED TO DIE <yutawaffa>, and of you is he who is brought back to the worst part of life..” (22:5)
“Say: The angel of death who is given charge of you shall CAUSE YOU TO DIE <yatawafaakum>, then to your Lord you shall be brought back.” (32:11)
The above verses are very distinct and clear in informing us the meaning of ‘Yutavafa’. Now let us again see the verse which discusses about Allah's ‘Vaffat’ to Jesus (p).
Lo ! God said: `O Jesus! Verily I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto me, and cleanse thee of those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee 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 alon which you were wont to differ. (3:55) Muhammed Asad's translation.
In above Allah clearly informs that He will complete Jesus' life on earth, and this is confirmed again, namely that Jesus had to die a natural death, when we are reminded through Jesus himself stating on the Last Day:
“I did not say to them aught save what Thou didst enjoin me with: That serve Allah, my Lord and your Lord, and I was a witness of them so long as I was among them, but when Thou didst CAUSE ME TO DIE <tavafaytani>, Thou wert the watcher over them, and Thou art witness of all things” (5:117 M. H. Shakir)
In above verse Jesus' statement that :
“..when Thou didst cause me to die.. <fallamatavafaaytani>”
Is confirming what Allah had earlier said to him in 3:55:
“..Verily I shall cause thee to die... <inni mutavafeeka>”
In other words Jesus was neither crucified nor taken up into heaven but Allah caused him to die a natural death, i.e. fully completed his life span. Then in the above mentioned verse Jesus is saying:
“..and I was a witness of them AS LONG AS I WAS AMONG THEM.. <wa kuntu alayhim shahidun maa dumtu feehim> ..”
And further he says;
“...but when Thou didst cause me to die, Thou wert the watcher over them.. <falama tavafaytani kunta antar raqiba alayhim>.”
Here Jesus clearly mentions two periods, one in which he dwelt among his people, and the other in which Allah caused him to die. There is no other period mentioned here which informs of a stage of being taken up and stationed in heaven temporarily. Furthermore in 19:31 he says:
“And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be and hath enjoined on me Prayer (Salat) and Charity (Zakat)as long as I live.” (19:31)
In above verse the words “.. as long as I live..” bear some importance. Jesus is to establish Salat and give Zakat AS LONG AS HE LIVES. Now if we accept that Jesus is taken up into heaven alive, then how is he performing these activities up there? He mentions that Allah has enjoined Salat and Zakat on him AS LONG AS HE LIVES <maa dumtu hay'yaa>. Now some one can say that in heaven he may be performing Salat. But what about Zakat? Are there any Orphans and Unfortunate persons in heaven as well to whom Jesus is paying Zakat? Does God have any poor people in heaven too? Giving Zakat in heaven would say that in heaven there are poor people! Does this make any sense?!
The above verse is very clear in informing that as long as Jesus lived on this earth, he performed these activities, i.e. Salat and Zakat, and Allah caused him to die a natural death. Now we come to the other issue which creates confusion for people, that is, Jesus being raised unto God.
ALLAH RAISED JESUS TO HIMSELF - WHAT DOES THAT MEAN ?
The opponents of Jesus (p) wanted to depict that Jesus was false in his position as a Messenger of God, and wanted to have him crucified. Crucifixion would mean that Jesus was a (Allah forbid us) cursed person and his death was a cursed death. As crucifixion is mentioned in Jewish law (Old testament) as a punishment for blasphemy, and the crucified person is considered cursed and degraded in God's law (According to the Jews). Their Book says:
“His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for inheritence.” - DEUTERONOMY 21:23
In the New Testament it is also said that Jesus (p) died an accursed death (Astaghfirullah) :
“Christ hath redeemed us, from the CURSE of the law, being made a CURSE for us: for it is written, CURSED IS EVERYONE THAT HANGETH ON A TREE.” - GALATIANS 3:13
It is evident from above that the unbelievers want to show the world that Jesus being hanged on the cross died a cursed death, and this boast of theirs is also mentioned in the Qur'an;
“That they said (in boast) We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle of God..” (4:157)
But Allah confirmed in the Qur'an that Jesus did not live a cursed life nor died a cursed death but on the contrary he enjoys an exalted and honourable status from Allah. This is what is said in 3:55, that: <Yaa essa inni mutavafeeka wa ra'afiuka illaya> “..O Jesus! Verily I shall cause thee to die, and shall EXALT thee <rafi'uka ilaya> unto me..”
The word in above Ayah is <rafi uka> which means elevate you or exalt you. The word <raf'aa> literally means ‘to raise or elevate’, but in the Qur'an it has been used in many verses to convey the meaning of ‘Raising one's ranks or status in the sight of Allah’, and not physical raising up. Some verses are produced here to show that the meaning of <Raf'aa> is to raise in ranks and exalt someone:
“It is He Who hath made you (His) agents inheritors of the earth: He hath RAISED <raf'aa> you in ranks some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He hath given you: for thy Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving Most Merciful.” (6:165)
“And RAISED <raf'ana> high the esteem (in which) thou (art held)?” (94:4)
Above verse mentioned of raising with degrees or <zikr>. But in following verses only raising alone is used to convey the meaning of elevation of ranks and exaltation.
Also mention in the Book the case of Idris:
“He was a man of truth (and sincerity) (and) a prophet:” 19:57
“And We RAISED HIM <raf'a na hu> to a lofty station.” (19:56)
In above Nabi Idris (p) is being ‘raised’ to a <makan an alaiya> i.e. a lofty station. This is not that Allah placed him up on a high mountain or sky scraper, but that his rank and status near Allah is exalted and he is elevated in that aspect. Finally the following verse clearly demonstrates that for ‘raising’ ones rank or status the word <raf aa> alone is used.
“And if We had pleased, We would certainly have EXALTED him <le rafa'nahu> thereby; but he clung to the earth and followed his low desire, so his parable is as the parable of the dog; if you attack him he lolls out his tongue; and if you leave him alone he lolls out his tongue; this is the parable of the people who reject Our communications; therefore relate the narrative that they may reflect.” (7:176)
It is this exaltation which is mentioned in 7:176 that Allah is mentioning about Jesus in 3:55 and 4:158. The opponents of Jesus want to convey to the World that as Jesus is crucified he has died a cursed death, but Allah refutes this allegation and confirms that he was neither killed nor crucified:
“That they said (in boast) We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle of God ;- but they killed him not nor crucified him but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts with no (certain) know ledge but only conjecture to follow for of a surety they killed him not.” (4:157)
And Allah further negates their insinuation that Jesus had a cursed personality, when Allah himself confirms that his status and rank is not that of a cursed person but of an Exalted and elevated status:
“Nay God raised him to Himself; and God is Exalted in Power Wise.” (4:158)
The exalted position of Jesus was also confirmed earlier when he was described as;
“Behold! the angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.’” (3:45)
Now see the verse again which talks about Jesus' exaltation and see the clear meaning.
“Lo! God said:`O Jesus! Verily I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto me..” (3:55)
This exaltation of Jesus or raising of his status by Allah is also made clear in another verse where Allah himself affirms:
“Those apostles We endowed with gifts some above others: To one of them God spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit..” (2:253)
Now if we were to accept the understanding that Jesus was physically raised ‘to Allah’ then this would mean that Allah is sitting someplace in heaven and one needs to travel up to him. Such an idea about God is un Quranic and is an invention of Jewish and Christian theology, where they have a concept of ‘Holy father in heaven’. But the Qur'an on the other hands informs us clearly that Allah (God) is not sitting someplace high up in heaven but:
“..He is with you wherever you are..” (57:4)
“..Nowhere is there a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth of them, nor (between) five but He is the sixth of them, nor less than that nor more BUT HE IS WITH THEM WHERESOEVER THEY ARE..” (58:7)
“..We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.” (50:16)
“And We are nearer to it( the human soul) than you, BUT YOU DO NOT SEE.” (56:85)
The above verses clearly negate the concept of a ‘Father (or God situated) in Heaven’ or God confined to a space, so that to reach him you need to travel up into heaven. This concept that God is confined in heaven is a Jewish and Christian idea, clearly mentioned at many places in the Bible. But the Qu'ran does not uphold this view and on the contrary clearly negates it. God is not restricted to time and space but His presence is everywhere, all the time but we cannot see or comprehend it. So again the idea of God stationed someplace in heaven and Jesus ascending unto Him is not verified by the Qur'an.
Now many people also give the argument that when Allah talks about Jesus being raised to Him, then it says:
“..Verily I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee UNTO ME..” (3:55)
In this verse the words <wa ra fi'uka illaya> they claim, denotes that, since Allah says he will raise Jesus TO HIMSELF or ‘Unto me’ ( <illaya> in Arabic) then this suggests that Jesus was taken to heaven as it says he was raised ‘towards’ Allah, and already they are under the influence of the idea that God is stationed some place in heaven, a concept which the Qur'an most certainly negates.
But again if we analyse this through many other places in the Quran we clearly see that when Allah says about calling or bringing something closer to himself, doesnt mean physically bringing that object near Him. The arabic preposition <illaya> used in 3:55 and the word <ilayhi> used in 4:158 convey the meaning of Allah raising Jesus towards Him. Now Let us analyse from other Ayat what does <illaya> and <illayhi> i.e. getting near or going to Allah mean?
Following verses describe this namely <illaya> or <illayhi> has not been used for Jesus (p) alone but also for other objects:
“Have you not considered (the work of) your Lord, how He extends the shade? And if He had pleased He would certainly have made it stationary; then We have made the sun an indication of it. Then We take it to Ourselves, <summa qabadnaahu 'illayna> taking little by little.” (25:45-46)
Above verse informs that Allah takes the Sun to His self <summa qabadnahu 'illayna> Does this mean that the Sun goes to visit Allah on the seventh heaven or someplace like that?
Again this going or calling to Allah has been mentioned not in a physical aspect but a metaphorical one. Nabi Lut (p) informs:
“And Lut believed in Him, and he said: I am fleeing to my Lord, <inni muhaajirun 'illaa rabii> surely He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (29:26)
Lut's hijrat (migration) to Allah was not to the seventh heaven, but to such an environment where he can obey and implement the commands of Allah. This is again confirmed through Ibrahim (p):
“He said: 'I will go to my Lord! <inni zahibun illaa rabii> He will surely guide me!” (37:99)
In the above verse Ibrahim did not go to the heavens to meet His Sustainer, but abandoned the environment of Shirk and went to such an environemt where he could establish the 'Deen' of Allah. This is metaphorically described in above verse as <zahibun illaa rabi> or going to my Sustainer. And not physically going up into heaven or someplace like that. The above verses very clearly describe what is meant by <illaya> or <illayhi>. Now keep the above usage of the verses and one more time look at the verses where Allah talks about His raising Jesus to himself.
“Nay God raised him to Himself, <bar rafa-'a-hullahu 'illahyi> and God is Exalted in Power Wise.” (4:158)
In above Allah nullifies the claim of opponents of Jesus that he was cursed being crucified on the cross, but confirms that his status is honoured and exalted. This is what is meant by <bar rafa-'a-hullahu 'illayhi> and what was previously confirmed by Allah in 3:55: <inni mutavafeeka wa rafi uka illaya>
The Qur'an negates the crucifixion of Jesus, and informs that he did not have a cursed life or death. The punishment of crucifixion occurs in the Qur'an as well for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger. (See 5:33)
To sum it up again, Allah is not confined to a place or station up in the heavens. We have seen verses negating this idea. Allah caused Jesus to die a natural death. The word <vaffat> has been seen at many places in the Quran to mean death, and this has also been confirmed by dictionaries. Then <rafa-a> and <illaya> have been confirmed through other verses where these words occur and we have seen what meaning they convey through the Quran itself.