Christian and Islamic view of the man on the cross

The Qur’an is not a work of literary narrative, as is the Bible. As a scripture that provides guidance (huda) and a reminder (tadhkira) to humankind, it gives more emphasis to spiritual edifications than to providing a full account of facts. So, the Quran’s main concern with the Jesus story, too, is not to give a full account of the Jesus story, but rather to put it in the right theological perspective. That is probably why, although it contains detailed narratives about the birth and mission of Jesus, it tells us almost nothing about his passing. For it does not consider the passing of Jesus—just like that of Abraham, Moses, or Muhammad himself—as an event with major theological significance.

In contrast, the passing of Jesus—or, more precisely, his Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension—is crucial for Christianity. “If Christ has not been raised,” Paul famously wrote to the Corinthians, “then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) No wonder what ultimately became the very symbol of Christianity was the sign of the cross, which stands for the crucifixion—and not the sign of the fish, as it was among the earliest Christians.

In fact, the Qur’an does mention the cross, but only in passing, and only in an unaffirmative way. This mention, which led to disputes between Muslims and Christians for centuries, occurs in a Qur’anic passage that condemns a group of Jews that was apparently present in Medina. They are cursed, because “they disbelieved and uttered a terrible slander against Mary.” Furthermore:

And [they] said, “We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.” They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear like that to them. Those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition. They certainly did not kill him. God raised him up to  Himself. God is almighty and wise. Quran 4:157-158

The key statement here, “it was made to appear like that to them,” or shubbiha la-hum, has led to endless speculations. Most Muslim exegetes, both in the classic era and the modern age, inferred from this phrase a theory of “substitution.” Accordingly, Jesus was not crucified, but somebody was “substituted” in his place— perhaps one of his disciples, or Judas Iscariot who betrayed him, or Simon of Cyrene who helped him carry the cross.

Yet this “substitution” theory, which is still almost the standard view among Muslims today, raises lots of questions. Fakhraddin al-Razi, the medieval scholar, addressed some of them frankly in his major exegesis of the Qur’an. “God was no doubt capable of delivering Jesus from the hands of his enemies by simply taking him up to heaven,” he first reminded. “What then,” he asked, “is the purpose of casting his likeness on another man, except to condemn an innocent man to death to no purpose?” He also made the following observation, which is in fact a good reminder for all religious believers that their arguments against the rival tradition can turn back on themselves:

All Christians in the world, with all their great love for Jesus and their extremist beliefs concerning him, have reported that they witnessed him being crucified and killed. If we were to deny this, we would cast doubt on the principle of tawatur [universally accepted transmission]. Casting doubt on this principle would also necessitate casting doubt on the prophethood of Muhammad and Jesus, and even on their very existence, as well as the existence of all other prophets, and that would be untenable.

Other Muslim commentators took a second and less radically rejectionist interpretation of “appearance,” arguing that Jesus was indeed crucified but he did not die on the cross. He rather secretly survived his execution, they suggested, despite his “appearance” of death. Ahmadiyya Muslims, an unorthodox sect of Islam, take this line. They even believe that after surviving the cross, Jesus moved to Kashmir, an area in the northern Indian subcontinent, to live there and ultimately to die a natural death. Hence in the Kashmirian city of Srinagar, there is still a highly revered “tomb of Jesus.”

Yet there is a third and radically different interpretation of the Qur’an’s verdict on the cross—a road much less taken. It begins by noting the context of the statement “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him.” The context is a polemic against certain Jews— not Christians—who, apparently, both slandered Mary and also took pride in claiming “We killed the Messiah.” (No wonder in Talmudic literature there is a narrative which “proudly proclaims Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ execution.) To these people the Qur’an says, no, “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear like that to them.”

In other words, the Qur’an is only telling us that Jews did not crucify and kill Jesus. It does not say nobody did that. It does not say, for example, that Romans did not crucify and kill Jesus, which was, of course, what really happened according to the canonical gospels.

Some scholars think that this third interpretation of the Qur’an’s interpretation of the cross may be compatible with the Christian version of the story. One was the late William Montgomery Watt, one of the most eminent Western scholars of Islam. He argued that a Christian could in fact accept the Qur’an’s statement on the crucifixion, “since the crucifixion was the work of Roman soldiers… [and] since the crucifixion was not a victory for the Jews in view of [Jesus’] resurrection.”

However, while this third interpretation makes it possible to reconcile the Qur’an with the story of the cross related in the canonical gospels, it probably cannot be reconciled with the theology of the cross related in Paul’s letters. Accordingly, the crucifixion was a cosmic event in which Jesus suffered as an atonement for the sins of all humankind. This theology not only has no trace in the whole Qur’an, it also goes against some of its core doctrines—such as that sin is strictly personal, and “no burden-bearer can bear another’s burden.” (Qur’an 35:18 53:38) It also is theologically unnecessary, for the Qur’an does not share the theology of the Fall as well, which according to Christianity made every human being inherently sinful and thus in need of a savior.

Excerpted from the book The Islamic Jesus by Mustafa Akyol.



Categories: Christianity, Gospels, History, Islam, Qur'an

Tags: , , ,

46 replies

  1. «There’s no reference to Jesus’ death as a crucifixion in the Pre-Markan Jesus materials»
    Burton L. Mack ~ Who Wrote the New Testament?

    John Dominic Crossan mentioned in his book (who killed jesus) that the story of crucifixion is NOT
    a [ history remembered ]. Rather it’s a[ prophecy historicized ].

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I just finished reading Akyol’s book. It’s full of useful information on Christianity but he tends to lean towards modernist interpretations when it comes to Islam.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some scholars think that this third interpretation of the Qur’an’s interpretation of the cross may be compatible with the Christian version of the story. One was the late William Montgomery Watt, one of the most eminent Western scholars of Islam. He argued that a Christian could in fact accept the Qur’an’s statement on the crucifixion, “since the crucifixion was the work of Roman soldiers… [and] since the crucifixion was not a victory for the Jews in view of [Jesus’] resurrection.”

    An illogical statement – if the Qur’an had mean “only the Jews did not kill or crucify Jesus”, it would have said, “the Jews didn’t crucify or kill him, but the Romans did”
    and

    “it was made to appear so”
    and
    “God raised him to Himself”

    make no sense if the statement is only meant to say that the Jews did not crucify Jesus, but the Romans actually did.

    And even that (just the Jews did not do it) would not be compitable iwth the Christian version, since the Jewish leaders cried out “crucify Him” and paid Judas to betray him and

    Acts 2:22 ff says

    22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and [t]signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

    Liked by 2 people

    • For once, I agree with Kenny (I know, it’s quite awkward). This interpretation does not make sense.

      And who says the Quran has to be “compatible” with the Christian version? The Christian version is hopelessly contradictory and clearly reflects later traditions and myth-making (e.g. the dead coming to life in Matthew).

      Liked by 2 people

      • @ Ken and QB

        First off SUPER weird seeing you both agree. I disagree with this as well but I will try to emulate what the claim is in English:

        And (the Jews) bragging: “We killed Jesus the “Messenger” of God. But they did not kill him nor crucify him (it was others such as the Romans), it was only made to appear to them (that over time they were responsible.)Those who argue about this are full of doubts but they never killed them (i.e. the doubts). Rather God raised him up (in his memory and good deeds) and God is the Almighty and source of Wisdom.

        This has some issues imo and can be refuted but you can “technically” interpret the ayat like that but its a bit of a stretch and not a natural reading. I’m summing it up (as its based on grammar) but that’s the jist of what they’re arguing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @stewjo004
        What did you change Surah 4:157 with “Messenger” in quotes rather than reflect the Arabic, Al Masih المسیح (The Messiah)?

        This is also proof the Qur’an is wrong, because the Jews of those days that rejected Jesus as Messiah would never have said that.

        Another proof the Qur’an is not from God.

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      • @stewjo004
        I meant “why did you change Surah 4:157 . . . ?

        Like

      • Cool. except for the part about Matthew doing myth making. Oh well. At least we agree on something.

        Like

      • Claiming that the dead rose after the crucifixion is an example of myth-making. How come none of the other gospels made that same claim? And how come no one noticed that astonishing occurrence? That’s definitely a myth.

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    • I don’t think it’s a good interpretation. Allah(عز وجل) knows the best.

      Like

  4. To me the islamic version of the cross is more simple to explain.

    The writer of the Koran wishes to appropriate Jesus for the islamic cause.

    He has a problem because Jesus doesn’t fit the stereotype in which the “prophets” of the OT have been recast to encapsulate the military and political conquest ideals of Islam.

    The islamic prophet is an invincible military and religious leader whose main job in life is to conquer and sweep away the kafir civilizations for Allah.

    He cannot be defeated so the cross can’t be allowed to stand and resurrections are useless if they are not accompanied by military conquest.

    So he has to give the cross of Jesus a spin that makes it appear that the islamic prophet is still the winner and the kafir have been defeated.

    He did his best poor chap but I think he made more problems than he solved.

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    • What on Earth are you babbling about Iggy? What does your resurrection myth have to do with military conquest?

      Unfortunately for you, your mangod cannot escape the fact that he spent most of his time ordering military conquests and mass killings, only to set aside two or three measly years preaching “love”, and then planning on returning to again embrace the military life and killing anyone who opposes him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • @ Erasmus

        To begin that is incorrect, many prophets in Islam were killed by their people just a few off the top of my head John(as), Zechariya(as), Hanzalah(as), the three sent to the people in Surah Yaseen and potentially Joseph(as). This is not including unnamed ones the Jews killed. So that is incorrect.

        Even then Jesus(as) (and QB beat me to it 😉 ) would fall underneath a conquering prophet because of his Second Coming in which he is a military leader no need to “spin the tale” as you claimed.

        Finally, MOST prophets in Islam are not recorded as engaging in battle including Moses(as), Abraham(as), Hud(as), Saleh(as), Adam(as), Idris(as), Noah(as), Dhul Kifl(as), Yunus(as), Yusuf(as), Ishmael(as), Issac(as), Lot(as), Seth(as), Job(as) or Daniel(as0

        So next time you make a claim at least know the source so you don’t look ignorant when proven wrong, alright?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Finally, MOST prophets in Islam are not recorded as engaging in battle”

    I agree. Mohammed was an exception. The OT islamic prophets were just used to warn and pave the way for Allah’s destructive judgement while they looked on. Jesus should have done the same but he could not be spun to fit this pattern.

    Interesting that elements of vindictiveness are built in to the lives of Abraham and Noah by the koranic writer that are not there in the bible. Character traits had to be added that would break down the bonds of loyalty to family and clan.

    Also the biblical Abraham did actually engage in war but he refused to take the spoils. A bad example that the koranic writer could not make use of.

    Like

  6. @stewjo004

    You put “Messenger” (for the Jews understanding of Jesus ?) But the Arabic is clearly “the Messiah” المسیح
    Another reason the Qur’an is wrong – the Jews would not have called him “Al Massih” المسیح (The Messiah)

    وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَٰكِن شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ ۚ
    وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا –
    4:157

    And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

    Like

    • “Another reason the Qur’an is wrong – the Jews would not have called him “Al Massih” ”
      Srr Kenny but the only book that contains errors is your bible.
      Thank you for rejecting your own bible:
      Mark 15:32
      Let this MESSIAH, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

      Ouch!!!!

      And Kenny bites the dust.

      Liked by 1 person

      • nope; verse 31 says they were mocking, so in context, and the word “this Messiah”, you can tell that they are mocking.

        so, you bit the dust.

        Like

      • You buffoon, you really don’t get my argument???
        I didn’t say they didn’t call him Messiah. I just used your argument against your bible. In the Qur’an the jews also say it mockingly.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kenny the Joker just doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut to avoid more embarrassment. Surah 4 was ALSO referring to the Jews’ mockery! Let’s go to Kenny’s favorite Islamic commentator, Ibn Kathir shall we?

        “(“We killed Al-Masih, `Isa, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah,”) meaning, we killed the person who claimed to be the Messenger of Allah. The Jews only uttered these words in jest and mockery…”

        http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=585&Itemid=59

        OUCH indeed!!

        Kenny must have a stomach full of dust. He’s bitten off quite a lot on this thread!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Testing to see if the moderation allows me to copy the Arabic of the Qur’an verse.

    وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَٰكِن شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ ۚ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا

    – 4:157

    Like

  8. Why doesn’t the moderation allow the full Arabic text of the Qur’an verse to be in the comments?

    I have put up several comments with full Arabic text and they are rejected.

    Like

  9. stewjo004’s interpretation of Surah 4:157 is very strained and illogical.

    Like

    • @ Ken

      I would like to say thank you Ken for confirming my suspicion that you have terrible reading comprehension. Go re-read my post I made it clear I do not agree and find it a stretch. I was simply making a expedient translation of what they were arguing for you and QB’s benefit because you guys didn’t understand the third interpretation made.

      Moving on yes you are correct it is Messiah this was a mistake on my part. You also more or less answered your own contention of an alleged “mistake”, the Jews are being sarcastic in the verse (and pretty much any Quranic commentary will tell you that) which is why even in my hasty translation I put this these quotes around “Messenger” to indicate such.

      Finally this interpretation I disagree with is half correct in the fact that the switch does story does not make sense in the verse’s grammar and Imam Zamakhshari (a beast in Arabic) is the first scholar I know of who discussed and refuted this and personally I favor his reading, but I’ll wait on discussing this until I finish the CruciFICTION series.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. @ Erasmus

    To begin your moving the goalpost you said ISLAM thinks if prophets as invincible conquerors and that was not true.

    Next, that still doesn’t mean prophets did not engage in warfare or had the intent (like Jesus(as), David(as), Solomon(as), Joshua(as) and a variety of unnamed ones in Surah Imran.

    And finally spoils were an exception God allowed for our nation but originally we were not going to have them.

    So this again falls underneath my earlier point of knowing a source before speaking

    Like

  11. @ QB

    Oohhh I didn’t see his copy and paste job of Surah Tauba. I might do a refutation after Ramadan InshaAllah as I agree with Nouman Ali Khan that between Surah Tauba and Kafiroon these are the most misunderstood Suwar in our time by Muslims and non Muslims.

    Like

  12. ““(“We killed Al-Masih, `Isa, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah,”) meaning, we killed the person who claimed to be the Messenger of Allah. The Jews only uttered these words in jest and mockery…”

    Ibn Kathir has to correct and improve Allah’s bad communication. I like it.

    My suggestions for improvement and correction for this part of the Koran:

    In jest the Jews said “we killed Al-Masih, Isa, son of Maryam.

    The Jews said in jest, “we killed………….

    Like

    • @ Erasmus

      Do you ever just think before you post? It is not “bad communication” its the nature of Semitic languages. I know you think Jesus(as) is a European man in the Middle East solving everyone’s problems but the reality is even the Bible is foreign sounding like the Quran its just been heavily altered in structure to make sense in English while we didn’t do that to ours in most translations. So for example,in it its original language it will read something like: “From Him, the Spirit descends on a day great” and you just put together from context who/what is being referred to. But in English it will just be translated “The Spirit descended from God on a Holy day”.

      Like

      • ” “From Him, the Spirit descends on a day great” and you just put together from context who/what is being referred to.”

        If the context is there you do. If its not you can’t. Not unless Ibn Kathir comes to your aid of course.

        Like

      • @ Erasmus

        Man you are truly ignorant. Ken was claiming the Quran made a mistake by saying the Jews called Jesus(as) the Messiah and Ibn Kathir (or pretty much any Quran commentary) was quoted to prove they were mocking the title.

        Like

      • Hey Iggy, why don’t you concern yourself more with how your god can be “Almighty” and yet also act like he doesn’t know everything? I haven’t forgotten your pathetic commentary on Genesis 18! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Ibn Kathir’s commentary on Surah 4:157 indicates mocking, (but commentaries are not inspired), but the text of the Qur’an by itself, does not seem to indicate it.

    But the Bible passage is clear that they were mocking. Mark 15:31-32

    Like

  14. @ Ken
    Waqalihim “and for their saying” i.e. they were mocking like a chant:
    “We killed the Messiah Jesus, we killed the Messiah Jesus, we killed the Messiah Jesus.”

    Hans Wehr:

    Assert, allege, speak ill of, tell lies about so, spread lies about so and so, to talk foolishly

    But okay believe what you like nobody is about to play this game with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kenny the Joker…alas, what more can we expect from him?

      Isn’t is amazing how he always tries to act like he is some expert on Arabic (or Persian) by inserting the meanings of Arabic words (even when no one asked for it or it has nothing to do with the topic), but in this case, he would rather just make idiotic assumptions based on nothing but personal opinions?

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Isn’t is amazing how he always tries to act like he is some expert on Arabic (or Persian) by inserting the meanings of Arabic words (even when no one asked for it or it has nothing to do with the topic)”

        Exactly! He is a show off, trying to impress the mooslims

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I just want to point out – as I did in the old blog- that Mustafa did not present Al-Razi fairly here. This is a really problem we face with christians as well. These masterpieces and great books in Islamic literature are polyvalent. They need to be read carefully. The authors are scholars and philosophers. In books of exegeses, the interpreters dont just comment on the verses! They start with the linguistic matters, then the juristic matters, then the theological matters…etc. Sometimes, the authors write an argumentative passages in which the reader could easily think it’s an opinion the author adopts while it’s the exact opposite.

    Al-Razi is one of the muslim philosophers so it’s not easy to deal with his Tafseer. I watched dr. Maria Dakake while she was asked to translate Al-Razi Tafseer, but she refused. They told her the would pay for her good amount of money, but she said it’s not about money, but it’s about the time. She said that job would take his whole life to be accomplished.

    Al-Razi in his saying, Mustafa referred to, was actually presenting the opponent’s objection. Al-Razi was known by this style of writing. He presents the objections, then he answers them. In fact, this’s one of the low points of his tafseer, and he was criticized for this style. In fact, a famous saying about his tafseer is known in Arabic which states. (he pays upfront with the problems and doubts, yet he delays the payment with answers)
    (يورد الشبهة نقداً ويردها نسيئة)

    “All Christians in the world ” should be preceeded as it’s in his tafseer with this ( If it’s said that all christians…)

    Al-Razi then answered in the same page with many answers, one of which is that tawatur is not really achieved with the case of Jesus for it’s very possible that jews killed another one.

    I add the tawatur is impossible wit the case of Jesus becuase we don’t have the Isnaad, and the gospels are apologetic narrative, especially when we know the death of Jesus is very significant theologically for most of them. Moreover, the same gospels tell us that the disciples of Jesus were not there, and they ran away. Not to mention the discrepancies between the narratives.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. “Claiming that the dead rose after the crucifixion is an example of myth-making. How come none of the other gospels made that same claim?”

    Why should they?

    “And how come no one noticed that astonishing occurrence? That’s definitely a myth.”

    Why should anyone have noticed it as such?

    Like

    • Um, for the sake of verification? Doesn’t your Bible require at least 2 (or was it 3?) witnesses? Don’t you think that there would need to be some verification for such an astounding claim? And even if the other Gospels don’t mention it, why didn’t some other ancient source mention it? Your gospel claims that the dead appeared to a lot of people, so there would have been many witnesses. Are you telling me that none of those witnesses felt it worthwhile to verify this information?

      “The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

      Wake up, Iggy. By being this stupid and incredulous, you are setting yourself up for a monumental fall on the day of Judgment.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Based on your criteria I would be forced to come to the conclusion that the statement in the Koran that Jesus was not crucified was myth making, wouldn’t I?

    Like

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