The Last Days of Isa
The mission of Isa, according to Islam, is in two phases. The first was as a prophet to Israel, the second will be at his second coming when he, as a follower of Rasul ‘ulLah (SAW), will fight Dajjal (the anti Isa), and help Muslims to change the world into an Islamic abode. In his first phase, during the third year of his mission, Isa was strongly opposed and harassed by the Jews. Though they had been long awaiting a Messiah to relieve them of their miseries, they did not believe Isa to be the true Messiah. Out of their disappointment, hatred and enmity towards Isa, they finally accused him of rebellion against the emperor, whose officers gave orders for his arrest and eventual crucifixion. Muslim commentators believe that the Jews failed in their treacherous plot, that the Roman soldiers arrested a person who had a striking resemblance to Isa, while Isa himself was lifted alive to Heaven.
The Qur’an points out that the Jews claimed, “We killed Isa, the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah; 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 doubt, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not” (Surah 4:157). It further adds, “Nay, Allah raised him up unto himself, and Allah is exalted in Power, wise” (Surah 4:158). The same issue is dealt with in other places of the Qur’an (Surah 3:54-55).
Commentators, such as Baidhawi, Tabari, Razi and Zamakhshari express similar opinions that Allah raised Isa into heaven, a substitute being killed whom Allah had made to look like Isa. Despite some differences, all these commentators agree that Isa was not killed by crucifixion (Tabari, Jam al-Bayan, part 6, p.9, line 35 to p. 13, line 6; Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf, vol. 1, p. 432, lines 23ff; Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, vol. 2, p. 454, line 27 to p. 455, line 2. Baidhawi, Anwar al-Tanzil, p.75, lines 8ff).
Some Muslims do not believe in the substitution theory. In his book, ‘City of Wrong’, Qaryah Zalimah, Dr. Kamil Hussain says, “the idea of a substitute for Isa is a very crude way of explaining the Qur’anic text. … No cultured Muslim believes in this nowadays. The text is taken to mean that the Jews thought they killed Isa but Allah raised him unto him in a way we can leave unexplained among the several mysteries which we have taken for granted on faith alone” (City of Wrong, p.231).
Like Dr. Hussain, some Muslims disagree with the substitution theory but they insist on a swoon theory. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh, India (1817-1898), in the nineteenth century believed that Isa was crucified but did not die. This theory, that the soldiers thought he was dead, yet he was just unconscious, was later adopted and enlarged by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement. He asserted that Isa was taken away by friends, his wounds treated and later, he travelled to India where he died at the age of 120.
The majority opinion is that Isa was taken up bodily into heaven. However, adherents of the Ahmadiyya Movement, and some orthodox Muslims, do not believe in the bodily ascension of Isa. Dr. Mahmud Shaltut, late Rector of Al-Azhar university did not believe in the bodily ascension of Isa, his being alive in heaven and his descent therefrom in the latter days (Ali Akbar, Israel and the prophecies of the Holy Qur’an, page 127). Similar opinions have been presented by others like Muhammad Asad and Muhammad Abduh (ibid., pp. 124-127). Such interpretations have led some to wonder whether it is essential to have a clear belief about what happened to Isa.
In spite of such ideas, Followers of Isa uphold the belief that Isa was crucified, as prophesied by him and by other prophets before him, that he also died and rose from the dead. Although it is suggested that his death on the cross is a defeat, the whole story is that he gave his life, died and rose victoriously. Isa himself spoke about this event stating, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:18). The Qur’an has just one verse which may be ambiguously quoted to deny the crucifixion, but about one third of the Isaian Injils refer to this event.
Followers of Isa are often asked: ‘Why did Isa go through all this?’ Isa was sent by Allah to be the way to eternal life to all who believes in him (John 3:16 and John 14:6). By his death on the cross he became the fidya (ransom) for all who believe in him, including those who went before. Isa said, “Before Ibrahim was born, I am!”, and that “Ibrahim rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56-57). Allah had announced the Injil of Isa in advance to Ibrahim that all nations were to be blessed through Isa (Gal 3:8-9).