Why Jesus is like Sleeping Beauty (according to Islam)

Sleeping Beauty

The recent debate between David Wood and Shabir Ally on ‘Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?’ exposed an uncomfortable fact for Muslims – that despite the Qur’an’s claim to be a ‘well-explained confirmation of the previous Scripture’ (Sura 10:37 ) neither it nor any of the other Islamic sources remotely explains what happened to Jesus. What you get instead is a big, confused mess.

There is only one ayah (out of 6,236) that mentions Jesus’ crucifixion, Sura 4:157 (Sahih International):

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.

Most Muslims presume from this that Jesus didn’t die by crucifixion; instead they go along with one of two theories. Substitution theory – that someone else died on the Cross,  disguised to look like Jesus while Jesus himself was raised to heaven alive; or Swoon theory, where Jesus passed out on the cross after which he was either taken up to heaven alive (Shabir Ally’s position) or he was laid in the tomb but revived, stumbled on his bloodied, nail-pierced feet unwitnessed and unassisted to Kashmir, where he continued to preach Islam until he eventually died (the Ahmaddi position.)

The earliest tafsir writers support substitution. So who went on this cross in Jesus’ place? According to Ibn Abbas (d.687 AD), it was  the Jew’s ‘man’,  Tatianos. Who is Tatianos? If Muslims were able to identify this person 7 centuries later, how come Christians have never heard of him? Or maybe Ibn Abbas got the wrong story.

Ibn Kathir (d.1373 AD) tells it differently. In his account, Jesus asked one of his friends to volunteer. He chooses a young, rather insistent chap- lucky him.

“Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise” A young man volunteered, but `Isa thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting `Isa to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” Allah made the young man look exactly like `Isa, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and  ‘Isa was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep.

Al Jalalyn ( two writers, d.1459 and 1505 AD) say “he, the one slain and crucified , who was an associate of theirs the Jews was given the resemblance of Jesus.” Some Muslims argue it was a watchman, or Judas (some say Iscariot, others not.) For more detail on who Muslims think might have taken Jesus’ place, read this article by Sam Shamoun.

Identity issues aside, substitution theory creates a serious theological problem:  if it  wasn’t Jesus on the Cross, why did Allah allow millions of Christians throughout the centuries to believe he was? Allah must be very malicious to do that. And it goes against Allah’s own teaching – that no-one will bear the burden of another (Sura 6:164). This is why Shabir Ally doesn’t hold to the Substitution argument, although it remains the most commonly-held position by Sunni Muslims.

Ally’s position, that Jesus was taken up to heaven alive, is based on the verse following Sura 4:157, Sura 4:158:

Rather,  Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.

This verse doesn’t say explicitly that Jesus didn’t die, so Dr. Ally is relying on an argument from silence. But the Qur’an isn’t silent, because in three other verses, it says Jesus dies. Sura 3:55 (see also Sura 19:33 and 5:117)

Lo! God said: “O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me

(Note,  not all English translations have this phrase, but it is there in the Arabic– mutawaffeeka.)

Dr. Ally speculated that this verse doesn’t have to be interpreted chronologically: it could mean Jesus was exalted (taken to heaven), and will return one day after which he will die – only there are no other verses that support this interpretation. If anything, the chronological view is supported, as the same formula (reminiscent of the creed in 1 Cor 15:3) is applied to John the Baptist in Sura 19:15:

“And peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is raised alive.”

No-one doubts that John the Baptist died. Instead Dr. Ally, like Ibn Kathir, speculates that Jesus was taken to heaven in his sleep, according to Sura 6:60

“And He it is Who takes your souls at night, and He knows what you earn by day, then raises you up therein that at an appointed term may be fulfilled. Then to Him is your return, then He will inform you of what you did.”

So Jesus was taken to Paradise in his sleep? Is he still sleeping, like Sleeping Beauty, until Allah wakes him up in time for judgement day? Or did he actually die? The Qur’an strongly suggests it. When he died, was it on the Cross? If not then and there, then where and when? Also, why does the Qur’anic Jesus get to be with Allah in heaven (despite being hopeless at preaching Islam) when Muhammad, the perfect example to mankind, wasn’t sure where he was going? And if Jesus was miraculously rescued from death, how come the same privilege wasn’t extended to Muhammad? Muhammad was fatally poisoned, only Allah didn’t swap him for a lookalike at the eleventh hour.

Dr Ally conceded that not everything in the Qur’an was meant to be interpreted historically, that a bit like “the Hulk shopping for stretchable underwear” (he really said that) just because something didn’t really happen doesn’t make it not true (or words to that effect).

Nice, humorous, vague sentiment – only the Qur’an doesn’t allow itself to be so loosely interpreted. What does Sura 10:37 say again?

And it was not [possible] for this Qur’an to be produced by other than Allah, but [it is] a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the [former] Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds.

What’s most tragic about this question is that it’s not something the Qur’an even needed to explain, because the Bible presents the death and resurrection of Jesus as historical fact. Not only does the Qur’an fail to explain these facts – it actively ignores them in favour of conflicting, unhistorical, unsubstantiated reports, therefore proving by its own logic that it can’t be from Allah.

David Wood quoted David Hume – “a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence” – and all the evidence for what happened to Jesus is in the Bible. The Bible also tells us why Jesus chose the Cross.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 (John 3:16)

Our Muslim friends at Speaker’s Corner tell us often how ‘logical’ Islam is. Isn’t it logical to go where the evidence leads?

Join the dots….

There are many Qur'ans

Throughout the centuries, Muslims have claimed that the Qur’an is a uniquely pristine book, with no additions, deletions or any other form of editing, and that its perfect preservation is proof of its divine origin. It’s so perfect, the saying goes, that “not even a dot has changed” since the time it was revealed to Muhammad.

Now more astute Muslim scholars (like Shabir Ally) are clever enough to realise this is a silly thing to say, because dots didn’t exist in Arabic at the time of Muhammad; the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts do not have dots at all, because both the tashkil (vowel signs) and the dotting were not introduced until the late 7th century, approximately 60 years after the death of Muhammad, and wasn’t standardised until centuries later due to disagreements among Muslims about what those standards should be. You can read in greater depth on this topic at the Islamic Awareness website. And yet this not-a-dot-has-changed claim has been repeatedly trotted out by world famous Muslim apologists like Zakir Naik and the late Ahmed Deedat. The claim is then repeated by Muslims ad nauseam as bread-and-butter fact despite being total nonsense. Shame on those Muslim apologists who are well aware of this fact but haven’t set people straight.

Some Muslims argue that this “not a dot changed” line is hyperbolic rather than literal. So what they really mean is: regardless of developments in Arabic orthography, nevertheless the actual words of the Qur’an have never been changed, because even without the manuscripts, we have the beautiful unbroken chain of oral transmission to prove it! In which case, dots are neither here nor there. Really? Except the very claim is one of literal-ness, the point being that the Qur’an literally, to the letter hasn’t been changed. So to make this claim in the hyperbolic sense and not the literal sense is literally self-defeating.

Also, the ‘hyperbolic device argument’ allows Muslims to niftily sidestep any detailed textual criticism of the Qur’an. And they are understandably keen to avoid it. Why? Because as we will see, using the “no dots changed” argument as proof for the Qur’an’s divinity becomes a total nightmare for Muslims when we look at the facts.

In our current collection of 31 different Arabic Qur’ans, there are over 59,000 variant words between the different Qur’ans and the current hafs version (the most popular version of the Qur’an worldwide) – and this project is far from finished. Here is an example of a variant word between the hafs Qur’an and the warsh Qur’an in Sura 4:5;

Hafs has

transliterated ‘qiyaaman’, meaning ‘means of support’;

Warsh has ‘qiyaman’ meaning ‘values.’

Qiyaman - warsh

The top picture has the letter alef on top of the word in the middle (it looks like an English apostrophe), where the bottom picture does not:  its absence has changed the word’s meaning. In context, the two Suras read like this:

‘to those weak of understanding, make not over your property, which Allah hath
made a means of support’ (Sura 4:5 hafs)

‘to those weak of understanding, make not over your property, which Allah hath
made values‘. (Sura 4:5 warsh)

Is my house supposed to support me or it is it ‘values’, meaning presumably valuable/a source of value? If you own a house it is valuable, but it is not necessarily your means of support. The different versions have introduced an element of ambiguity to the message. Is this difference theologically significant? Doesn’t seem like it, but that’s not the point. The point is, here is irrefutable evidence of a textual variant in the Qur’an, which Muslims have long claimed to be pristine, unaltered and therefore divine in origin. The dots have been changed.

Another Muslim response to this  has been to say it doesn’t matter: both versions match the earliest consonantal skeleton (rasm), i.e. the dotless Arabic in which the earliest Qur’an manuscripts are written. Here’s the root word of qiyaman/qiyaaman  from the rasm below:

Rasm

Muslims argue therefore that Qur’an allows for both meanings, ‘means of support’ and values.  But can they really have their cake and eat it? With different markings the same word can also mean: while, valuable, so that, so it (or he) grew, or so they both finished.

For the sake of argument however, let’s be charitable and agree the word we quoted from the rasm is Sura 4:5 – it still leaves Muslims with a tricky problem, namely that the text cannot speak for itself. Arabic speakers can’t read it without imposing on it what they now know from the Qur’an we have today. To present this as evidence for the Qur’an’s perfect preservation is a wild stretch, when it is inconclusive at best.  Doesn’t matter, Muslims argue, because we can rely on the beautiful unbroken chain of transmission to clear up the ambiguities. And it’s to this we will turn our attention in our next article.

Dr Shabir Ally admits FGM is Islamic!

Muslims have long been denying that there is any link with Islam and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

In the above video, Dr Ally confirms it is an Islamic practice by acknowledging the reliability of this hadith from Sunan Abu Dawud 5271, which clearly supports FGM:

“Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah:

A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.”

Note – it doesn’t say “don’t cut”: it says “don’t cut severely.”

In the video, Dr Ally doesn’t mention the other Hadith that support the practice, for example Bukhari 5889:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah’s Messenger said, “Five practices are characteristics of the Fitra: circumcision, shaving the pubic region, clipping the nails and cutting the moustaches short”. Could circumcision here mean just for men? Not according to Sahih Muslim 349:

Abu Musa reported:

The Messenger of Allah said: When anyone sits amidst four parts (of the woman) and the circumcised parts touch each other a bath becomes obligatory.” Clearly this means the circumcised parts of the male  touching the circumcised parts of the female.

Having acknowledged the link between FGM and Islam, Ally then goes on to support living within the law of the land – thank God his land is Canada where the mutliation of girls’ private parts is a criminal offence. Just as well he decided Canadian law is a more reliable moral guide than his own prophet. But a shame that his allegiance to the same prophet meant he couldn’t give it the unreserved condemnation such a practice deserves.