The Quran, Bible Preservation and the Crucifixion

Sam Shamoun

Muslims generally believe that the Bible was corrupted and is therefore no longer a reliable version of the word of God. Most Muslims even believe that this is what the Qur’an teaches. However, when the passages of the Qur’an are examined in detail, the conclusion turns out to be quite different. Throughout the years we have sought to amass enough evidence from Muslim sources to show that the Quran does in fact confirm that the Holy Bible is the inspired, preserved Word of God. For a detailed discussion of this topic, see the various articles listed in the section What the Qur'an and Early Muslim Commentators Say About the Bible.

Our reasons for collecting such data is not because we hold the Quran to be God’s Word, or that it is necessarily authoritative for us, but to convince Muslims who believe in the Quran that they must believe and accept the Holy Bible as God’s true Word.

Muslims realize the problem this poses for their beliefs. To accept the Holy Bible is to reject the Quran as a fraudulent book, and yet to reject the Holy Bible is to reject the Quran’s positive testimony to the authority and preservation of the Holy Bible.

Realizing this dilemma, Muslims have attempted to deny that the Quran teaches that the Holy Bible is the preserved Word of God. One way that Muslims have tried to work around this is by arguing that, since the Quran denies key essential Christian doctrines, it cannot therefore be supporting the preservation of the biblical text. For example, the Quran denies the key, essential pillar of Christianity, namely the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. The reasoning is that, since the Quran denies the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, it therefore cannot then be affirming the Holy Bible as God’s Word which teaches it.

There is a very basic and simple answer to this claim. By denying the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet also affirming the Bible as God’s preserved Word, the author of the Quran exposes his ignorance and fallibility. The author wrongly assumed that his denial of the crucifixion didn’t conflict with his views that the Holy Bible was God’s preserved Word, providing more proof that the Quran is not from the true God. That is, of course, unless a Muslim believes that Allah is an ignorant, forgetful deity who can’t accurately recall past events.

In other words, this Muslim argument is nothing more than a non-sequitur, since it does not follow from this claim that the Quran denies the preservation of the Holy Bible. It erroneously assumes that since the Quran denies the crucifixion then this somehow means that it also denies the authority and preservation of the Holy Bible. In order to show why this claim is fallacious, note the following syllogism:

Therefore, the Quran is in error since it affirms the preservation and authority of the Bible while denying one of its essential teachings.

As we said, it is easy for us to see how the Quran could make such a gross blunder since it is not the word of God. Rather, it is the work of someone who believed in the Holy Bible while denying — perhaps ignorantly — one of its main doctrines.

Or even worse, this shows that the Quran is the work of an entity that sought to prevent men from embracing the cross of Christ for salvation while also trying to establish the credibility of the Quranic message by appealing to the Holy Bible. Note for instance the following passages:

"But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers." S. 10:94 Shakir

And We sent not (as Our messengers) before thee other than men whom We inspired - Ask the followers of the Remembrance if ye know not! - S. 16:43 Pickthall

And We sent not (as Our messengers) before thee other than men, whom We inspired. Ask the followers of the Reminder if ye know not? S. 21:7 Pickthall

These passages show that the author didn’t hesitate to point to the Holy Bible for verification of Muhammad’s message.

The entity may have reasoned that he could simply escape the biblical statements regarding Jesus’ crucifixion by claiming that they have been misinterpreted, much like many Muslims do even now. More on this later.

Now a Muslim may wish to interject here and say that Muhammad would have realized that the Bible taught Jesus’ crucifixion since there were converts to Islam from Christianity who could have told him. It may be argued from this that my assertion above regarding Muhammad not realizing that the Bible contradicted his position on Jesus’ crucifixion is therefore untenable.

On the contrary, this argument doesn’t come close to refuting the position taken by us at Answering Islam. As was just mentioned above, one can easily account for this by stating that Muhammad did believe in the Holy Bible (which he did) and at the same time reasoned to himself that the Christians were simply misunderstanding and/or misinterpreting the biblical passages dealing with the crucifixion.

To help clarify this point we only need to look at pseudo-Christian and Muslim groups such as Jehovah’s witnesses, Ahmaddiyas, the Nation of Islam, Ismailism and Bahaism. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible to be the word of God; yet they do not believe in the Deity of Jesus, an essential Christian doctrine and a clear teaching of the Bible. Their difference of opinion on the teaching of the book does not logically imply the rejection of the book itself.

The Pseudo-Muslim groups believe that the Quran is the Word of God while also believing that their founders and leaders were messengers/prophets of God. The founder of the Ahmaddiya movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, claimed to be the Messiah/Mahdi spoken of in the Islamic traditions. The Nation of Islam claims that Wallace D. Ford, a.k.a. Master Wallace Fard Muhammad, was Allah himself, as well as the Messiah of the Christians and the Mahdi of the Muslims, who appeared as a white man and appointed Elijah Muhammad to be his prophet/messenger.

The Bahai’s believe BOTH the Bible and the Quran to be the word of God, despite their irreconcilable differences. (That is certainly a logical problem, but still, difference of teaching does not logically imply the teaching of non-preservation etc.)

Now the reader may wonder how this relates to the Quran’s denial of the crucifixion of Christ. Very simple. The Quran claims that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets:

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men but (he is) the Apostle of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things. S. 33:40

The traditions say that there will be no more prophets and messengers after Muhammad:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "My similitude in comparison with the other prophets before me, is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: 'Would that this brick be put in its place!' So I am that brick, and I am the last of the Prophets." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 735)

Despite the above, these so-called Muslim groups claim to believe that the Quran is the word of God while denying one of its essential core teachings! They try to work around the statements that Muhammad is Allah’s last prophet/messenger, not by necessarily attacking the text of the Quran, but by accusing orthodox Muslims of misinterpreting and/or misunderstanding these passages.

One could also appeal to some differences in teaching between various Muslim sects, such as Shiites and Sunnis, or Ismailis etc. This certainly does not imply for any of them that the Quran is not preserved. To give a specific example, orthodox Islam teaches the sinlessness of the prophets and yet the Quran very clearly teaches that the prophets committed sins (cf. the article Islam and the Sins of the Prophets). Does that then imply that the Quran is not preserved because Islam teaches something else than that which is found in the book?

In a similar way, Muhammad and his companions believed that the Holy Bible was the preserved word of God while denying the crucifixion of Jesus. They may have assumed that the Christians were simply misinterpreting the Bible, since the evidence shows that they didn’t believe that the biblical text had been corrupted. In the words of Thomas F. Michel who, in his English translation of Shaik-ul-Islam, Ibn Taymiyya’s response to Christians, writes in regard to the Quran’s use of the term tahrif:

The term tahrif finds its origin in the Quran. In its verbal form it indicates an accusation hurled four times (4:46; 5:13; 5:41; 2:75) against Jewish leaders and carries the meaning that they quote their Scriptures WRONGLY OUT OF CONTEXT. On this basis a distinction was made early in the polemical tradition between tahrif al-lafz and tahrif al-ma‘na, the first referring to actual textual distortion and corruption, the second referring to the false and distorted interpretation of basically sound texts.

The early Muslim polemicists, such as ‘Ali al-Tabari, the Zaydi al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim, and Al-Hasan ibn Ayyub, applied the concept of tahrif al-ma‘na to the Christian as well as Jewish Scriptures. The later polemicists of the Ash‘arite school such as AL-BAQILLANI, AL-GHAZALI, and FAKR AL-DIN AL-RAZI, approached the Bible AS BASICALLY SOUND IN ITS TEXT BUT MISINTERPRETED by Christians and Jews.

Ibn Hazm in his Al-Fisal fi al-Milal wal-Ahwa wal-Nihal, carefully built a case for the verbal corruption of the biblical text. According to Ibn Hazm, the Bible is not a message of God which contains some erroneous passages and words, but is of the status of an anti-Scripture, "an accursed book," the product of satanic inspiration. His conclusion marked A DEPARTURE FROM THE PREVAILING OPINION BEFORE HIS TIME and was followed by subsequent writers only with careful qualifications. Although the majority of later polemicists rejected Ibn Hazm’s conclusions as extreme, by the strength of his argumentation he influenced all subsequent polemical literature. The question of tahrif of scripture was one that no polemicist - Christian, Muslim, or Jewish - could leave untreated. (Michel, A Muslim Theologian’s Response to Christianity [Caravan Books; Delmar, NY, second printing 1999], pp. 89-90; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Muslims like al-Baqillani, al-Ghazali and ar-Razi had no problem affirming the authenticity of the biblical text while denying its essential core teachings. They simply brushed it off as misinterpretation.

This of course presumes that the Quran does in fact deny the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which leads me to my next point.

Muslims that make this argument have obviously drawn a wrong inference from 4:157. It seems that they haven’t understood the passage properly. If they have understood the passage, then we must say that they are deliberately misinterpreting their own so-called "divine" book. The reason why we say this is because the argument gives the misleading impression that the Quran is explicitly denying the crucifixion; more specifically, it is taken as a supposed attack on the Bible’s teaching on this issue. Here is the passage again, this time with the surrounding context supplied in order to show exactly what the Quran is saying:

The people of the Scripture ask of thee that thou shouldst cause an (actual) Book to descend upon them from heaven. They asked a greater thing of Moses aforetime, for they said: Show us Allah plainly. The storm of lightning seized them for their wickedness. Then (even) after that) they chose the calf (for worship) after clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty) had come unto them. And We forgave them that! And We bestowed on Moses evident authority. And We caused the Mount to tower above them at (the taking of) their covenant: and We bade them: Enter the gate, prostrate! and We bode them: Transgress not the Sabbath! and We took from them a firm covenant. Then because of their breaking of their covenant, and their disbelieving in the revelations of Allah, and their slaying of the prophets wrongfully, and their saying: Our hearts are hardened - Nay, but Allah set a seal upon them for their disbelief, so that THEY believe not save a few - And because of THEIR disbelief and of THEIR speaking against Mary a tremendous calumny; And because of THEIR SAYING: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - THEY slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise. S. 4:153-158 Pickthall

Let me highlight one specific aspect of the passage:

And because of THEIR SAYING: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger ...

Note here that what the Quran is seeking to refute is the claims of the Jews, i.e. what the Jews WERE SAYING. It says nothing about the text of the Bible (particularly the Gospels, the CHRISTIAN scriptures), especially in relation to its view of the crucifixion. We know that this is referring to the Jews since Christians wouldn’t speak against Mary nor would they boast that they killed Jesus.

In light of this, one can argue that the Quran is not altogether denying Jesus’ crucifixion, but denying that the Jews killed Jesus, even though it appeared to them that they did. The fact is that it was the will of God for Jesus to die on behalf of sinners. If God didn’t want Jesus to die, then no one could have taken his life away, precisely what the Holy Bible teaches:

"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." John 10:17-18 ESV

The Quran provides some support for taking 4:157 to mean that Allah, not the Jews, had Jesus crucified. Speaking of the Muslims’ victory at the Battle of Badr, the Quran says:

"Ye (Muslims) slew them not, but Allah slew them. And thou (Muhammad) threwest not when thou didst throw, but Allah threw, that He might test the believers by a fair test from Him. Lo! Allah is Hearer, Knower." S. 8:17 Pickthall

It wasn’t the Muslims who fought and won the victory, but Allah who did so through the Muslims. Likewise, the Jews didn’t crucify Jesus, but God had him crucified. God used them as his instruments to accomplish his will that Jesus should die for sinners:

"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." Acts 2:22-24 ESV

The above interpretation is also consistent with the Quran’s train of thought, i.e. that after denying that the Jews killed Jesus, the verse right after (4:158) says that God raised him to himself. In context, this implies that contrary to the Jews’ belief that Jesus’ crucifixion signaled the end of him, signifying to them that God rejected Jesus as a false prophet, God raised him from the dead unto himself in heaven as the greatest validation that he was indeed the Christ of God.

Now a Muslim may wish to contest this interpretation as inconsistent with the beliefs of Orthodox Islam. The only problem with this is that the Muslim cannot tell us what in fact is the true Orthodox position regarding Jesus’ crucifixion. Note for example the following conflicting views proposed by Muslims of the past and present:

1. God made someone look like Jesus who was then crucified in the place of Christ. This is known as the substitution theory, but this interpretation is beset with many problems. First, who in fact was made to look like Christ? Muslims were not unanimous:

  1. Some say that it was Judas.
  2. Others say it was one of Jesus’ disciples.
  3. Still others say that it was a Roman soldier named Titawus.

And, who made it appear that Christ had been crucified? The answer can only be Allah, which poses a major theological problem on how this position reflects on the nature of God. What does this say about the character of Allah, seeing that he deceived mankind into thinking that Jesus was crucified when in fact he wasn’t? Interestingly, the Quran boasts about Allah being the best deceiver in connection with his foiling the Jews’ plot to kill Jesus:

But they (the Jews) were crafty, and God was crafty, for God is the best of crafty ones! When God said, 'O Jesus! I will make Thee die and take Thee up again to me and will clear thee of those who misbelieve, and will make those who follow thee above those who misbelieve, at the day of judgment, then to me is your return. I will decide between you concerning that wherein ye disagree. S. 3:54-55 Palmer


Are they then secure from Allah's scheme (makra Allahi)? None deemeth himself secure from Allah's scheme (makra Allahi) save folk that perish. S. 7:99 Pickthall

And when those who misbelieve were crafty with thee to detain thee a prisoner, or kill thee, or drive thee forth; they were crafty, but God was crafty too, for God is best of crafty ones! S. 8:30 Palmer

And when We make people taste of mercy after an affliction touches them, lo! they devise schemes (makrun) against Our communication. Say: Allah is quicker to scheme (makran); surely Our apostles write down what you plan. S. 10:21

And those before them did indeed scheme (makara), but all scheming (al-makru) is Allah's; He knows what every soul earns, and the unbelievers shall come to know for whom is the (better) issue of the abode. S. 13:42

So they schemed a scheme: and We schemed a scheme, while they perceived not. S. 27:50

The word for crafty is makr. Dr. Mahmoud M. Ayoub in his book, The Quran and Its Interpreters, Vol. II, The House of Imran, brings up the question of "how the word makr (scheming or plotting), which implies deceitfulness or dishonesty, could be attributed to God." (Ibid. [1992 State University of New York Press, Albany], p. 165; bold emphasis ours)

After listing several Muslim sources, he quotes ar-Razi as saying that "scheming (makr) is actually an act of deception aiming at causing evil. It is not possible to attribute deception to God. Thus the word is one of the muttashabihat [multivalent words of the Quran]." (Ibid., p. 166; bold and italic emphasis ours)

According to Ayoub, there was one Muslim who actually boasted in Allah being the best conniver, deceiver, schemer etc.:

Qurtubi observes that some scholars have considered the words "best of schemers" to be one of God’s beautiful names. Thus one would pray, "O Best of Schemers, scheme for me!" Qurtubi also reports that the Prophet used to pray, "O God, scheme for me, and do not scheme against me!" (Qurtubi, IV, pp. 98-99; cf. Zamakhshari, I, p. 366). (Ibid., p. 166)

Moreover, here is how one of the earliest sources on the life of Muhammad interpreted Q. 8:30:

Then he reminds the apostle of His favour towards him when the people plotted against him 'to kill him, or to wound him, or to drive him out; and they plotted and God plotted, and is the best of plotters.' i.e. I DECEIVED them with My firm GUILE so that I delivered you from them. (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], p. 323; capital emphasis ours)

A Muslim may argue that specific words such as makr do not have their normal meaning when used of Allah. The problem with this explanation is that it ignores the fact that Allah deceived mankind into thinking that Jesus was crucified. The Muslim may respond by saying that Allah didn’t deceive mankind, since he has clearly informed believers what actually transpired during Jesus’ final moments on earth. The problem with this argument is that Allah’s so-called "revelation" is approximately 600 years too late. Christians, Jews and pagans had to wait for the advent of Muhammad before being told by Allah that Jesus was not crucified. And in addition, this "correction" was made in such an untrustworthy way, and given with such ambiguous language, that today there are still billions of Christians, Jews and atheists who believe in Christ’s crucifixion, due to the Quran failing to make a credible and clear case for its position.

Now the Muslims may try to argue that there were early Christian groups which denied the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which means that Allah had already informed people about Jesus’ final hours. The problem with appealing to these so-called Christian sects is that these groups denied the real humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Groups such as the Gnostics and Docetists did not believe that Jesus had a real human body, but only appeared as if he did. It is therefore not surprising that they ended up denying the crucifixion since Jesus did not have a tangible body which could be crucified! It needs to also be stressed that these groups wholeheartedly embraced Jesus’ divinity, and believed that deity cannot "incarnate" just as the Muslims do, but with the opposite conclusion, that Jesus is only deity and not human. This is certainly not a belief that Muslims can refer to in order to support their position.

A Muslim may also claim that Allah only tricks unbelievers, which isn’t evil since they deserve what they get. For instance, Allah was right in tricking the Jews since this is what they deserved for trying to kill his messenger. There are several problems with this claim. First, irrespective of the circumstances, it is beneath an infinitely holy God to adopt the same deceptive tactics of evildoers. Also, it wasn’t simply those who sought to crucify Jesus who were tricked, but all his followers and friends were as well. They all thought he was crucified. In addition, generations of Christian believers afterwards are punished into this unbelief for no fault of their own. It doesn’t only affect the evildoers.

This leads me to my next point. Allah doesn’t simply deceive unbelievers; he also deceives believers. The Quran provides an example of Allah deceiving the Muslims:

When Allah showed them to you in your dream as few; and if He had shown them to you as many you would certainly have become weak-hearted and you would have disputed about the matter, but Allah saved (you); surely He is the Knower of what is in the breasts. And when He showed them to you, when you met, as few in your eyes and He made you to appear little in their eyes, in order that Allah might bring about a matter which was to be done, and to Allah are all affairs returned. S. 8:43-44 Shakir

Allah is said to have shown the opposing fighting forces as few to Muhammad since, if he had shown him their actual numbers, the Muslims would have been afraid to fight. Hence, Allah had to use deception in order to encourage Muslims to fight in his cause. The late Abdullah Yusuf Ali notes:

The Muslim army, though they knew their worldly disadvantage, did not realise the full odds against them. The Meccans came exulting in any case, and they despised the contemptible little force opposed to them. Even though they thought the Muslim force was twice as great as it was (iii. 13), still this number was contemptible, when taken with its poor equipment. Both these psychological mistakes subserved the main Plan, which was to bring the matter to a decisive issue, whether the Pagans of Mecca were to continue their arrogant oppression, of the religion of God was to be established in freedom and honour. (Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Translation and Commentary, p. 426, fn. 1214; underlined emphasis ours)

Now contrast this with the true God Yahweh:

"Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, "Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead."’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the LORD said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, "This one shall go with you," he shall go; but if I say, "This one shall not go with you," he shall not go.’ So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, ‘Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.’ Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The LORD said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’ So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley." Judges 7:1-8 NIV

The next Muslim tradition claims that Allah will deceive his followers on the Day of Judgment:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Some people said, "O Allah's Apostle! Shall we see our Lord on the Day of Resurrection?" He said, "Do you crowd and squeeze each other on looking at the sun when it is not hidden by clouds?" They replied, "No, Allah's Apostle." He said, "Do you crowd and squeeze each other on looking at the moon when it is full and not hidden by clouds?" They replied, No, O Allah's Apostle!" He said, "So you will see Him (your Lord) on the Day of Resurrection similarly. Allah will gather all the people and say, 'Whoever used to worship anything should follow that thing. 'So, he who use to worship the sun, will follow it, and he who use to worship the moon will follow it, and he who use to worship false deities will follow them; and then only this nation (i.e., Muslims) will remain, including their hypocrites. Allah will come to them in a shape other than they know and will say, 'I am your Lord.' They will say, 'We seek refuge with Allah from you. This is our place; (we will not follow you) till our Lord comes to us, and when our Lord comes to us, we will recognize Him.

Then Allah will come to then in a shape they know and will say, "I am your Lord.' They will say, '(No doubt) You are our Lord,' and they will follow Him ... (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 577; see also Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532s)

Finally, why did Allah have someone else die in Jesus’ place while not allowing Jesus to die? If Allah was going to allow anyone to die, then why not Jesus? Why not simply take Jesus into heaven or thwart the plots to kill his messenger without having anyone die at all?

2. Jesus was crucified but did not die. He swooned on the cross and later recovered.

Although the swoon theory is held mainly by the Ahmaddiyas and the Nation of Islam, groups that are considered heretical, there are also orthodox Sunni Muslims who have adopted this theory as well. The most famous Sunni to adopt and embrace this view for polemical purposes is Ahmad Deedat.

Akbarally Meherally is another one who has decided to embrace this theory (Article 1, Article 2). Meherally even goes so far as to deny the substitution theory.

Muslim apologist Shabir Ally tried to defend this theory (quite unsuccessfully I might add) in his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig, "Did Jesus of Nazareth Physically Rise from the Dead?", held on Monday, March 4, 2003 at the University of Toronto. When confronted in the Question and Answer period by Christian Apologist Tony Costa jr. as to why Mr. Ally was promoting the Ahmaddiya position of the swoon theory, seeing that this view is considered heretical by orthodox Muslims, the latter responded:

... So whereas Sunni Muslims believe that Jesus will be coming again a second time on the authority of many authentic reports back to the prophet Muhammad, reported in authentic collections like Bukhari and Muslims and so on, the Ahmaddiya group believes that Jesus will not come again because he has actually already returned in the person of the founder of that group. I believe that Jesus will come again.

Now our position seem to intersect on the point of Jesus surviving death on the cross. I have looked at the reports that are generally followed by Sunni Muslims, understanding that someone else was substituted for Jesus on the cross, and I have seen that although there are a variety of reports, the commentators cannot agree precisely on what has happened here and how exactly a substitute was given. And it appears that they are following reports which originated in Iraq, according to an excellent analysis done by Neal Robinson, who’s a Muslim now, in his book Christ in Islam and Christianity. And looking at the quranic text itself, which is the best interpretation of itself, we see that the quranic text ends with a summary which says wama qataloohu yaqeenan, "they did not kill him definitely", Bal rafaAAahu Allahu ilayhi, "but God raised him to himself." I take this to be a summary of the whole discussion on what has happened to Jesus. There was a plot to kill him but they neither killed him nor crucified him, crucified him in the sense of killing him by crucifixion. That is a definition that has been given in Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an by Abdul Majid Daryabadi, which is a Sunni Tafsir on the Quran. So I am well within my ranks and I haven’t changed positions on that, but perhaps interpretations.

When we consult both Robinson and Daryabadi, as Shabir has evidently done, we find that they do not support Ally’s claims at all. Robinson writes in regard to the Muslim interpretation of 4:157:

Despite differences of opinion about the details the commentators were agreed that 4:157 denies that Jesus was crucified. The most widespread view was that it implies that the Jews erroneously crucified Jesus’ ‘semblance’ and not Jesus himself. Speculative thinkers offered more mundane explanations but this was probably a later development, an attempt to overcome rational objections to the projection of Jesus’ semblance onto a substitute.

Ayoub has suggested that the substitute theory itself passed through several stages of development. Initially it was envisaged that the substitute was a volunteer. In the next stage ‘there was a growing interest in historical accounts’ and the use of ‘gospel materials and hagiography’. In time there developed a preference for ‘punishment substitution’ which envisaged the crucifixion of the betrayer or of the person sent to arrest Jesus. Finally by the sixth/twelfth century there was an attempt ‘to interpret the entire passage in one complete story.’ Ayoub seems to be right about the final stage. He is also correct when he points to the development of a preference for punishment substitution. This development probably occurred in response to the objections which were voiced to the crucifixion of an innocent party. We should note, however, that the actual theory of punishment substitution - as distinct from the Muslim preference for the theory - is much more ancient and is traced back by Tabari to the time of Ibn Ishaq. Slightly more questionable is Ayoub’s suggestion that the reports which envisage the substitution of a volunteer are earlier than those which make use of gospel materials. This must be discussed in greater detail.

If we take the material in Tabari at face value, the most ancient tradition is the one which describes how the semblance was projected onto a single volunteer and how Jesus was raised through the skylight of the house. This is the only tradition which is traced back to a Companion, namely Ibn al-‘Abbas. The traditions which make use of the gospel materials are traced back to Wahb and Ibn Ishaq, that is to say they ostensibly originated in the first half of the second/eighth century. On this reckoning, Ayoub is correct. However, if we examine the three asanid supporting the tradition attributed to Ibn al-‘Abbas - the one isnad in Tabari and the two in Ibn Kathir - we find that they all include the name of the Kufan traditionist al-A‘mash [d. 148/764]. It s therefore possible that in actual fact this tradition also originated in the first half of the second/eighth century but in Kufa where speculation about the Shi‘ite Imams was already rife. In Chapter 16 we shall encounter an additional piece of evidence which seems to point in this direction. I presume that it was considerations of this kind, together with the brief reports which Tabari attributes to the Iraqis Qatada and al-Suddi, which led Massignon to conclude that the substitute theory itself originated in Shi‘ite circles. However, we should note that the asanid supporting the traditions which make use of gospel materials do not include the names of Kufan traditionists. Moreover these traditions furnish evidence that there were Christians alive in that period who denied that Jesus had been crucified. For this reason I am inclined to regard these traditions as primary and those which mention a volunteer as a secondary development catalysed by Shi‘ite speculation.

The relationship between the Christians known to Wahb and Ibn Ishaq and the Christians who lived in Medina a century earlier is more problematic. I am, however, impressed by the similarity of the Muslim traditions which make use of the gospel materials to the Gnostic speculations which I mentioned in Chapter 11. If these Gnostic speculations, which originated long before the rise of Islam, survived into the first half of the second/eight century, the probability that they were in circulation during Muhammad’s life-time is substantially increased. (Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity [State University of New York Press, Albany 1991], pp. 140-141; underlined emphasis ours)

Note that Robinson says that the view which did not originate from Iraq is the one denying that Jesus had been crucified altogether, a view which he himself accepts as the primary one. In other words, Neal Robinson soundly refutes Shabir’s entire argument!

Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi says:

Crucifixion is the act of putting to death by nailing to a cross. It was in use, though generally restricted to slaves and rebels, amongst Romans, under whose government Jesus and his prosecutors, the Jews, lived. (Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Volume I [Darul-Ishaat Urdu Bazar, Karachi-1, Pakistan; First edition: 1991], p. 386, fn. 41; underlined emphasis ours)


It was not Jesus who was executed but another, who was miraculously substituted (how and in what way is another question, and is not touched upon in the Qur’an) for him. This true doctrine regarding Jesus is shared by an early Christian sect. The Basilidians maintained that Jesus ‘changed form with Simon of Cyrene who actually suffered in his place.’ (EBr. 11th Edi. III. P. 176). ‘Irenaeus says that Basilides’ account of the crucifixion was that Simon of Cyrene was crucified by mistake, and Jesus himself took the form of Simon, and stood by and laughed at them.’ (ERE. IV, p. 833). (Ibid., fn. 42; underlined emphasis ours)

It seems that this is another case where Shabir tried to pull a fast one over his audience by misquoting sources. Shabir presumably thought that nobody would check up on his references and he would get away with his misrepresentation and misquotations.

Note what this Sunni Muslim says in regard to those who hold to the swoon theory, specifically Ahmad Deedat:

Mr. Deedat is fond of making lectures about other denominations but very seldom on Islam. He seems to have a fixed notion about Prophet Jesus' Crucifixion Theory. In his lectures he hardly gave the Islamic viewpoint or seldom the Christian viewpoint, thus confusing his audience. I believe he likes to make the Qadiyanis of this country very happy by mostly giving their viewpoint that Jesus after being put on the cross, swooned. Now why should Mr. Deedat tell his audience that Jesus was put on the cross and he swooned because nowhere the Qur'an speaks that Jesus was put on the cross and he swooned. Mr. Deedat is the only person who can tell us whether he is preaching either the Christian doctrine, the Muslim doctrine or the Qadiani doctrine?" [MOHAMMED BANA, "Allegations Confirmed", p. 3] (As quoted by John Gilchrist in The Crucifixion of Christ: A Fact, not Fiction)

3. The crucifixion didn't even happen but was a later invention/legend. The late Muhammad Asad held this view:

Thus, the Qur'an categorically denies the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. There exist, among Muslims, many FANCIFUL LEGENDS telling us that at the last moment God substituted for Jesus a person closely resembling him (according to some accounts, that person was Judas), who was subsequently crucified in his place. However, none of these LEGENDS finds the slightest support in the Qur'an or in authentic Traditions, and the stories produced in this connection by the classical commentators must be summarily rejected. They represent no more than confused attempts at "harmonizing" the Qur'anic statement that Jesus was not crucified with the graphic description, in the Gospels, of his crucifixion. The story of the crucifixion as such has been succinctly explained in the Qur'anic phrase wa-sakin shubbiha lahum, which I render as "but it only appeared to them as if it had been so" - implying that in the course of time, long after the time of Jesus, a legend had somehow grown up (possibly under the then-powerful influence of Mithraistic beliefs) to the effect that he had died on the cross in order to atone for the "original sin" with which mankind is allegedly burdened; and this legend became so firmly established among the latter-day followers of Jesus that even his enemies, the Jews, began to believe it - albeit in a derogatory sense (for crucifixion was, in those times, a heinous form of death-penalty reserved for the lowest of criminals). This, to my mind, is the only satisfactory explanation of the phrase wa-lakin shubbiha lahum, the more so as the expression shubbiha li is idiomatically synonymous with khuyyila li, "[a thing] became a fancied image to me", i.e., "in my mind" - in other words, "[it] seemed to me" (see Qamas, art. khayala, as well as Lane II, 833, and IV, 1500). (p. 134, fn. 171, online source; capital and underlined emphasis ours)

Asad’s comments are pretty crafty in the way he seeks to avoid the usual problems. The Gospels, however, speak clearly about the crucifixion and they are FIRST CENTURY documents written during the life-time of eyewitnesses, not legendary accounts invented several centuries later. Asad’s construction is clever but utterly unhistorical. Why on earth would the Christian church suddenly begin to believe in the crucifixion if there never was one? One person may have sudden irrational changes of opinion, but does Asad want us to believe that a body of several hundred thousands, or even millions of believers dispersed in many different countries and cultures would suddenly start believing the opposite of their former conviction? Moreover, does he believe that such a momentous change of faith would leave no trace in history? After all, we have detailed documentation of various Christians debating the exact meaning of the events in the life of Jesus and the statements made by him (e.g. the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, etc. were debated on the basis of texts that themselves were not disputed). Assuming that a change of conviction, not about the meaning of a certain event, but whether the event itself took place without being documented at all is incredible. Asad does not give any historical evidence for his speculation.

Furthermore, he assumes that the Jews, an opposing group, who deny Jesus as the Messiah, and who are hostile to the Christian faith, somehow decide to take over their opponents' new belief in Jesus’ crucifixion instead of exposing the Christian faith as a fraud based on its change of teaching on such a fundamental issue. Again, this would mean that millions of Jews, including hundreds of scholars, living in many different parts of the world, changed their belief without any discussion, and without this change leaving any trace in history. Believing such a hypothesis would take a lot of faith!

Thus, the first half of the above quotation from Muhammad Asad's commentary stands as an expert witness by a Muslim scholar against the confused and nonsensical orthodox position regarding the interpretation of the quranic statement about the crucifixion, but his own theory presented in the second part is really no better. It simply shows that he was just as confused and merely tried to propose his theory in order to save the Quran from some major theological problems!

What Asad and those Muslims who subscribe to his theory need to establish is that the quranic passage certainly says THOSE who were around Jesus believed that Christ wasn’t crucified and that it was only centuries later that Christians started to believe this.

As far as the influence of Mithraism is concerned, scholars almost unanimously reject this. The form of Mithraism that is claimed to have influenced Christianity actually post-dates the NT writings:

The most hilarious aspect of all this is that 4:157 concludes by saying that those who differ about Jesus’ death follow nothing but conjecture. In light of the mass confusion and chaos amongst Muslim scholars and writers regarding Jesus’ final hours, I think that this quranic passage best explains the situation of Muslims.

The foregoing confusion provides additional evidence that the Quran is a false book since it evidently contests one of the best-established facts of history, namely the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ under Pontius Pilate. (This is assuming, of course, that the classical Muslim interpretation of 4:157 is the correct one, i.e. that Christ wasn't crucified at all.)

The crucifixion of Jesus is not something which Christians alone accept, as even non-Christian and radical liberal scholars such as the Jesus Seminar accept the crucifixion as a historical fact. Christian Philosopher and Apologist Dr. William Lane Craig states in regard to the beliefs of the radical liberal scholars of the Jesus Seminar, such as Robert Funk:

... Moreover, the crucifixion of Jesus is incontestably a historical fact.{18} Hence, even the sceptical Robert Funk, chairman of the Jesus Seminar, declares, "The crucifixion was one indisputable fact which neither [the early Christians] nor their opponents could deny."{19} (

In fn. 18 Craig quotes the views of leading NT scholar John P. Meier:

As John Meier explains, "For two obvious reasons practically no one would deny the fact that Jesus was executed by crucifixion: (1) This central event is reported or alluded to not only by the vast majority of NT authors, but also by Josephus and Tacitus....(2) Such an embarrassing event created a major obstacle to converting Jews and Gentiles alike ... that the Church struggled to overcome...." (John P. Meier, "The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist during Jesus' Public Ministry?" Journal of Biblical Literature 116 [1997]: 664-665). (underlined emphasis ours)

Islamicist Geoffrey Parrinder sums it up best:

K. Cragg emphasizes that ‘the Qur’an does not dispute that the Jews desired to crucify Jesus. The fact that they resisted him strongly and resented his words is another instance in the Muslim mind of that hostility on the part of the gainsayers to which all the prophets from Noah to Muhammad were exposed.’ Nor does the Qur'an name a substitute who died in the place of Jesus. Indeed, ‘what are we to say of the nature of a God who behaves in this way or of the character of a Christ who permits another - even if a Judas - to suffer the consequences of an antagonism his own teaching has raised against himself? ... Christian history believes that Jesus suffered the full length of that hostility, and that he did so willingly, as the price of loyalty to his own message ... Not rendering evil for evil, nor countering hatred with guile.’

Force is added to the modern stress on the historicity of the life and death of Jesus, by the fact that secular historians also accept the crucifixion as a fact. No serious modern historian doubts that Jesus was a historical figure and that he was crucified, whatever he may think of the faith in the resurrection. (Parrinder, Jesus In The Qur’an [Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England/Rockport, MA (U.S.A.); reprinted 1996], p. 116)

For information regarding the overwhelming evidence establishing the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, as well as a critique of the dissenting scholarly opinions, we recommend the articles found at this link:

And for information on the Muslim perspective of the crucifixion we recommend these articles:

The preceding should demonstrate that any Muslim wishing to argue from the Quran’s supposed denial of Jesus’ crucifixion in 4:157 that this then proves that the Quran is, therefore, denying the authority and preservation of the Holy Bible is erroneous, to say the least. The evidence shows that the Quran affirms that the Holy Bible is indeed the revealed and preserved word of God, while contradicting its core essential teachings. In so doing, it exposes itself as a false book, as this is the Quran’s most serious error and ultimate self-destruction.

Further reading: How I came to believe that Jesus really did die on the cross and why it matters

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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