Copyright © 1996 by M. Anderson. All rights reserved.
It is a fact that the vast majority of Muslims believe in the substitution theory. Though modern thinkers like Dr. Ayoub and Dr. Hussein tell us that the theory of substitution makes mockery of divine justice, and belongs to the uncultured , the Muslim masses have been led to believe it and zealously defend it.
Not only do the masses believe in the substitution theory but they also believe that Jesus did not die.
However, modern thinkers insist that Jesus did die. Dr. Ayoub said that 'the verb, tawaffa, in general usage, means in its passive form, tuwuffi, to die.'  He then added, 'It was early reported on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that the word mutawaffika means 'causing you to die', i.e. 'mumituka.' Then in a footnote he said, 'Most commentators mention this as an alternative. Modern thinkers generally insist on it.'  (For example see 'abd al-Karim 'abd Allah al-Aniazi in his book, Elaykum Ya 'Ulama' al-Gharb, 1985, p. 27.)
It is amazing to know also that even Wahb spoke of the death of Jesus amongst the many versions of the stories he told. Suyuti relates that,
That was rejected by Tabari. It is fascinating to note that Wahb even said that Jesus died for three days and God resurrected him and lifted him up. Again Dr. Ayoub found no difficulty in stating that the Qur'an plainly asserts that Jesus did die:
According to Dr. Ayoub the Qur'an asserts the death of Christ several times and in various contexts. He does not appeal to any clever exegetical exercise, but to the clear passages of the Qur'an.
The philosopher Sagastani sees that the Qur'an denies the crucifixion of the spirit of Jesus but undoubtedly affirms the physical crucifixion of the body of Jesus.
Mahmoud Mohammad Taha the leader of the Republican Brothers in Sudan, wrote in a booklet titled al-Masih:
Thus Mamoud Mohammad Taha, like the philosopher Sagastani understood from the same Qur'anic passages that Jesus was killed by the Jews without a doubt, then raised up by God. With Dr. Ayoub he found no difficulty in concluding that the Qur'an speaks plainly of the death of Jesus, otherwise the Qur'an would be contradicting itself. He then proceeded to prove that this mode of expressing the death of Christ is not unique but has a parallel in the Qur'an, indeed it is an affirmation in the form of negation.
Historians, regardless of their interpretation of the crucifixion, (that is, whether or not they attach any spiritual significance to it), have accepted the crucifixion as a historical fact. The experts, in sifting what belongs to history, compared with what belongs to myth or dogma, have cast their verdict in favour of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus. Not only historians, but other great minds like Tagore the brilliant Bengali poet and winner of the Nobel prize, accepted the crucifixion as a fact. Tagore wrote:
From before their sacred altar they shout to the
And the Son of Man in agony cries, 'My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?' 
Tagore must have been aware of the view that the Christ was not crucified and someone else died on the cross, because he was living amongst millions of Muslim. But he chose to believe in the historicity of the crucifixion. He spoke of the crucifixion as an event that took place in time, 'where, ages ago, in the bitter cup of death He poured His deathless life'. Tagor, though a poet, was not talking about a myth. The tragedy of his own time, represented in the merciless murder of the innocent was of the same kind as that which killed the Christ. Listen to him say:
Tagore, did not question the historicity of the crucifixion, but accepted it, although he was aware of the views of his fellow countrymen who believed otherwise.
The great Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawqi who is called by his people the prince of the poets accepted the historicity of the crucifixion.
In one of his poems he wrote:
Ahmad Shawqi, like Tagor, was aware of the beliefs of the majority of Muslims, yet he chose to believe in the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
The Muslim masses, then, for almost thirteen hundred years have been believing not only a false report claiming that a substitute died for Jesus on the cross, and a teaching that is contrary to the Qur'an; namely that Jesus did not die, before his being lifted up. For modern thinkers tell us that the Qur'an plainly asserts the death of Jesus. For thirteen hundred years, not only has the average man in the street been mistaken in his belief on this issue, but many devout Muslims have blindly accepted it, and vigorously defended it as God's truth.
One might ask why millions upon millions of sincere Muslims have believed that which is error, for so long, while the Qur'an plainly asserts that Jesus did die.
It is important to note that in every Muslim story told about what happened to Jesus and his substitute, there is a crucifixion. This crucifixion of Jesus is denied, but nevertheless a crucifixion is mentioned in every single story. Dr. Ayoub said, "They [the commentators] accepted a crucifixion as an historical fact.... but denied it of Jesus."  A crucifixion is accepted by the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims. The dispute is over who was on that cross.
Now if there was no substitute on the cross, (the cross is the only undisputed historical fact), who then was on it? Someone was there, bleeding and dying.
Modern Muslim thinkers have discarded the substitution theory and insist that Jesus died. Most, however, prefer to leave the manner of his death alone. But if we bring together the historical fact of the cross, the impossibility of a substitute and the insistence of modern thinkers that Jesus did die, the answer is simple: It was Jesus who was on the cross. It is how he died.
Whatever theory we discuss we must ask ourselves the question: Where were the Hawariyun? That is, where were the disciples of Jesus in the plan and purpose of God? Men's theories can take them away from the scene of the cross, so that they could not be eye witnesses, and yet they had a critical place in the plan of God. The Qur'an says of them,
The Qur'an called them 'helpers of God'; they were to make the Truth of God victorious and known. Where is their voice for God and His Truth concerning the crucifixion? If Jesus was not crucified, these 'helpers of God' would have spoken fiercely of what they believed to be the truth, and filled the whole world with it, and even died for it. Where then is the voice of God's helpers?
Mohammad Kamel Husein writes of them as 'the finest band of men that could be conceived, lacking neither in faith nor in resolve.'  Did they just sit down to let the lies of the Jews spread like fire to be believed by the whole world? Could the disciples, whose rank had been elevated to those 'who bear witness' hide themselves in the shadows of forgetfulness, and silence? If so, they do not deserve to be called 'helpers of God' or 'witnesses', but disappointers of God and the Truth.
But that is not what they did, for they did speak fearlessly of the crucifixion and the resurrection; so much so that even those who are not followers of Jesus know the disciples' report, that Jesus died and rose again on the third day.
The theories we have studied are simply not consistent with the manner in which God was dealing with humanity in the life of Jesus. The Qur'an states that Jesus came with the clear evidence. This clarity was God's stamp throughout his life. Is it consistent with God's dealings, then, to cloud the last day of Jesus' time on earth with confusion? Or is it more consistent with God's ways, to say that this clarity was uninterrupted and that Jesus was crucified? The Jews did their worst and God did His best, raising Jesus up. In Q. 4:157 the Qur'an states:
This verse is an emphatic denial of the Jews' boasting; it is an emphatic denial of their claim that theirs is the victory. That is what the Qur'an denies, not the actual death and the actual crucifixion of Jesus. The mode of expression in this verse is found in the Qur'an in different forms. When the Qur'an speaks of those who have eyes but do not see  it does not mean that they are blind, but that they do not perceive the truth. Similarly when the Qur'an speaks of those who do not hear, it is the perception of what they actually heard that they have denied. It is the same with the Jews, they killed the Christ, but their perception that they had finally destroyed him is denied. They thought that by their crucifying him, he would be finished, but he rose from the dead. The crucifixion was not the last word. The resurrection was. So they thought they had killed him on the cross, but they had not, for he rose again.
There is a parallel between the death of Jesus and that of Mohammad's grandson, al-Husein. One writer, commenting on the tragic murder of al-Husein, said,
This is the same sentiment that answers the boasting of the Jews who said, 'We killed the Christ'. The people said that Al-Husein 'wasted his life... but time proved the opposite'; that is, he did not waste his life. But that is not to say he was not killed, for he was. And so it was with Jesus. al-Husein was killed by those who were supposed to accept him and honour him, Jesus likewise.
If the Christ died on the cross why did the early commentators, and the many Muslim generations after them, believe (contrary to the plain teaching of the Qur'an, and to the understanding of modern Muslim thinkers) that Jesus did not die? Remember Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub's words: 'The substitutionist theory will not do, regardless of its form or purpose. First, it makes a mockery of divine justice and the primordial covenant of God with humanity.' 
Why have the commentators propounded many theories to avoid the historical facts and the teaching of other Muslim leaders that the Christ had been crucified?
The answer to that question can be traced back to two people, who in turn influenced subsequent commentators and hence the Muslim masses. These two are Tabari and Wahb Ibn Munabbeh.
Dr. Ayoub tells us: 'The traditions relating the story of Jesus are told on the authority of either Jewish converts like Wahb Ibn Munabbeh, or of unnamed Christian converts as in the traditions of Ibn Isaq.'  In other words, the source of the stories about what is supposed to have happened could be traced back to some unknown Christian converts or a man called Wahb.
When Tabari was analysing the different traditions he preferred the two versions of Wahb's story. Tabari then influenced almost all the commentators after him.
On these two persons we shall now focus.
But first we must say a brief word about the phenomenon of recorded Islamic history.
This phenomenon concerns fabricated historical reports that were mixed with early Islamic historical material. One scholar said about the transmission of early Islamic historical material in general:
These first written reports formed the first nucleus for subsequent historians...
In spite of what has been said, i.e. that these reports were not well arranged and not carefully organised, and that most of them lack verification and accuracy and even include possible fabrication, they nevertheless provided historians like Tabari and Ya'qouby with a flood of historical material, though this flood was so overflowing that subsequent historians could not sift, and could not get rid of the contradictions, the exaggerations, and the forgery in it. They could not detect the work of the fabricators in it, for the fabricators - sad to say - have found such a wide entrance to these reports. 
That is not to cast doubt on the historicity of basic Islamic events, but to warn readers of Islamic history that not everything is above board, that there are forgeries which have slipped in since the early period.
These forgeries are not single incidents here and there, but a great flood. The damage is irreversible for fabrication was mixed with fact to such an extent that later historians could not sift or eradicate the forgeries. Some scholars have collected up to 620 Hadith fabricators and liars [not 620 Hadiths, but Hadith transmitters] who were quoted by others as authorities in Hadith and history. 
Some examples will be cited later. It is worth noting again, however, that Tabari was one of the commentators who drew on this vast volume of fabricated material.
Another kind of material that crept in, in many different forms was what scholars call 'al-Isra'iliyat': supposed stories some of which were in the form of historical material, others supposedly in the form of the revealed books of the Jews and the Christians. This material was transmitted through Christian and Jewish converts to Islam, like Wahb.
Dr. Qaradawi commented on the 'Isra'ilyiat' and Wahb Ibn Munabbeh in particular, as follows, (and I paraphrase):
The infiltration of the 'Isra'iliyat' was small at the beginning, then it began to increase, unintentionally. This gave way to plotting, scheming and intentional conspiracy.
Because the Jews were defeated militarily by the Muslims and wanting to resist by using another weapon - an intellectual one - they slipped in the 'Isra'iliyat' and, within a short period, the books of Muslims were full of it. 
Here again we notice the extent of the 'creeping in'. Dr. Qaradawi wrote that within a short time the books of the Muslims became full of it. The 'Isra'iliyat' particularly affected the science of Tafsir, that is, the expounding and explaining of the Qur'an.
The substitution theory belongs to the flood of forgery that later historians could not detect, and which Tabari used on the authority of Wahb, one of the instruments of transmitting the 'Isra'iliyat'. As we have seen, it is only recently that modern thinkers have discarded the theory.
Here are some extracts by Muhammad Abd El-Ghani Hasan, from his book Attarikh 'End al-Muslemeen, that give us a better picture of Wahb.
It is no wonder, then, that those storytellers (Ikhbariyeen) have no authority in any serious work, as one scholar commented: '...scrutineers of the truth place no weight on the reporting of those 'Ikhbariyeen' (storytellers). They do not rely on them and shame those who quote them in any serious scientific work.' 
Muhammad Abd El-Ghani Hasan wrote:
Other Muslims see 'Wahb Ibn Munabbeh as the First Zionist'  and thus place him at the very top of the enemies of Islam.
So Wahb, even as a storyteller, lacked integrity. For that reason no serious historian relies on him. One can understand why modern thinkers shy away from the theory of substitution and treat it with contempt, for they see it as a mockery of God's justice, not only because it does not stand against the scrutiny of reason, but also because Wahb who was its perpetrator was a cheap storyteller.
There are guidelines for accepting or rejecting Hadith. The following is one of them:
If only the commentators had applied this rule to Wahb, and rejected his report, a lot of confusion and error would have been avoided.
Here is another rule for determining the truth of any report:
As we have seen, Wahb's reporting lacked logic, and accuracy. There is even a question about his conversion to Islam. And some label him as the first Zionist. Wahb's reporting should have been rejected completely. But sadly this was not so.
Tabari's influence on subsequent commentators on this subject is unquestionable. Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub wrote:
Dr. Sobhy al-Saleh said, 'Almost all subsequent commentators after Tabari were entirely dependent on him.'  Literally he said that they 'lived off him'.
Tabari is called "Sheikh al-Mufasereen", that is, the chief and head of the commentators.
Dr. Yousif Qaradawi, in one of his many books, makes the following remark on this famous commentator as a historian:
So whoever had something to report was quoted by Tabari, acknowledging the source of that report, even if the reporter was a weak one, or suspected one, or even a disregarded one ... some of those authorities, the researcher will find, were dropped completely, others differ in reliability, while others are reliable.
So out of Tabari's men:
Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, the author of 'The Life of the Prophet', was criticised bitterly by Imam Malek ...
Waqedi was accused of falsehood by some leading transmitters of Hadith ...
Hesham Ibn Muhammad al-Kalby and his father, were accused of being liars. And Saif Ibn 'Omar al-Tamimi was a fabricator of Hadith, and was accused of being an atheist ...
And there were many more, who are regarded as unworthy of mention by learned men of Hadith.
For that reason scrutineers of the truth place no weight on the reporting of those 'Ikhbareyeen' (storytellers) - they do not rely on them and shame those who quote them in any serious scientific work. 
No wonder then that Dr. Qaradawi acknowledges that 'Tabari treated historical issues in a careless and cheap manner.'  He added
Modern thinkers like Dr. Ayoub would agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Qaradawi's last statement. Imam Tabari not only has disfigured the history of the dawn of Islam, but also made a mockery of the justice of God to this day, by propagating the reporting of the Ikhbareyeen, and Wahb in particular.
Even though, according to Dr. Qaradawi, "scrutineers of the truth place no weight on the reporting of the Ikhbareyeen, they do not rely on them and shame those who quote them in any serious scientific work", one Ikhbary, Wahb, has influenced the Islamic 'Ummah more than the most reliable Hadith transmitters on the issue of the crucifixion of Jesus.
It is not only that Tabari as a historian 'treated historical issues in a careless and cheap manner' , he also, as a commentator, made some serious errors.
Dr. Qaradawi wrote that 'in spite of his [Tabari's] high rank and the place of his commentary, he sometimes chose weak explanations - nay very weak explanations - such as [the explanation given of husbands disciplining of women in] "banish them to their couches, and beat them".  Tabari said that this meant tie them by that which ties the camel, so the meaning becomes: 'Tie the women in order to force them to do that which they refused to do.' 
Such a sentiment is abhorred by the cultured and the uncultured alike nowadays but that was Tabari's choice of meaning.
Also Dr. Qaradawi criticised Tabari's choice for the explanation of the verses, 'Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down; they are the unbelievers.'  Tabari said 'those intended are the people of the Book (that is the Jews and the Christians)'.  Dr. Qaradawi, in disagreeing with Tabari's interpretation, said: 'What is under consideration here is the general wording, not the special causes.' He then added that the above verses were mentioned in front of Hazifah Ibn al-Yaman by a man who said that the people intended are the children of Israel. Hazifah then said: 'Yes, they are your brothers, the children of Israel, if to you belongs everything that is sweet and to them belongs everything that is bitter! Meaning, how can the children of Israel be described by blasphemy, injustice and iniquity if they do not judge according to what God has sent down upon them, and you are not so described if you do not judge according to what God has sent down upon you?' 
Then Dr. Qaradawi concluded the chapter by saying: 'The goal is to avoid the weak interpretations and opinions, no matter what the authority of their source. For as 'Ali said, "Truth is not known by those who call themselves men of Truth, but know the Truth, then you shall know its men"' 
The advice of Dr. Qaradawi to avoid the weak interpretations (even if their authority is the chief of the commentators, Imam Tabari), is far too late. For unfortunately the rest of the commentators have been greatly influenced by Tabari. They almost lived off his original work.
Dr. Qaradawi was not the only one who admitted the existence of forgeries and criticised the lack of careful investigation by other writers in Islamic material. Appealing to Imam Tabari as a final authority, another author wrote:
To invent and forge certain material is one thing, but to invent people who do not exist is completely another. These works of forgery did not turn only Islamic historical facts upside down, but also turned the historicity of the crucifixion upside down for generations of Muslims.
Fabrication and forgery did not only involve distant past histories of other nations, but also included a sacred branch of Islamic material known as 'asbab an-Nuzul i.e.; the occasions of revelation which provide the historical context of the Qur'an. One scholar commented:
'Al Wahidi, for example, when he read The Cow: 114, did not conclude that it was a general threat to those who trifled with places of worship and try to stop God's ordinances... but he fell into an ugly historical error. If that error was his personally, that would have been of no consequence. But to force error on the text of the Qur'an is a thing that is not permissible for him or for any other person.
It is amazing to see that al-Wahidi unashamedly mentions Qatadah who said that this verse is about Bakhtnassar the Babylonian and his friends who captured the Jews, and destroyed Bait al-Maqdes and were helped by the Nasara [the Christians]. He mentions that the Nasara were united with Bakhtnassar in the destruction of Bait al-Maqdes, despite the fact that this event took place 633 years before the birth of Christ.
He then added:
If we have an excuse for al-Wahidi, what excuse can we find for Ibn Garir al-Tabari, the commentator and historian who not only mentioned Bakhtnassar's incident as al-Wahidi did, but he chooses it from a group of options declaring: 'The best explanation of them all concerning the Cow:114, "And who does greater evil than he who bars God's places of worship, so that His Name be not praised in them" is the Christians (Nasara). For they are the ones who sought to destroy Bait al-Maqdes, and helped Bakhtnassar in doing that, and prevented the believers of the children of Israel from praying in it after the return of Bakhtnassar to his own land.'
Then he added:
Here is another example of one of Tabari's errors. This time it concerns a simple historical fact which can be seen by all. Piety and religious faithfulness are not a guarantee of freedom from error. Imam Tabari made mistakes that all can see. Would it be scientifically honest to explain away his errors, or to admit them? It is far better to side with the truth than to side with the greatest commentators. Just as Tabari chose from different options in the story concerning Bakhtnassar and was wrong, so he also chose from different options concerning the crucifixion of Jesus and was proven to be wrong again.
It is not only concerning the crucifixion (an event which occurred 900 years before the time of Tabari) that historical data was wrongly selected by Imam Tabari and others. His historical data concerning the reasons of inspiration was also incorrect, even though this was 300 (not 900) years before Tabari's time and transmitted by people who had its interest in heart. The listing of such historical errors would take us a long time, and our wandering too would be extensive.
Dr. Qaradawi quoted another Muslim scholar concerning the use of the 'Isra'iliyat' :
The acceptance of the substitution theory is based on the speciality of Wahb, the 'Isra'iliyat'. It is the same 'Isra'iliyat that Imam Tabari used to explain the Qur'anic verses about the crucifixion of Jesus. After Tabari, most commentators have continued to do the same, to the present day.
Dr. Qaradawi requested forgiveness for Imam Tabari when he said: 'May Allah forgive Imam Tabari, for his carelessness has disfigured the history of the dawn of Islam, and harmed the first bearers of the message.'  He requested forgiveness from Allah on behalf of all who used the 'Isra'iliyat to expound the Qur'an, when he said 'O Allah forgive us.' But this plea for forgiveness should also include its use in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus. It is the only appropriate response if the record is to be set straight.
If you would like to ask further questions, obtain a hard copy of this series of booklets or for any other reason you are welcome to contact M. Anderson via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.