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17. Understanding Islam

13.4. Objections about Christ's crucifixion and resurrection

Having discussed three common objections, let us now look at another commonly held Islamic belief, namely that while there was indeed a crucifixion, it was not Jesus on the cross but rather someone who only looked like Him.

There is in fact only one verse in the Qur’an about the crucifixion, and this verse is ambiguous in the original Arabic. The literal translation of the verse says:

“And their saying: ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, Mary’s son, God’s messenger’, and they have not killed him, and they have not crucified him, and but (it) resembled to them, and that those who disagreed in him in doubt from him, They have no knowledge in him, except following the speculation, and they have not killed him surely.” (Qur’an 4:157)

The words here translated as “resembled to them” (shubbiha lahum) have variously been translated as:

  1. Sahih International: “but [another] was made to resemble him to them”
  2. Pickthall: “but it appeared so unto them”
  3. Yusuf Ali: “but so it was made to appear to them”
  4. Shakir: “but it appeared to them so (like Isa)”
  5. Muhammad Sarwar: “They, in fact, murdered someone else by mistake”
  6. Mohsin Khan: “but the resemblance of 'Iesa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man)”
  7. Arberry: “only a likeness of that was shown to them”
  8. Kamal Omar: “And rather it remained an incident of doubt for them”
  9. Mohammed Ahmed & Samira: “but (it) resembled / was vague / was doubtful to them”
  10. Wahiduddin Khan: “but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so]”
  11. Qaribullah & Darwish: “but to them, he (the crucified) had been given the look (of Prophet Jesus)”
  12. Maududi: “but the matter was made dubious to them”
  13. Asad: “only seemed to them [as if it had been] so”
  14. Khatab: “it was only made to appear so”
  15. Malik: “but they thought they did because the matter was made dubious for them”
  16. Laela Bakhtiar: “Rather, a likeness to him of another was shown to them”
  17. T.B. Irving: “even though it seemed so to them”
  18. Unman: “but they were deluded by resemblance”
  19. Bijan Moeinian: “Their wishful thinking has created so much confusion in account of the lack of [historical] proof for their saying”
  20. Amatul Rahaman Omar: “but he was made to them to resemble (one crucified to death)”

Thus you can see that there is no clear consensus on the actual meaning. These words have been translated over twenty different ways, anything from “it appeared to them” to “Their wishful thinking has created so much confusion in account of the lack of [historical] proof for their saying”. This confusion is reflected in Qur’anic commentaries; some tell us that another person took Christ’s place, others say that this person was Judas Iscariot, and still others say that it was Jesus but he didn’t die.

Qur’an commentator al-Razi in his commentary to this verse asked very good questions about this idea of another person taking on the appearance of Jesus.

  1. If we allow for this change of appearance, it would lead to Sophistry. In the same way, if I see my child once, the next time I see him I wouldn’t be sure he is my child ‒ he could be someone else who looks like him. That would destroy any trust in our senses. Furthermore Mohammed’s followers who saw him teaching them: maybe that was not Mohammed but someone who just appeared to be him.
  2. The Qur’an says Jesus was supported by the holy spirit “Jibreel”, how couldn’t he save him without the need for killing someone else?
  3. Jesus was able to raise the dead, why then couldn’t he save himself?
  4. If someone else was killed in Jesus's place and He was raised to heaven, and in so doing made everyone believe He was on the cross and He rose from the dead: that means Allah deceived them into believing a falsehood.
  5. Christians everywhere, with all their love and adoration for Christ, maintain He was on the cross. This is not something which would have been made up, and therefore we have more reason to believe them than any other witnesses to other prophets.
  6. It is a confirmed fact that the person on the cross was there for hours; if he wasn’t Jesus, then he would have said so! This didn’t happen.

Razi tried to address his own question with extremely ridiculous answers, like saying: “if Jibreel saved Jesus, that would have made Jesus’s miracle so great that it would reach the level of compelling people to believe, which is not lawful.” In the end he actually admits why he refused the logical conclusion of all his questions: the Qur’an says otherwise.

The crucifixion of Jesus is a historical fact which not even atheist scholars today deny. Bart Ehrman (who is not known for his commitment to Christ), for example, says the crucifixion of Jesus on the orders of Pontius Pilate is the most certain element about him (A Brief Introduction to the New Testament). It is simply an indisputable fact. Are we supposed to refuse or doubt it because someone came along six hundred years later and said two words that his own followers do not really understand but who think those two words could mean that it wasn’t Jesus on the cross but someone else who looked like him? Really! Would Muslims even entertain such an absurd idea if it was applied to Mohammed? The Qur’an and Islamic history say Mohammed was hiding in a cave with Abu Baker when he was escaping from Mecca to Madinah (Qur’an 9:40). What if we say that when they came out of the cave it wasn’t Mohammed but someone who just looked to Abu Baker like Mohammed? After all, the verses of the Qur’an written by this person after coming out of the cave are very different indeed to those written in Mecca beforehand. We see a distinct change in character as Mohammed was more violent after this cave incident. He changed his goals; he had now become a warrior and within a year from coming out of that Cave he started invading other tribes while he never attacked anyone before. Would Muslims think such an idea should be taken seriously? Of course not! That is how Christians feel when we hear “it appeared to them”. The rest of that verse says “those who disagreed in him in doubt from him, They have no knowledge in him, except following the speculation” but as we have seen, it is Muslims who are in doubt and follow speculation, Christians on the other hand throughout history have agreed on this fact:

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)

This creed dates back to the late 30s / early 40s AD, which makes it between 5-7 years from the crucifixion. Outside the Bible, we also have the Apostle’s Creed, which states that Jesus:

“suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.”

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