Verification of the Descent of Jesus, son of Mary (peace be upon them both)
- Evidence From The Qur’an
- Affirming Verses
- “And he [Jesus] shall speak to mankind in the cradle and in middle age, and [he shall be] among the righteous.” Q[3:46]
The wording here is significant:
- Speaking in middle-age is not usually extraordinary in itself, unlike speaking in the cradle which is a miracle. The fact that the verse makes specific mention of his speaking in middle age (and that it is also mentioned in Q[5:110] as a favor to be recalled on the Day of Judgment) suggests that it carries some significance. Certainly, for someone to disappear from this world, remain for thousands of years in a realm wherein he does not age, and then return to continue his life and subsequently speak in middle age, is something warranting special mention.
- He was sent to the Children of Israel (Q[3:49]), but this verse says he will speak to mankind, without further specification.
- The verse says he will speak to them in middle age. Yet, he was only 33 or 34 years old when he was lifted up to the heavens [Reported by Ibn Katheer from Hasan al-Basri, and Sa`id ibn al-Musayyib; Ibn Abi al-Dunya has attributed this directly to the Prophet. The same age is stated by Zayd ibn Aslam, Ibn Zayd and others of the Tabi`in, and was concluded to be the strongest view by the prominent exegetes al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir], and that is not yet middle-aged (kahl).
These points, then, are an indication of the fact that Jesus has not died, and will return to this earth toward the end of the world, thereby speaking to mankind at large in his old age. The same interpretation has been reported by the exegete Ibn Jarir al-Tabari from Ibn Zayd
The following are reasons for taking “his death” to refer to Jesus’ death, rather than the death of each individual of the People of the Book:
- Context of the verse; the preceding verses are talking about Allah’s foiling of the attempt to kill Jesus (peace be upon him).
- Taking the first pronoun (‘him’) to refer to Jesus, but the second one (‘his’) to refer to a person of the book implies ‘dispersal of pronouns’ (tashtit al-dama‘ir), which is undesirable in the Arabic language. Taking both pronouns as referring to Jesus (peace be upon him) is, in contrast, the most natural interpretation, as stated by Abu Hayyan, the linguist, in his Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit.
- The verse has been explained in this way by 2 prominent Companions: Ibn `Abbas, the renowned exegete [as narrated by al-Hakim, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, `Abd ibn Humayd, Ibn Abi Hatim, al-Faryabi and others], and Abu Hurayrah [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Mardawayh, Ibn Sa`d], as well as by a number of the Tabi`in : Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Abu Malik, Hasan al-Basri [as narrated by al-Tabari].
- The validity of this interpretation is confirmed in mutawatir ahadith (discussed further in Section B).
- Explained thus in a hadith attributed to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), via Ibn `Abbas, as in Sahih ibn Hibban. The same interpretation is given by numerous Sahabah and Tabi`in, including Ibn `Abbas, Abu Malik, Hasan al-Basri, Mujahid, Qatadah, Suddi, Dahhak and Ibn Zayd, as recorded by al-Tabari. This was also regarded as the most natural explanation by the exegete and linguist Abu Hayyan, and was the interpretation selected by virtually every other exegete of renown, such as al-Zamakhshari, al-Razi, al-Baghawi, al-Jalal al-Muhalli, Ibn Katheer, and al-Alusi.
- Indicated by context of the verse; the preceding verses talk about Jesus (peace be upon him).
- Anything else gives for an awkward structure or forced interpretation.
II. Dispellation of Confusions
- “When Allah said, ‘O Jesus! I shall mutawaffika (gather you up / cause you to die), and raise you up to Me, and purify you from those who disbelieve, . . .” Q[3:55]
Bukhari reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “mutawaffika – cause you to die.”
- Bukhari reported this without an isnad, and it is not sahih. Bukhari’s mu`allaqat (‘hanging’ reports cited without an isnad) were not subjected to his criteria of the highest authenticity. Hafiz Ibn Hajar painstakingly traced the chains of narration of the mu`allaqat in a 5 volume work Taghliq al-Ta`liq. Some of the mu`allaqat are authentic, others are not, and the one in question is not. It is narrated by Ibn Abi Hatim through his isnad: Mu`awiyah [ibn Salih], from `Ali ibn Abi Talhah, from Ibn `Abbas. `Ali ibn Abi Talhah al-Hashimi (d. 143 H) did not meet Ibn `Abbas or any others of the Sahabah, aside from the fact that his reliability is disputed.
- In fact, “tawaffa” (the verb of “mutawaffika”) is also used in the Qur’an with the meaning of “to cause to sleep,” [Q[6:60] and Q[39:42]). This is the meaning which has been selected by the majority of exegetes, as cited by Hafiz Ibn Kathir [Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol I, p. 286]. There may be support for this view also in the Biblical accounts which speak of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the disciples going to the Mount of Olives shortly before the alleged trial and crucifixion, and the disciples being overcome by sleep. [Matt 26, Luke 22] It is conceivable that Jesus, too, was made to sleep, and then raised up in this state, such that someone else was then crucified in his place.
- Even if the narration attributed to Ibn `Abbas were authentic, the word “wa” (“and”) does not carry connotations of temporal succession. Hence, it is conceivable that the dying referred to is that which will occur after his return.
- Even if Jeus (peace be upon him) had died, this would not rule out his returning to the earth.
“Have you not seen those who came out of their homes in thousands, fearing death? Allah said to them, ‘Die!’ and then He brought them to life.” Q[2:243]
“Or, like he who passed by a city while it was lying in ruin; he said, ‘How will Allah give life to this after its death?’ Then, Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, and then brought him to life.” Q [2:259]
“And I give life to the dead, by Allah’s leave.” Q[3:49]
This is irrelevant here, for immortality (al-khuld) means to remain in a place forever, never leaving it.
B. Evidence From The Sunnah
Ahadith can be classified into two categories: ahad and mutawatir. Ahad narrations are those which are narrated only by one person, or a couple of people, in one or more generations (since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link), from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) until ahadith were systematically compiled into books. If uncorroborated by other evidence, an ahad narration typically does not convey certain knowledge, since there is a possibility that a mistake or lie was introduced by a narrator somewhere in the chain. Admittedly, if the isnad (chain of narration) of the ahad hadith is found to be reliable or authentic (sahih) , then the probability of error becomes small, even negligible.
A mutawatir narration, on the other hand, is one which is narrated by ‘a multitude’ in each generation, i.e. by numerous people in each generation. Multiple chains of transmission corroborate one another, and when they reach a certain threshold (which is the case for a mutawatir hadith), they convey absolute certainty that the contents of the hadith in question indeed trace back reliably to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This is because it is not conceivable for so many people in each generation all to make a mistake, or all to forget in the same way, or all to collude to lie.
The ahadith about the descent of the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary (peace be upon them both) at the end of time are mutawatir. They have been narrated from 27 or 28 of the Sahabah from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household). Shaykh `Abdullah al-Ghumari has painstakingly traced the names of these Sahabah, as well as the names of the Tabi`in who narrated the ahadith in question from them, and so on and so on, until the 6th generation after the Prophet, in which the books of hadith were compiled. He notes that ahadith on this subject have been recorded by
- compilers of Sahihs: Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Hibban, al-Hakim, and others
- compilers of Sunan: Tirmidhi, Nasa’I, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Bayhaqi and others.
- compilers of Musnads: Tayalisi, Ahmad, Ibn Rahawayh, `Uthman Ibn Abi Shaybah, Abu Ya`la, Bazzar and others.
- compilers of Musannafs: `Abdur-Razzaq, Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Shaybah and others.
- compilers of Tafseers: Tabari, Ibn al-Mundhir, `Abd ibn Humayd and others.
- compilers of Mu`jams: Tabarani and others.
- compilers of other, specialized collections: Ibn Abi al-Dunya, Daraqutni, Tahawi,Abu Nu`aym, Nu`aym ibn Hammad, Ibn `Asakir and others.
[See: Ghumari, `Aqidat Ahl al-Islam fi Nuzul `Isa `alayhis-salam, pp. 7-11]
One need only open any of the common books of hadith, or do a search on any of the searcheable databases, to realize the dissemination of these ahadith. For example, a topic-based search on Sakhr’s “Mawsu`at al-Hadith al-Sharif” CD turns up 61 related ahadith in the 9 books covered. These are narrated from 12 different initial narrators. 15 of these hadith are in Bukhari and/or Muslim.
Among the experts in Islamic sciences, who have specifically referred to these ahadith being mutawatir, are the following:
- Hafiz Ibn Kathir (d. 774 H), the renowned muhaddith, historian and Qur’anic exegete, says, “The ahadith have been mass-narrated from the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), [stating] that he informed of the descent of Jesus (upon him be peace) before the Day of Arising as a just leader and an equitable judge.” [Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol IV, p. 132 and vol I, p. 582]
- Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani (d. 852 H) , the renowned muhaddith and commentator of Sahih al-Bukhari, has mentioned the mass-narration of the descent of Jesus (upon him be peace), on the authority of Hafiz Abul-Husayn al-Aburi. [Fath al-Bari vol. VI, p. 358]
- Qadi Shawkani (d. 1250 H), set about compiling ahadith on this topic. He named his book “At-Tawdih bi-ma tawatara fil-Muntazar wad-Dajjal wal-Masih” (The clarification of that which has been mass-narrated about the Awaited [Mahdi], the False Messiah and the Messiah), and it contains 29 narrations.
- `Allamah Muhammad Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri (d. 1352 H) compiled “Al-Tasreeh bi-ma Tawatara fi Nuzul al-Masih” (The Declaration of that which has been Mass-Narrated regarding the Descent of the Messiah), a collection of ahadith which specifically deals with the “descent” aspect of the subject. He found over 70 ahadith, as well as 25 statements from Sahabah and Tabi`in, which, for matters of the unseen such as this one, are usually considered to have their origin in Prophetic teaching, and hence carry weight similar to that of a saying of the Prophet himself.
- Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ja`far al-Kittani (d. 1927 CE), who cited the subject, in his compilation Nazm al-Mutanathir min al-Hadith al-Mutawatir, as being one of the issues on which the ahadith are mutawatir.
We may also note that the belief in the Descent of Jesus, son of Mary, at the End of Time has been held since the time of the Sahabah, and moreover included by numerous scholars in their statements, treatises and expositions of Islamic doctrine. Shaykh al-Ghumari [op. cit. pp 16-30, and also in Iqamat al-Burhan `ala Nuzul `Isa fi Akhir al-Zaman, 110-124] once again (may Allah reward him well), has diligently compiled a list of individuals from the generations of the Sahabah and onwards who stated or documented this belief. Among the scholars who documented the belief, and whose treatise has been unanimously approved by Muslim scholars of doctrine (with the exception of a handful of points, this one not being among them) was Imam Abu Ja`far Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (d. 321 H). The belief is shared not only by the common Sunni schools of doctrine (Ash`aris, Maturidis, Hanbalis, Zahiris) but also by the Shi`ites. It is also known that many scholars from the above schools do not include an item as a point of doctrine unless the evidence for it is compelling, i.e. mutawatir.
The ahadith about the emergence of the Charlatan, the False Messiah, are similarly mutawatir. One who peruses Hafiz Ibn Kathir’s “Al-Nihayah,” will be fully convinced of this, for well over fifty pages of the book [pp. 92-149] are full of only a selection (almost 100) of these narrations.
Is the False Messiah mentioned in the Qur’an? Certainly, he is not mentioned directly, and there could be various reasons for this. Perhaps it is because the mention (even though inexplicit) of the return of the True Messiah, who will slay the charlatan, removes the need to mention the Dajjal. Or, perhaps the omission is a subtle allusion to Dajjal’s insignificance before Allah. Or, perhaps he is mentioned indirectly, in Q[40:57], as opined by al-Baghawi. Of course, it is not necessary for every detail of religious teaching to be mentioned in the Qur’an, nor even to be alluded to. The sunnah is the counterpart of the Qur’an, reinforcing, clarifying, expounding, specifying, detailing and supplementing the information in the Qur’an. Religious teaching gleaned from the authentic ahadith is just as authoritative as that from the Qur’an, especially in the case of mutawatir ahadith.
May Allah grant us the courage to learn about and implement the sunnah of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) in all aspects of our lives.
And in closing, we praise Allah, Sustainer of the Universe.