Christian missionaries declare the Qur’an wrongly states that Prophet Jesus was not killed by the Jews, or the Romans, or by anyone else. A popular translation of the relevant Qur’anic passage reads thus:

“And for their saying, ‘Indeed, we (Romans, Jews, or all of mankind’s sins) killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but (another person was killed who) was made to resemble him. Indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt (themselves) about it. They have no (direct) knowledge of it except the following of assumption (conjecture). They certainly did not kill him.” [Surah Al-Nisâ’, 4:157]

During the first to the fifth century most Jews accepted the Christian claim that Jesus had literally and intentionally asserted that he was the Son of God and that his miracles were done in his own name; thus they felt that Jesus deserved to be executed as a blasphemer of the one and only God. Only a minority believed that since Jesus almost always referred to himself as the ‘son of man’, he would never have claimed to be the Son of God, as the Christians understood this phrase.

Then, the Qur’an revealed:

“And when Allah will say, “Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'”  Jesus will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right (to say). If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I (unlike You) do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen. I said to them only what You commanded me – to worship Allah, my Lord and your (the Jews’) Lord. [Surah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:116-117]

So then, the majority of Jews began to think that Jesus would never have claimed literally and intentionally to be the Son of God—but rather that Paul had distorted the teachings of Jesus, and had also influenced the writers of the Gospels with his views.

So those Jews who thought Jesus was a blasphemer of God, and those Jews who thought Jesus was the Son of God were both wrong. Only those Jews who thought Jesus was a revived Biblical prophet were close to the truth:

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do (Jewish) people say that the Son of Man (the term usually used by Jesus to describe himself]) is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the [other] prophets.” (New Testament, Matthew 16:13-14, Mark 8:27-28, and Luke 9:18-19)

And perhaps this is why Jesus stresses so strongly that he has not come to replace, but only to enhance Judaism:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish Torah laws, or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them, and teaches them, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds  that of the [synagogue] scribes and Pharisees [Orthodox Jews]; you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (New Testament, Matthew 5:17-20)

So Allah said:

“Believers, be God’s helpers, as Jesus, son of Mary, said to the disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers in the cause of God?’ The disciples said, ‘We shall be God’s helpers.’ Some of the Children of Israel believed in him and some denied the truth; We supported the believers against their enemies and they triumphed over them. [Surah Al- Ṣaff, 61:14]

The Romans did intend to crucify Jesus, and an actual historical crucifixion indeed happened, but Allah fooled the Romans, and even the Jewish followers of Prophet Jesus, by placing Jesus’ image on another person who, subsequently, took his place on the cross. The majority of Islamic exegetes have favored this interpretation and have generated a plethora of possible identities of the person who bore Jesus’ image and replaced him on the cross: a passing Jew, a Roman soldier, Judas Iscariot, Simon of Cyrene, etc.

It is true that, unlike in the Gospels where Jesus is the central character, the Qur’an’s teaching about Jesus’ position is clearly not central. Jesus is mentioned in 15 Suras and 93 verses; and while this is not trivial, Abraham is mentioned over 240 times, and Moses over 500 times.

The Qur’an does affirm some basic facts about Jesus’ life, such as his virgin birth, his moral righteousness, his reception of the Injil (Gospels), and various miracles. However, in presenting the supernatural events surrounding Jesus, the Qur’an never says that they occurred in the name of Jesus; rather, it was Allah who made the miracles. Islam places the emphasis not on the special nature of Jesus, but on the works of Allah; thus the Qur’an repeatedly seeks to minimize the role of Jesus in initiating and carrying out the miracles — who acts only with the power and permission of Allah.

Muslim interpreters maintain the denial of the crucifixion out of a combination of a disinterest in reconstructing the historical Jesus; and a strong desire to make a theological statement about Allah who will not let his enemies vanquish his chosen Messenger. The denial of the crucifixion is a denial of the power of mankind to overturn Allah’s will; neither the Romans nor the Jews can kill Jesus because Allah is the ultimate responsible actor who will determine when and whether his anointed Messenger will die. The denial of the crucifixion is also a denial of Paul’s doctrine of mankind’s original sin.

Thus, the Qur’an denies the central doctrine of Christianity: that believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God, assures the believer deliverance from eternal Hellfire.

Instead, the Qur’an teaches

“God said, ‘Jesus, I will take you back and raise you up to Me: I will purify you of the (Trinitarian) disbelievers. To the Day of Resurrection I will make those who follow you superior (in number) to those who disbelieved. Then you will all return to Me and I will judge between you regarding your differences.’”  [Surah Âl-‘Imrân, 3:55]

If a mighty king thinks he can kill one of God’s Prophets, Allah can save him as He did with baby Moses:

“We suggested to the mother of Moses: “Suckle your child, but when you fear for his life cast him into the river and be not fearful nor grieve, for We shall restore him to you and make him one of the Messengers. Then Pharaoh’s household (wife and daughter) picked him up (from the river) that he may become their (Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts) adversary and be a cause of sorrow to them. Surely Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts erred (in their plot to kill Moses). [Surah Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:7-8]

The best example of this is: Prophet Abraham, the only Prophet to be titled “God’s friend” in the Sacred Scriptures of both Muslims and Jews (Qur’an 4:125 & Isaiah 41:8) —of whom the Qur’an states:

“You have an excellent example to follow in Abraham.” [Surah Al-Mumtaḥina, 60:4]

and

“Follow the way of Abraham as people of pure faith.” [Surah Âl-‘Imrân, 3:95]

He was saved by Allah from being killed, from being burned to death at the hand of  a Babylonian king [Surah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:68-70]:

“They (the Babylonian rulers) said, “Burn him and support your gods – if you are to act.” (68) and “Allah said, “O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham.” (69) And they (the Babylonian rulers) intended for him harm, but We made them the greatest losers.(70).

When the Makkans decided that Prophet Muhammad should be killed, they agreed that one man be chosen from every tribe, and each man should stab Prophet Muhammad with his sword; so that responsibility would rest equally on all the Makkan tribes. When the plot failed, the fury of the Quraish was unbounded. News that the assassins were unsuccessful led the Quraish to offer a reward of 100 camels to anyone who killed Prophet Muhammad. Yet these attempted murders are not recorded in the Qur’an, and neither the Makkans nor the Quraish in general are charged with killing their Prophet.

Let this lesson always guide us in avoiding blaming a whole community for the sins of a few leaders.

Rabbi Allen S Maller

Allen S. Maller was the rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California for 39 years, from 1967 to 2006. Rabbi Maller edited the Tikun series of High Holy Days prayerbooks, used at Temple Akiba and at seven other congregations in California, Nevada and Arizona. Read Full Bio

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