This section examines a few Arabic words in a little detail:
[4:157-158] And [on account of] their saying: “We killed the Messiah, Issa son of Mary, Messenger of Allah.” They did not kill him and they did not crucify him (Salaba), but it was made to seem so to them. Those who argue about him are in doubt about it. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. Allah raised him (Rafaa) to Himself. Allah is Almighty, All Wise.
Salaba: Salaba means to put on the cross, pole, stick etc with the intention to hurt. It has nothing to do with death. A person who survives the cross also comes into the definition of “salaba” whereas the English word “crucifixion” refers only to death. There is no suitable word in English for a man who is put on the cross and survives but the Arabic word “salaba” explains this.
[20:71] The pharaoh said, “You believed him, even though I did not permit you? Obviously, he is your master who has taught you the magic! Now, I will definitely chop off your hands and feet on opposite sides and then crucify (Salaba) you on the trunk of the date-palm tree. You will soon know which one of us awards the severer and the more lasting punishment.”
Here the punishment was not for the purpose of death but for the purpose of torture. Prophet Moosa (peace be upon him) had said to Pharaoh that he would be burned in hell-fire forever. In reply to this, the Pharaoh threatened to torture Prophet Moosa (peace be upon him) and give a more lasting punishment. One doesn’t die in hell and Pharaoh threatened with a punishment where Moosa (peace be upon him) was not to die but to suffer on the tree. This clearly shows that “salaba” means “to hang on a pole, tree, cross, stick etc with the intention to cause harm”. This clearly eliminates the theory that Issa (peace be upon him) was put up on the cross at all, neither was his dead body (imaginary!) put up on the cross at all.
Rafaa: Rafaa means to raise up. It could be a physical raising up (55:7) or it could be the raising of the status (19:57). However, when the raising of the status or rank is concerned, it is mentioned very clearly. In short, Rafa’a means to raise up physically unless otherwise stated.
[19:57] We raised him to an exalted status!
[19:57] WarafaAAnahu makanan Aaaliyyan
When the raising is of the status, we find a clear mention of it with a follow-up word. However, in the case of Prophet Issa (peace be upon him), we see nothing like this and therefore we can conclude that he was raised physically to the heavens.
Tawaffa: To Cause To Die, To Take in One’s Sleep (6:60, 39:42), or To Take Back
[6:60] It is He who recalls (Tawaffa) you by night, and He knows what you work by day; then He raises you up therein, that a stated term may be determined; then unto Him shall you return, then He will tell you of what you have been doing.
When the soul is taken back by Allah, one dies but people do not die every night when they sleep. In 39:42, the word Tawaffa has been mentioned again and in that case, it refers to the taking back of the soul but if we look at the words carefully, we see that the word for death (Mawt) and the word for soul (Rooh) have both been mentioned separately. When the taking back of the soul is discussed, Allah mentions it very clearly but when simple taking back or recalling is discussed, the word Tawaffa is used without any supporting word. This context clearly shows that the Tawaffa in the case of Issa (peace be upon him) is referring to taking back or recalling without the mentioning of “death” or “soul”. Prophet Issa (peace be upon him) was taken back without his death occurring.
[3:55] When Allah said: “Issa, I will take you back(Tawaffa) and raise you up (Rafaa) to Me, and purify you of those who are unbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are unbelievers until the Day of Resurrection. Then you will all return to Me, and I will judge between you regarding the things about which you differed.
[2:281] Beware of the day when you are returned (Tawaffa) to Allah, and every soul is paid for everything it had done, without the least injustice.
The verse above is the clearest one with the meaning of Tawaffa. Human beings would come out of graves on the day of Judgment with their physical bodies. Here Tawaffa refers to a physical return to Allah.
Deviants’ objection: Imam Bukhari says that Tawaffa means death in 5:117.
[Issa said], “I said to them nothing but what You ordered me to say: ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ I was a witness against them as long as I remained among them, but when You caused me to die, You were the One watching over them. You are the Witness of all things.”
This verse speaks of the discussion between Allah and Prophet Issa (peace be upon him) on the Day of Judgment and here Tawaffa could mean death because when Prophet Issa (peace be upon him) will return, he will die after that.
The claimants of this false theory rely more on tricks than on common sense and logic. They propose that each word should be read and understood on it’s own and then the other parts of the verse should be read on their own. For example, they argue that Tawaffa (I will take you back) and Rafa’a (and raise you up to me) should each be dealt with on it’s own. This is a false and a weak proposal as it completely goes against the rules of context. Such tricks deliberately exploit debatable issues and make false conclusions upon them. For example, there is a verse in the Qur’an that says that Muslims should not go to the Masjid when they are in the state of impurity. A person with a disease in his heart would argue that the first part “Do not go to the Masjid” should be debated on it’s own and the later part should be seen separately. This example better illustrates the deliberate trickery in such a way of understanding things.
The root word for Tawaffa is “waffa” which means: “To give someone his due in full, let someone have his full share, pay someone in full, to treat exhaustively, write or speak fully about, set forth or develop in detail, fulfillment, keeping, honoring, carrying out, living up to, redemption, making good, standing by, carrying out.”
[Al-Mawrid, Arabic-English, Page 1240]
Ibn Kathir’s view is posted below:
Allah said,(I will take you and raise you to Myself) while you are asleep.
Allah said in a similar Ayat,
(It is He Who takes your souls by night (when you are asleep).) (6:60), and,(It is Allah Who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep.) (39:42).
The word for natural death for other Prophets is “Mawt” as can be seen in 2:133, 21:34, 26:81, 34:14 etc. Issa (peace be upon him) was taken back in sleep and raised up to Allah due to the fact that breathing becomes difficult, the higher in space one is (6:125). People who just refuse to accept the truth argue again that Tawaffa could mean to take back but it does not suggest a physical take back. This appears to be a genuine question and needs to be answered. Tawaffa has been defined as “to take back” and it could be in any way possible. For example, the Qur’an uses the word “Mawt” for death but does not give different ways of death. Mawt could be in any way just like Tawaffa. Another important thing to note here is that the word “Tawaffa” is not used for other Prophets in the Qur’an.
Harun Yahya explains this in detail:
The Qur’anic Account of Issa’ Ascent to Allah’s Presence
Examining the words used in the narratives relating how the Prophets died and the verses dealing with Issa’ ascent to Allah’s presence reveals an important fact: Issa did not die like the other prophets did, nor was he murdered by the unbelievers. Rather, our Lord took him up to His presence. In this chapter, we will examine the Arabic words used to express how the Prophets died and how Issa was raised up to Allah’s presence, and investigate how the Qur’an uses them.
As we will see in greater detail later on, the Qur’an uses qataloohu (to kill), maata (to die), halaka (to perish), salaboohu (they crucified him), or some other special expressions to describe the death or murder of the Prophets. In the case of Issa, the Qur’an clearly states that he was not killed in any of those ways, for: “They did not kill him [wa ma qataloohu] and did not crucify him [wa ma salaboohu].” Allah reveals that people were shown a look-alike and that Issa was raised up to His presence, as follows:
When Allah said: “Issa, I will take you back [mutawaffeeka] and raise you up [wa raafi`uka] to Me and purify you of those who are unbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are unbelievers until the Day of Rising…” (Surah Al ‘Imran, 3: 55)
The following are the ways in which the words referring to death in the Qur’an and the word tawaffa in Surah Al `Imran are used:
Tawaffa: To Cause To Die, To Take in One’s Sleep, or To Take Back
The word tawaffa used in Surah Al `Imran 3 and translated as “taking back” here and “causing to die” in some Qur’an translations, has various connotations. Examining the Arabic verses clearly reveals that these connotations of the word should be considered while applying it to Issa’ situation. The Qur’an describes his being taken back to Allah in the words that Issa will say on the Day of Judgment:
[Issa said], “I said to them nothing but what You ordered me to say: ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ I was a witness against them as long as I remained among them, but when You took me back to You [tawaffa], You were the One watching over them. You are the Witness of all things.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 5:117)
In Arabic the word that is translated in some translations of this verse as “You have caused me to die” is tawaffa and comes from the root wafa – to fulfil. Tawaffa does not actually mean “death” but the act of “taking the self back” either in sleep, in death or as in the case of Issa being taken back into the presence of Allah. From the Qur’an again, we understand that “taking the self back” does not necessarily mean death. For instance, it can mean “taking back the self while one is asleep,” as indicated in the following verse:It is He Who takes you back to Himself [yatawaffaakum] at night, while knowing the things you perpetrate by day, and then wakes you up again, so that a specified term may be fulfilled. (Surat al-An’am, 6:60)
The word used for “take back” in this verse is the same as the one used in Surah Al ‘Imran 55. In other words, in the verse above, the word tawaffa is used and it is obvious that one does not die in one’s sleep. Therefore, what is meant here is, again, “taking the self back.” In the following verse, the same word is used like this:
Allah takes back people’s selves [yatawaffaa] when their death [mawtihaa] arrives and those who have not yet died, while they are asleep [lam tamut]. He keeps hold of those whose death [mawt] has been decreed and sends the others back for a specified term. (Surat Az-Zumar, 39:42)
As this verse clarifies, Allah takes back the self of the one who is asleep, yet He sends back the selves of those whose deaths have yet not been decreed. In this context, in one’s sleep one does not die, in the sense in which we perceive death. Only for a temporary period, the self leaves the body and remains in another dimension. When we wake up, the self returns to the body.1
Imam al-Qurtubi makes clear that there are three meanings to the term wafat which is from the same root as tawaffa:the wafat of death, the wafat of sleep, and last, the wafat of being raised up to Allah, as in the case of Issa.
Qatala: To Kill
The Qur’an uses qatala to mean “to kill,” as in the following verse:
Pharaoh said: “Let me kill [aqtulu] Moosa and let him call upon his Lord! I am afraid that he may change your religion and bring about corruption in the land.” (Surah Ghafir, 40:26)
In Arabic, “let me kill Moosa” is aqtulu Musa, a phrase that is derived from the verb qatala. In another verse, the same word is used in the following way:… [That was because they] killed [yaqtuloona] the Prophets without any right to do so. (Surat al-Baqara, 2:61)
The expression yaqtuloona (they killed) is also derived from qatala. The translation is clearly “to kill.”The verses below speak of the deaths of the Prophets, and the usage of the verb qatala is marked. All words in brackets are derivatives of this verb.We will write down what they said and their killing [wa qatlahum] of the Prophets without any right to do so. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 3:181)
Say: “Why, then, if you are believers, did you previously kill [taqtuloona] the Prophets of Allah?” (Surat al-Baqara, 2:91)
As for those who reject Allah’s Signs, and kill [yaqtuloona] the Prophets without any right to do so, and kill [yaqtuloona] those who command justice… (Surah Al ‘Imran, 3:21)
“Kill [uqtuloo] Joseph or expel him to some land.” (Surah Yusuf, 12:9)…”Moosa, the Council is conspiring to kill you [li yaqtulooka].” (Surat al-Qasas, 28:20)
The only answer of his [Abraham’s] people was to say: “Kill [uqtuloohu] him or burn him!” (Surat al-’Ankabut, 29:24)
Halaka: To Perish
Another word used to denote the act of killing is halaka. It also is used to mean “to perish, to be destroyed, or to die,” as in the verse given below:… when he [Joseph] died [halaka], you said: “Allah will never send another Messenger after him.”(Surah Ghafir, 40:34)
The phrase idha halaka is translated as “when he died.” meaning “to die.”
Another word used to relate a Prophet’s death is mawt, a noun derived from the verb maata (to die), as follows:
Then when We decreed that he [Prophet Solomon] should die [mawt], nothing divulged his death [mawtihi] to them except the worm that ate his staff. (Surah Saba’, 34:14)
In the following verse, another form of the verb is used:Peace be upon him [Prophet John] the day he was born, the day he dies [yamootu], and the day he is raised up again alive. (Surah Maryam, 19:15)
The word yamootu is translated here as “they day he dies,” and the same word is used (in the form of a noun) to relate Jacob’s death:
Or were you present when death [mawt] came to Jacob? (Surat al-Baqara, 2:133)
In another verse, the verbs qatala (in the passive form qutila) and maata are used together:
Mohammed is only a Messenger, and he has been preceded by other Messengers. If he were to die [maata] or be killed [qutila], would you turn on your heels? (Surah Al ‘Imran, 3:144)
Other forms of the verb are used in other verses to denote the death of Prophets:
She exclaimed: “Oh if only I had died [mittu] before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!” (Surah Maryam, 19:23)
We did not give any human being before you immortality [khuld]. And if you die [mitta], will they then be immortal? (Surat al-Anbiya’, 21: 34)
“He Who will cause my death [yumeetunee], then give me life.” (Surat ash-Shu’ara’, 26: 81)
The word khalid means immortality, permanence, and continued existence, as in the following verse:
We did not give them bodies that did not eat food, nor were they immortal [khalideena]. (Surat al-Anbiya’, 21:8)
Salaba: To Crucify
Another word used in the Qur’an to relate death is salaba (to crucify). This verb has various meanings (e.g., to hang, to crucify, to execute) and is used in the following ways:
They did not kill him and they did not crucify him [wa maa salaboohu].
(Surat An-Nisa’, 4:157)
[Joseph said:] “One of you will serve his lord with wine, the other of you will be crucified [yuslabu].” (Surah Yusuf, 12:41)
They should be killed or crucified [yusallaboo]. (Surat al-Ma’ida, 5:33)[Pharaoh said:] “I will cut off your alternate hands and feet, and then I will crucify [la usallibannakum] every one of you.” (Surat al-A’raf, 7:124)
As the verses show, the words used to express Issa’ situation are altogether different to those used to describe the deaths of the other Prophets. Allah states that Issa was neither killed nor crucified, that a look-alike was killed in his place, and that he was taken back (in other words that his soul was taken) and raised up to His presence. When talking of Issa’, the Qur’an uses tawaffa (to take the soul) whereas when talking of the other Prophets, it uses qataloohu or maata (and its derivatives) to mean “death” in the conventional sense. This information shows us yet again that Issa’ situation was extraordinary.————————————————
————————–1. Yuce Kuran’in Cagdas Tefsiri (The Contemporary Tafsir of the Holy Qur’an) by Professor Suleyman Ates, Head of Department of Basic Islamic Sciences at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Divinity, Vol. 2, 49-50.