Sunni Misunderstanding of Qur’an 4:159 concerning Jesus.

“And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.” (Qur’an 4:159)

I will focus in this article on the arguments and proofs as they are given by Mufti Zameel Ur Rahman. That is because what he states is the majority view on the matter.

Here is what Mufti Zameel Ur Rahman has laid out:

https://www.themadinanway.com/single-post/2018/03/13/The-Second-Coming-of-%E2%80%98%C4%AAs%C4%81-A-Fundamental-Islamic-Belief

 MUFTI ZAMEEL UR RAHMANS UNDERSTANDING OF QUR’AN 4:159

Let us examine what Mufti Zameel Ur Rahman has put forward:

These verses then state that the Jews will believe in him before he dies. That is, before ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) dies (after he defeats the Dajjāl), the Jews that are remaining on the earth will all believe in him as the Messiah/Masīḥ about whom they were foretold. This is the dominant interpretation of the concluding verse that reads: “There will be none from the people of the scripture [i.e. Jews] but will believe in him before his death.” This has been recorded authentically from Abū Hurayrah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) (see below).”

Al-Ṭabarī transmits through two chains from Sufyān al-Thawrī from Abū Ḥaṣīn from Sa‘īd ibn Jubayr from Ibn ‘Abbās that he said “before his death” means “before the death of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam”. (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, Maktabah Hajr, 7:664) This is an authentic chain.”

“He also narrates with an authentic chain to the Tābi‘ī, Abū Mālik Ghazwān al-Ghifārī (ca. 25 – 100 H), that he said of this verse: “That is, upon the descent of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam – none from the people of the scripture will remain but will believe in him.” (ibid. 7:665) He also transmits with an authentic chain to the eminent Tābi‘ī, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21 – 110 H), that he said: “Before the death of ‘Īsā. By Allāh! He is now alive in the presence of Allāh; but when he comes down, they will all believe in him.” (ibid.)”

“This is also transmitted from the mufassir of the Tābi‘īn, Qatādah ibn Di‘āmah. Al-Ṭabarī also transmits authentically from ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Zayd ibn Aslam (d. 182), a mufassir from the Tab‘ Tābi‘īn, that he said of this verse: “When ‘Īsā ibn Maryam descends and then kills the Dajjāl, no Jew will remain on the earth but will believe in him.” (ibid. 7:666)”

Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī explains that this is the most correct explanation. (ibid. 7:672) He explains that thus the meaning of the verse is: “[There is none from the people of the book] but will believe in ‘Īsā before the death of ‘Īsā – and that is about a specific [group] of the people of the book; those intended are the people of one particular time from them, not people of all times, who came after ‘Īsā; and that this will occur after his descent.” (ibid. 7:674)”

“Similarly, Ibn Kathīr says after mentioning this interpretation: “This opinion is the truth,” (Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, Maktabah Awlād al-Shaykh, 4:342), and further states: “There is no doubt that what Ibn Jarīr said [giving preference to this interpretation] is what is correct, as that is what was intended from the context of the verses.” (ibid. 4:344) As Ibn Kathīr mentions, it is clear from the context that this is what is meant. The verses are talking about the Jews’ claim to have executed ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām). Allāh says they did not kill or execute him but Allāh raised him up to Himself. Furthermore, not one of them will remain but will believe in ‘Īsā before his actual death. Hence, these verses clearly demonstrate that ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) was not killed, but was taken up alive into the sky, and further indicate that he will return and the Jews who remain (after he kills the Dajjāl) will believe in him.”

My comments:

Notice that Mufti says,

These verses then state that the Jews will believe in him before he dies. That is, before ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) dies (after he defeats the Dajjāl).”

However, that is not what the verse says and he knows better!. If he was simply forcing the traditions into the commentary that is one thing, but forcing them into the text is altogether dishonest!

This is the dominant interpretation.”  Well, Mufti on what basis do you say this is the ‘dominant interpretation‘ ?   Can you tell us the total number of tafsir literature you studied on this matter to conclude this? Also, if this is the ‘dominant interpretation’ it is by your own admission not necessarily the only one!

Next Mufti seems to quote from a disparate number of tafsir commentaries (albeit selectively).  So lets keep count shall we?

Ibn Kathir

Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari

Qatada ibn Di’amah

Looking at the Tafsir of Qatada Ibn Di’amah.

He was a student of Sa’id ibn Al-Musayyib and please keep this in mind it is super important.  It is important because latter when we talk about the traditions in a future post insh’Allah. It will basically narrow down to: al-Zuhrī, Ibn al-Musayyib and Abū Hurayrah (mentioned above).

Some quick things about Sa’id ibn Al-Mussayib. He was married to the daughter of Abu Hurayrah (there’s a connection).  One of his (Sa’id ibn Al-Mussayib’s) students was Al-Zuhri (another connection).

Qatada Ibn Dia’ama has two traditions -disconnected and from unknown sources about (Qur’an 4:157-158)

  • “And it was related to us that the prophet of God, Jesus son of Mary, said to his disciples:  ‘Who of you will have my likeness [shibh/shabah] cast upon him and thereby be killed? One of the disciples said ‘I,Oh  prophet of God!‘ ‘Thus that man was killed and God protected [mana’a] His prophet as HE RAISED HIM TO HIMSELF.”
  • Concerning His statement: “AND THEY DID NOT KILL HIM AND THEY DID NOT CRUCIFY HIM, BUT IT APPEARED SO TO THEM. Qatada said: ‘The likeness of Jesus was cast upon one of his disciples, and he was killed. Jesus had appeared before them and said: “Whoever of you will have my likeness cast upon him will have paradise.” And one said: “Upon me!

My comments:

The problem with these statements is that it shows Jesus as trying to actively avoid death. Is that something becoming of a Prophet of Allah?  Also notice how there is no attempt to identify or name the substitute.

So, Mufti Zameel Ur Rahman do you stand with Qatada and his understanding of what happened? Do you believe it is O.K. to take from sources in which there is no connected chain?

Looking at the Tafsir of Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari

Al-Tabari cites eleven traditions all going back to Wahb ibn Munabbih concerning (Qur’an 4:157-158)

Here is the verdict of Al-Tabari:

“Or the affair was according to what ‘Abd al-Samad related (that is the second tradition) from Wahb ibn Munabbih, that is, that the people who were with ‘Isa in the house scattered from the house before the Jews came upon him. ‘Isa remained, and his LIKENESS was cast upon one of his companions, who still remained with him in the house. And ‘Isa was RAISED UP,  and one who was changed in the LIKENESS of ‘Isa was killed. And his companions through that the one CRUCIFIED was ‘Isa, because of what they saw happens to the one who was made to look like him. And the truth of the matter was hidden from them, because his being RAISED UP and the changing of the one who was killed into his LIKENESS happened after the SCATTERING of his friends. and [because] they [had] heard ‘Isa that night announce his death, and mourn because he thought that death was approaching him. And they related what happened as true, but the affair with God was really quite different from what they related. And those disciples who related this do not deserve to be called liars.”

Source: (Al-Tabari, vol 9, p 374)

Really?

Remember that Al-Tabari is getting his information from Wahb ibn Munabbih so maybe we spend just a little bit of time on him.

Remember that Mufti Zameel ur Rahman had the following to say about Naheim Ajmal (Mufti Abu Layth)

Recently, an individual has been promoting the misguided belief that the Prophet ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) will not return, claiming that this is an idea that has mistakenly been imported into Islām and the teachings of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) from Christianity.”

Well, let us see if Mufti Zameer ur Rahman would be humble enough to apologize to Naheim Ajmal (Mufti Abu Layth) concerning Wahb ibn Munabbih:

“It is not known clearly if he converted to Islam from Judaism or that his father is a convert from Judaism.  There are various reports.” “He was known for reporting Isra’ilyyat material. -well known.” “He required a reputation from trustworthy to audacious liar.”

Source: (Ahmad b Muhammad ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-a-yan wa -anba abna al-zaman 4 volumes) p. 673)

Ibn Ishaq used his work for the beginnings of Christianity but did not take from him as a source for the Prophet (saw) biography!

Ibn Khaldun didn’t have a high opinion, mentioning that he frequently told flat lies.

Source: (“Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits,” xx.part 1, p. 461; De Slane, Ibn Ḥallikan, iii. 673, note 2)

Companions and scholars like Abdullah ibn Mas’ud warned people not to learn Tafsir from the ‘Ahl Kittab’ and his argument was that they may use it to interpolate their own biblical beliefs, teachings and history replacing the Islamic belief and preaching.

Source: (referencing Dr. Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi, in the book Al-Tafsir wal-Mufassirun, Volume 1)

So let us take a look again at what Al-Tabari believed:

“Or the affair was according to what ‘Abd al-Samad related (that is the second tradition) from Wahb ibn Munabbih, that is, that the people who were with ‘Isa in the house scattered from the house before the Jews came upon him. ‘Isa remained, and his LIKENESS was cast upon one of his companions, who still remained with him in the house. And ‘Isa was RAISED UP,  and one who was changed in the LIKENESS of ‘Isa was killed. And his companions through that the one CRUCIFIED was ‘Isa, because of what they saw happens to the one who was made to look like him. And the truth of the matter was hidden from them, because his being RAISED UP and the changing of the one who was killed into his LIKENESS happened after the SCATTERING of his friends. and [because] they [had] heard ‘Isa that night announce his death, and mourn because he thought that death was approaching him. And they related what happened as true, but the affair with God was really quite different from what they related. And those disciples who related this do not deserve to be called liars.”

Source:( Al-Tabari, vol 9, p 374)

My comments:

So basically Allah (swt) didn’t fool the non believers but he actually fooled, tricked the believing disciples of Jesus into believing that He (Jesus) was killed-when he wasn’t?!?  You mean out of the 12 disciples they couldn’t use logic and deduction and simple basic math and say,  (Well, you know Jesus is gone and so is ….so and so disciple) hey maybe Jesus didn’t die, maybe so and so took his place!  Notice the obfuscation especially with the quote from Qatada Ibn Dia’ama? We don’t get to know who this legendary disciple is?  Who is this masked man? Oh well you can hear them saying, ‘it doesn’t matter his reward is with his Lord‘.

Also notice something very very carefully that Al-Tabari is doing here. He is not wanting to deal with the tawatur reports of Jesus dying!   Basically Al-Tabari is saying the reports from Jesus own disciples is that he died! However, the disciples were deceived by Allah (swt) and Allah (swt) created Christianity! I bet you Christian missionaries and polemicist are reading this and ready to have a field day!

Looking at the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir 

Well it is interesting that he and Fakhr ad Din Al Razi share the same legal school, and also he is known as the sixth century mujaddid but Ibn Kathir takes no rational approaches that Al-Razi took.

So what is the view of Ibn Kathir concerning Qur’an 4:157-158?

“They disobeyed Jesus and tried to harm him in every possible way, until God led His prophet away from them-Jesus and Mary traveled extensively to avoid such persecution. Ultimately, the Jews notified the King of Syria that there was a man in the holy house was was charming and subverting the people. The king wrote to his deputy in Jerusalem to be on guard against this. Moreover, the deputy was instructed to crucify the culprit (Jesus) and place thorns on his head to stop him from harming the flock. The deputy obeyed the order and led a group of Jews to where Jesus was staying with his twelve or thirteen followers. When Jesus was aware that they were after him, he asked for a volunteer to take his place. One stepped forward and was taken by the Jews and crucified, while Jesus was himself raised through the roof of the house. The Jews then announced that they had crucified Jesus and boasted about it. In their ignorance and lack of intellect ,a number of Christians accepted this claim. The fact that the other disciples had seen Jesus raised was ignored. Everyone else though that the Jews had crucified Jesus.”

Source: (Ibn Kathir, ‘Umdat al-tafsir, ed Ahmad Muhammad Shakir, 5 vols located in: vol 4 pp.28-34)

My comments:

So notice how Ibn Kathir’s commentary are totally different from Al-Tabari on very key points.   Again, the obfuscation is a common theme. We don’t know if Jesus had 12 or 13 disciples. The brave unsung hero disciple who just jumped at the chance to be killed (we have no idea who he is).  However, unlike Al-Tabari who was ready to accept on face value the claim of Jesus disciples -although they were apparently duped by Allah (swt), Ibn Kathir isn’t ready to pen that on the disciples.  Instead he simply offers that the Christians were ignorant and lacked intellect so they accepted that Jesus died. The fact that ‘other disciples‘ saw what went down was just simply ignored.

Summary:

The three tafsir sources that  Mufti Zameer ur Rahman are all ultimately reliant upon anonymous, disconnected chains and sources that are traceable to the very sources (Ahl Kitab) that Ibn Masud warned us about!

How can Mufti Zameer ur Rahman (and anyone else who holds his position) claim with confidence that they know what (Qur’an 4:157-159) is talking about?  This so called ‘unified tradition‘ holds disparate and conflicting perspectives that are frankly all over the place.

 Ahl Haqq Wal Istiqamah (The People of Truth and Steadfastness)

How do we understand Qur’an 4:159? 

“And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.” (Qur’an 4:159)

  1. It is important to note that from the (Qur’an 4:153-to 4:159)  the entire theme is directed towards the Jews.
  2. None among the Jews that Jesus preached to but that it is prerequisite for them to believe in him before their death.
  3.  Jesus is a witness against those who witnessed his preaching.
  4. This is confirmed by: “I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when you caused me to die, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness. (Qur’an 5:117)
  5. Who else would he be a witness against?

If we believe in the interpretation that Mufti Zameer ur Rahman gives (and those like him) they need to answer the following questions:

  1. Why would Jesus be a witness against them if they all died believing in him?
  2. Wouldn’t Jesus be a witness against those who did not believe in him?
  3. If you interpret none must believe in him but before their death, surely thousands of Jews and Christians died without believing Jesus is a prophet.
  4. How can this apply to Christians if they already believe in him?
  5. How do you answer that if it means to believe in him as a prophet before his alleged return than he wouldn’t need to be a witness against them any way.
  6. Prove grammatically that Qur’an 4:159 is a break in theme from 4:153 on wards and refers to some future eschatological event.
  7. Prove grammatically and thematically that the verse in question includes Christians.

Let’s go back to something Mufti Zameer ur Rahman said earlier.

This is the dominant interpretation.”  Well, Mufti on what basis do you say this is the ‘dominant interpretation‘ ?   Can you tell us the total number of tafsir literature you studied on this matter to conclude this? Also, if this is the ‘dominant interpretation‘ it is by your own admission not necessarily the only one!

So dear respected readers which understanding of Qur’an 4:159 do you accept as being more cogent?

The Ibadi position that allows the Qur’an to be interpreted by the use of other passages in the Qur’an, the use of grammar, context and theme?

A position that provides certainty and conviction?

or

The position of Mufti Zameer ur Rahman, Ahl Sunnah Wal Jammah and the mufassirun -whom they rely upon hearsay and disconnected chains coming often from anonymous sources.

A position that allows for whispering, speculation, doubt and uncertainty?

For those of you who believe in the “Second Coming of Jesus” How do you all make sense of the following verses:

“And when God will say: O Jesus son of Mary! did you say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides God, he will say: Glory be to You, it did not befit me that I should say what I had no right to (say); if I had said it, You would indeed have known it; You know what is in my mind, and I do not know what is in your mind, surely you are the great Knower of the unseen things. I did not say anything to them except what you commanded me with: That worship God, my Lord and your Lord, and I was a witness over them as long as I was among them, but when you caused me to die (Arabic: Tawafaytani), you were the watcher over them, and you are witness of all things.” (Qur’an 5:116-117)

There are several things to take from the above passage:
1) This dialogue is taking place on the Day of Judgment where Prophet Jesus (as) suggests that he has no knowledge of what has happened since his demise on Earth and after his ministry ended. “I was a witness over them as long as I was among them.”

2) From the discussion it is clear that Prophet Jesus only came to Earth once acting as a witness over his people. If indeed there was a ‘second coming‘ before the Day of Judgment, he would have knowledge of what had happened since his first departure. This conversation with Allah (swt) would make little to no sense. After all, he abolished the Jizya and forced the Christians to convert to Islam. This conversation with Allah (swt) would make little to no sense!

3) Imagine if the ahadiths that are put in the mouth of the Blessed Prophet (saw) are true for a moment. So now Jesus (a.s) comes back and everyone becomes a Muslim. The Dajjal is defeated. Jesus (a.s) gets married. Than Allah (swt) causes Jesus (a.s) to die.

Than we have Jesus (a.s) saying after he dies to Allah (swt)  “I was witness over them as long as I was among them, but when you caused me to die, you were the watcher over them, and you are witness of all things.” Rather bizarre it seems.

Especially if we take the majority interpretation of  “And there is none from the People of the Scripture but that he will surely believe in Jesus before his death.” (Qur’an 4:159)

A rather bizarre situation the majority position leaves us in.

It is clear to all whom Allah (swt) has lifted the veils of that Qur’an 5:116-117 is talking about Jesus (a.s) earthly life and ministry.

The very presence of Jesus creates a bizarre redundant time paradox if we are to believe the Sunni position.

Think about it.

Look at the verse again: Imagine that Allah [swt] is saying this to Jesus who came down from the skies, fought the Dajjal, got married and died.

“Allah said, O Jesus, I shall cause you to die and will raise you up to Me and shall purify you of the ungrateful disbelieving people, and shall place those who follow you above those who deny the truth, until the Day of Judgement; then to Me shall all return and I will judge between you regarding your disputes.” (Qur’an 3:55)

If Jesus is alive in the heavens why is he not aware of this already?

Why is he not aware that Allah [swt] has already cleared him of falsehood by the Qur’an?

Even if he wasn’t aware after 2000 plus years than surely he would have access to the Qur’an when he is on Earth and he can read the text that already cleared him?

Whereas if we understand the text (Qur’an 3:55) as a revelation from Allah [swt] to his Prophet Jesus it at the time of his death it comes across as very comforting and reassuring. That Allah [swt] is the cause of your death and you will return to your lord as the statement: “Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return.” That he [Jesus] will be cleared of false accusations. That his followers will be superior over the detractors on the day of judgment.

“Indeed, that is My Path—perfectly straight. So follow it and do not follow other ways, for they will lead you away from His Way. This is what He has commanded you, so perhaps you will be conscious ˹of Allah˺” Qur’an 6:153)

“O mankind! Surely has come to you a convincing proof from your Lord, and We (have) sent down to you a clear light.” (Qur’an 4:174)

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