بسم الله الرحمـن الرحيم
والصلوة والسلام على رسوله الكريم
وعلى آله واهل بيته اجمعين
The Ascension of Jesus
It is often argued, especially by the mainstream Ulema, that the bodily ascension of Prophet Jesus of Nazareth عليه السلام is cited in the Holy Qur’an itself:
إِذْ قَالَ اللَّـهُ يَا عِيسَىٰ إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ
When Allah said: “O Jesus, verily I shall cause you to die, raise you to Myself”
بَل رَّفَعَهُ اللَّـهُ إِلَيْهِ
Rather, Allah raised him (Jesus) to Himself
Undoubtedly, the word رفع means to “raise”, but the question needs to be asked whether Allah Most High raised Jesus to Himself bodily, or in spirit only. The Holy Qur’an also speaks of raising of degrees درجات (Sura 2:253; 6:83; 6:165; 7:176; 12:76; 43:23; 56:3; 58:11).
Before we continue the discussion on رفع, let us re-examine Sura 3:55, where Allah speaks about causing Jesus to die. An eminent companion of the Prophetﷺ and one of his relatives by kinship, Abdullah b. AbbasRA, clearly interpreted the phrase Innee Mutawaffeeka to mean “I shall cause you to die”:
حَدَّثَنَا حَدَّثَنَا أَبِي ، ثنا أَبُو صَالِحٍ ، حَدَّثَنِي مُعَاوِيَةُ بْنُ صَالِحٍ ، عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَلْحَةَ ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ ، قَوْلُهُ : إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ سورة آل عمران آية 55 , يقول : إِنِّي مُمِيتُكَ
Reference: Tafsir Ibn Abi Hatim #3580; Tafsir Ibn Mundhir #527
*Note: Some scholars, such as Zubair Ali Zai, have criticised this narration of Ibn Abbas, arguing that the narrator Ali b. Abi Talha never met him. However, deeper research reveals that the narrations of Ibn Abbas in Tafsir through Ali b. Abi Talha are acceptable.
Logically, the fact that Innee Mutawaffeeka, which we have established as meaning “I shall cause you to die” preceeds wa Raafi’uka Ilayya “and raise you up to Myself”, we can only conclude that before Jesus was raised up to Allah he experienced death. The Holy Qur’an teaches that death is when Allah seizes a person’s soul:
اللَّـهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا ۖ فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَىٰ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى
Allah takes away the souls at the time of its death, and that which dies not, in its sleep. He keeps that (soul) upon which is the decree of death and sends back the other until an appointed term
In other words, when Allah causes someone to die, He does it by taking out his soul from his body, taking it up to Him, and withholds it from returning. Hence, death is the permanent separation of soul and body. The dead body or corpse remains behind in this world, which is why it is given a burial, while the soul ascends up with the Angels:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ قَالَ : " الْمَيِّتُ تَحْضُرُهُ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ فَإِذَا كَانَ الرَّجُلُ صَالِحًا قَالُوا : اخْرُجِي أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الطَّيِّبَةُ كَانَتْ فِي الْجَسَدِ الطَّيِّبِ اخْرُجِي حَمِيدَةً وَأَبْشِرِي بِرَوْحٍ وَرَيْحَانٍ وَرَبٍّ غَيْرِ غَضْبَانَ فَلاَ يَزَالُ يُقَالُ لَهَا ذَلِكَ حَتَّى تَخْرُجَ ثُمَّ يُعْرَجُ بِهَا إِلَى السَّمَاءِ فَيُفْتَحُ لَهَا فَيُقَالُ : مَنْ هَذَا فَيَقُولُونَ : فُلاَنٌ . فَيُقَالُ : مَرْحَبًا بِالنَّفْسِ الطَّيِّبَةِ، كَانَتْ فِي الْجَسَدِ الطَّيِّبِ ادْخُلِي حَمِيدَةً، وَأَبْشِرِي بِرَوْحٍ وَرَيْحَانٍ وَرَبٍّ غَيْرِ غَضْبَانَ . فَلاَ يَزَالُ يُقَالُ لَهَا ذَلِكَ حَتَّى يُنْتَهَى بِهَا إِلَى السَّمَاءِ الَّتِي فِيهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Angels come to the dying person, and if the man was righteous, they say: ‘Come out, O good soul that was in a good body, come out praiseworthy and receive glad tidings of mercy and fragrance and a Lord Who is not angry.’ And this is repeated until it comes out, then it is taken up to heaven, and it is opened for it, and it is asked: ‘Who is this?’ They say: ‘So-and-so.’ It is said: ‘Welcome to the good soul that was in a good body. Enter praiseworthy and receive the glad tidings of mercy and fragrance and a Lord Who is not angry.’ And this is repeated until it is brought to the heaven above which is Allah.” (Sunan Ibn Maja)
This Hadith explains the fact that at death, the Angels take out the soul from the body, and ascend with the soul up into the Heavens until they convey the soul to Allah Himself. When asked who the soul is, the Angels respond by giving his Name. Hence, when the Holy Qur’an says that Allah raised Jesus up to Himself, it means He raised Jesus’s soul and not necessarily his body. In fact, if Allah did raise up Jesus’s body to the Heavens, this would be highly unusual, and such an interpretation would require explicit evidence to that effect, while the wording of these Verses do not indicate anything unusual or extraordinary about the raising up of Jesus after his death in themselves.
The Prophet’sﷺ own grandson, Hassan b. AliRA, expressed his own belief that it was only the spirit of Jesus that was raised up by Allah and not his body, when he delivered a eulogy upon the martyrdom of his father, Ali b. Abi TalibRA:
ولقد قبضه الله في الليلة التي قبض فيها وصي موسى، وعرج بروحه في الليلة التي عرج فيها بروح عيسى بن مريم
“Allah took him (Ali b. Abi Talib) in the same night He took the successor of Moses (Joshua), and He raised his (Ali’s) spirit in the same night He raised the spirit of Jesus son of Mary.”
Reference: Majma az-Zawa’id, v.9 p.146; Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, v.3 p.37
Now it is obvious that Allah did not ascend the body of Amir-ul-Mu’minin Ali b. Abi TalibRA to the heavens, and so likewise, He only raised up the soul of Jesus son of Mary and not his corpse.
Likewise, one of the Masnun supplications the worshiper can recite between the Sajdatain is:
رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَارْحَمْنِي وَاجْبُرْنِي وَارْزُقْنِي وَارْفَعْنِي
“My Lord, forgive me, have mercy on me, improve my situation, grant me provision, and raise me.”
(Sunan Ibn Maja)
Now it is obvious that this is not a supplication to Allah that He raise one to the Heavens bodily, but rather a supplication for spiritual exaltation.
Coming back to the Holy Qur’an, there is another example of a رفع of a Prophet of God:
وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِدْرِيسَ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَّبِيًّا ﴿٥٦﴾ وَرَفَعْنَاهُ مَكَانًا عَلِيًّا
And mention in the Book Idris. Verily he was a truthful Prophet. And We raised him up to a high place
The exegetes are generally agreed that the high place to which Allah raised the Prophet Idris was Jannah. But was it an ascension of the body or the soul only? There are some legendary accounts that an Angel was commanded by Allah to take up Prophet Idris in his body to the fourth Heaven, where the Angel of Death was then sent to take out his soul and cause him to die. However, this account clearly contradicts the verdict of the Holy Qur’an which states that human beings will live, die and be resurrected from the Earth, not the Heavens:
قَالَ فِيهَا تَحْيَوْنَ وَفِيهَا تَمُوتُونَ وَمِنْهَا تُخْرَجُونَ
He (Allah) said: “Therein (Earth) you shall live, and therein you shall die, and from it you shall be brought out (resurrected).”
So regarding the ascension of Prophet Idris, Ibn Atiyyah (d.546 H) mentions the view of a group of exegetes in his Tafsir:
فقال جماعة من العلماء هو رفع النبوءة والتشريف والمنزلة وهو في السماء كما سائر الأنبياء
“A group from the Ulama say that he (Idris) was raised in Prophethood, nobility, and status, and that he is in Heaven like the rest of the Prophets.”