Sunday, 14 August 2016

Ezekiel's Vision in the Holy Qur'an: A Discussion on Dead Returning to the World

Continuing from my previous post on the subject of the impossibility for the souls of the dead to return to this world, one of the proofs presented by those who dispute this fact is the proceeding Verse of the Holy Qur’an:
أَوْ كَالَّذِي مَرَّ عَلَىٰ قَرْيَةٍ وَهِيَ خَاوِيَةٌ عَلَىٰ عُرُوشِهَا قَالَ أَنَّىٰ يُحْيِي هَـٰذِهِ اللَّـهُ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا فَأَمَاتَهُ اللَّـهُ مِائَةَ عَامٍ ثُمَّ بَعَثَهُ قَالَ كَمْ لَبِثْتَ قَالَ لَبِثْتُ يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ قَالَ بَل لَّبِثْتَ مِائَةَ عَامٍ فَانظُرْ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِكَ وَشَرَابِكَ لَمْ يَتَسَنَّهْ وَانظُرْ إِلَىٰ حِمَارِكَ وَلِنَجْعَلَكَ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَانظُرْ إِلَى الْعِظَامِ كَيْفَ نُنشِزُهَا ثُمَّ نَكْسُوهَا لَحْمًا فَلَمَّا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ قَالَ أَعْلَمُ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
Translation: Or (take) the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet, all in ruins to its roofs. He said: "Oh! how shall Allah bring it (ever) to life, after (this) its death?" but Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, then raised him up (again). He said: "How long didst thou tarry (thus)?" He said: (Perhaps) a day or part of a day." He said: "Nay, thou hast tarried thus a hundred years; but look at thy food and thy drink; they show no signs of age; and look at thy donkey: And that We may make of thee a sign unto the people, Look further at the bones, how We bring them together and clothe them with flesh." When this was shown clearly to him, he said: "I know that Allah hath power over all things." (Surah 2:259)
Those who argue that the souls of the dead can return to the world use this verse as their strongest evidence. For example, Abul Ala Mawdudi, founder of the Islamist group (Jama’at-i-Islami) writes: “It is certainly of no avail at this juncture to open the debate as to whether the Holy Christ is dead or exists alive somewhere in the world. Supposing he is dead, God has the power to raise him alive, otherwise also it is not beyond the Divine power of God to keep a man alive somewhere in the cosmos for as long as thousands of years; and to bring the man back to the world at His Will.”
In the footnote to this comment, Mawdudi says: “Those who deny this possibility should go through verse 259 of Surah al- Baqarah, in which God affirms in clear words that He let one of His creatures lie dead for a hundred years and at the end of this period He raised the man alive.”
Reference: Finality of Prophethood by A. A. Mawdudi
Before an answer can be given to this apparently solid argument, we need to first unlock one of the mysteries presented by this blessed Ayah of the Holy Qur’an. That is concerning the identity of the man spoken of in Surah 2:259.
According to the majority of the classical Mufasireen (commentators of the Holy Qur’an), the man spoken of in this verse is Uzair (Ezra). However, this is based on pure speculation on their part since there is no evidence from either the text of the Qur’an itself or any Hadith which confirms the identity of the man in question as being Ezra.
On the other hand I shall demonstrate with irrefutable arguments (In Sha Allah) that the man mentioned in this verse is the Prophet Ezekiel. Firstly, even classical Tafasir like Ibn Abi Hatim’s and Durr al-Manthur of Imam Jalaluddin Suyuti mention this opinion. For example, it is narrated from Suleman b. Muhammad al-Yasari that a man from the people of Sham said that the one who Allah caused to die for a hundred years then raised him back to life was named Hizqeel b. Buzi (Ezekiel son of Buzzi):

Reference: Durr al-Manthur; v.3 p.212

However, the main reason for identifying this person as being the Prophet Ezekiel son of Buzzi is from the details given in the Ayat itself which so perfectly match the details given regarding Ezekiel’s Vision as described in the Hebrew Bible:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and the LORD carried me out in a spirit, and set me down in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones; and He caused me to pass by them round about, and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And He said unto me: 'Son of man, can these bones live?' And I answered: 'O Lord GOD, Thou knowest.' Then He said unto me: 'Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them: O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.' So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a commotion, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said He unto me: 'Prophesy unto the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great host. Then He said unto me: 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O My people. And I will put My spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land; and ye shall know that I the LORD have spoken, and performed it, saith the LORD (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Even a cursory reading of this passage will make anyone realize how closely it resembles and matches the Qur’anic account in Surah 2:259.
First pay attention to the sentence in Surah 2:259:
وَلِنَجْعَلَكَ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ
And We shall make you a Sign for the people
We read throughout the Book of Ezekiel that the Prophet Ezekiel is repeatedly described with similar wording:
For I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 12:6)
Say, I am your sign (Ezekiel 12:11)
Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign (Ezekiel 24:24)
And thou shalt be a sign unto them (Ezekiel 24:27)
Other similarities are listed below:
1.      Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones matches the Holy Qur’an description of him passing by a habitation which had fallen into disarray.
2.      In the Holy Qur’an the man asks how can Allah bring back the habitation to life after its death. In the Book of Ezekiel God Himself asks if these bones can live to which Ezekiel replies that only God knows.
3.      In the Qur’anic account Allah tells the man to look at the bones as they become clothed with flesh and are re-animated. Exactly the same image is given in the Book of Ezekiel.

The only difference seems to be that which the Biblical account is clearly understood by both Jews and Christians to be describing a Vision, Muslims have mistakenly interpreted the Qur’anic account of the same incident and personality (Ezekiel) as having been an actual event.
However, one prominent classical commentator, Ataa b. Abi Rabah (d.114 H) recognized the episode described in Surah 2:259 as being a parable and not an actual event:

Reference: Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah; v.2 p.282

There are other very pertinent clues within the verse itself which plainly indicate that it was a sort of Kashaf (Vision) and not an event occurring in this world and in this dimension of time.
One such clue is that after causing Ezekiel to die for a hundred years than raising him back to life, Allah Most High draws Ezekiel’s attention to his food and drink which have not spoiled. Had really a hundred years lapsed from our point of view and Ezekiel had literally died for that duration than brought back to life there would be no trace left of his food and drink. Allah also draws attention to his donkey which is also still present and alive.
Furthermore, keep in mind the context of this verse of the Holy Qur’an, whose purpose is to produce certainty in our hearts and minds about the reality of the bodily resurrection which will happen on Judgment Day. This is one of the powerful proofs and arguments which Allah Most High is presenting to convince Ezekiel as well as the rest of us about His power to raise the dead back to life. The verse mentions that although Ezekiel died for a hundred years, when he was raised back to life he perceived that only a day or part of a day had lapsed. This indicates the duration of his vision from our point of view, though in the vision itself Ezekiel had been taken and his time occupied for a hundred years. In the actual vision he is made to see the re-animation of rotting bones being brought back to life and being clothed with flesh. He sees a vision of the habitation coming back to life which convinces him of the power of Allah to raise the dead. It is not necessarily that the habitation comes to life in his own time, as this is also historically proven that Jerusalem and the House of Israel were only restored after the Babylonian captivity. However, the Prophet Ezekiel never lived to see the end of the Babylonian captivity and the restoration of Jerusalem except through the divine vision described in this Verse.
The question arises that if this was a Vision, why did Allah Most High say:
فَأَمَاتَهُ اللَّـهُ مِائَةَ عَامٍ ثُمَّ بَعَثَهُ
So Allah caused him to die for a hundred years than raised him up
The word death, in Islamic terminology, refers to both actual death as well as sleep. For example, the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is reported to have said:
النَّوْمُ أَخُو الْمَوْتِ
Sleep is the sister of Death (Hadith)
Even more profound are the Masnoon supplications that Muslims are recommended to read before going to sleep and after waking:
باسْمِكَ اللهُمَّ اَمُوتُ وَاَحْيَا
In Your Name, O my Allah, do I die and come back to life (Masnoon Du’a before going to sleep)
اَلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِىْ اَحْيَانَا بَعْدَ مَآ اَمَاتَنَا وَاِلَيْهِ النُّشُوْرُ
All praise belongs to Allah Who has given us life after causing us to die and to Him is the return (Masnoon Du’a after waking from sleep)
The author of the well-respected Tafsir Mazhari, Qadi Thana Ullah Panipati has also explicitly clarified that the death and resurrection of Ezekiel as mentioned in this verse refers to his sleep and being awoken from sleep after the vision:

Reference: Tafsir Mazhari; v.2 p.31

Another piece of evidence presented by those who claim the dead can return to this world is Surah 2:243:
لَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ خَرَجُوا مِن دِيَارِهِمْ وَهُمْ أُلُوفٌ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ فَقَالَ لَهُمُ اللَّـهُ مُوتُوا ثُمَّ أَحْيَاهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَذُو فَضْلٍ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَشْكُرُونَ
Have you not considered those who left their homes in many thousands, fearing death? Allah said to them, "Die"; then He restored them to life. And Allah is full of bounty to the people, but most of the people do not show gratitude. (2:243)

The fact of the matter is that this verse is intimately connected to the one already under discussion (2:259). Ibn Wahb narrates from Ibnu Zayd concerning 2:243 that is speaks of the same people whose bones are mentioned in 2:259 which were passed by Ezekiel when he came upon their habitation:

Reference: Tafsir Ibn Jarir; v.4 p.584

Therefore, what is mentioned about such people dying and then being brought back to life must be understood in light of what we have already established about 2:259, that it occurred through Ezekiel’s Vision.

These people were perhaps the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity who had been banished from the Holy Land beginning around 597 BCE. It was their nation which had died and was in a state of death. Nevertheless, Allah, out of His grace, restored the nation and caused them to be released from captivity and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple in 538 BCE after Cyrus’s proclamation.

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