بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
On this blog we have discussed quite extensively the issue of the divine prohibition of the souls of the deceased returning to this world. My basic position, in light of the teachings of the Book of Allah and the Traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), is that Allah Most High has forbidden the souls of the deceased from returning to this world, elaborated here.
I have also discussed and explained the reality of some of the proofs presented by the opposing side, such as the Qur’anic account of the man whom Allah caused to die for a 100 years then raised him back to life here. (2: 243, 259)
And the Qur’anic Verses which speak of the Messiah (peace be upon him) “quickening the dead” with the permission of Allah, here. (3: 49, 5: 110)
And the Qur’anic account of Abraham and the four birds here. (2: 260)
So now we come to the final proof from the Qur’an for the opposing side, which is the incident of the murder victim who was supposedly raised back to life momentarily in order to reveal to the people the identity of the one who murdered him:
وَإِذْ قَتَلْتُمْ نَفْساً فَادَّارَأْتُمْ فِيهَا وَاللّهُ مُخْرِجٌ مَّا كُنتُمْ تَكْتُمُونَ
فَقُلْنَا اضْرِبُوهُ بِبَعْضِهَا كَذَلِكَ يُحْيِي اللّهُ الْمَوْتَى وَيُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
And recall when you slew a man and disputed over it, but Allah was to bring out that which you were concealing. So, We said, “Strike the slain man with part of it.” Thus does Allah bring the dead to life, and He shows you His signs that you might reason. (Surah 2: 72 – 73)
Before I address the purport of this Ayah, let me remind the reader of the basic principle according to the teachings of Islam which is that the deceased will only be raised back to life on Yawm al-Qiyamah (Day of Resurrection). Allah Most High says:
كَيْفَ تَكْفُرُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَكُنتُمْ أَمْوَاتاً فَأَحْيَاكُمْ ثُمَّ يُمِيتُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُحْيِيكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ
How can you disbelieve in Allah when you were lifeless and he brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you back to life, and then to Him you will be returned. (Surah 2: 28)
Notice here that only four states have been mentioned. Man was first “dead”, referring to the first state of non-existence or lifelessness. Then man was given life in this world (known as Hayaat ad-Dunyaa), then man dies in this world (the second death), and finally, man is resurrected back to life (on Judgment Day). However, the exceptional cases put forward by the opposing side would mean that those individuals who were resurrected from the death in this world experienced six states instead of four, contradicting the above cited verse (2: 28). For example, according to the understanding of the opposing side, the man who was murdered as mentioned in 2: 72 experienced six states; 1. Lifelessness (non-existence), 2. Life in this world, 3. Murdered (died) in this world, 4. Raised back to life in this world, 5. Died again, 6. Will be resurrected to life on Judgment Day.
Again I emphasize, the Qur’an informs us of only four states (2: 28) and not six.
It is also noteworthy that the idea of the deceased returning to this world before Judgment Day, a concept known as Raj’ah, is a point of contention between the mainstream Sunni Muslims and the schismatic Shi’ites. But if the Verse under discussion (2: 73) is to be understood as meaning that the murder victim was brought back to life in this world, the schismatic Shi’ites must be considered as correct in this controversy of Raj’ah, at least in principle.
And now let us closely examine the passage in question, which the opposing side confidently cites as a proof for the possibility of the souls of the deceased returning to this world.
The first thing to consider is that the actual text of the passage does not explicitly state that the murdered individual was brought back to life. The phrase
فَقُلْنَا اضْرِبُوهُ بِبَعْضِهَا كَذَلِكَ يُحْيِي اللّهُ الْمَوْتَى
literally means: “So We said: Strike him [or it] with a part of it. Like this Allah revives the dead.”
In other words, this is a parable in which Allah is drawing attention to the striking of someone (presumably the corpse) with a part of something (presumably a piece of the sacrificed heifer) and stating that in like manner does Allah raise the dead to life.
While it is true that the classical Mufassireen have interpreted this passage as meaning that the Israelites were commanded to strike the corpse of the murder victim with a piece of the heifer, such an interpretation is ultimately speculative because it is not based on the explicit text of the Holy Quran, nor is there any Hadith from the Prophet (peace be upon him) to back up such an interpretation.
The parable for كَذَلِكَ يُحْيِي اللّهُ الْمَوْتَى mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an is the quickening of the barren earth after it “death”, when the barren earth, when watered by rain from the sky, becomes fertile and produces vegetation:
يُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَيُخْرِجُ الْمَيِّتَ مِنَ الْحَيِّ وَيُحْيِي الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَكَذَلِكَ تُخْرَجُونَ
He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and brings to life the earth after its lifelessness. And thus will you be brought out. (Surah 30: 19)
This parable is repeated elsewhere in the Quran (30: 50, 35: 9).
For this reason, the Mufassir, Ibn Abi Hatim, has brought forth the following Hadith as an explanation of the Verse (2: 73) under discussion:
يُحَدِّثُ عَنْ أَبِي رَزِينٍ الْعُقَيْلِيِّ ، قَالَ : قُلْتُ : " يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ : كَيْفَ يُحْيِي اللَّهُ الْمَوْتَى ؟ قَالَ : أَمَا مَرَرْتَ بِوَادِي أَهْلِكَ مُمْحِلا ، ثُمَّ مَرَرْتَ بِهِ خَضِرًا ؟ قَالَ : بَلَى ، قَالَ : كَذَلِكَ النُّشُورُ ، أَوْ قَالَ : كَذَلِكَ يُحْيِي اللَّهُ الْمَوْتَى " .
Abi Razin al-‘Uqayli says that he asked: “O Allah’s Messenger, how does Allah give life to the dead?” He (peace be upon him) said: “Do you not pass by a barren valley, then pass through it when it is revitalized with greenery?” He said: “Undoubtedly”. He (peace be upon him) said: “Likewise does Allah give life to the dead.”
(Tafsir Ibn Abi Hatim)
Hence we see that for a person to understand how Allah can raise the dead to life it is not necessary for him to actually see a dead person come back to life in this world. Simply seeing a dead person come back to life in this world would only be a proof for the one who actually witnesses such an event which is limited to a certain time and place. However, the Sign of the barren earth becoming fertile and producing vegetation after being irrigated with water is something universal and is a stronger parable to understand how Allah can revive the dead to life on Judgment Day.
Likewise, we should understand from the Verse (2: 73) that a stronger and more profound parable is being given as proof for Allah’s ability to revive the dead. We will return to question of what the particular parable mentioned in Surah 2: 73 is, but first, let us consider some alternate interpretations:
The liberal modernist, Muhammad Abduh (1849 – 1905), considered a major figure of the modern Salafi movement, interpreted this passage as referring to قصاص (Qisaas), meaning “retaliation in kind”, or “eye for an eye” (the term for retributive justice). He cited two other verses of the Holy Quran with similar language (Surah 5: 32, 2: 179). For example: “And there is for you in Qisaas (legal retribution) Life” (2: 179).
Reference: Tafsir al-Manar; v. 1, p. 351
Hence, this alternative interpretation posits that Allah commanded that the murder suspect should be struck with a part of the victim's corpse as retributive justice:
وذلك معنى قول تعالى: "فقلنا اضربوه" أي: المتهم ببعضها أي: ببعض جثة المقتول فإنه سيظهر إجرامه أو براءته، وبذلك لا يضيع دم القتيل هدرًا، وهو معنى قوله: "كذلك يحيى الله الموتى ويريكم آياته لعلكم تعقلون"
بمعنى فاضربوا القاتل الذي قام الاتهام على أنه القاتل ببعض جثة المقتول فإن ذلك يحمله على الاعتراف ، وإذا قام الاعتراف فقد قام الدليل الموجب للقصاص ، وبذلك القصاص يحيي الله تعالى من مات بالقصاص له
Although I do not personally subscribe to this view, nevertheless, it is a valid interpretation worthy of consideration.
But to summarize, the Verse under discussion (2: 73) does not explicitly state that the murder victim was restored to life in this world. This coupled with the fact that we have already established that Allah has forbidden the souls of the deceased from returning to this world leaves us with only one conclusion; the interpretation of the opposing side is simply incorrect.