Thursday, 1 December 2016

Can the Dead Return to this World? (Surah 2:56)

Continuing from my last entry, there is actually yet another passage in the Suhuf-i-Mutahhara which speaks of the raising up of the dead in this world, a concept known as Raj’ah (lit. “return”):

وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَا مُوسَىٰ لَنْ نُؤْمِنَ لَكَ حَتَّىٰ نَرَى اللَّـهَ جَهْرَةً فَأَخَذَتْكُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَأَنْتُمْ تَنْظُرُونَ۝

ثُمَّ بَعَثْنَاكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَوْتِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ۝

And [recall] when you said, “O Moses, we will never believe you until we see Allah outright”; so the thunderbolt took you while you were looking on. Then We raised you after your death that perhaps you would be grateful. (Surah 2: 55 56)

Virtually all classical Mufassireen (exegetes) have understood this passage as referring to actual death caused by the Saa’iqah (a lightning bolt or fire from heaven). However, some modernists, like Muhammad Abduh, have interpreted this passage differently. The latter stated that the meaning of “Then We raised you after your death” as meaning that Allah Most High raised up a multitude of progeny (from the Israelites) after the incident of the death of their elders who died as a result of the Saa’iqah (thunderbolt or fire from heaven):

Reference: Tafsir al-Manar; v. 1 p. 322

However, I personally do not subscribe to this interpretation of Muhammad Abduh or other modernists, though it is interesting and worthy of consideration.
Likewise, G. A. Parwez, a modernist Hadith-rejecter, translated the Verse (2: 56) as follows: “Even after that We revived you and afforded you the opportunity to foster your potentialities so that, liberated from the death-inflicting effects of bondage, you could live your new life as free human beings.” (Exposition of the Holy Qur’an; p. 44)

However, one should also keep in mind, as we have shown in a previous post, that Mawt does not always mean actual death, but also sleep or loss of consciousness.
Similarly, the word Ba’ath means raising, and can be used in the sense of being awakened from sleep (Surah 18: 12; 6: 60). Hence, an alternative interpretation of this Verse would be that Allah caused the elders who demanded of Prophet Moses that they should behold Allah outright to faint or fall unconscious due to the Saa’iqah, which they beheld instead, causing them to faint.
Then Allah revived them, meaning they regained consciousness.
However, there is also the state of death which is actually known as proximity to death, when Allah Most High has not yet decreed the final death for a person, after which his or her soul can never return to this world. The two kinds of death need to be distinguished. The death experienced by these elders who demanded to see Allah manifestly was the kind of death that is not permanent or as a result of Allah’s decree for the soul in which the Angels convey it to its final resting place. Rather, it was the kind of death which, like sleep, is not permanent or decreed as a final death (in which the soul loses all connection with the body). This is why one of the linguistic meanings of the root M-W-T from which Mawt “death” is derived is: “silence, to become silent.” (Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage; p. 903).
There is also Mawt as signifying stillness or motionless, for example, the phrase مَاتَتِ الرِّيْحُ (“the wind ceased”).


  1. *Note: A Hadith-rejecter, Abdullah Chakralawi, has likewise interpreted this passage (2:55-56) as meaning that they who had asked Prophet Moses to see God manifestly became unconscious as if they died, and then, and then Allah caused them to regain consciousness from that death-like state (Tafsir al-Qur'an Bil-Qur'an; v.1, p.43-44)

  2. *Note: The use of the word بعث ("Ba'ath") to mean being raised up or awakened from sleep finds another example in Sura 6:60


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