The Second Coming of ‘Īsā: A Fundamental Islamic Belief

March 14, 2018

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.

The belief that the Prophet ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām), son of Maryam (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā), will return before the world’s end is from the fundamental Islāmic beliefs, indicated to in the Qur’ān, stated explicitly in several authentic ḥadīths, expressed clearly by the early Muslims and imāms, and then recorded in the books of ‘aqīdah, tafsīr and commentaries of ḥadīth. There is no disagreement on it amongst all the major groups of Islām, the Ahl al-Sunnah, Shī‘ah, Mu‘tazilah and Ẓāhirīs.*


The Minaret by Which ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) will Return

Some of the scholars have quoted absolute, binding, consensus on this belief, and a number of scholars have stated that the ḥadīths on the subject reach tawātur. Moreover, the great Ḥanafī mufassir and muftī of Baghdād from two centuries ago, Sayyid Maḥmūd al-Ᾱlūsī (1217 – 1270 H/1802 – 1854 CE), has clearly stated that the one who denies it leaves Islām. Incredibly, even one of the earliest surviving non-Muslim sources about Islām, Muslims and the Prophet, the Greek Doctrina Jacobi, written within years of the death of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), confirms that part of the teaching of Islām was the imminent coming of the Messiah! (Hagarism, p. 3; Seeing Islam as Others Saw it, p. 57) 

The first known personalities to reject the belief in the physical and bodily return of ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) are Mirzā Ghulām Aḥmad al-Qādiyānī, the false prophet, and Muḥammad ‘Abduh, the modernist ideologue. 

In the Qur’ān

Allāh says: “…And the claim of [the Jews]: ‘we have killed the messiah, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but a likeness was made to them/it was made unclear to them. Undoubtedly those in disagreement over it are surely in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it besides pursuit of conjecture. They did not kill him with certainty. In fact, Allāh raised him up to Himself, and Allāh has always been Mighty and Wise. There will be none from the people of the scripture [i.e. Jews] but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Judgement, he will be a witness over them.” (Qur’ān, 4:157-9)

These verses state that the Jews did not kill or crucify ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām), but rather only a likeness of this was made to them. One possible meaning of a “likeness being made to them” is that like others who were in fact killed and crucified, there are “reports” or “hearsay” that ‘Īsa (‘alayhissalām) was killed and crucified. So there is a likeness in this respect of ‘Īsa with those killed and crucified. But this likeness is extremely flimsy as the reports are extremely flimsy. Hence, the passage goes on to state that they have no actual knowledge (i.e. evidence) about this, pursue only conjecture and don’t have true certainty that they killed him. Since the evidence and reports about the so-called execution are so weak, how can there be any certainty about it?**

Allāh then clarifies the reality of what happened, which is that ‘Īsa was not killed or crucified, but he was raised up bodily into the sky, the place of His dominion. The fact it states “raised him to Him” is a clear indication of a physical elevation rather than a metaphorical one. In other instances in the Qur’ān where it speaks of a metaphorical elevation, it is never said to be “to Allāh” or “to Him.” This is also supported by the opening word of the verse, “in fact” (bal), which is intended to cancel out (iḍrāb) the claim of execution or crucifixion, and affirm something else in its place. This would of course only make sense with a physical elevation as opposed to a metaphorical or spiritual one. The elevation “to Allāh” of ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) is also mentioned in verse 3:55 of the Qur’ān.

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.

In Sūrah al-Zukhruf, Allāh says: “When [the excellence and greatness of] the son of Maryam is presented as an illustration, when suddenly your people clamour [in ridicule] at it. They say: are our gods better or he? They present this not but for argumentation – indeed they are a quarrelsome people. He is only a slave on whom We bestowed favour and We made him a model for the children of Israel. Had We wished we would have made angels amongst you succeeding [one another]. And indeed he is a [sign for] knowledge of the Hour – so have no doubt of it and follow Me; this is the Straight Road.” (Qur’ān, 43:57-61) 

These verses are regarding an incident in which the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) attempted to dissuade his people from worshipping their false gods, saying: “There’s none worshipped apart from Allāh in whom there is goodness.” He said this as a general statement that applied specifically to the idols the Mushrikūn worshipped, or by “goodness” he meant “divinity” or “divine qualities akin to Allāh’s.” However, knowing the high stature in which Islām holds the Prophet ‘Īsa, they retorted that you hold him in high standing while he is one worshipped apart from Allāh, and our gods are superior to him! This incident is reported with an authentic chain from Ibn ‘Abbās in Musnad Aḥmad (2918; Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 5:85-6) 

Allāh explains that this response of the Mushrikūn is one betraying their argumentative and quarrelsome nature, as they would not have retorted in this manner if they genuinely tried to understand the meaning of what was said. ‘Īsa (‘alayhissalām) was only a slave and a model for the people of Israel to follow – and hence it remains true that none worshipped apart from Allāh rise above slave-hood to Him or have any quality of divinity. Moreover, had Allāh so wished He could have designated the mighty and powerful angels as messengers, instead of human beings – and even that would not detract from their being slaves and not gods. Allāh then says that ‘Īsa is a sign of the Hour, meaning his return will be a sign of the end of days. 

Again, this is the dominant interpretation of the latter verse, and accords with the context. Al-Ṭabarī narrates via several chains to Ibn ‘Abbās that he said of this verse that it refers to “the emergence” or “descent of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam” (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 20:631) Imām Aḥmad also narrates this in his Musnad (2918). Al-Ṭabarī narrates with an authentic chain to the two scholars of the Tābi‘īn, Abū Mālik al-Ghifārī and al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, that they both said of this verse that it refers to “the descent of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam” (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 20:632) He narrates from Qatādah that he said: “The descent of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam is a portent of the Hour.” (ibid. 20:633) He narrates with an authentic chain to ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Zayd that he said: “The decent of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam is a portent of the Hour when he comes down.” (ibid.) Ibn Kathīr said: “The truth is that the [pronoun] refers to ‘Īsā, as the context is in describing him, and further, the intent of it is his descent before the Day of Judgement.” (Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, 12:323)

As one can see, the dominant and clearest interpretation of these two verses of the Qur’ān (4:159 and 43:61) is that ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) will return before the world’s end.

In the Ḥadīths

Imām al-Ṭabarī mentions the “tawātur of the reports from the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) that ‘Īsā ibn Maryam will descend.” (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, Maktabah Hajr, 5:451) The Mālikī mufassir, Qāḍī Abū Muḥammad ibn ‘Aṭiyyah (480 – 542 H), said: “The ummah has reached consensus on what is contained in mutawātir ḥadīth that ‘Īsā ibn Maryam (‘alayhissalām) is alive in the sky and that he will descend at the end of time…and then Allāh (Exalted is He) will give him death.” (al-Muḥarrar al-Wajīz, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1:444) The Mālikī faqīh, Ibn Rushd, also mentioned that the ḥadīths on the subject are mutawātir (see below).

After quoting several ḥadīths on the topic, Ibn Kathīr comments: “These are mutawātir ḥadīths from the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), from the transmission of Abū Hurayrah, Ibn Mas‘ūd, ‘Uthmān ibn Abi l-‘Ᾱṣ, Abū Umāmah, al-Nawwās ibn Sam‘ān, ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Ᾱṣ, Mujammi‘ ibn Jāriyah, Abū Sarīḥah Ḥudhayfah ibn Asīd, Allāh be pleased with them.” (Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, 4:363) He further said: “The ḥadīths from the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) that he foretold the descent of ‘Īsā ibn Maryam, upon him peace, before the Day of Judgement as a just ruler and a fair arbiter are mutawātir.” (Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, 12:323) 

Imām al-Bukhārī narrates in his Ṣaḥīḥ (no. 2476): ‘Alī ibn ‘Abdillāh (al-Madīnī) (161 – 234 H) narrated to us: Sufyān (ibn ‘Uyaynah) (107 – 198 H) narrated to us: al-Zuhrī (58 – 124 H) narrated to us, saying: Sa‘īd ibn al-Musayyib (15 – 94 H) reported to me, he heard Abū Hurayrah (d. 58 H) saying from the Messenger of Allāh, he said: “The Hour will not come until the son of Maryam descends amongst you as a just ruler, breaking the cross, killing swine and abolishing the jizya. Wealth will overflow such that no one will accept it.” (Fatḥ al-Bārī, Dār Ṭaybah, 6:297)

If one believes this is misattributed to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), he must clarify where the error or fabrication occurred along the chain. There is no break in the chain, and each one of these reporters are luminaries, and each is said to be the strongest student of his teacher: Ibn al-Madīnī is one of the most reliable transmitters from Ibn ‘Uyaynah; Ibn ‘Uyaynah from al-Zuhrī; al-Zuhrī from Sa‘īd ibn al-Musayyib; Ibn al-Musayyib from Abū Hurayra; and Abū Hurayrah from the Prophet.

Imām al-Bukhārī (no. 3448) narrates from Isḥāq ibn Rāhwayh from Ya‘qūb ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Sa‘d ibn Ibrāhīm ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn ‘Awf (d. 208) from his father, Ibrāhīm ibn Sa‘d (108 – 184 H), from Ṣālīḥ ibn Kaysān (d. 141 H) from al-Zuhrī from Sa‘īd ibn al-Musayyib from Abū Hurayrah, that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, soon the son of Maryam will descend amongst you as a just ruler, breaking the cross, killing swine, abolishing jizya...” Abū Hurayrah then recited in confirmation of this the following verse: “There will be none from the people of the scripture but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection, he will be a witness over them.” (4:159)

Al-Bukhārī and Muslim (no. 389) both narrate the same ḥadīth from Qutaybah ibn Sa‘īd from al-Layth ibn Sa‘d from al-Zuhrī after which the chain is the same. Imām Muslim (no. 242) gathers several of the isnāds in one place, stating Ibn Abī Shaybah, Zuhayr ibn Ḥarb and ‘Abd al-A‘lā ibn Ḥammād narrated it from Ibn ‘Uyaynah from al-Zuhrī; Ḥarmalah ibn Yaḥya from Ibn Wahb from Yūnus ibn Yazīd al-Ayli from al-Zuhrī; Ḥasan al-Ḥulwani and ‘Abd ibn Ḥumayd from Ya‘qūb from his father from Ṣāliḥ from al-Zuhrī. The same is of course found in other collections, including earlier ones like Musnad Aḥmad, Muṣannaf ‘Abd al-Razzāq and Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah – also through the same route of al-Zuhrī from Sa‘īd ibn al-Musayyib from Abū Hurayrah. 

Based on the great number of transmissions to al-Zuhrī, there is no doubt the narration originated from him. This, thus, reduces the possibility of error/fabrication to only three individuals: al-Zuhrī, Ibn al-Musayyib and Abū Hurayrah. One questioning the report must identify where he feels the error/fabrication occurred from one of these three individuals.

Moreover, there are many other corroborating reports. Imām Aḥmad narrates: Abū Aḥmad [Muḥammad ibn ‘Abdillāh ibn al-Zubayr al-Zubayrī] narrated to us: Kathīr ibn Zayd narrated to us from Walīd ibn Rabāḥ from Abū Hurayrah, he said: The Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “The Masīḥ, ‘Īsā ibn Maryam, will soon descend as a fair arbiter and just ruler, killing swine and breaking the cross...” (Musnad Aḥmad, 9121; 15:62). This is the same ḥadīth as above, narrated with an alternative acceptable chain to Abū Hurayrah, corroborating and adding further strength to the narration of al-Zuhrī. There are several other authentic reports from Abū Hurayrah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) mentioning the descent of ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām), such that it can be said the ḥadīth is widely-narrated (mashhūr/mustafīḍ) from Abū Hurayrah (raḍiyallāhu anhu) alone.

There are also reports from other ṣaḥābah, like the following:

Ibn Mājah narrates from Muḥammad ibn Bashshār (167 – 252 H) who said: Yazīd ibn Hārūn (118 – 206 H) narrated to us: al-‘Awwām ibn Ḥawshab (d. 148 H) narrated to me: Jabalah ibn Suḥaym (d. 125) narrated to me from Mu’thir ibn ‘Afārah from ‘Abdullāh ibn Mas‘ūd (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) about the Night Journey of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) when he met some of the Prophets. In his meeting with ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām), ‘Īsā informed him that no one knows when the Final Hour will occur, but Allāh has informed him of what will happen before it, amongst which is the coming of Dajjāl, of the Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj, and his own involvement. Al-Būṣīrī (d. 840 H) comments: “This is a ṣaḥīḥ chain, its men are trustworthy.” (Zawā’id Ibn Mājah, 527) Imām Aḥmad also narrated it from Hushaym from al-‘Awwām ibn Ḥawshab after which the chain is the same. (Musnad Aḥmad, 6:19) 

Imām Muslim transmitted in his Sāḥīḥ (no. 7363) from Abu Khaythamah Zuhayr ibn Ḥarb and Muḥammad ibn Mihrān al-Rāzī from al-Walīd ibn Muslim from ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Yazīd ibn Jābir from Yaḥyā ibn Jābir al-Ṭā’ī from ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Jubayr from his father Jubayr ibn Nufayr that he heard al-Nawwās ibn Sam‘ān report a lengthy ḥadith in which it mentions ‘Isā will come down.

Imām Muslim (no. 7371) also transmitted from ‘Ubaydullāh ibn Mu‘ādh ibn Mu‘ādh al-‘Anbarī from his father from the eminent imām of ḥadīth, Shu‘bah ibn al-Ḥajjāj, from Nu‘mān ibn Sālim from Ya‘qūb ibn ‘Ᾱṣim ibn ‘Urwah from ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā) that he reported a lengthy ḥadīth mentioning the descent of ‘Isā. Muslim also transmitted the same ḥadīth from Muḥammad ibn Bashshār from Muḥammad ibn Ja‘far from Shu‘bah after which the chain is the same. Demonstrating the importance Shu‘bah gave to this ḥadīth, his student Muḥammad ibn Ja‘far said: “Shu‘bah narrated this ḥadīth to me many times, and I [also] recited it to him.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Maktabat al-Bushrā, 7:600)

Imām Muslim (no. 7276) narrated from several of his teachers from Sufyān ibn ‘Uyaynah from Furāt al-Qazzāz from Abu l-Ṭufayl from Ḥudhayfah ibn Asīd that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “The Hour will not commence until you see ten signs…The descent of ‘Isā the son of Maryam…” Abu l-Ṭufayl and Ḥudhayfah are both from the ṣaḥābah, while Furāt is a recognised and trustworthy narrator from the Tābi‘īn. 

So, based on such large numbers of authentic reports, the question is, how would it be possible to claim that this was a forgery or mistake without questioning the integrity of all these early luminaries on whom we depend for our knowledge of Prophetic sayings? Rejecting these narrations would entail questioning the collective integrity of the major early transmitters, the authenticity of a number of ḥadīths in the most authentic collections, and ultimately questioning reality itself – as based on the vast number of narrations no objective person can claim this doctrine does not come from the Prophet. A number of scholars have collected the ḥadīths on the topic including al-Shawkānī, Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī and ‘Abdullāh ibn al-Ṣiddīq al-Ghumārī.

Statements of the Imāms of ‘Aqīdah and Other Fields

According to al-Fiqh al-Akbar, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah said: “The emergence of Dajjāl and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and the rising of the sun from its west, and the descent of ‘Isā (upon him peace) from the sky, and all the signs of the Day of Judgement according to what is transmitted in the authentic reports, are true and will happen.” (Minaḥ al-Rawḍ al-Azhar, p. 323-5) Something similar is found in the famous Māturīdī-Ḥanafī text, al-‘Aqā’id al-Nasafiyyah. 

According to the ‘Utbiyyah, Imām Mālik said: “While the people are standing waiting for the Iqāmah of ṣalāh, a cloud will envelop them, and then suddenly ‘Īsa the son of Maryam will come down.” (al-Muntaqā, 9:325; al-Bayān wa l-Taḥṣīl, 18:36) The great Mālikī faqīh, Ibn Rushd al-Jadd (450 – 520 H), comments: “Allāh, great and glorious is He, has explained in His Book to which falsehood does not come neither from before it nor from behind it that ‘Īsā the son of Maryam has not been killed and nor was he crucified, and that Allāh, great and glorious is He, raised him to Him; and the Prophet, upon him peace, has foretold with reports from which certainty is achieved that he will come down at the end of time as a just ruler, breaking the cross and killing swine…” (ibid. 18:36-7)

Imām al-Ṭaḥāwi says in his famous text on ‘aqīdah, in which he transmits the beliefs of Ahl al-Sunnah according to the madhhab of Imām Abu Ḥanīfah and his two prominent students (as he states in the introduction): “We believe in the portents of the Hour, including the emergence of Dajjāl and the descent of ‘Īsā the son of Maryam (upon him peace) from the sky.” (Matn al-‘Aqīdat al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, p. 31)

In explaining the fundamental beliefs a Muslim must accept, Ibn Ḥazm al-Ẓāhirī states towards the beginning of his Muḥallā: “Allāh abrogated all religions through [the Prophet’s] religion and made it necessary on all inhabitants of earth, the jinn and man of them, to follow his Sharī‘ah with which he was sent and will not accept anything besides it from anyone, and that he is the seal of prophets with no prophet after him…although ‘Īsā ibn Maryam will descend.” (al-Muḥallā, 1:8-9)

In quoting agreement on this belief, Ibn Rushd said: “They agree that the emergence of these five things [i.e. Dajjāl, the descent of ‘Īsā, Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj, the Beast (dābbah) and the sun rising from the west] must [occur].” (Ikmāl Ikmāl al-Mu‘lim, 1:70) And al-Shahrastānī said talking about the disputes of Christians: “They have a dispute over the descent [of ‘Isā], so some of them say he will come down before the Day of Judgement, just as the adherents of Islām say.” (al-Milal wal-Niḥal, p. 264) Transmission of consensus was also quoted earlier from Ibn ‘Aṭiyyah al-Mālikī.

The famous Shāfi‘ī theologian and founder of the Ash‘arī school, Imām al-Ash‘arī (260 – 324 H), has a section in his Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn describing it as “a transmission of a group of the statements of the adherents to ḥadīth and the Ahl al-Sunnah” (Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn, 1:345); and in listing their beliefs, he states: “and they attest to the emergence of Dajjāl and that ‘Īsā ibn Maryam will kill him.” (ibid. 1:348)

Based on the clear textual evidence and the consensus on this matter, Sayyid Maḥmūd al-Ᾱlūsī states: “It is necessary to have īmān in it, and the one who rejects it – like the philosophers – are considered to have disbelieved.” (Rūḥ al Ma‘āni, Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 21:342)

The Dispute over whether ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) Died before being Raised

The only important disagreement that exists on the matter is over whether ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) died before he was taken up or he was alive. The vast majority say he was alive and is still alive in the sky, to the point that Ibn ‘Aṭiyyah al-Mālikī quoted consensus on it. As mentioned, he said: “The ummah has reached consensus on what is contained in mutawātir ḥadīth that ‘Īsā ibn Maryam (‘alayhissalām) is alive in the sky and that he will descend at the end of time…and then Allāh (Exalted is He) will give him death.” (al-Muḥarrar al-Wajīz, 1:444) The North African Mālikī commentator on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, al-Ubbī (d. 827 H), states: “The majority are upon [the view] that he has not died, but was raised up [alive].” (Ikmāl Ikmāl al-Mu‘lim, 1:265)

There are only four prominent individuals who are said to have dissented from this: Ibn ‘Abbās (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā), Wahb ibn Munabbih, Mālik ibn Anas and Ibn Ḥazm. Ibn Ḥajar in Talkhīṣ al-Ḥabīr states: “As for the elevation of ‘Īsā, the experts of ḥadīth and tafsīr agree that he was raised with his body, but differ only over whether he died before he was raised or fell asleep and was then raised.” (Talkhīṣ al-Ḥabīr, Mu’assasat Qurṭubah, 3:431) 

But it is important to note at the outset that even those who assert that ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) died believe that he will be given a new life and will descend at the end of time. Hence, this belief does not contradict the accepted belief of his descent and second coming. Thus, al-Ubbī quotes the dissenting view from Imām Mālik in al-‘Utbiyyah: “Mālik said: ‘Īsā ibn Maryam died at 33 years [of age]”, and then quotes the explanation of Ibn Rushd: Ibn Rushd first explains that Imām Mālik’s statement is interpreted not as actual death but a metaphorical “death”, of being removed from this world. He says: “by his ‘death’, he means his emergence from the earthly realm to the heavenly realm.” (Ikmāl Ikmāl al-Mu‘lim, 1:265) He then states: “It is conceivable that he died in reality and will come alive at the end of time, since his descent must [occur] because of the tawātur of the ḥadīths on this.” (ibid.) Thus, even the opinion of a physical and literal death does not negate the belief of an actual return. As we have seen earlier, it is reported from Imām Mālik (also in the ‘Utbiyyah) that ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) will return.

The disagreement arises from two verses of the Qur’ān (3:55 and 5:117). In the first, Allāh says to ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām): “I will ‘take you whole’ and elevate you to Me.” The word for “take you whole” (mutawaffīka) is often used for giving death. In the second verse, ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) says to Allāh: “When You ‘took me whole’ (tawaffaytanī), You [alone] became the Watcher over them.” Both of these words come from the root tawaffī – meaning, literally, to take in full. As will be shown below, the dominant interpretation of this word in both verses is taking ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) up whole and complete (as opposed to “death”), and is thus similar in meaning to raf‘ (elevation). 

Ibn Ḥazm, in making his argument on why he believes ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) died before being taken up, states “‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) was not killed and was not crucified, but Allāh ‘took him’ and then raised him up to Him.” He then quotes the two verses mentioning tawaffī and states: “‘Taking up’ is of two types only: sleep and death, and by ‘when You took me up’, ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) did not mean the ‘taking up’ of sleep, so it becomes clear that he meant the taking up of death.” (al-Muḥallā, 1:23) Al-Qurṭubī however regards this as a discarded view having no consideration, since “taking up whole” also has the meaning of being physically taken up. He states in the commentary of 5:117: “It was said: This shows that Allāh gave him death before taking him up, and this [interpretation] is worthless, as the reports have come in abundance on his elevation and that he is alive in the sky and that he will descend and kill Dajjāl, as will be explained. The meaning is only: ‘When You raised me to the sky.’” (Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 8:303) In other words, “take up whole” (tawaffī) is synonymous with “elevation” (raf‘), and were mentioned together in verse 3:55 for emphasis.

Al-Ṭabarī narrates with an authentic chain to Maṭar al-Warrāq (d. 129) about the word mutawaffīka in verse 3:55: “‘Take you up’ from the dunyā and not the taking of death.” (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 5:448) He also narrates the same from al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (ibid. 5:449) He narrates from Ibn Jurayj that he said: “His elevation of him is his taking him up.” (ibid.) In other words, the phrases “I will take you up” and “elevate you to Me” are synonyms, or the first is describing the initial part i.e. take you out of the world, and the second is describing the destination, i.e. elevate you to the sky. Al-Ṭabarī narrates with an authentic chain to ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Zayd ibn Aslam: “‘I will take you up’, take hold of you. ‘Take you up’ and ‘elevate you’ are one [and the same]. He has not yet died. Eventually, he will kill the Dajjāl and will then die.” (ibid. 5:450)

‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭalḥah reported from Ibn ‘Abbās that he said “I will take you up” means “I will give you death.” (ibid.) However, Ibn Abī Ṭalḥah never met Ibn ‘Abbās (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā) and the stronger narration from Ibn ‘Abbās is that ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) is alive. Hence, al-Qurṭubī said: “The truth is that Allāh, exalted is He, raised him up to the sky without death or sleep, just al-Ḥasan and Ibn Zayd said, and this is the preference of al-Ṭabarī; and this is what is authentic from Ibn ‘Abbās.” (Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, 5:153) 

The narration from Wahb ibn Munabbih stating that ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) died before being taken up comes through Ibn Isḥāq (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 5:450). However, there is an unknown individual between Ibn Isḥāq and Wahb ibn Munabbih, and thus this narration is questionable. Al-Ṭabarī comments: “The closest of these views to being correct according to us is the view of those who say its meaning is: I will take you up from the earth and elevate you to Me, due to the tawātur of the reports from the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) that he said ‘Īsā ibn Maryam will descend.” (ibid. 5:451)

In brief, the view that ‘Īsā (‘alayissalām) died before being lifted up to the sky is probably not authentic from Ibn ‘Abbās, Wahb ibn Munabbih or Mālik ibn Anas. It appears to have been the view of Ibn Ḥazm, and it is known that Ibn Ḥazm’s isolated views are not given consideration. Thus, Ibn ‘Aṭiyyah’s assertion that there is consensus on ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) being alive in the sky is well-grounded. Nevertheless, even if it is accepted that there was a minor disagreement on this issue, the minority view of ‘Īsā (‘alayhissalām) having died in no way contradicts the unanimous and fundamental doctrine that he will descend from the sky at the end of time. 


It is clear from the above that the future coming of ‘Isā (‘alayhissalām) is from the fundamental beliefs of Islām, to deny which amounts to heresy (zandaqa/kufr). There are many reports from the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) on the subject, conveyed by major ḥadīth-transmitters in each generation, so cannot be put down to a mistake or fabrication. There are clear indications to it in the Qur’ān, and it was accepted by the consensus of the ummah. How can it be possible for someone who truly believes in the second part of the kalimah – the very thing that makes one a Muslim – i.e. “Muḥammadur Rasūlullāh,” to reject it? 

* It was only “the philosophers” and perhaps some of the Mu‘tazilah and Jahmiyyah (as stated by Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ (al-Ikmāl, 8:492)) who denied it historically. However, ‘Abdullāh ibn al-Ṣiddīq al-Ghumārī said: “And other uncountable [individuals have mentioned the descent of ‘Isā], amongst them are Sunnīs, Shī‘īs and Mu‘tazilīs. In sum, therefore, the descent of ‘Isā (upon him peace) is agreed-upon as has preceded from the statements of al-Ash‘arī, Ibn Rushd, Ibn ‘Aṭiyyah, al-Shahrastānī, Ibn al-Wardī, al-Saffārīnī and Ibn al-Ḥājj. The disagreement that Ibn Ḥazm and ‘Iyāḍ refer to is an anomaly from an unknown person, so is given no consideration – and it is not in itself correct. We ask this ignorant innovator who has parted from the consensus by denying the descent of ‘Isā in his erroneous statement to mention to us one specific person [from the classical period] who agreed with him in what he said.” (‘Aqīdat Ahl al-Islām, p. 27) He then says the only persons this innovator can possibly name are recent ones like Muḥammad ‘Abduh and Rashīd Riḍā.

 Note: The records possessed by the Christians on the life (and supposed death) of ‘Īsā/Jesus are unreliable. The earliest documents are that of Paul, who wrote a couple of decades after ‘Īsā/Jesus was taken up, and never saw him. Paul (and subsequent gospel writers) wrote in Greek, while ‘Īsā/Jesus and his disciples spoke in Aramaic. There is no reason to believe, therefore, that Paul's writings about ‘Īsā/Jesus are accurate. The gospels (early Christian biographies of Jesus) are said to be “according to” certain persons, namely, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, yet there are no chains of transmission from the actual authors of these gospels to these men, let alone a rigorous analysis of the trustworthiness and reliability of each transmitter (as we would require based on the rules of isānd/ḥadīth-science). These gospels were all written after Paul, also in Greek, and apparently with the purpose of supporting a Pauline form of Christianity. They are not independent testimonies, as the gospel writings appear to have borrowed from each other. This Hellenised, Pauline, form of Christianity became the dominant one, and hence writings in favour of other forms of Christianity, that must have existed in the first century AD, have not been preserved. 

Thus, these records of ‘Īsa’s/Jesus’ life are completely unreliable, and one reason why professional historians differ widely on how to interpret them - some, like Robert Price and Richard Carrier, take the extreme position that based on the historical evidence they see no reason to even believe Jesus existed! The only two major early non-Christian writers who mentioned Jesus, Josephus and Tacitus, wrote after Paul’s writings and the early gospel narratives; moreover, there may be reason to believe that their brief mentions of Jesus, or parts of it, were later Christian interpolations into their texts. Thus, historical evidence on matters connected to ‘Īsa/Jesus is very weak. As Muslims, therefore, our best, and, in fact, only, reliable source is the Qur’ān and the explanation of the Prophet. It would therefore not make sense to alter the clear meaning of the Qur’ān, that ‘Isā was not executed or crucified, to accord with this weak historical data. In fact, the Qur’ānic words “a likeness was made to them/it was made unclear to them”, “they have no knowledge of it but pursuit of conjecture” and “they did not kill him with certainty” may be a reference to the weakness of this data. 


In his Arabic book Yatimat al-Bayan, 'Allamah Yusuf al-Bannuri describes and refutes some of the misguided ideas and modernist interpretations of the Qur'an by the famous Indian scholar and politician, Abul Kalam Azad, particularly from his work Tarjuman al-Qur'an. 

One of Abul Kalam Azad's views was that 'Isa ('alayhissalam) will not return/descend. Addressing this belief, 'Allamah Bannuri states:

"An article of his was published in an Urdu newspaper in which he proclaimed that matters on which salvation depends must be stated clearly in the Qur'an, like 'establish salah', and in fact in even more explicit terms, and there must be a command to believe in it. Thus whenever there is something in the Qur'an on which salvation does not depend and is not included within the parameters of beliefs, a man does not have to believe in it and accept it. He said: 'My belief is the Masih, son of Maryam ('alayhissalam), will not descend.' He was asked about this, 'how can we believe this when there are hadiths that are authentic and mutawatir on his descent, so what do you say about that?' He replied: 'His descent was mentioned within a list of signs of the Hour and not from what is included in Aqidah.' 

"How extremely strange! Is not believing what our Qurashi Prophet, Muhammad (sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam), presented from Aqidah? When our Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam) presents an event and tells of its occurrence, and the chain is authentic and connected to him, and it has been transmitted widely in the east and west on the surface of the globe, will we then wait after all this, in order to believe and submit to it, for another command telling us clearly, 'believe in the descent of the son of Maryam'?! All the while, even this is not adequate according him within hadith, but there must be, 'believe in the descent of Isa ibn Maryam,' in the Qur'an! Isn't the statement of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam), 'How will you be when the son of Maryam descends amongst you' sufficient? Which explicitness is clearer than this, and what report is there more explicit than this? And along with this, its meaning is mutawatir...Had the matter been as he claimed, what of the five salahs stated explicitly, and what of the amounts of Zakat, and what of the rulings of Kaffarah for fasting etc. etc., which are difficult to exhaust. Is not believing in their obligation from those things on which salvation depends? Does not the one who denies these become kafir?" (Majmu'ah Rasa'il al-Kashmiri, 4:61-2)

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