The Case of the Overlooked Fatwa

Khaleel Mohammed

PRECIS

While Muslims and Christians profess a shared reverence for Jesus, they differ on two main issues. The Qur’an denies the divinity of Jesus, and most Muslims interpret the single verse about the crucifixion in the Qur’an (Q 4:157) as denying that such an event occurred. Over the last thirty years, scholars have found that the Qur’an does not clearly reject the idea that Jesus was placed on the cross and died there. However, the majority opinion remains one of rejection. This essay presents the fatwa of one of modern Islam’s most famous and dynamic reformist thinkers, Mahmoud Shaltut, former shaykh of al-Azhar University. He shows that what the Qur’an actually denies is not the placement of Jesus upon the cross but, rather, that such placement was the cause of his death. Such a fatwa could, in a time of high polemic between Muslims and Christians, foster an outlook that, if it falls short of complete common agreement, at least acknowledges part of the Gospel narratives.

Centuries of interfaith discussion have not brought Christians and Muslims to any agreement on two rather contentious aspects of Christology. For Christians, the divinity of Jesus and his crucifixion as vicarious sacrifice are elemental to faith. The Qur’an most certainly objects to any idea of Jesus’ divinity,1 and its single verse (Q 4:157) on the crucifixion has led most Muslims from the classical period up to the present to deny the relevant Gospel narratives. Indeed, the dominant opinion among Muslims is that another person was substituted in Jesus’ place.2

Recent scholarship has shown that the Qur’anic verses on the crucifixion are open to more than one interpretation. Prominent among such scholars is Mahmoud Ayoub, who concluded that the Qur’an does not actually deny the crucifixion.3 He sees the problem as lying with the Muslim commentators who, while not convincingly disproving the event, have in fact compounded the problem by adding substitutionist theories.4 The most in-depth study to date was done by Todd Lawson in his The Crucifixion and the Qur’an.5 After a comprehensive survey of primary sources, he concluded that there is no single consistent Muslim view on the subject and that the Ismailis and the Ikhwan al-Safa, for example, affirmed the crucifixion.6

Curiously, however, despite his exhaustive coverage, Lawson did not mention the fatwa of Mahmoud Shaltut on the subject. Shaltut was the shaykh of Azhar, Islam’s flagship university of traditional learning, from 1958 to 1963, and one of the most authoritative scholars of doctrine. His fatwa runs contrary to the traditional Sunni viewpoint and, as such, ought to be an elemental reference in comparative Muslim-Christian Christology. This is perhaps why The Moslem World, in 1944, chose to carry a translation, since the journal at that time was aimed toward spreading the gospel among Muslims.7 The present essay presents and analyses Shaltut’s fatwa for its possible effect on interfaith discussions.

To contextualize the importance of Shaltut’s fatwa, however, it ought to be understood that, for those who deny the crucifixion, the dominant idea is that Jesus will return at the end of time to wage war against an antichrist.8 The Hadith Collections contain several traditions that graphically detail the return of Jesus who, with a Muslim army, completely routs a Jewish antichrist and his ungodly forces.9

The Second Advent of Jesus is so important to majoritarian Islamic creed that the Permanent Committee for Research and Fatwa, of Saudi Arabia, a government institution headed by that nation’s most influential religious authorities, proclaimed:

It has been established by proofs from the Scripture and the authentic traditions that Jesus, son of Mary, was not killed and did not die, but that God raised him alive unto Himself and that he will return at the end of time as a just judge in the Muslim community. Whoever says that Jesus son of Mary died, and that he will not return towards the end of time, has opined contrary to the book of God and the authoritative tradition of His prophet, thereby committing a grievous error. After such a person comes of age, and proof has been sustained against him for lying against God and his Messenger, he is to be ruled as a disbeliever.10

A ruling of disbelief would, in the strictly traditional jurisprudential system of Saudi Arabia, be essentially a death sentence. In almost any Muslim community in the world, the charge of disbelief leveled against a Muslim would lead to certain ostracism. Although the Saudi Arabian edict postdates Shaltut’s statement, it must be noted that the idea of the denial of Jesus’ ascent and return as tantamount to disbelief is not new.11 The Saudi Arabian fatwa therefore rightly pointed out that the general body of Islam views the Second Advent as a creedal element.

It is in light of the foregoing that the importance of Shaltut’s 1942 fatwa shines forth. Charles Adams translated most of the text and published it under the heading “A Fatwa on the ‘Ascension of Jesus” in The Moslem World in 1944.12 The translation that follows is largely mine, as taken from Al-Fatāwa,13 with due acknowledgement to Adams for extensive use of parts of his rendering. The explanatory sub-headings are not mine but are taken directly from the book. Like Adams, I have left out parts that I deem overly repetitive or unimportant for the purposes of this essay, and have rendered some expressions outside of the literal Arabic into what I view as equivalent English idiom.

Translated Text of the Preamble and Fatwa

An inquiry was addressed to the scholars of al-Azhar from Mr. Abdul Kareem Khan, Middle Eastern Forces High Command, asking: Is Jesus living or dead according to the view of the Qur’an and Islamic Oral tradition? What is the status of a Muslim who denies that he is living? What is the status of one who does not believe in him if it were supposed that he would return to this world again? We issued the following fatwa that was published by Al-Risālah in 1942, issue 462:

The Qur’an and the End of Jesus

The Qur’an refers to Jesus’ final interaction with his people in three chapters:

1. Q 3:48–55: . . . God said, “O Jesus! Verily I will cause you to die (mutawaffīka) and will raise you to me (rāfi’uka ilayya), and I will purify you of those who disbelieve . . .

2. Q 4:157–158: . . . As for their saying, “We killed the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, messenger of God” – they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared as such to them. Indeed those who differ in this are in doubt concerning it. They have no clear knowledge of the matter except conjecture. They did not clearly kill him. Rather God raised him unto himself (rafa’hu Allahu ilayhi), and God is Powerful, Wise.

3. Q 5:116–117: . . . (Jesus said): I did not say to them except what You ordered me, “Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness over them so long as I was amongst them. And when you caused me to die (tawaffaytanī), You were the Watcher over them and You are Witness to everything.”

The last reference is to an eschatological matter that pertains to his people’s worshiping him and his mother in this world, about which matter God questioned him. The verse represents, in Jesus’ own words, his avowal that he did not order them except to do what God had commanded; that he, Jesus, was a witness against them for the time that he was among them; and that he did not know what happened to them after God caused him to die.

Meaning of Tawaffā

The term “tawaffā” occurs several times in the Qur’an to mean death, until this has become the dominant usage, the one most immediately understood. It has not been used in any other sense unless accompanied by a conditioner that changes its dominant meaning (examples are provided showing a contextual meaning other than death, as in Q 4:9, 4:15, 6:61, 8:50, 12:101, 22:5, and 32:11). The correct understanding of tawaffaytanī (in Q 5:117) and the obvious meaning is that of ordinary death as comprehended by everyone. Native Arabic speakers, from the term itself and the context, can discern this. Since this verse, in its affirmation of the end of Jesus among his people, comes without any conditioner, there is no justification for saying that Jesus is alive and did not die. There is no way to interpret “death” here to mean the (future) death of Jesus after the Parousia, based on the supposition of those who believe that he is still living in the heavens and that he shall return toward the end of time. The verse is clear in limiting the context to his people of Jesus’ own time . . .

Does “God Raised Him unto Himself” Mean That Jesus Was Taken Up to Heaven?

The greater body of exegetes explain Q 4:158, “rather God raised him unto Himself,” to mean a physical ascent to heaven. They state that God cast Jesus’ likeness upon another and raised Jesus to heaven, where he remains alive to return in the Last Days to kill the swine and break the cross. Their interpretation relies on:

a. Traditions that indicate the descent of Jesus after the Antichrist makes his appearance. These are uncertain and contradictory narratives whose inconsistency does not allow any room for harmonization, as noted by hadith scholars. Apart from that fact, these traditions stem from the narrations of Wahb b. Munabbih and K’ab al-Ahbār, two converts to Islam whose status is well known to specialists in hadith criticism.

b. A tradition from Abu Hurayrah that summarizes the information about Jesus’ descent that, if it is genuine, is nonetheless an āhād hadith.14 There is consensus among the scholars of Islam that such a hadith cannot be used as a foundation for doctrine or matters about the unseen.

c. The material that has come via the hadith about Muhammad’s night ascent (Mi’rāj), when he ascended to the heavens, traversing each one, until he saw Jesus along with his cousin John (the Baptist) in the second heaven.15 In critique of this argument, we find it sufficient to refer to what has been posited by several of the interpreters of hadith on the issue of the Night Ascent and Muhammad’s meeting with the earlier prophets, that such meeting was spiritual, not physical (here, the author provides some classical references). It is rather odd that they should use the Mi’rāj hadith to prove that the Qur’anic reference to the ascent of Jesus is a physical one, while we find another group among them seeking to show that Muhammad’s meeting with Jesus was a physical one by relying on the Qur’anic clause, “rather God raised him unto himself.” In so doing, they are taking the Qur’anic verse as a proof for what they understand from the hadith when trying to explain a hadith, and they are taking the hadith as a proof for what they understand from the Qur’an when they are seeking to explain the scriptural verse.16

The Raf’ (Raising) in Q 3:48–55

If we compare Q 3:48–55 and Q 4:158, we will see that the latter verse serves to elucidate fulfillment of the promise given to Jesus in the former. This promise was about death, exaltation, and purification from those who disbelieved. Since the second verse comes without mention of death and purification and limits itself to the aspect of being raised to God, account must therefore be taken of what is said in the first as a means of reconciling the two verses. Al-Alūsī (1803–53) explained the expression “cause you to die” in many ways, among them – and this is the clearest – “I will complete your appointed life span and cause you to die a natural death, not giving any power to those who seek to kill you.” This is a trope to denote Jesus’ immunity from his enemies when they were so close to murdering him, and it necessarily means that God’s completion of Jesus’ appointed term refers to natural death. It is evident that the “raising up” that would follow a natural death is one of status, not a bodily ascension, especially when one notes that alongside it is the verse that states “And I will purify you of those who disbelieve.” This denotes that the meaning is one of honoring and ennobling. The word “raising” in this context occurs several times in the Qur’an, as in Q 6:83, 19:57, 24:36, 58:11, and 94:4.

The expressions “raise you to myself (Q 3:52)” and “rather God raised him unto Himself (Q 4:158)” are similar to such everyday metaphors as “person x met the Most Exalted Companion” and “God is with us” and “with the All Powerful King.” All of these expressions are understood to mean nothing else except being under divine guardianship and preservation and being graced with God’s protection. How then can the word “heaven” be derived from the expression “unto himself” in Q 4:158? God preserve us . . . this is certainly an injustice to the clear Qur’anic expression and reduces the Scripture to supporting legends and traditions that are not buttressed by any definite proof or anything remotely resembling proof.

The Obvious Meaning of the Qur’anic Verse

Jesus was nothing more than a messenger, like those messengers who passed on before him. Since his people treated him with enmity, and their mischief against him was evident, he sought refuge in God – as is the wont of prophets and messengers. God, by His grace and wisdom, rescued him, thereby ruining the scheming of his enemies. This is what the verses encapsulate . . . as well as that Jesus would complete his term without being killed or crucified, but instead expire through natural death. This is what any reader whose mind is free from those misleading traditions understands from the relevant verses when he contemplates how God protects His prophets when their enemies hatch plots against them. I do not perceive how the rescue of Jesus by his physical removal from among them, and a physical ascent to the heavens, can be deemed the triumph of God’s plotting (Q 3:54). How can this be described as being better than their evil plotting when it is a thing that is outside of their capability, indeed beyond the ability of any mortal? Is it not that, for something to be deemed a plotting, it has to be on the same level as the term indicates and within the customary connotation? A similar event occurred in the case of Muhammad when God delivered him from his enemies’ machinations: “And when the disbelievers plotted against you to capture or kill you or banish you. They plotted and God plotted, and God is the best of plotters” (Q 8:30).

Someone Who Rejects Jesus’ Ascent Is Not a Disbeliever

The summary of this fatwa is as follows:

1. There is nothing in the Qur’an or the Sunna to reliably establish as a tenet of creed that Jesus was bodily raised to Heaven, is currently alive there, and that toward the End Times will return to earth.

2. All that the verses afford in this matter is that God promised Jesus that He would complete for him his life-span, that he would cause him to die a natural death, and honor him by exalting him and providing him immunity from those who disbelieved. This promise was fulfilled in that Jesus’ enemies did not kill nor crucify him; rather, God caused him to die at the end of his term and exalted him.

Whoever denies that Jesus was bodily raised to Heaven and is currently alive there and will descend in the End Times is not rejecting anything that has been established by definitive proof, and such a person therefore has not renounced Islam, or faith, and it is therefore not proper to rule that he is an apostate. Rather, he is a believing Muslim, to be buried in the graveyard of the Muslims, and there is no blemish in his faith in the sight of God, for God is fully cognizant of his worshipers.

Analysis of the Fatwa

In his foreword to The Crucifixion and the Qur’an, Professor Sidney Griffith noted that:

The problem with most of the suggestions about how to read and understand puzzling phrases in the Qur’an . . . is that the interpretive focus has often been too narrow, confining attention to the immediate context of the troubling words and phrases and imagining a solution, either grammatical, lexical or historical, without taking a wider Qur’anic context into account, or a wider historical frame of reference, for that matter, or failing to find comparable phraseology in some alleged, non-Islamic source.17

This focus on grammar is precisely one of the problems for most Muslim exegetes in dealing with the crucifixion verses, because the emphatic negative “wa maa salabūhu” literally seems to deny that Jesus was ever placed on the cross. In taking this position, Muslim exegetes seem to rely on the lexical meaning of the word, “being placed upon a cross” – for the Qur’an uses this word in other areas to indicate punishment that does not in and of itself result in death.18 The term, in Christian usage, however, is rather clear that it necessarily leads to death – as explained, for example, in the Dictionary of Christianity, where it is given as “execution by being nailed to a cross.”19 If the Qur’anic verses are read in terms of Christian terminological usage – given that many words are so used in Islam’s main text – then what may be argued is the placement upon the cross as being the cause of Jesus’ death, rather than denying his being put upon it.20

Shaltut never pays attention to the lexical fetters that the exegetes placed upon themselves. Instead, by using sub-headings in his fatwa, he effectively focused on the most dominant issues that underline the Muslim tradition of the physical ascent. The linchpin of the argument for the Second Advent lies in the interpretation of the word “tawaffā.” As one fatwa put it,

Any Muslim who says that God caused Jesus to die a natural death . . . has gone against the accepted position of the Muslim community, and has deviated from the right path. That which stands against him is Q 3:55, wherein he interprets tawaffā as death, and in so doing has contradicted what has been authenticated from the earliest Muslims who explained the verse as God taking Jesus up physically alive, thereby removing him from those who disbelieved, harmonizing therefore between the scriptural narrative and the authentic hadith that supports the ascent while he was alive, and his return to Earth . . .21

It is to be noted that in the foregoing excerpt the Qur’an is not being allowed to speak for itself, but it is being interpreted based on the hadith. This is one of the most momentous developments in Islam since, although the evidence indicates that there was argument in early Islam regarding the status of hadith, this position was changed within the first two centuries to one where the duality of revelation was accepted.22 Once this occurred, the Hadith was used to refract the Qur’an, despite the fact that Islam’s book says that the Qur’an itself is an explanation for everything (Q 16:89). Given this urge to do away with the literal meaning of tawaffā, the state-sponsored translation of the Qur’an from Saudi Arabia makes no mention of death for Q 3:55, rendering it: “O Jesus, I will take you and raise you to myself.”23 The interpretation of “raising” as a physical ascent is, of course, dependent on accepting the “death” as being used outside of its literal sense. As Shaltut has shown, without recourse to the hadith, the Qur’an itself uses “raising” to mean extol and exalt as in Q 2:253, 6:165, 7:176, 24:36, and 29:57.

While Shaltut might have been a reformist, he was not a rejectionist of the Oral Tradition. It would seem that he still subscribed in theory to the idea of the hadith being a reliable explanation of the Qur’an as long as certain criteria were fulfilled. It is for this reason that he made his claim that the hadith used to support the ascent were all in the category of āhād and, therefore, not a reliable basis for the formulation of creed. It is rather strange that Shaltut should have claimed that there is scholarly consensus that such a hadith cannot be used as the basis for creed; in fact, the issue is one of great controversy among scholars. It would appear that he was using a favorite ploy of debate – wherein claims of consensus or the tawātur status of hadith are often made.24

One of the issues that Shaltut rather surprisingly did not touch upon was the Qur’anic verse that makes Jesus’ prophesy about Muhammad’s coming “and after me will come a prophet called Ahmad” (Q 61:6). Logically, since Muslim normative belief views Muhammad as the last of prophets, if Jesus is coming back, it leads to a return of Muhammad as well, and consequently to an ad infinitum set of returns for both personalities. The conundrum is solved by the Muslims divesting Jesus of his prophetic office and having him come back simply as a just judge and praying behind a Muslim imam – clearly, therefore, making himself a part of the Muslim religion. The phraseology of one fatwa clearly indicates an awareness of the problem:

The hadith indicate that he (Jesus) will return towards the End Times, and that he will judge according to the Shari’ah of Muhammad, and that the leader of prayer for the Muslim community and others during this time will be from the Muslim community. From this then, there will be no contradiction between Jesus’ advent and the finality of prophethood being sealed by Muhammad, since Jesus will not come with any new message . . .25

This supposition, of course, runs counter to the Qur’anic promise to Jesus wherein God blesses him with peace on the day that he was born and even on the day that he would die (Q 19:31–33). It also brings into being a creed that has no sanction in the Qur’an – that God would not only divest a messenger of his office but also send him to another people, despite his having been expressly from the tribe of Israel. How could the Muslim traditionalists have introduced this type of reading to the Qur’an, a scripture that, as earlier noted, never mentions a single word about the Christian idea of the Second Advent? The answer seems to lie in the fact that, once the hadith became accepted as a reliable source of Muslim belief, the Qur’an was read through the presuppositions of hadith imagery. If it is argued that the hadith seems so much in conflict with the Qur’anic imagery and that common piety ought to have been a protection against such superimposition, it has to be taken into account that the hadith is so structured that, since it is imputed to the Prophet, it comes with the stamp of authority.

As long as a chain of tradents can be established that leads back to Muhammad, and nothing that supposedly detracts from their probity is known, then their hadith is deemed to be authentic. Glaring contradictions can be explained away quite easily, since a community will interpret scripture based on its present realities. In the same manner that earlier Muslims invented the concept of abrogation of scripture to introduce and explain changes, so, too, the authority of scripture could be deemed malleable, subject to situational change, or even contextually irrelevant.26 This is not to suggest that the interpreters of the Qur’an or the formulators of creed were being duplicitous. Once the hadith narratives were deemed authoritative enough to interpret the Qur’an, the interpreters, like their counterparts in the other Abrahamic faiths, may not have believed that they were reading into the text something that is not there.27

Since the hadith about Jesus’ return serve as the lemmata for the battle narratives of the End Times, and since Shaltut’s clear statement that a Muslim who rejects these beliefs is still within the faith, it would seem that his fatwa allows Muslims to think of an eschatology that has none of the sanguinary imagery of the traditional expectations nor of the demonization of Jews and Christians. Despite the cogency of the fatwa, it still remains largely unaccepted among Muslims, perhaps due to the fact that the majority of traditional scholars in all sects of Islam are not willing to question medievalist constructs. As Fazlur Rahman pointed out, Muslim scholars have yet to come up with an interpretation of the Qur’an that is adequate for contemporary needs or one that deviates from traditionally received opinions.28 However, Muslims are becoming increasingly aware of the incompatibility of the Qur’an and hadith on several issues. Especially after the events of September 11, 2001, the vast outpouring of Islamophobic sentiment has forced many Muslims to step aside from apologetic to really researching and querying many of the creedal formulations they previously accepted unquestioningly.

The Council on American Islamic Relations, North America’s largest representative body for Muslims, recently distributed Qur’ans free of charge to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Interestingly, it chose the translation of Muhammad Asad, who rejects the idea of the Second Advent.29 In distributing a translation that is banned by the Saudis, the Council tacitly disregarded the Saudi fatwa regarding the disbelief of someone who denies the Parousia, and it vouchsafed the position of Shaykh Shaltut and his supporters.30  This effectively opens the door for Muslims to reexamine aspects of Islamic creed, in much the same way that their Christian and Jewish counterparts have been doing in academic studies of religion, especially concerning the violent apocalyptic of the End Times.31

It is probably unlikely that Muslims and Christians will ever come to any uniform position regarding the crucifixion, especially in terms of the salvific aspects as viewed in Christianity. The willingness of Muslim scholars – especially those based in the West – to reexamine creedal positions and to engage in interfaith dialogue rather than disputation with Christians leaves the door to change open. Many conferences arranged under the aegis of the Muslim-majority countries now allow for the presentation of different interpretations of the Qur’an. In Azerbaijan, in November, 2009, at the Organization of the Islamic Conference-hosted “Inter-Civilizational Dialogue,” this author was allowed to present an oral version of this essay. The participants were high-ranking religious dignitaries and academics from the approximately fifty countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Of the questions raised, none sought to refute or debunk Shaltut’s position.

It would seem, therefore, that many Muslims are willing to accept that the Qur’an does not actually deny that Jesus was placed on the cross and that the majoritarian Muslim understanding has been conditioned by creed and medieval exegesis rather than being focused on the text. While it may seem, then, that there exists the possibility of harmony on at least one contentious issue of Christological difference between Muslims and Christians, the focus ought not to be on interpretational agreement. Rather, it is more important that Muslims and others continue to engage in dialogue, for through this method they can learn about each other. Revisiting Shaltut’s fatwa and similar responsa may perhaps add some renewed energy to the wonderful proposition of Nostra aetate.

* * *

Khaleel Mohammed (Muslim) is Associate Professor in the Dept. of Religious Studies at San Diego (CA) State University, where he has taught since 2003. He holds B.A.s from Interamerican University (Religion and Psychology) in Saltillo, Mexico, and from Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University (Islamic law), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; an M.A. in history and philosophy of religion from Concordia University, Montreal; and a Ph.D. (2001) in Islamic law from McGill University, Montreal. He was a Kraft-Hiatt Postdoctoral Fellow and lecturer in Islamic studies in the Dept. of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (2001–03), and has been a visiting professor/lecturer in universities in Yemen, Syria, Canada, and the U.S. He has lectured and written extensively on Muslim-Jewish relations, including articles appearing in such journals as the Middle East Quarterly, Islamic Studies, Social Science and Modern Society, J.E.S., Judaism, and the Journal of Religion and Culture; articles in books, encyclopedias, and conference proceedings; and several book reviews.

Works Cited

1 Concomitant with the denial of divinity is the idea of the trinity. See Q 4:171, 5:76, 5:116.

2 For a good discussion on this issue, see Kate Zebiri, Muslims and Christians Face to Face (Oxford, U.K.: Oneworld Publications, 1997), pp. 21–43.

3 Mahmoud Ayoub, “Towards an Islamic Christology, II,” The Muslim World vol. 70 (April,1980): pp. 91–121; reprinted in Irfan Omar, ed., A Muslim View of Christianity – Essays on Dialogue by Mahmoud Ayoub (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007), pp. 156–186.

4 Ibid.

5 Todd Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought (Oxford, U.K.: Oneworld Publications, 2009).

6 Ibid., p. 41.

7 Charles Adams, “A Fatwa on ‘The Ascension of Jesus’” The Moslem World, vol. 34 (1944), pp. 214–217.

8 For good coverage in Western languages of these expectations, see Khaleel Mohammed, “The Jewish and Christian Influence on the Eschatological Imagery of Sahih Muslim” (M.A. thesis, Concordia University, 1997), pp. 24–48; also E. J. Jenkinson, “The Moslem Anti-Christ Legend,” The Moslem World, vol. 20 (1930), pp. 50–55; also Isma’il Ibn Kathir, The Signs before the Day of Judgment, Tr. Huda Khattab (London: Dar al-Taqwa Ltd, 1991).

9 For a good collection of traditions, see Kadir Baksh and Khaleel Mohammed, “Demonizing the Jews: Examining the Antichrist Tradition in the Sahihayn,” Journal of Religion and Culture 12 (Fall, 1998): 151–164.

10 Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Dawīsh, Fatāwā al-Lajnat al-Dā’ima l’il Buhuth al-‘Ilmiyya wa’l Iftā (Riyadh: General Presidium for Research, Responsa, Propagation, and Guidance, 1411), 3:213–215; emphasis added.

11 See Muhammad Ibn Jarīr al-Tabari (d. 922), Jāmi’ al-Bayān ‘An Ta’wīl Āy al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dār Ihyā al-Turāth al-‘Arabī, 2001), 3:338–343.

12 Adams, “A Fatwa.”

13 Mahmoud Shaltut, Al-Fatawá: Dirasah li-Mushkilat al-Muslim al-Mu’asir fi Hayatihi al-Yawmiyah w’al-‘Āmmah (Beirut: Dār al-Shuruq, 1986), pp. 59–65.

14 In his “A Fatwa,” Adams mistranslated the term “āhād,” rendering it as that which refers to a tradition related by only one narrator, and then explaining that it had no parallel lines of transmission. See Adams, “A Fatwa,” p. 215. The terminological meaning is quite different from the lexical connotation. Āhād means that the transmission does not have the requisite number of tradents, among other criteria, that allows for definitive, decisive information. See Mahmūd al-Tahhān, Taysir Mustalah al-Hadith (Riyadh: Matba’at al-Ma’ārif, 1987), p. 22; and Muhammad ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknawī, Zafr al-Amānī Mukhtasar al-Jurjānī (Alamgarh, India: Jamia Islamiyyah Press, 1995), p. 44.

15 The reference here is the opening verses of chap. 17 of the Qur’an where Muhammad makes a nocturnal ascent to heaven. There is a difference of opinion among the scholars as to whether this was a physical or a spiritual journey.

16 Here, Shaltut is pointing out some inconsistencies in exegetical methodology. Since the hadiths on the controversy are inconclusive, they cannot be used to force any singular, authoritative understanding of the verse. It is erroneous, cyclical reasoning to attempt to use the Qur’an and pretend there is a consensus on its meaning in order to support a controversial hadith.

17 Sidney Griffith, “Foreword,” in Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an, p. xi.

18 See, e.g., Q 5:33, 7:124, 12:41, 20:71, 26:49.

19 George Thomas Kurian, ed., Dictionary of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), p. 198. See also Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper, eds., The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Clarendon, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 146.

20 For the terminological importations in Qur’anic vocabulary, see Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2007).

21 Khalid b. ‘Abd al Rahman al-Juraysī, Al-Fatāwā Masā’il al-‘Asriyya min FatāwāUlamā al-Balad al-Harām (Riyadh: King Fahd Complex, 2007), p. 466.

22 Abu Muhammad AIi Ibn Hazm, Al-Ihkām Usūl al-Ahkām (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, n.d.), 1:102. For a full-length discussion on this, see Aisha Y. Musa, Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority of Prophetic Traditions in Islam (New York: Palgrave, 2008), pp. 6–20, 26, 91, 98.

23 See Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, trs, Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language (Riyadh: Dar al-Salaam Books, 1996), p. 91.

24 Ibn Hazm, Al-Ihkām, 1:110–111. It ought also to be noted that there is no agreed-upon figure for determining when a hadith is āhād and when it is to be deemed mutawātir; the sufficiency of numbers to fulfill the criterion of tawātur may differ from one scholar to another. See Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah, MajmuFatāwa Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah, comp. Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad Bin Qāsim al-'Āsimī (Riyadh: General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Places, n.d.), 18:40–41.

25 Al-Juraysī, Al-Fatāwā fī’l Masā’il al-‘Asriyya min ‘Ulamā’ al Balad al-Haram (Riyadh: Mu’assasat al Juraysī, 1999) p. 465.

26 Charles M. Wood “Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture,” in Garrett Green, ed., Scriptural Authority and Narrative Interpretation: Essays on the Occasion of the Sixty-Fifth Birthday of Hans W. Frei (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 4.

27 Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 30.

28 Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an (Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980), p. xii. Muhammad Sa’īd Ramadan al-Būtī challenged the fatwa in his Kubrā al Yaqīniyāt al-Kawniyyah (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, n.d.), pp. 348–352.

29 Muhammad Asad, tr., The Message of the Qur’an (Bristol, U.K.: The Book Foundation, 2003). He translated Q 3:55 as “Lo! God said, ‘O Jesus! Verily I shall cause thee to die and exalt thee unto Me, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth.’”

30 The decision of the Muslim World League ruled that the printing and distribution of Asad’s translation was forbidden because it has “abominable errors and shameful blasphemies.” See al-Dawīsh, Fatāwā al-Lajnat al-Dā’ima (Riyadh: al-Ri’āsat al-‘Āma li Idārat al-Buhūth al-‘Ilmiyyah w’al-Iftāwa’l Da’wah wa’l Irshād, A.H. 1411), 3:215.

31 Among such scholars are Bart Ehrman, David Freedman, John Spong, Regina Schwartz, Tim Harpur, and Jacob Neusner.

Posted November 19, 2011. The above article was printed in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 46:3, Summer 2011. This material is copyrighted, all rights reserved. It is posted here with the author’s consent.