5. A New Discovery?
The Bible tells us about the life and the teaching of Jesus. It contains the main record of how he was crucified and died on the cross. It states the story of his burial and resurrection on the third day. It also tells us about his appearances to his followers and his ascension and says that one day he is going to return to this earth as the mighty judge.
The Qur’an, however refers to the crucifixion only once and can be interpreted as denying both the crucifixion of Jesus and his death on the cross by the hands of the Jews. Muhammad is said to have received this revelation in response to a boast of the Jews that they had killed Jesus Christ. It states:
And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger - they slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise (Surah 4:157-158).
The theory of substitution
The majority of Muslim friends follow the substitution theory. In the light of this one verse, they believe that Jesus was never put on the cross. God made someone else look like Jesus and it appeared to the Jews that they had crucified him. The words, ‘Allah took him up unto Himself’ are often taken to mean that Jesus was raised alive to heaven without dying.1 They have different names on their list. Some say Judas Iscariot was slain in his place; others say Simon of Cyrene.
Whoever it was, if God made his face to look like that of Jesus at that moment so people were ‘taken in’, would this not be an intolerable deception? How could Jesus, the prophet of God, allow such a terrible deception? If God wanted to raise Jesus to heaven, why was it necessary to victimize a bystander? Many Muslims answer: "God knows."
Although the Qur’an speaks in enigmas when dealing with the events of the last days of Christ on earth, it certainly does not repudiate his death before his resurrection and ascension. For example Jesus is reported as saying: "Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!" (Surah 19:33). Here Jesus puts his death before his resurrection but most Muslims interpret such verses in their own way. They suppose that Jesus’ death will happen in the future when he returns.
In another passage we read:
When Allah said: O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend up unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then unto Me ye will all return, and I shall judge between you as to that wherein ye used to differ (Surah 3:55).
Though the translator has used words "gathering thee" but in the original Arabic it certainly means "to die" and thus again we see Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension mentioned in that order. However there are Muslims who suggest that the above verses should be interpreted figuratively. They suppose that Jesus was lifted up while he was asleep and that God caused him to die a spiritual death to all worldly desires. Yet others say that Jesus died in some sense for a few hours, 3 or 7 in the different traditions. He was then resurrected and taken into heaven.2
The swoon theory
Mirza Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya, always strove to discredit the truth about Jesus. In the first volume of his book, ‘Baraheen’, he followed the traditional Islamic belief about Christ. However in 1891 he put forward a new doctrine that Jesus was crucified but did not die on the cross. Instead he swooned, was removed from the cross and later died in Galilee.3 According to his teaching the Qur’an (Surah 4:157-158) ‘does not deny the fact of Jesus’s being nailed to the cross, but denies his having died on it’.4 This was indeed a deviation from orthodox Islamic belief that Jesus was taken up to heaven by divine intervention at the cross, without having suffered crucifixion at all.
In 1899, Mirza modified this idea in his book, Masih Hindustan Main, Jesus in India. After escaping from the cross, Jesus received divine healing by the application of some special ointment. He then left Palestine and travelled to Syria, Persia and later came to India, where he stayed in Kashmir to preach the gospel to the lost tribes of Israel. According to Mirza Ahmad, Jesus died in Kashmir at the age of 120.
Something old, Something new
This theory was still new to Muslims but not to Christians in the West. Mirza’s explanation may convince the twelve million Ahmadis, but this theory has generally been discredited in the West. In fact, Mirza merely borrowed the ‘swoon theory’ from Sayyid Ahmad Khan in India and from K.H. Venturini, a western theologian, who in turn had taken it from a German writer, K.F. Bahrdt (1741-1792).
Mirza’s first suggestion that the death of Jesus took place in Galilee was a slight variation of the swoon theory. The later suggestion that Jesus died in India was different again, but it was perhaps influenced by the ideas of the Russian writer, Notovitch. Mirza read Jesus’ words: "I have other sheep, that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also" (John 10:16) and concluded that Jesus, after escaping death on the cross, travelled in search of these lost sheep. Mirza believed that they were the ‘lost tribes of Israel’ which were taken into exile in 721 B.C. This idea came from the British-Israel movement, who believed that the lost tribes had travelled westward, whereas Mirza claimed they had gone eastward.
In 1894, a Russian, Nicholas Notovich, published the book ‘Vie inconnue de Jesus-Christ’. Later that year the book was translated into English under the title ‘The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ’. Notovitch claimed that during his tour of Ladakh in India in 1887, he had found an ancient manuscript in a Buddhist temple in Leh which stated that Jesus had travelled to India in his youth. Though his claim was proved to be an outright lie, it influenced Mirza Ahmad and led him to write his book, Masih Hindustan Main, Jesus in India.
The question of the tomb
The Qur’an says: "And we (God) made the Son of Mary, and his mother a portent and we gave them refuge on a height, a place of flocks and water springs" (Surah 23:50). According to orthodox Muslims, this verse refers to life in Paradise or God’s help to Mary at the birth of Jesus. Mirza Ahmad interpreted it as a reference to an actual place on earth. He thought it was Kashmir and searched there for a tomb which could be regarded as that of Jesus. There are many anonymous tombs in the Indian sub-continent and Mirza Ahmad pointed to one of these as being that of Jesus. However the local inhabitants do not believe that it is the tomb of Jesus. The grave is known locally as that of a saint, Yus Asaf.
This tomb is like hundreds of other tombs of saints. The Muslims in the area believe the tomb had been in the possession of the Hindus. Then in about 1400 AD a Muslim called Syed Abdur Rahman, nicknamed Bulbul Shah, came from Turkistan with about a thousand fugitives. He is said to be the one who introduced Islam into Kashmir and declared this grave to be that of a Muslim saint.
Mirza Ahmad then tried to rewrite Christian history. His reasoning is, however, very suspect. Referring to this anonymous tomb, he says: "Hundreds of thousands of people have, with their physical eyes, seen that the tomb of Jesus exists in Sirinagar, Kashmir."5
There is no truth in such a statement. Mirza wants us to believe that people have seen the actual tomb of Jesus. What they have seen ‘with their physical eyes’ is the shape of a grave, the grave of an unknown person. They may be right in saying that the grave probably contains a body, but to claim it to be of Jesus is wishful thinking.
Mirza continues to adjust the facts to his theory, saying that as Jesus ‘was crucified at Golgotha, i.e. at the place of siri, so has his tomb been found at the place of siri i.e. Sirinagar’. He adjusts his theory further and claims: "The place where Jesus was crucified was called Gilgit or Siri, and the place where, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the tomb of Jesus has been discovered, is also called Gilgit, or siri."6
The Gospel narratives say that the place where Jesus was crucified was called Golgotha, which means, ‘place of a skull’ (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17). The name may have been derived from its shape, or it was a place of execution where skulls accumulated. Mirza claimed that the town of Sirinagar was also called Gilgit and thus linked it with the name Golgotha. Although these two names sound vaguely alike, there is no reason to suggest a link between them. In any case, Sirinagar has never been called Gilgit. There is a town called Gilgit, but it is about 300 miles from Sirinagar.
Since Mirza originally wrote his book in Urdu, he tried to play on the word siri. Interestingly in the Urdu translation of the Bible the word ‘siri’ is not found. Instead, ‘the place of the skull’ is rightly translated as ‘Kopri ki jegha’. Mirza, however, used the word ‘siri’ instead of ‘Kopri’.
To suit his purpose, Mirza mistranslated Siri-nagar as the ‘place of siri’. Had he opened an Urdu or Hindi dictionary, he could easily have found out that the word ‘siri’ originally comes from Sanskrit. It is the name of Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu and the goddess of plenty and prosperity. It is in this context that the place is called Sirinagar - the place of Lakshmi. Thus, to draw a comparison between the biblical Golgotha and Sirinagar clearly requires distorted reasoning.
The divine ointment
To give his doctrine more publicity, Mirza Ahmad invented an ointment. He said that the ingredients had been prepared solely by him under the influence of divine inspiration. He called it ‘Marham-e-Isa’ - the Ointment of Jesus. He believed this to be the ointment which had been used to heal Jesus’ wounds. He even suggested that the ointment was a remedy for a plague that was spreading in India at the time. This ointment disappeared from the market when government officials started raiding the bogus medicine shops. These raids followed an order from the deputy commissioner of Lahore, dated 19th October 1899, which was later upheld by a decision of the Chief Court of the Punjab, in an appeal case dated 8th June 1900.
Why all the fuss? Mirza Ahmad used to say that if Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is dead, Christ must also be dead. In one of his books ‘Invitation to Ahmadiyyat’, Mirza’s son, Bashir-ud-din, wrote:
It is impossible for us to think that Jesus the Messiah, is alive in Heaven while Muhammad, our Holy Prophet, lies buried in the earth. We cannot think so. ... If it is true that Jesus is alive in Heaven, we cannot feel more dead. We cannot tolerate the thought that our Master is dead and buried, while Jesus is alive and in Heaven. We feel humiliated before Christians.7
Mirza Ahmad saw Christianity as a threat to Islam. His instruction to his followers was:
Prove to Christians that Christ in reality is forever dead. Through the victory to be gained by this argument you will be able to wipe the Christian religion off the face of the earth ... Do not entangle with other ideas to talk about with Christians. Just concentrate upon the arguments regarding the death of Jesus Christ, and by the use of powerful arguments put the Christians to silence. The day you will imprint this fact on the minds of Christians, you will know that the Christian religion has made its exit from the world.8
History tells of many who have predicted the disappearance of the Christian truth. Yet it has been they who have made their exit. Jesus said to his believers: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me ... I will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18,20).The Qur’an reveres Jesus in such a way that our orthodox Muslim friends consider it impossible that God could allow Jesus to die on the cross. Their strange idea of reverence reminds us of Peter’s reaction when Jesus predicted his crucifixion. "Never, Lord!" he said, "This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22). Jesus’ reply satisfied Peter, but Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims still try to resolve the matter in their own differing ways.
Notes on Chapter 3:
- Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, p. 390.
- Iskander Jadeed, The Cross in the Gospel and the Qur’an, p.7.
- Ghulam Ahmad, Izala Auham, pp.473-474.
- Farid, The Holy Qur’an, p. 232.
- Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Eng. tr. p. 53.
- ibid., p. 53.
- Bashir-ud-din, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p. 15.
- Ghulam Ahmad, Izala Auham, pp.560 - 561.