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Last Updated: 2010/02/25
Summary of question
In view of the fact that Prophet Jesus (AS) is alive, why does the Qur\'an use the term "mutawaffik" which means "I will cause you to die"?
The verse 54 of Surah Aal-e Imran says: "Behold! Allah said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me..." According to this verse, Prophet Jesus is dead? If God takes His servant\'s soul, doesn\'t it mean that he is dead? You are saying that Jesus is not dead and he is with God? How do you justify the verse?
Concise answer
What has given rise to this question is, in fact, some incorrect translations of this verse. Hence, if the exact meaning of this verse is clarified, the question will be answered and the ambiguity shall be cleared. We must say in this regard that if we take a close look at various verses of the Quran, we will come to know that although the term "tawaffa" has been used in some verses in the sense of death, there are some other verses in which this term has other meanings. For this reason, this verse cannot be used as a definite indication of Prophet Jesus' death in opposition to the authenticity of various traditions in this regard. The true meaning of this verse can be as such: "O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve." Such a meaning of the word "tawaffa" which has also been reaffirmed by the Infallibles (AS) is in no way in contradiction with Prophet Jesus' being alive.
Detailed Answer
What has given rise to this question is that a few translators of the Quran have translated the term "mutawaffika" in the verse as "causing to die", yet there are some other translations of the Quran which are not in conflict with Prophet Jesus being alive: "(And remember) when Allah said: "O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee (from amongst people) and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve."[1] It is necessary to know that the word "tawaffa" is derived from the root word "wafa" which has been used in different meanings including death, taking, completing, etc.[2] In this connection, fulfilling a promise or a vow is also considered "wafa" which is in fact completing and accomplishing it. Hence, if a person takes back completely what he has lent to someone, it is said in Arabic, "tawaffa daynahu".
Majma'ul Bahrain being one of the lexical works explains the foregoing verses as such:
"أي مستوف أجلك، و معناه إني عاصمك من أن تصلبك الكفار و مؤخرك إلى أجل أكتبه لك و مميتك حتف أنفك لا قتلا بأيديهم و رافعك إلى سمائي".
That is to say, "O Jesus, I terminate your period of stay" and that means I am going to protect you against the infidels so that they are unable to crucify you and I delay your death until a natural death is prescribed for you.[3]
Thus, although the term "tawaffa" also means death as also used in the same meaning in some other verses[4], it does not necessarily mean 'death'. In fact, there are verses in which the same term has been used in other meanings. One of those verses is the following:
"وَ هُوَ الَّذي يَتَوَفَّاكُمْ بِاللَّيْلِ وَ يَعْلَمُ ما جَرَحْتُمْ بِالنَّهارِ ثُمَّ يَبْعَثُكُمْ فيهِ لِيُقْضى‏ أَجَلٌ مُسَمًّى ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِما كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُون"[5]
"And He it is Who takes your souls at night (in sleep), and He knows what you acquire in the day, then He raises you up therein that an appointed term may be fulfilled; then to Him is your return, then He will inform you of what you were doing."
Certainly, the word "yatawaffakum" in this verse does not mean "death"; rather it means nightly sleep which is repeated every twenty four hours.  This is another form of taking the soul which is not death. Therefore, the verse in question should not be interpreted as a definite sign of Jesus' death. When it comes to the fate of Prophet of Jesus, peace be upon him, here are a few points to mention:
1. Christians are of the view that he was crucified to death but the Quran explicitly denies this saying:
"وَ ما قَتَلُوهُ وَ ما صَلَبُوهُ وَ لكِنْ شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ ....وَ ما قَتَلُوهُ يَقينا"[6]
"That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not."
2. Although the Quran denies Jesus' killing or crucifixion, there is not any verse to indicate clearly that he has not died in any other form or that he is alive.
3. Verses such as verse 55 of Surah Aal-e Imran (the verse in question) and verse 117 of Surah al-Maedah do not clearly indicate the death of this great prophet but they do indicate clearly that the Prophet's existing relationship with the material world is different from when he lived among his followers.
4. There are many narrations in Shias' and Sunnis' authentic books which denote that Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, is alive. With reliance on these narrations, we can come to know that he is alive, even if we do not find a straight verse in this regard. We shall draw your attention to two instances of these narrations:
1-4. The Messenger of Allah said to Jews:
"أن عيسى لم يمت و أنه راجع إليكم قبل يوم القيامة"
"Jesus has not died and he will return to you before the Day of Judgment."[7]
2 – 4. The Messenger of Allah (S) said:
"و من ذريتي المهدي إذا خرج نزل عيسى ابن مريم لنصرته فقدمه و صلى خلفه"
"And of my descendant is Mahdi; when he reappears, Jesus son of Mary will descend to help him. Mahdi will lead the prayer and he will pray behind him."[8]
5. Even if, unlike the existing narrations, we ignore the other meanings of "tawaffa" and believe on the basis of the above-mentioned verses that he is dead, yet still this meaning is not in conflict with his being alive in the present time. That is because, according to some verses in the Quran, there was a person who was revived one hundred years after his death.[9] Therefore, it is possible that the same incident may have occurred with Prophet Jesus (AS).

[1] Aal-e Imran, 54: (Pickthal translation).
[2] Ibn Manzur, Lesan al-Arab, vol.15, p. 398 and 399, first edition, Adab Publications, Qom Seminary, 1405.
[3] Majma'ul Bayan, vol.1, p. 444, term "Wafa", Murtazawi Library, Tehran, 1375 (Persian calendar).
[4] Nisa, 97; Muhammad, 27; Yunus, 46; Sajda, 11.
[5] An'am, 60.
[6] Nisa, 157.
[7] Ibn Abi Hatam, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-'Azim, vol.4, p. 1110, hadith 6232, Maktabat Nazar al-Mustafa al-Baz, Saudi Arabia, 1419 A.H.
[8] Sheikh Saduq, al-Amali, vol.1, p. 218, Islamic Library Publications, Tehran, 1362 (Persian calendar).
[9] Baqarah, 259 " فَأَماتَهُ اللَّهُ مِائَةَ عامٍ ثُمَّ بَعَثَه‏".
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