Definitions and Usage
Crucifixion is a form of execution in which the accused is tied or nailed to a large wooden beam or cross and left to hang until death. Al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) writes, “al-ṣulb means rigid, hard; the back is called ṣulb because of its rigidity and stiffness.” He quotes a view that hanging a human for execution [in the manner of crucifixion] is called al-ṣalb, because it involves binding their back to a wooden beam. Another view states that it is derived from the phrase ṣalb al-wadak, meaning ‘extracting marrow from bones’” (Mufradāt, sub ṣ-l-b).
The Qurʾān uses two verbal forms (I and II) of the root ṣ-l-b in six verses (Q 4:157; 5:33; 7:124; 12:41; 20:71; 26:49) to refer to crucifixion in four different contexts:
- Denial of the alleged crucifixion of Prophet ʿĪsā, upon him peace, using the Form I verb: They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him (wa mā ṣalabūhu) (Q 4:157).
- Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace (q.v.), telling his fellow inmate that his dream meant he will be crucified (fa-yuṣlabu) and birds will eat from his head (Q 12:41). The one crucified was the king’s baker, who was accused of planning to assassinate the king by poisoning his food (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:36; see Yūsūf, upon him peace).
- As one of the legal punishments (Q 5:33) for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and spread mischief in the land, where the phrase those who wage ware against Allah (yuĄĀribĈn) and His Messenger is used metaphorically (since it is impossible to wage war against Allah); they include those who publicly brandish weapons, attack and disrupt travelers, armed robbers, and other violent criminals (Jaṣṣāṣ; Qurṭubī; see Legal Punishments).
Denial of the alleged Crucifixion of ʿĪsā, upon him peace
The plot to kill ʿĪsā, upon him peace, is first mentioned in an eleven-verse passage (Q 3:45-55) that presents the most condensed Qurʾānic account of his life It begins with the glad tidings of his miraculous birth to his mother and ends with the mention of the scheming of the disbelieving Children of Isrāʾīl (q.v.) and assuring him of his safe ascension: And they plotted, and Allah plotted. And Allah is the best of plotters. And when Allah said, ‘O ʿĪsā, indeed I will take you (innī mutawaffīka) and raise you to Myself (rāfiʿuka ilayya), purify you from those who disbelieve and elevate your followers above the disbelievers until the Day of Judgment. Then to Me you will return, and I will judge between you concerning that over which you used to differ. (Q 3:54-55)
The plot of the Israelites was to kill ʿĪsā, upon him peace, and the Divine plot was to make it appear to them that they crucified him, though they had not (as per the unanimous interpretation of the exegetes; see Ṭabarī; Zajjāj; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Ibn al-Mundhir; Māturīdī; Samarqandī; Ibn Abī Zamnīn; Māwardī; Zamakhsharī; Bayḍāwī; sub Q 3:54-56). This refutation appears in a more direct and emphatic form in another passage (Q 4:155-158) which also lists five other wrongdoings of the Children of Isrāʾīl—breaking of the Covenant (q.v.), rejecting the Signs of Allah, slaying the Prophets, defiantly declaring “our hearts are enshrouded”, and their “tremendous calumny” against Maryam, upon her peace:
And for their saying, “we slew the Messiah, ʿĪsā, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah”—though they did not kill him; nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear so unto them. Those who differ concerning him are in doubt thereof. They have no knowledge of it, but follow only conjecture; they slew him not, for certain. But Allah raised him up unto Himself, and Allah is Almighty, Wise. (Q 4:157-158)
In addition to the above-cited Q 3:55 and 4:158, the ascension of ʿĪsā, upon him peace, is also mentioned in Q 5:117, which continues the response of ʿĪsā, upon him peace, to a divine question asked in the previous verse:
And Allah will say, “O ʿĪsā, son of Maryam, ‘Did you ever ask the people to worship you and your mother as gods besides Allah?’” He will answer, “Glory be to You! How could I ever say what I had no right to say? If I had said such a thing, you would have certainly known it. You know what is within me, but I do not know what is within You. Indeed, You are the Knower of all Unseen. I said naught to them save that which You commanded me: ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ And I was a witness over them, so long as I remained among them, but when You took me (tawaffaytani) [to Yourself], it was You Who was the Watcher over them, and You are Witness over all things. (Q 5:116-117)
According to Qatāda b. Diʿāma (d. 117/735), ʿAbd al-Malik b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Jurayj (ca. 80-150/699-767) and most of the exegetes, this exchange will take place at the gathering of the Prophets on the Day of Resurrection. A weaker opinion, based on reports from Ismāʿīl b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Suddī (d. 127/745) and the grammarian Quṭrub al-Baṣrī (d. 206/821), holds that it took place on the day of his ascension (Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr).
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