People brag about being Quorans

Not killed, not crucified

The crucifixion of Jesus in the Islamic understanding

A theological classification of Hanna and Heidi Josua. You are at home in the Arabic language and have been working in foreign counseling for years. Her main focus is the social-diaconal and pastoral care of Arabic-speaking immigrants as well as the accompaniment of Arabic Protestant communities in southern Germany.

When talking to Muslims about Jesus, they always assure how much they adore and appreciate Jesus, Isa Ibn Maryam - Jesus, Son of Mary. And each time the sentence comes up: “We believe in Jesus.” In Islamic understanding, Jesus is in the penultimate position in the chain of prophets, while Muhammad is in the last position. Now 90 verses from the Koran deal with Jesus, his prophetic, healing activity, but only five verses tell about his end and the crucifixion itself in just one verse. In Islam, the question of the crucifixion and death of Jesus is not mandatory, it stands for him rather the confession of the uniqueness of God, the absolute monotheism in the foreground.

No death? No cross?

The Qur'anic crucifixion verse is in Sura 4, between legal passages, parts of sermons and narrative elements:
4.155 They were cursed [the people of the book, here: the Jews] because they broke their obligations, denied the signs of God, killed the prophets unjustly ... 156 and because they disbelieved and uttered a tremendous slander against Mary; 157 and because they said, "We killed Christ Jesus the Son of Mary, the Messenger of God." But they did not kill him, and they did not crucify him, but he only appeared to them that way. ... And they did not kill him with certainty, 158 but God raised him to himself. God is mighty and wise.1

What does that mean?

The numerous translation variants of the central verse 157 give an inkling of the problem, especially the most scientifically recognized translation of the Koran by Rudi Paret: "but they (in reality) did not kill him and (also) did not crucify him".

The first indication of interpretation is the context of this verse: It is the criticism of an assertion made by the people of the book - ahl al-kitab (4.153), which in the Koran describes Jews and Christians as owners of divine revelations, which they no longer keep in their original state to have. Sura 4,153 makes it clear that only the Jews are meant here: Their offenses are listed in a catalog of vices: adoration of the calf, breaking the Sinai covenant, killing the prophets, hardened hearts and unbelief, which is expressed in the slander of Mary for fornication, what viewed her as proven by her illegitimate child, as well as her boasting of killing the Messiah.

The second interpretation is the Koranic understanding of prophets. According to the Koran, it is impossible for a prophet of God who is under God's mission and protection to be killed by human hands. Rather, God saves his Messenger from the hand of the enemy, for his omnipotence triumphs over the power of God's enemies. Its preservation is greater than the threat posed by humans. Since the crucifixion is a death of shame in the Qur'anic context, it is unthinkable against any messenger of God.

The text of the Koran shows that the Jewish claim to have crucified Jesus is an expression of unbelief. They plotted how to kill Jesus. But God surpasses human intrigues and raises Jesus to himself. The crucifixion stands in the field of tension and interpretation between the divine protection of the prophet from violent death by human hands and the divine punishment of unbelief. The preservation of Jesus becomes proof of God's omnipotence, "proclaims ad maiorem Dei gloriam"2. It is not the crucifixion itself that is denied, but the crucified person. It wasn't Jesus who was crucified, and it wasn't the Jews who crucified him.

The great delusion

However: But how did the divine intervention then take place? "It just appeared to them that way." The Arabic phrase shubbiha lahum is one of the "probably darkest and therefore most controversial words in the entire Koran"3: shubbiha is the passive perfect of the 2nd stem of sh-b-h, so the translation would have to be: "it (or: he) was made similar for you". A variant4 reads here the active shabbaha: "he made them similar", with which "God" is clearly established as a noun. The Koran translators struggle to find a solution in their translations: “but this was only faked to them” (Ibn Rassoul); “They fell into uncertainty” (Adel Theodor Khoury); "On the contrary, (someone else) appeared similar to them", so that they mistook him for Jesus and killed him (Rudi Paret); “But (by God's decree) he had to appear to them like that” (Islam. Center Munich). Manfred Ullmann is most likely to hit with his translation "you have succumbed to a deception"5 the Koranic statement and cleverly bypasses the uncertainties of who has deceived whom in what way.

Blessed dying, not violent death

While the Koran is silent about the identity of the crucified one, there are various clues for the question of the end of Jesus' life:

  • The end of Jesus' life is described as a real death. According to the Koran, Jesus speaks of his birth, death and resurrection: “Peace be upon me on the day that I was born, on the day that I die, and on the day that I am (again) raised to life. “(Sura 19:33) This is identical to Sura 19:15, in which the same thing is said about John the Baptist. Just as John died very real, Jesus must really have died too.
  • The end of Jesus' life is a blessed death. In Sura 3,55 "O Jesus, I [God] will call you away and raise you up to Me" (also Sura 5,117) the dying of Jesus is referred to as tawaffa, the classic word for "to die a blessed death". In connection with the salam - peace, it can only mean that Jesus' death was a peaceful death, worked according to the counsel and will of God.
  • Jesus was raised to God. Sura 3,55 clearly speaks of death before being raised to God. This is the general raising of the dead on Judgment Day. Only the Islamic interpretation develops the idea that Jesus was raised alive to God, continues to live bodily in heaven and will only die after his return.

For the Koran, Jesus was only human and consequently also died as a human. This statement is put into his own mouth; he testifies to it himself in various passages in the Koran. In addition, Jesus' honorable, blessed death according to the will of God confirmed Muhammad in the fact that God, as the successor of Jesus, as the last prophet, "the seal of all prophets", will let him die in the same way and exalt him, keeps him from enemies and from him Shame. This removes any dimension of salvation from the death of Jesus, yes, his death is basically unimportant and does not even need to be mentioned.

Attempts to interpret Islamic theology

When it comes to the crucifixion question, it is not enough just to refer to the text of the Koran. Medieval commentators shaped the pre-understanding of the text, and even its translation. You can feel the struggle for an answer from the numerous interpretations.

  • Most classical commentators assumed that Jesus was raised up by God before the crucifixion and someone else was crucified in his place. There is a possibility that God switched identities by making another Jesus look like, or that an involuntary mix-up took place. There are also numerous variations on the identity of this substitute. As an example for a volunteer from the disciples: “Isa said to his companions: 'Who of you wants to buy Paradise today?' One of them said: 'I', went up to the Jews and said: 'I am Isa. 'And he had been changed into the image of Isa. So they took him, killed him, and crucified him. And so did the Christians themselves too. But God raised Isa to himself that day. "6 The idea that Judas was crucified instead of Jesus as a punishment is also very plausible (substitution theory).7
  • The theory that Jesus was only pretended to be crucified was supported by a few marginalized groups. The Christian theologian John of Damascus (died 750) was able to write in “de haeresibus” about the Muslim idea of ​​the crucifixion: “His shadow was crucified, but Christ himself, they say, was not crucified and did not die, but God took him with him up in heaven because he loved him. "8 In philosophical circles, based on the doctrine of two natures, the view was held that only Jesus' body, his human nature, was crucified, but that his divine nature remained unaffected (docetism theory).
  • The Ahmadiyya movement, which is excluded from Orthodox Islam as a sect, assumes that Jesus only passed out on the cross and that his followers took him off the cross. After the women nursed him back to health, he emigrated to Kashmir to look for the lost tribes of Israel and to preach to them (apparent death theory).9
  • According to another interpretation, only Isa’s enemies were deceived, while the disciples saw Isa being lifted up alive from among them.10 The events surrounding the death of Jesus remain a dark mystery of the divine mystery and must be believed. Contemporary Muslims in particular reject speculation and are therefore prone to this theory of mysteries.

Time and again there are passages in all these attempts at interpretation that make one sit up and take notice. So z. B. in a kind of “Islamic passion story” by the already mentioned Jewish convert Wahb Ibn Munabbih, in which New Testament echoes can be found: “And when they had finished eating, he began to wash their hands and did the ritual cleansing himself them. 'What I did to you tonight, serving at the table and washing your hands, should be an example for you, because you can see that I am the best of you. Each sacrifice himself for the others as I sacrificed myself for you. "11

The broken cross

The Islamic tradition goes beyond the exaltation of Jesus and developed its own teaching about the second coming of Jesus. Afterwards he will come again to fight the Dajjal, a kind of antichrist, and to destroy Christianity: “God will condescend Isa as a just judge and rightly acting Imam. He breaks the cross, kills the pig, abolishes the poll tax. "12 Isa will break the cross as a Christian symbol when he comes again and thus destroy Christianity, which is considered a falsified and deficient variant of the original Abrahamic religion. According to Islamic tradition, it is not the Muslims who help Islam to achieve ultimate victory, but Jesus himself! Jesus' kingdom of peace is established - but through the destruction of the Christian symbol of the cross and its followers. With this, Jesus becomes “the finisher of the Islamic final judgment, killing his own community”.13

Contemporary Islamic point of view

In the course of returning to the Koranic wording without the "ballast" of tradition, modern literature sees speculative interpretations critically and leaves it to the wording of the Koran, which is considered an absolute, unquestionable utterance. The end of Jesus' life remains consciously in the darkness of the divine mystery in which it is also wrapped in the Koran. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) simply says: "The Muslims believe ... that Jesus was not crucified, but was lifted up into heaven by God."14
Ahmad von Denffer, German convert and head of the Munich Islamic Center, argues unequivocally: “The Koranic statement about the crucifixion of Jesus is the exact anti-thesis to the statement of Christianity. God did not come down to earth to be crucified, but God raised Jesus, whom his enemies wanted to crucify, to himself and foiled the crucifixion altogether. It is not the powerless Jesus who suffers on the cross, but the almighty God saves and protects from suffering and need. "15
Similarly, the Turkish Islamic Community Milli Görüs (IGMG): “The very thought of the crucifixion is absurd. With great humiliation and shame, God goes to the cross. So HE curses himself. The idea of ​​Christians that God humbles himself so deeply that he allows himself to be mocked, ridiculed and mistreated by his enemies, by the most common mob, and that HE ultimately suffers the most shameful and painful death between two real criminals, is a degradation for the believing Muslim of his concept of God, which he has had in his heart since childhood. "16
The scandal of the cross and the core of the gospel cannot be made clearer: the event on the cross is not an isolated event that can be believed or not - it is inextricably linked with the revelation of the Father in the Son, yes, it is only possible because of the incarnation and self-humiliation of God who turns us in love.

Theological Consequences

For the Koran, the question of the crucifixion of Jesus is an open question, and the classical theologians were well aware of the provisional nature of their interpretations. In most cases they left the final decision to God by adding, "God knows better."
Perhaps Muslims feel and grasp the scandal of the baseness of the cross much better than we Christians. Have we Christians become so used to it that we no longer bump into it? The horror at the death on the cross can become the horror at the abyss of sin, which necessitates so much humiliation of God. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is only the Bible that "points people to the powerlessness and suffering of God"17. But if God - as in Islam - can only be exalted, strong and mighty, then he lacks the possibility of being lowly, of the voluntary decision to humiliate himself.

The “salvation” of Jesus in the Koran only shifts the secret of substitution. The Koran only knows the triggering by an animal, but never the vicarious death of a person. As for the atonement of sin, the Qur'an vehemently rejects any substitute bearing of sin. Why, in this case, of all things, should a person, possibly without being asked, carry the burden of another person? The above-mentioned tradition of Wahb Ibn Munabbih, in which he describes the Lord's Supper with the sentence of Jesus: "Everyone sacrifices himself for the others as I have sacrificed myself for you", quotes At-Tabari, the greatest and most recognized Koran commentator this tradition as authentic, so that it has become common theological property. Today, however, it can no longer be heard anywhere.

Speaking of Jesus crucified

In the crucified God shows himself who walks through the ups and downs of the world. Here his heart, his ability to suffer, which is based on the fact that man is imago dei - the image of God - shows itself with infinite dignity. For his sake he accepts this death.
Muhammad had a keen sense of this aspect of the happening on the cross. It is his triumphant understanding of God, which is why he does not even attack this humiliation of God, but rather hushes it up in speechless horror. At the same time, however, the Koran itself gives tentative indications that the later so radically understood rejection of Jesus' death on the cross is entirely open to constructive discussion. The cross, of all things, led the Roman centurion to the realization: “This one was truly God's Son.” This should also guide us in our encounters with Muslims: this knowledge can be given in personal encounters with the crucified one.


1 Translation: Adel Theodor Khoury.

2 carpenters, Stefan. "The meaning of the death of Jesus according to the tradition of the Koran." In: Analecta Cracoviensia IX 1977. 351-360. P. 357.

3 Bauschke, Martin. Jesus - stumbling block. The Christology of the Koran and German-speaking theology. Cologne: Böhlau, 2000. p. 163

4 Khoury, Adel Theodor. The Koran. Arabic-German: Translation and Scientific Commentary, Vol. I-XII. Gütersloh, 1990-2001. Vol 5, 252.

5 Ullmann, Manfred. The motif of the crucifixion in medieval Arabic poetry. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995. p. 17.

6 Narrated by the Jewish convert Wahb b. Munabbih in the Koran commentary by at-Tabari, 9./10. Jh (Gami ‘al-bayan an ta‘wil ayi l-Qur‘an) 30 vols. Cairo, 1903/1321 H.

7 Detailed presentation of all theories in Bauschke, Jesus - stumbling block.

8 quoted in Neal Robinson, Christ in Islam, p. 107.

9 In numerous, mostly polemical, writings.

10 at-Tabari, commentary on sura 4,157

11 to sacrifice oneself - badhala: It is the same word that is used in Rom 8:31: "given up for us" and John 10:11 "the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep".

12 Narrated by Abu Hurayra, in at-Tabari's commentary on Sura 3,55.

13 Raddatz, Hans-Peter. From God to Allah? Christianity and Islam in the liberal progressive society. Munich: Herbig, 2001. p.332

14, April 19, 2002

15 Ahmad von Denffer. Islam and Jesus, quoted in Bauschke, p. 169.

16 On the homepage of the Mannheim IGMG mosque:, March 18, 2002

17 Eberhard Bethge (ed.). Resistance and resignation. Letters and notes from prison. Munich, 1970, p. 393