Recently I read your answer to a question with regard to meaning of the word “Mutawaffi-ka“ as it is used in Surah Aal-e-Imran 3: 55.
In your reply you said that the suggested meaning i.e. “to recall” had no base in the Qur’an or in any authentic source of Arabic language. Then from Aqrab al-Mawaarid, you described a number of meanings of the original noun “tawaffa”. Among these meanings you consider ‘To cause death’ is the one, which is intended in this verse.
I would like to ask you what do you say about the use of this word “tawaffa” in Surah Al-An’aam 6: 60 and Surah Al-Zumar 39: 42
Please also comment on the two objections raised by Maulana Amin Ahsen Islahi on taking the meaning ofÂ “Mutawaffi-ka” as “I will cause you death” in Surah Aal-e-Imran. First the verse basically contains a discourse of consolation to Jesus when the Jews were planning to kill him. What sort of consolation it is in which Allah tells him that He will not allow Jews to kill him BUT He will kill him Himself.
Secondly the best place to explain exactly what had happened to Jesus comes in Surah Al-Nisaa 4: 157 – 158. Here after negating all claims of Jews and Christians Allah only said, “For sure they did not kill him but Allah raised him up to Him”. The middle step (if it was any) of causing Jesus to death is totally skipped here. Why?
Al-An`aam 6: 60 reads as:
وَهُوَ الَّذِي يَتَوَفَّاكُم بِاللَّيْلِ
He it is, Who causes you to ‘die’ at night.
Al-Zumar 39: 42 reads as:
اللَّـهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا
It is God that causes a soul to die at the time of her death. And the soul, which is not yet to die, [God causes her death] during her sleep.
As should be clear from the translation of the two verses, the word ‘Tawaffa‘ in both these verses means death. Nevertheless, it is clear from the words and the implication of the verses that the word has not been used literally, but figuratively. It is important to note that in case of a figurative usage of a word, it is not the meaning, but actually the implication of the word that is somewhat altered.
For example, if someone were to say: “The doctor put the rabies infected dog to sleep”, the phrase ‘put to sleep’ in such a sentence actually implies ‘put to death’. This is a case of a figurative usage of the word ‘sleep’.
In both the cited verses, the word ‘tawaffa‘ (i.e. causes death) has been used to depict the similarity between the condition of a sleeping person and that of a dead person. The word ‘Tawaffa‘, if taken in any other meaning in these verses, would not only be linguistically incorrect, but would actually spoil the picture that the Qur’an wants to create.
One may, however, ask how would it be determined whether a word is being used literally or figuratively. The answer is quite simple. The construction, the content, the style, the implication of the sentence and the context in which the word is being used clearly indicate whether a word is being used literally or figuratively. When we interpret a piece of literature, it is not at our discretion to construe a word figuratively rather than literally. On the contrary, there are clear indications in the sentence and its structure, which guide us to construe that a particular word in a sentence has been used figuratively. Without such clear indications in the sentence and its structure, it would be absolutely incorrect to construe a particular word in its figurative implication. Construing words in their figurative sense, at one’s own discretion, would reduce all languages to redundancy. Just imagine, if one were to construe the word ‘Tawaffa‘ in a figurative sense, in:
وَالَّذِينَ يُتَوَفَّوْنَ مِنْكُمْ وَيَذَرُونَ أَزْوَاجًا
Those among you, who die and leave behind wives…
فَأَمْسِكُوهُنَّ فِي الْبُيُوتِ حَتَّىٰ يَتَوَفَّاهُنَّ الْمَوْتُ
Restrict them to their houses until death overtakes them…
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَوَفَّاهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ ظَالِمِي أَنفُسِهِمْ قَالُوا فِيمَ كُنتُمْ
Indeed those who are caused death by the angels, while they are being unjust upon themselves, The angels would ask them: “Where were you”…
فَلَمَّا تَوَفَّيْتَنِي كُنْتَ أَنْتَ الرَّقِيبَ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ
Then, when you caused me to die, You were Yourself the watcher over them…
حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ تَوَفَّتْهُ رُسُلُنَا وَهُمْ لَا يُفَرِّطُونَ
Till the time when death comes to one of you, our messengers cause him to die without fail…
then what shall be our criteria of judging whether such figurative understanding is correct or not. The answer, if you consider the above explanation, is quite simple. There is simply no indication in these sentences and their implications that point out such figurative usage of the word and, therefore, it would seem incorrect to take the word in a figurative sense. In my opinion, the same is precisely the case with Aal Imraan 3: 55.
Another interesting point that may be mentioned here is that even a literal translation of a sentence would, generally, not affect the figurative usage of words. That is, even when a sentence, which entails a figurative style, is translated into another language literally, the translated version of the sentence would, generally, keep the figurative style of the original sentence in tact. For example, if you literally translate the words ‘The doctor put the rabies infected dog to sleep’ in any other language, the phrase ‘put to sleep’ would, generally, still imply ‘put to death’. This point can easily be seen working in the translation of the two cited verses. In both the verses, the word ‘Tawaffa‘ has been literally translated as ’cause to die’. Nevertheless, even in the English translation of the verses, it is quite obvious that the word ‘death’ in these verses has been used in a somewhat figurative style, to highlight the similarities between a sleeping person and a dead person.
Keeping the above explanation in perspective, I feel that there is no basis to construe the words of Aal Imraan 3: 55 in a figurative sense. Consider the words:
إِذْ قَالَ اللَّـهُ يَا عِيسَىٰ إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَجَاعِلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوكَ فَوْقَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ ۖ
And recall when God said: O Jesus, I shall indeed “cause you to die” and raise you up to myself and purify you of those, who have rejected [you] and exalt your followers above those who have rejected [you] till the Day of Judgment.
The simple question, that needs to be answered is: What is the indication in the words of this verse (as there were in Al-An`aam 6: 60 and Al-Zumar 39: 42) that guide us to construe the words ’cause you to die’ in a figurative sense? If you think that the words cannot be construed in their literal meaning, you must, obviously, have a basis for that. What is it?
Because I have not yet been able to find any basis of taking the words ’cause you to die’, as they appear in this verse, in a figurative sense, I, therefore, feel that the words should be construed literally.
… the verse basically contains a discourse of consolation to Jesus when the Jews were planning to kill him. What sort of consolation it is in which Allah tells him that He will not allow Jews to kill him BUT He will kill him Himself.
I really do not think that the verse consoles Jesus against death. On the contrary, I think that it is actually a glad tidings to messenger of God that God shall not forsake him and leave him at the mercy of his enemies. As you would agree, it could not have been ‘death’ per se, which worried Jesus (pbuh), but actually the question that why was he (i.e. Jesus) being forsaken by God and being left at the mercy of those, who desired his painful death. This was, indeed, a genuine question, keeping in mind God’s law regarding His messengers1. The verse, as should be quite clear, adequately answers this question. It not only informs Jesus (pbuh) that God shall not forsake him or leave him at the mercy of his enemies but also declares that according to the unalterable law of God, regarding His messenger, his (i.e. Jesus’) followers shall soon be exalted over his rejecters and, furthermore, that this exaltation shall not be for a temporary period, but shall continue till the end of time.
You further write:
… the best place to explain exactly what had happened to Jesus comes in Surah Al-Nisaa 4: 157 – 158. Here after negating all claims of Jews and Christians Allah only said, “For sure they did not kill him but Allah raised him up to Him”. The middle step (if it was any) of causing Jesus to death is totally skipped here. Why?
The idea that ‘the best place to explain exactly what had happened to Jesus (pbuh) comes in Surah Al-Nisaa 4: 157 – 158′ is actually based on the opinion that in Al-Nisaa 4: 157 – 158, the Qur’an has explained in detailed whatever had happened at the time of Jesus (pbuh)’s ascension. However, I think that this opinion is not correct. Al-Nisaa 4: 157 – 158 is actually not an exhaustive explanation of the events that took place at the time, but, on the contrary, it is only a refutation of the Jewish claim that they killed Jesus (pbuh). The verse declares that even though the Jews claim to have killed the messenger of God, yet in reality this is not what happened, they neither killed nor crucified him, but rather, the whole matter was made unclear upon them and one of the causes of this confusion was the fact that God lifted Jesus (pbuh) up and did not even leave a trace of him with them. In this context, there is actually no need to mention whether before lifting him up, God caused Jesus (pbuh) to die or not, as the basic point under consideration is not whether Jesus (pbuh) was lifted up alive or not, but actually whether the Jewish claim of crucifying Jesus (pbuh) – a messenger of God – is true or not. In my opinion, therefore, the question whether Jesus (pbuh) was lifted up alive or not should be answered in the light not only of Al-Nisaa 4: 157 – 158 but also of Aal Imraan 3: 55 and Al-Maaidah 5: 110 – 117.
9th June 2000
- According to which, the rejecters of God’s messengers (i.e. rasu’l) are never allowed to overpower that messenger, especially during the time that the messenger is delivering God’s message, and according to which, the rejecters of a messenger are disgraced in the life of this world as well as the hereafter. [↩]