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Of Da Vinci Code and the Qur’ān: An unpublished Opinion piece written in 2006.
May 20, 2023
Ahmad Farouk Musa || 21 May 2023
Much has been said about the Da Vinci Code. Al Jazeera carried the news about Christian groups across the globe protesting against the soon-to-be-released film based on the best-selling novel. Though sparking far less controversy than The Passion of the Christ, many Christian groups were upset with Da Vinci Code’s blasphemous message. Some however have argued otherwise: any movie that puts Jesus at the centre of cultural debate is something Christians ought to be interested in.
It was only after Reuters reported that powerful Islamic clerics from the All-India Sunni Jamiyat-ul-Ulema joined in with the Christians to condemn Da Vinci Code as blasphemous—a blatant dissemination of lies about Jesus—that I felt compelled to write. Without going into the details and intricacies of the plot, Da Vinci Code presents Jesus Christ as neither the divine Son of God nor the only way to salvation. Rather, it depicts Jesus as a mortal Prophet who survived crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene and had children with her. The supposed divinity of Jesus was a conspiracy created from a meeting of bishops in 325AD at the city of Nicea in modern-day Turkey. There, the author argues, church leaders who wanted to consolidate their power base concocted a divine Christ and an infallible Scripture—both novelties unknown to Christians till then.
Jesus: A Mortal Prophet
What does the Qur’an have to say about Jesus? Since the dawn of creation, divine guidance was bestowed on humanity through the agency of prophets. The monotheistic message formed the core of revelation; whenever it suffered any change (for example, from human editing), it was reconfirmed through a new prophet and revelation. This process continued until humanity was ready for a final universal revelation in the form of the Qur’an. In the Islamic weltanschauung, all the prophets, from Adam to Muhammad (Peace be upon them), are prophets of Islam. Jesus Christ was one of them, and he came before Prophet Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets.
The Qur’an inculcates a deep respect for Mary and her son, but never places them above humanity. To the contrary, the Qur’an stresses their very humanity:
“Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had to eat food [to subsist]. See how Allah does make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!”
[Qur’an, Surah al-Māidah; 5: 75]
Furthermore, Jesus Christ’s humanity is emphasized every time he is called the “son of Mary”, or when he is described as a “servant” who is a recipient of Allah’s favours and as a prophet whose vocation is to call the people to worship the only Lord that exists:
“…fear Allah and obey me. For Allah, He is my Lord and your Lord: so worship ye Him: this is a straight way.”
[Qur’an, Surah Az-Zukhruf; 43:64]
Da Vinci Code shook the foundation of the Christian faith which is built on a dogma: the death of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection, and his bodily ascension to heaven. The Qur’an too has categorically rejected this dogma: “They killed him not nor crucified him.” [Qur’an, 4:157]
Some Muslim scholars have attempted in vain to paint this episode in the same colours as the Christians. But do Qur’anic injunctions warrant this interpretation? The Qur’an clarifies:
“And 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 a surety they killed him not. Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.”
[Qur’an, Surah an-Nisā’; 4: 157]
Several legends emerged in the attempt to interpret this verse. “But so it was made to appear to them,” sparked human imagination. Muhammad Asad, in his commentary on the crucifixion story in his magnum opus ‘The Message of the Qur’an’ affirms: “The Qur’an categorically denies the story of the crucifixion of Jesus.” He goes on to explain: “There exists, among Muslims, many fanciful legends telling us that at the last moment, God substituted for Jesus a person closely resembling him (according to some accounts, that person was Judas), who was subsequently crucified in his place. However, none of these legends find the slightest support in the Qur’an or in authentic Traditions, and the stories produced in this connection by the classical commentators must be summarily rejected. They represent no more than confused attempts at “harmonizing” the Qur’anic statement that Jesus was not crucified with the graphic description, in the Gospels, of his crucifixion. The story of the crucifixion as such has been succinctly explained in the Qur’anic phrase walākin shubbiha lahum, which I render as “but it only appeared to them as if it had been so”—implying that in the course of time, long after the time of Jesus, a legend had somehow grown (probably under the then-powerful influence of Mithraistic beliefs) to the effect that he had died on the cross in order to atone for the “original sin” with which mankind is allegedly burdened; and this legend became so firmly established among the latter-day followers of Jesus that even his enemies, the Jews, began to believe it—albeit in a derogatory sense (for crucifixion was, in those times, a heinous form of death-penalty reserved for the lowest of criminals).”
Muhammad Asad also rejects the theory of the bodily ascension of Jesus and explains that the verb rafa’ahu (lit., “he raised him” or “elevated him”), as in verses 4:158 and 3:55, “has always, whenever the act of raf (“elevating”) a human being is attributed to God, the meaning of “honoring” or “exalting”. Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any warrant for the popular belief that God has “taken up” Jesus bodily, in his lifetime, into Heaven. The expression “God exalted him unto Himself” in the above verse (4:158) denotes the elevation of Jesus to the realm of God’s Special Grace—a blessing in which all Prophets partake—as is evident from 19:57 where the verb rafa’nahu (“we exalted him”) is used with regard to the Prophet Idris (see also Muhammad Abduh in Manar III, 316f and VI 20f).”
Applying the same rules of interpretation, Shaykh Muhammad Shaltut came to the following conclusion: “There is nothing in the Qur’an, nor in the sacred traditions of the Prophet, which endorses the correctness of the belief to the contentment of heart that Jesus was taken up to heaven with his body and is alive there even now . . .” (Al-Risalah, Cairo, vol. 10 no. 462, p. 515).
The fact that Jesus actually died is further apparent from verse:
“And Muhammad is only an apostle, all of the (other) apostles have passed away before him: if, then, he dies or is slain, will you turn about on your heels?”
[Qur’an, Surah Āli-Imran; 3: 144]
It is clearly indicated in this verse that Prophet Muhammad was mortal; all the Prophets before him (including Jesus) were mortals and that all the Prophets before Prophet Muhammad had died.
Having analyzed the main thrust of Da Vinci Code from the Qur’anic perspective, I find it rather intriguing that the Muslim clerics in India were so vociferous in their views calling for the banning of the much-anticipated movie. The notion that Jesus is a mere human being and that he survived crucifixion is more in line with the way the Qur’an had described one of the most revered Prophet. He was destined, like other human beings, to be born, to die, and to be resurrected.
“So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the Day that I shall be raised up to life [again].”
[Qur’an, Surah Maryam; 19:33]
“And verily, We sent apostles (to mankind) before thee (Muhammad), and We appointed for them wives and offspring, and it was not (given) to any apostle to produce a miracle save at God’s behest. For every age has had its revelation.”
[Qur’an, Surah Ar-Ra’d; 13: 38]
Dato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa MD, MMed (Surgery), PhD (Surgery), is the Founder & Director at the Islamic Renaissance Front, Kuala Lumpur.