Mirza Ghulam Ahmad stole many arguments from Sir Syed about the death of Jesus. Sir Syed seems to have been the first Muslim ever in history to change the translation of 4:159 in 1880 in his famous Tafsir.  Sir Syed totally changed the translation of this verse, since he was looking to disprove that idea that Esa (as) hadn’t died yet. Sir Syed knew that 4:159 proved that Esa (as) hadn’t died yet, thus, he purposely mistranslated it to sound preposterous. MGA followed his lead, and in 1890, in Izala Auham, MGA used the exact same translation that Sir Syed used. In 1891, MGA’s first few debates after his wild claims also discussed 4:159, see his famous Delhi debate with Bashir Bhopali. From 1892 to 1901, MGA seems to have went quiet on the topic of 4:159. However, in the 1901-1902 era, (See Ijaz-i-Ahmadi, page 31, online english edition, Ahmadiyya editors have purposely mistranslated the word Ghabi herein) it came to MGA’s attention that Abu Hurairah had supported the idea that Esa (as) hadn’t died yet, via Tafsir Thana’i, in fact, Tafsir Thana’i was written by Maulvi Sanaullah, in his Tafsir he quoted Abu Hurairah via a super authentic Sahih Bukhari hadith.  MGA and his team of writers were thus forced to discredit the scholarship of Abu Hurairah and called him stupid (GHABI in Arabic) or lacking understanding. MGA then commented on 4:159 in 1906/1907 via Haqiqatul Wahy (see page 44, online english edition, which is purposely mis-translated in this case), wherein he presented the same belief as Sir Syed again. Again, he called Abu Hurairah as stupid, which the Ahmadi editors have changed to flowery language. Furthermore, MGA presented 5:64 (5:65 in the Ahmadi’s Quran’s) in Haqiqatul Wahy as evidence that Jews and Christians will not ALL be converted to Islam before the death of Esa (as)(see page 45 and page 855). Ahmadi’s have continued to use this verse in the same way in 2019. Interestingly enough, the official 5-volume commentary of the Quran by Ahmadiyya scholars doesn’t mention how 5:64 (5:65 in the Ahmadiyya Quran’s) means that the Messiah won’t convert all Christians and Jews to Islam before his own death.

What does 4:159 (4:160) really mean?
This verse has to be read together with 4:157 and 4:158. Ahmadi’s like to isolate these verses and then change the meanings. When they are read together, 4:157–159, it is clear that Esa (as) hasn’t died yet and upon his physical return to this world, all Christians and Jews who will be alive in that era will convert to Islam (See Tafsir Ibn Kathir also). As we all know, MGA failed in this 2019, Christians are in majority on this planet, and Jews have their own technologically advanced country with nuclear weapons and America backing them up. However, Al-Tabari did admit that 4;159 could have some alternate meanings, however, this is only because the Quran is a rythmn and less words were used and in ungrammatical fashion.

1880, Sir Syed on 4:159

(Tafsir Ahmadi by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, vol. ii, p.48)

ii. Referring to the expression ‘in this’ (Arabic: bi-hi) in the verse: ‘And there is none of the People of the Book but will believe in this before his death’ (4:159), which is generally taken to mean in him (i.e. in Jesus) Sir Syed writes:

“This points to the words ‘And their saying: we have killed the Messiah’ [4:157], and to their saying, and not to the Messiah. So this means: ‘All the People of the Book, before their death, will believe that Jesus was killed’. After this it is said: ‘And on the day of Judgment he, i.e. Jesus, will be a witness against them’. The word ‘ala [‘against’] is used to indicate loss or harm. So the meaning is that on the day of Judgment Jesus will be a witness against their belief.”

1870 to 1890, MGA on 4:159 from 
MGA published lots of data in this era, specifically, BA 1–4 were published in this era.  MGA never even commented on 4:159.

1890 in Izala Auham, on 4:159 
The Lahori-Ahmadi have translated portions of Izala Auham, specifically, wherein MGA claims that there were 30 verses of the Quran that prove that Esa (As) had died.  Per MGA and his team of writers, one of those verses is 4:159.  They wrote:

“And there is none among the People of the Book but will believe in it (the crucifixion of Jesus) before his death; and on the Day of Resurrection, he (Jesus) shall be a witness among them.”

1891, MGA’s debate with Maulvi Muhammad Bashir Sehsavani (who worked in Bhopal at the time) in Delhi
4:159 seems to have been brought up in one of MGA’s first debate as a Messiah (See Life of Ahmad).  Maulvi Muhammad Bashir took great pride in being a grammarian with a specialty
in the use of the Arabic letters laam and nuun sakeelah. His repeated contention was that whenever a verb has laam or nuun sakeelah on it, the verb always denotes the future tense (See Mujadid e Azim, abridged english edition, pages 402-410).  It seems that MGA and his team counter-argued that  many different Quranic verses that despite the presence of laam and nuun sakeelah on a verb, it could denote the present tense only. In such cases it cannot be interpreted in the future tense. He also presented other verses where the verb with laam and nuun sakeelah denoted the present continuous tense so that both the present and the future were included. The detailed discussion is available in the book Al-Haq Delhi for the interested reader.

It seems that Maulvi Syed Ahsan Amrohi was working as an undercover Ahmadi in this time frame in Bhopal, he hadn’t publically converted to Ahmadiyya.  Per Mujadid e Azim,  Hazrat Mirza had received a letter from Ahsan Amrohi on the day of the debate same. In this letter, Maulana Amrohi had written, among other things, that:

“Maulvi Muhammad Bashir has been working on his statement for six months. The fruit of his exertion is confined to the written statement he is bringing with him. He has no other material.”  (See Mujadid e Azim, english online abridged version).

We didn’t find any references by MGA or his team of writers to 4:159 in this 10 year period.

1901-1902 era and the Ijaz-i-Ahmadi book
(See Ijaz-i-Ahmadi, page 31, online english edition, Ahmadiyya editors have purposely mistranslated the word Ghabi herein)
It came to MGA’s attention that Abu Hurairah had supported the idea that Esa (as) hadn’t died yet, via Tafsir Thana’i, in fact, Tafsir Thana’i was written by Maulvi Sanaullah, in his Tafsir he quoted Abu Hurairah via a super authentic Sahih Bukhari hadith.  MGA and his team of writers were thus forced to discredit the scholarship of Abu Hurairah and called him stupid (GHABI in Arabic) or lacking understanding.

Maulvi Sanaullah’s Tafsir of the Quran was published in this era.  He quoted a super-authentic hadith from Sahih Bukhari wherein Abu Hurairah related that Esa (As) would physically descend and he referred to 4:159.  The hadith is as follows:

(((Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 657)))

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah’s Apostle ﷺ said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, surely (Jesus,) the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly (as a Just Ruler),
he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (i.e. taxation taken from non Muslims). Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it, and a single prostration to Allah (in prayer) will be better than the whole world and whatever is in it.” Abu Huraira added “If you wish, you can recite (this verse of the Holy Book): — ‘And there is none Of the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) But must believe in him (i.e Jesus as an Apostle of Allah and a human being) Before his death. And on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness Against them.” (4.159) (See Fateh Al Bari, Page 302 Vol 7).

MGA was thus forced to discredit Abu Hurairah, he even called him as stupid and lacking understanding.

This is another dead era in terms of 4:159.  No Ahmadi sources wrote about it in this era.

MGA on 4:159 in 1906/1907 via Haqiqatul Wahy (in the online english edition)
MGA calls Abu Hurairah as wrong and possessing weak intellect on pages 44-45 of Haqiqatul Wahy, since Abu Hurarya claimed that Esa (as) would physically return based on 4:159.  MGA wrote disparaging comments about Abu Hurairah in BA vol. 5 and Ijaz i Ahmadi.

On page 700 of Haqiqatul Wahy, MGA says about 4:159: 
“””Meaning that, there is no one out of the People of the Book who, before his death, fails to believe in the Holy Prophet sa or Hadrat ‘Isa [Jesus]. It is recorded in the books of exegesis that the People of the Book receive this revelation when they are going through the agonies of death or are at death’s door. Evidently, they happen to believe only when God reveals to them that a particular Prophet is true. But this revelation does not make them the Elect of God. However, this indeed is the divine practice that when death is imminent, most people tend to see a dream or receive a revelation. It is not exclusive to any particular religion nor is there the requirement that one be righteous and a doer of good.””””

Historically, Al-Tabari tells us
It is narrated from Sa’id bin Jubair from Ibn Abbas [about]; “No one will remain from among the People of the Book but will certainly believe in him before he dies.” He said; “Before the death of Eisa ibn Maryam.” (Tafsir Al-Tabari 9/380 Narration 10794-5 under Qur’an 4:159. Classified as Sahih by Hafiz Ibn Hajr in Fath Al-Bari 10/250, Kitab Ahadith Al-Anbiya, Chapter on the Descent of Eisa ibn Maryam).

Pickthall on 4:159
“””There is not one of the People of the Scripture but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them “””

Muhammad Ibn Al-Hanafiyyah (15 – 81 AH)
Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Abi Talib (also known as Ibn Hanafiyya, the son of Hazrat Ali (RA)), explained Qur’an 4:159 in these terms: “He will descend before the Day of Judgment. All Jews and Christians will believe in him.” (Al-Suyuti, Durr al-Manthur, 2 :241.)

Abd Allah Ibn Abbas (618 CE – 687 CE)
About the verse Qur’an 4:159: “This verse is proof that Jesus (AS), son of Mary, will appear… All of the People of the Book will believe in him before his death.” (Al-Hakim, Al-Mustadrak, 2:309.) He also said referring to the Holy Qur’an 43:61, “God indicates that Jesus (AS) will appear before the Day of Judgment.” (Khasmiri, al-Tasrih, 289-90).

Ibn Abbas (RA) said, “When Allah intended to raise Jesus (AS) to the heavens, he went to his companions… and Jesus (AS) ascended to the heavens through an opening in the top of the house”. (Ibn Abi Hatim 4/431 Hadith 6266, Ibn Kathir 2/449. Ibn Kathir called it Sahih).

Al-Hasan Al-Basri (642 CE – 729/110 CE/AH)
“I swear to God that Jesus (AS) is at this moment alive in God’s presence, and that everyone will believe in him when he returns.” With regard to the Holy Qur’an 4:159, he said: “God raised Jesus (AS) to His presence. He will send him before the Day of Judgment as a holder of rank. Good and bad, all will believe in him.” (Al-Suyuti, Durr al-Manthur, 2:284) He also made a similar comment regarding the Holy Qur’an 43:61, saying that the meaning of the verse was that Jesus (AS) would return to earth. (Al-Suyuti, Durr al-Manthur, 2:220).

Muhammad Hijaab on 4:159
In this video, Imam Muhammad Hijaab explains the true meanings of 4:159 (at about the 10 min mark).

Some Additional Commentary that I found from here–

Yusuf Ali’s english translation is as follows:

“””And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them”””

Yusuf Ali gives this interpretation in his commentary note 665:

Before his death: Interpreters are not agreed as to the exact meaning. Those who hold that Jesus did not die refer the pronoun “his” to Jesus. They say that Jesus is still living in the body and that he will appear just before the Final Day, after the coming of the Mahdi, when the world will be purified of sin and unbelief. There will be a final death before the final Resurrection, but all will have believed before that final death. Others think that “his” is better referred to “none of the People of the Book”, and that the emphatic form “must believe” (la-yu` minanna) denotes more a question of duty than of fact.

Note 664 on Surah 4:158 is maybe a helpful background to the above note, since in 665 he only talks on the basis of what he just stated is the generally accepted Muslim view:

There is difference of opinion as to the exact interpretation of this verse. The words are: The Jews did not kill Jesus, but Allah raised him up (rafa`u) to Himself. One school holds that Jesus did not die the usual human death, but still lives in the body in heaven, which is the generally accepted Muslim view.

In a mailing list discussion, one Muslim claimed this clearly states that all People of the Book will believe in Jesus before his (future) death. This seems to be grammatically possible. Several translators seem to follow this understanding and their translations say something to the effect that “everyone from the People of the Book will (certainly) believe in him …”. However, why would Jesus be a “witness against them” when they believe in him? Should he not be a witness against those who do NOT believe in him?

Rashad Khalifa is the odd one out who transfers this into the past tense (was required to believe), while all others see this either present or future. Khalifa circumvents the problem by inserting the word “required” which is not in the Arabic.

The main question so far seems to be whether the emphatic form means “certainty of fact in the future” (will believe) or “duty for everyone” (required, must believe). But there are more opinions on the meaning of this verse…

In response to Yusuf Ali’s translation of this verse, an Ahmadiyya gave me the following explanation regarding their interpretation of this verse:

Everybody will believe in whom? The verse you quoted does not give a name anyway. Why not? And whose death is being referred to? I mean, many *People of the Book* die everyday without believing in Jesus a.s. anyway. i.e. the Jews, whilst the Christians already believe in him as the Messiah anyway. And if you mean to say that they will all believe in him as a Prophet of God after his hypothetical return to earth and subsequent death, then there would be no need for Jesus a.s. to be a witness against them on the Day of Judgement anyway. So, your proposed construction of the verse becomes untenable.

Besides the Arabic pronoun used does not here mean *him* but *it*, because the incident being referred to in the preceeding verse is to Jesus’s a.s. alleged death on the cross, so the correct translation (with my explanation in brackets) will be:

“And there is none among the People of the Book but will (continue to) believe in IT (i.e. the death of Jesus a.s. on the cross) before his (own) death (i.e. the death of the Jew or Christian himself); and on the Day of Judgement he (Jesus a.s.) will be a witness against them … [4:159].

This Ahmadiyya interpretation gets rid of some problems but substitutes it for others.

The way this is now translated and interpreted by the Ahmadiyya, it says that ALL the people of the Book, Jews and Christians, will continue to believe the death of Jesus on the Cross. But Muslims tell us that there have been thousands (or even millions) of Jews and Christians who converted to Islam, and consequently they do no longer believe in this death on the Cross. Does that not mean the Qur’an is wrong, according to the interpretation given above? Isn’t the Ahmadiyya translation only removing one problem by substituting it with another interpretation, equally wrong on the factual level?

Is there any interpretation of this verse that is consistent with the rest of Islamic theology (whether the Sunni or the Ahmadiyya version) and the facts of life that some Christians and Christians do convert to orthodox Islam, some to Ahmadiyya Islam and believe exactly as these movments tell, and most of them continue to believe in the revelation given by God in the Bible?

Whatever this verse means, the facts will contradict any theory which understands it in a way such that all of them will continue not to believe, or all of them will believe. This is certainly a challenge to the “none … but” construction in the aya which makes a statement that supposedly holds without exception.

At the following link you will find a number of further articles examining the Qur’anic passage and Muslim traditions on the Crucifixion which we would like to recommend reading as well. Based on the above and those further articles…

Conclusion: The one and only passage in the Qur’an dealing with the issue of the Crucifixion is extremely vague and riddled with problems of its own. How then can it be the bases for rejection of the very clear meaning of the passion narratives in the Gospels?

However, the above are not yet all the different versions of Sura 4:159.

A video in Hindi, explaining how the Ahmadi translation of 4:159 is total nonsense
Fast forward the video to the 1 hour 34 minutes mark.

Mirza Tahir Ahmad’s urdu Tafsir on 4:159

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s quotations, which were built into a Tafsir

Links and Related Essays

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