And Muhammad is but a messenger. Verily all Messengers have passed away before him. If then he dies or is slain, will you turn back on your heels? (3:145) more translations
Two points are being made here with reference to the Holy Prophetsaw:
- Since prophets before him have all died, so also will this prophet die, and his death would not be indicative of a defect in his prophethood.
- If it were necessary for prophets to live forever then show us a single instance from among earlier prophets who is still alive.
The construct used here is similar to that used in 5:76 (discussed earlier). It opens with the statement that prophets before Muhammadsaw have all died. For ‘death’ the Arabic expression khalat has been used, which means to pass away. Some argue that in addition to death, khalat could also mean just about any manner of departing including bodily ascending to the heaven, or some other atypical departure, while still alive. Arabic usage of khalat would resist this interpretation but anyhow presently we will not get into lexical discussion. This verse spares us that trouble as it internally provides a complete translation of this word. It says: If then he dies or is slain, will you turn back on your heels? Hence the two ways in which a prophet can pass away are either he dies a natural death or he is slain. There is no third possibility mentioned, which can only mean it does not exist. If it is assumed there were a third, fourth or fifth manner in which prophets had passed away in the past, then those should also have been listed here, otherwise this verse would be incomplete and factually incorrect, something not expected of the word of God. To help understand why, consider the following similarly constructed statement. This analogy is drawn from cricket:
To be complete, this statement needs to enumerate, without omission, all ways of completion of innings. Otherwise it is defective and is of no help in telling us anything about Javed and his innings. Anyone with basic knowledge of the laws of cricket knows that Javed's innings could have been completed in a number of other ways. For example he could have been out hit-wicket, run out, or he could been out handling the ball, or he could have simply exceeded the allotted time for the match. But the statement defaults on mentioning any of these and arbitrarily limits itself to only two. So we are left with the following choices: we could insist there are only two ways of completing innings—notwithstanding laws of cricket and accounts of countless matches. Or we could declare this statement to be incomplete and defective. Anyone with basic knowledge of cricket has no choice but to opt for the latter. This statement fails to inform us whether Javed is out, or is playing, or even whether he will ever complete his innings. In fact it tells us nothing. To attribute a defective statement like this to the Holy Quran is problematic to say the least.
Therefore omission asserts impossibility. If any prophet had passed away by ascending to heaven then it could not have been excluded from mention here. Clearly Jesus is very much in mind when reading this verse because, after all, among the prophets he is nearest in time to Muhammad and therefore his fate needs to be accounted for before anyone else's. In 4:158 it is stated he was not slain. Therefore, he could only have died a natural death.
In the translation of the verse above, universal quantifier “all” has been inserted before “Messengers”. It is important to explain this inclusion lest someone thinks of it as a dishonest addition to strengthen own argument. It is true that “all” does not appear in the Arabic text however its inclusion is implied in view of the conclusion being drawn, which is the prediction of Muhammad’s death and certainty of its occurrence. That conclusion can only be reasonably reached if the opening premise applied to all prophets. If all is replaced with the alternate some, this verse would be saying that Holy Prophet is sure to die because some prophets before him also died. Clearly the conclusion does not follow the premise. If only some died then why on that basis should Muhammad die? Replacing all with some will only make sense if the argument being made were that Muhammad may or may not die, which is not the case.
Consensus of the Companions
Is there any hadith which speaks of the companions discussing and asserting Jesus' death one way or another? The problem in finding such a hadith is that arguments over death of people long gone is hardly engaged upon by sane people. Absence of any hadith to this effect in fact points to Jesus's death and not his life. No one, for example, in the year 2006 holds discussion forums on George Washington, the first president of the United States, being alive or dead, which tells us that his disposition is not a subject of interest or argument and all agree that he has died. It would be a poor reflection on someone's intelligence to needlessly belabour the point that George Washington has died. Similarly the companions of the Holy Prophetsaw did not hold discussions on the death of Moses, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, Adam and neither did they discuss the disposition of Jesus simply because they believed him to have died and there was no reason to question it such that it became a topic of interest. There is however one remarkable incident which leaves little doubt as to where they stood on the matter of death of all prophets including Jesus. That incident occurred after the death of the Holy Prophetsaw. He was not yet buried and the companions were in a highly emotional state, many refusing to believe his death even though they could see his body lying in front of them. The following narrative is taken from Sahih Bukhari:
In another narration it said that Umar was in such an agitated state that with his sword drawn he promised to strike down anyone who said that the Muhammad had died. Abu Bakr on learning of these disturbing developments removed the covering from Muhammad's face, kissed his forehead, and said that surely Allah would not subject him to two deaths. He understood that he was not going to return. He then gathered everyone in the Masjid-al-Nabwi and recited 3:145 (the verse under discussion). Those who were in doubt realized what had come to pass. Umar went weak in the knees and is said to have collapsed. Those present felt like this verse was being revealed for the first time. With great wisdom Abu Bakr had brought the delicate situation under control. This verse was sufficient to prove to all present that Muhammad had passed away like the earlier prophets. If it was the general belief that even one among the earlier prophets was still alive surely Abu Bakr's reasoning would have failed. If khalat did not mean death, Umar could not have been convinced and would have protested and brought up the case of Jesus. On the contrary no one uttered a word of protest and all concluded on the authority of this verse that Muhammad had died like prophets before him.