Did Jesus raise the dead?
Raising the dead in literature generally symbolizes a rejection of fate or God's power, yet ironically, this feat is commonly attributed to Jesus as one of his many miracles. Christian attribution of such power to Jesus is understandable, after all they consider him wholly Divine and bringing a few corpses back to life would be relatively simple. However Muslims believe Jesus to be just a man, yet, perplexingly, many among them attribute super-human powers to him including the ability to raise the dead. Whether the dead can come back to life (now or ever) is not a difficult question to answer, it is a matter of shared human experience. The finality that is Death is not lost on anyone except perhaps the insane or deeply bereaved. Yet when it comes to religion, sane people have no problem adopting resurrection myths as part of their belief system despite the fact that there is no single verifiable instance in all of recorded history of a dead coming back to life. That, in itself, should be sufficient to show such things just do not happen. There should really be no need to quote holy scriptures to establish an elementary reality as this. However, Muslims who believe in the resurrection phenomenon mistakenly attribute it to the Quran, therefore it is best rebutted with the aid of Quran itself.
On the finality of death the Holy Quran is quite clear :
Allah takes charge of souls at the time of death, and of those not yet dead during their sleep. Then he retains those in respect of which He has decreed death, and sends back the others for an appointed term. In that are surely Signs for a people who reflect. (39:43)
While the soul of one who is merely sleeping is returned for an appointed term, the soul of one who dies is retained with God. In clear and unequivocal terms the Quran describes death as an irreversible phenomenon. Any verse of the Holy Quran that purports to say otherwise would need to be understood in metaphorical terms, otherwise Quran would be contradicting itself. As it happens, "revival" or some variant thereof is one of the most heavily used metaphors in any language, Arabic being no exception. It is never understood literally. In English we have a dying man being brought back to life, a sinful soul is saved when it is born again, or someone imminently threatened is a dead man walking, who, if he survives, gets a second lease on life. Quran which is widely considered to be the pinnacle of Arabic erudition uses various rhetorical devices, including metaphorical expressions in abundance. So when it says that Jesus revived the dead, it can only mean that he revived the spiritually dead, which, after all, was why he came. There is no room for literal reading of that verse in the presence of 39:43 above.
About Jesus the Quran says:
and you (Jesus) did raise the dead by my command (5:111)
Interestingly, we find similar terminology used for Muhammad. Here people are called to respond to Allah and His Messenger when they are called to life.
O ye who believe, respond to Allah and His Messenger when he calls you that he may bring you to life ... (8:25)
Clearly the ones being raised to life are the spiritually dead. Possibly the most spectacular example of raising of the dead is the transformation of the Arabs from a violent, barbaric people into a learned and spiritual empire.
Applying the phrase literally to Jesus while not applying it in the same way to Muhammad is problematic as it elevates Jesus to a station above that of Muhammad. That should be of concern to Muslims as they claim superiority of Muhammad over all other prophets. Furthermore as the Seal of the Prophets (Khatam-an-Nabiyeen), which is his most important title, Muhammad should be able to demonstrate all feats attributed with the position of prophethood, yet he never resurrected the physically dead. That would be akin to a seal which only carries a partial impression, hence defective. However both Jesus and Muhammad did create a spiritual revival in their respective times, the latter arguably did so with far greater success.
There is another grave problem that the literal interpretation of resurrection stumbles right into. Neither the Quran nor the Bible, let alone laws made by man, mention what is to be done with the resurrected people. Anyone familiar with lawmaking knows that obscure possibilities also need to be accounted for if a law is to claim completeness. When laws made by man have holes it is usually because the lawmakers did not account for something, we cannot accuse God of the same fault. Omission of how to handle such situation by any religious scripture is noteworthy.
Playing out a hypothetical scenario of resurrection can quickly turn complicated. When people die certain things begin to happen pretty much automatically. The body is disposed off, buried or cremated, financial affairs of the deceased are settled, and inheritance is distributed. The spouse goes through a period of bereavement and once over the initial shock eventually moves on with life. At some point they start courting new prospects and in many cases get remarried. Basically life goes on. Before too long, the hole that was created by the departed gets filled so completely that even if the dead were to return there would be no space left for them to be accommodated in the society. If, however, that were to happen, without doubt it would be a catastrophe. Its unlikely that many would be pleased (except maybe the mother!) to see the deceased rise from the grave, dust off the dirt and amble back home looking for a smooth return to status quo ante. The prophet may have shown a spectacular miracle but it would be one with the potential to ruin the peace of an entire town. With the dead man's property sold off, his wife with a new husband, his livelihood taken, he is unlikely to return to a situation remotely welcoming. Chances are that he does not even know he was dead, all he knows is that suddenly the world has gone topsy turvy. It would be a frightful mess to resolve. One would expect that with every resurrection there would be a flurry of litigation sufficient to keep an army of lawyers busy for a long time. On what basis would any court settle such disputes? Not finding any help in their law books, perhaps, the court will turn to the holy scriptures. The whole mess, after all, was created by a holy man out to impress his deniers. May be his revealed book would come to aid with some guidance. So they would turn to the book and start perusing it diligently page by page hoping to find a way out. And exactly what guidance would they find there? Nothing! Not even a hint of a solution. Then they would wonder if what they saw was miracle or a very cruel joke.
Its not without good reason that the phenomenon of death is final and definitive. It is fundamental in the grand order of things and one of the inviolable decrees of God. Verse 39:43 (above) after describing the finality of death fittingly concludes: in that are surely signs for people who reflect.