Responses to Islamic Awareness

Crucifixion Or 'Crucifiction' In Ancient Egypt?


The "Islamic Awareness" (short: IA) authors have reworked their article on crucifixion (our response to their original article can be found here), so we have decided to update our response to cover their new arguments. The IA team attempts to rescue their Qur'an from another anachronism: the existence of crucifixion, as a form of punishment, during the time of Joseph.

The Qur'an tells us that Joseph interpreted the dream of his prison-mate:

"O my two companions of the prison! As to one of you, he will pour out the wine for his lord to drink: and as for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case judged concerning which you both did enquire." [Surah 12:41]

Centuries later, according to the Qur'an, Pharaoh threatened his magicians, who believed in Moses, saying:

Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross [Surah 7:124, see also Surahs 26:49 and 20:71]

The major problem with these statements from the Qur'an is that there is no archeological or historical evidence that the Egyptians used crucifixion as a form of punishment in the time of Joseph, or in the time of Moses. Crucifixion only becomes a punishment much later in history in another culture before it has been taken over by the Egyptians. Such threats made by a Pharaoh of these time periods would be historically inaccurate. The Egyptians executed people by impaling a pointed stake [or tp-ht in hieroglyphs] through the victim. Centuries later, the Romans executed people by fastening the victim to a cross with rope or nails, and they called this crucifixion. Simply put, crucifixion defines a method of execution used by the Romans and the techniques of impalement used by the ancient Egyptians cannot properly be referred to as crucifixion.

The "Islamic Awareness" team must, somehow, find something/anything that looks like crucifixion in ancient Egypt in order to save their Qur'an from another obvious error. Since there is absolutely no historical evidence for the practice of crucifixion in ancient Egypt, the "Islamic Awareness" team will apply their standard polemics when faced with another Qur'anic "chronic chronology" problem: enlarge and broaden the definition of crucifixion to include something, anything, that did exist in ancient Egypt. Before employing their usual sophistry, the "Islamic Awareness" team attempts to redefine impalement. Impalement is usually defined as "an act of torture and/or execution whereby the victim is pierced by a long stake". The "Islamic Awareness" team would like us to think that instead of putting a stake or pole through someone, impalement should be defined as fastening someone to a stake. Driving nails through the hands and feet of a victim, while fastening him to a cross, could be considered a form of "multiple micro-impalements" associated with crucifixion, however in cases where the victim is fastened to the cross with ropes – there is no impalement at all. Crucifixion and impalement are not the same and these terms are not synonymous – they have obvious and distinct meanings.

However, nailing victims to a stake was simply not the practice in ancient Egypt. In Judgement of the Pharaoh, Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt [a source which the "Islamic Awareness" team cites as authoritative], the author, Joyce A Tyldesley provides us with this graphic image on page 65, which shows what the Egyptians meant by impalement:

The "Islamic Awareness" article contains similar images in which people have stakes driven through them as a form of punishment.

In spite of the re-definition of impalement, we can see where the discussion is heading by the inclusion of Surahs 38:12 and 89:6-12, in which the Pharaoh [presumably in the time of Moses] is called Lord of Stakes – which, according to classical Muslim commentators and commentaries, has nothing to do with impalement or crucifixion.

The "Islamic Awareness" team proclaims:

A key tool of Qur'anic exegesis is the internal relationships between material in different parts of the Qur'an, expressed by Qur'anic scholars as: al-Qur'an yufassiru ba`duhu ba`dan, i.e., different parts of the Qur'an explain each other. In other words, what is given in a general way in one place is explained in detail in another place. What is given briefly in one place is expanded in another.

We will now examine how well the "Islamic Awareness" team applies Qur'anic exegesis to the issue at hand and whether, or not, they can prove that crucifixion existed as a form of punishment in ancient Egypt. In order to accomplish this, we need to examine two questions: What is Crucifixion?  What is a Cross?


The "Islamic Awareness" team attempts to enlarge the definition of "crucifixion" so that any form of impalement, of either a living or dead person, could be considered "crucifixion". And, since "crucifixion" is a form of impalement, it must [by implication] follow that all forms of impalement can be considered "crucifixion". Also, since a cross contains a stake [the vertical beam], all stakes must be a cross. This is a favorite tactic of the "Islamic Awareness" team – broaden the definition to such a degree so that something can fit – a tactic which an average student taking Philosophy 101 would recognize as a logical fallacy.

The "Islamic Awareness" team's attempt at Qur'anic exegesis quickly falls apart as they appeal to the Oxford Companion to the Bible, Anchor Bible Dictionary, New Catholic Encyclopaedia, and Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary to enlarge their definition of crucifixion to include any, and all, forms of impalement.  Most of the "Islamic Awareness" article consists of researching and discussing the meaning and usage of various Greek, Latin, and Hebrew words [i.e. stauros", "anastauroô", "anaskolopizô", "crux", and "talah"] and how these terms were used by the historian Herodotus, the Old and New Testaments, and the Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus.  The "Islamic Awareness" team quotes English Dictionary entries, which discuss the etymology of the English word "cross", spends some time discussing various types of crosses, and provides a lengthy discussion about punishment by impalement in ancient Assyria, Persia, and Egypt. Yet all of this discussion is completely and entirely irrelevant.

Aside from the logical fallacy of composition, this really ignores the issue at hand – the Qur'an! Christians know the definition of crucifixion, after all, our Lord suffered crucifixion. The real question is: what does crucifixion mean in the context recorded in the Qur'an?  In other words, what do the Arabic statements in the Qur'an mean and what implications do they have on the claim that Pharaoh crucified people in ancient Egypt?

Every passage in the Qur'an which mentions crucifixion can be traced back to the same root word salaba – from the S-L-B root. The Qur'an uses the variant Salaba [to crucify] in two passages:

Surah 4:157 ... but they killed him not, nor crucified [perfect active] him,


Surah 12:41: ... as for the other, he shall be crucified [imperfect passive].

A second form, Sallaba, is used in four passages. In three of these cases the imperfect active is used:

Surah 7:124 ... then I shall crucify you together.

Surah 20:71 ... then I shall crucify you upon the trunks of palm-trees

Surah 26:49 ... then I shall crucify you all together

The fourth case uses the imperfect passive:

Surah 5:33 ... they shall be slaughtered, or crucified

All of the Crucifixion passages in the Qur'an use the same root salaba.

So, we need to determine the meaning of salaba / sallaba. According to Arthur Jeffrey, this term is not Arabic. It was most likely borrowed from Aramaic or Syriac, and was borrowed by these languages from Persian or Ethiopic.

The Arabic term for a cross is salib and "to crucify" is salaba, which is also the term used for making the sign of the cross [as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do] or to cross one's arms or legs. The Arabic term sulub janubi refers to the "Southern Cross" constellation of stars. A salbut is a crucifix, and a musallab is an intersection of two roads. The Hurub al-Salib, or 'Wars of the Cross', is the Arabic term for the Crusades.

An Arabic Dictionary entitled "Al Mua'jam Al Waseet" or  "The Mediator Encyclopedia" - May, 1972, Volume 1, Second edition says the following:

"Al Saleeb" or "Crucifixion" ... The strong ... and – the crucified ... all that is of a shape of two lines crossed together whether wood or metal and what is crucified on it... (Page 519, underline emphasis ours)

Clearly, the Arabic word for crucifixion requires the use of more than one stick.  The Arabic term used in the Qur'an refers clearly to a geometric cross and not a pole, a stake, or a tree.

It is also interesting to note that when modern-day Muslims wish to crucify people, especially their Christian neighbors, they put them on crosses, not stakes – for example: in Saudi Arabia and in Sudan. In doing this, they are following the sadistic and disgraceful example of the Caliph 'Umar who crucified some of his opponents.


In this section, the "Islamic Awareness" team again fails to use Qur'anic exegesis to make their point. Once again, they appeal to a variety of dictionaries and other sources, instead of to the Qur'an, Hadith, or Islamic scholars, to attempt to make a stake into a cross – or are they trying to turn the cross into a stake? The IA team also appeals to an argument made by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who believe that Jesus was executed on a stake and not on a cross. This fits the agenda of the "Islamic Awareness" team; however, the notion that Jesus was killed on a stake instead of a cross is refuted by the Qur'anic use of the term salaba – which refers to a geometric cross, and not a stake, as well as recorded history. There are a number of excellent sites which refute this Jehovah's Witnesses teaching ([1], [2]).

What about the Lord of Stakes?

In Surahs 38:12 and 89:6-12, the Pharaoh [presumably in the time of Moses] is called Lord of Stakes.  The "Islamic Awareness" has thus far attempted to manipulate the facts to demonstrate that the word crucifixion, as written in the Qur'an, does not mean a cross, but rather it can also mean a stick.  If this argument is true, then Sura 38:12 creates a number of problems.

The term al-awtadi is used in both passages to denote a "stake". It is also noteworthy that the only other appearance of this word in the Qur'an occurs in Surah 78:7: "And the mountains as pegs [Arabic awtadan]?" So, since the Arabic language has a term for a "stake", why does the Qur'an use the terms salaba / sallaba which indicates crucifixion on a cross, rather than impalement on a stake?

The Arabic Dictionary "Al Mua'jam Al Waseet" or "The Mediator Encyclopedia" - May, 1972, Volume 2, Second edition says:

"Watad" or "Stick" ... (from which the word "Awtadd" in Sura 38:12 was derived) ... they are the mountains as they stabilize the earth ... and the head of the states ... The teeth of the mouth ... and to the Sufism: they are four men who has homes at the four corners of the world: Easterly; westerly; northerly & southerly ... (page 1009; bold emphasis ours)

The second interesting issue is the "Islamic Awareness" team's failed attempt at Qur'anic exegesis. They conclude:

Thus the Qur'anic address of referring to Pharaoh as "Lord of Stakes" certainly fits very well with the available evidence. It also adds irony due to the fact that even though the Pharaoh claimed to be god, the greatest act of his lordship was confined to killing people by putting them on the stake.

Before going forth to educate their fellow Muslims, the "Islamic Awareness" team should consult the commentators of Islam rather than attempt to practice Qur'anic exegesis according to their needs of the moment. The title Lord of Stakes has nothing to do with crucifixion or impalement on stakes.   In fact, Islamic commentators and scholars are not clear on what this expression really means, and provide us with a number of possible meanings.

Al-Jalalayn's Commentary:

... {and Pharoh the Lord of Sticks} he is called that because he used to torture people by tying their hands and legs to four sticks. (Arabic source; translated by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

Al-Tabari's Commentary:

...The scholars had differed on their opinion as to why Pharaoh was called the "Lord of the Sticks", some said: it was told that he used to have sticks used for games and entertainment. This was mentioned in 22859 by Ibn Abbass...

Others said: this was mentioned because Pharaoh used to torture people by sticks, as it was mentioned in he used to torture people  using four sticks, then a boulder will be lifted up by robes and thrown on them to smash them..

Others claimed that this was said of him because he used sticks to build buildings, and others said sticks meant the building he used to build... (Arabic source; translated by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

Al-Qurtubi's Commentary:

... Ibn Abbas said: it meant "The Lord of Perfect Building"..

... Al Dhahak said: because he has lots of buildings, and buildings are called sticks.

... Ibn Abbas too ... said: because he had playgrounds for entertainment.

... Al Kalby and Muqatel: he used to torture people by sticks, and whenever he becomes angry and displeased with someone he will lay him down between four sticks on the ground, and send scorpions and snakes to torture him until death.

And it was said that he used to tie people inside an area bordered by four fences and tie them to four metal sticks located at the four corners and then leaves them there until they died.

... And it was said: "Lord of Many Soldiers" ... since the soldiers are like sticks as they strengthen his orders as a stick strengthens a house. (Arabic source; translated by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

These commentaries raise a number of issues.

First, the classical Islamic commentators and scholars merely speculated about the meaning of the term Lord of Stakes, and the "Islamic Awareness" team is adding another speculation – one that none of the earlier scholars consider to a genuine possibility. Not one of these scholars had the notion that Pharaoh fastened people on those sticks or impaled them with these sticks as punishment. This notion is a product of Saifullah's imagination.

Second, as we can see from these commentaries, the only common element is that there are four stakes. So, it is obvious that more than one stick was used.  If Pharaoh tied people to four sticks, or to four corners, the victim would form the shape "X" which is two members crossing each other, or four members opposite of each other. However, this make no sense when we read Surah 7:124: Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on apposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross.

After cutting off a victim's hands and feet, it would be very difficult to fasten the victim to four stakes. The ropes would slip off. Also, the Qur'an explicitly says, I will cause you all to die on the cross, not to die in a cross-shaped configuration on the ground.  Therefore, the cross in this verse has nothing to do with stakes.

The "Islamic Awareness" team have committed themselves concerning the meaning of crucifixion:

Crucifixion is the act of nailing, binding or impaling a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross, stake or tree whether for executing the body or for exposing the corpse.

Therefore, the "Islamic Awareness" team cannot argue that Pharaoh's use of four stakes (according to the Islamic commentators), qualifies as crucifixion tie down and torture a victim in such a manner creates an "X" shaped "cross", but this does not qualify as crucifixion based on the "Islamic Awareness" definition.


There is absolutely no historical or archeological evidence that the ancient Egyptians executed people by crucifixion on a cross.

A stake is not a cross; and, although crucifixion may be considered as a form of impalement when nails are used, all forms of impalement do not qualify as crucifixion. The "Islamic Awareness" team has failed to make impalement the same as crucifixion. They have also failed to make their case from etymology. The Arabic word for crucifixion used in the Qur'an refers to a cross-shaped instrument of execution. It would be very difficult to impale a person on a cross [thrusting the vertical beam through the body] because the horizontal beam would be in the way. Impalement is a very old method of punishment. However, crucifixion is a relatively more recent means of killing people.

The "Islamic Awareness" team provided a lengthy discussion about impalement in ancient Egypt [which no one denies] and the English, Greek, and Latin etymology of the terms cross and crucifixion.  They completely omitted any discussion concerning the meaning and use of the Arabic word salib which is used in the Quran and is the only word that is relevant in this discussion. The issue here is not the development of meaning for Greek, Latin or English words, but the meaning of the Arabic word used in the Qur'an. The "Islamic Awareness" team's discussion of the etymology is nothing more than a smoke screen to obscure the issues. The most relevant definition of a cross and crucifixion, as it is used in the Qur'an, is what early Muslims understood by these terms. Muhammad explicitly explained what cross is. In fact, Muhammad forbade Muslims from anything resembling a cross during prayers.

Ziad bin Subeah al Hanafi reports:
I was praying towards the Ka'ba with an older man next to me. I prayed for long time, so I put my hands on my hips, at that moment the older man hit me very hard on my chest. I wondered what is wrong with that guy? What did I do wrong? When I finished praying I asked who is that man? I was told that is Abd Allah bin Omar, so I waited until he finished his prayers and asked him, O father of Abd Alrahman why did you hit me? What did I do wrong? He asked, are you that man whom I hit? I said yes. He said, what you did was tasleeb [i.e. making (the shape, sign, or image of) a cross] in prayer and the prophet forbids it. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol. 10, p. 153).

Muhammad's choice of "crucifixion", as a form of punishment in the Qur'an [Surah 5:33] for "those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger" is intriguing.  Muhammad threatened his opponents with crucifixion – the same punishment which Muhammad claims the wicked Pharaoh used!  Muhammad knew what a cross was, in fact, he hated crosses so much that he destroyed anything that he saw depicting a geometric cross. There is no record of Muhammad displaying such hostility to stakes or poles.

According to a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari:

... So the companions of the cross will go with their cross, and the idolators (will go) with their idols, and the companions of every god (false deities) (will go) with their god, till there remain those who used to worship Allah, both the obedient ones and the mischievous ones, and some of the people of the Scripture. ...

Once again, Muhammad makes no mention of stakes or poles.

Andrew Vargo

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