Children of Isrāʾīl
(banū Isrāʾīl)

Muzaffar Iqbal and Csaba Okvath

The Qurʾān uses five terms to refer to the Children of Isrāʾīl: Banū/Banī Isrāʾīl, Yahūd, qawm Mūsā (People of Mūsā), asbāṭ, and Ahl al-kitāb (People of the Book)/ “those who have been given the Book”. This article comprises the following sections:

Definitions and Usage

Five terms used for the Children of Isrāʾīl:

i. Banū/Banī Isrāʾīl: They are most frequently mentioned with the genitive expressions “banū and banī Isrāʾīl” (lit. sons, but more generally, children of Isrāʾīl). The phrase appears 40 times in the oblique (banī Isrāʾīl) and once (Q 10:90) in the nominative case (banū Isrāʾīl) in twelve Makkan (Q  7, 10, 17, 20, 26, 27, 32, 40, 43, 44, 45, 46) and four (Q 2, 3, 5, 61) Madinan suras (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam). One sura of the Qurʾān (Q 17) is called Sūrat Banī Isrāʾīl (also called Sūrat Isrāʾ and Sūrat Subḥān, Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 17, 1:193).

Isrāʾīl is one of the two Qurʾānic names of Yaʿqūb, son of Isḥāq, son of Ibrāhīm, upon them all peace—the eponymous ancestor of the Children of Isrāʾīl (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 3:93; Rāzī, Tafsīr; Thaʿālibī, Jawāhir, sub Q 2:40). He is mentioned twice (Q 3:93; 19:58) with this name and is one of the five Prophets with two Qurʾānic names: Aḥmad—Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace; ʿĪsā—al-Masīḥ; Dhū-l-Kifl—Ilyās; Isrāʾīl—Yaʿqūb; Yūnus—Dhū-l-Nūn, upon them all peace (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, sub ḥ-d-m; Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil, Dhikr asmāʾ Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam;  cf. Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:86; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:136; Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 2:40). A Prophetic tradition confirms this identity:  Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688)—may Allah be pleased with him and his father—relates, “A group of Jews came to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and he said to them, ‘Do you know Isrāʾīl is Yaʿqūb?’ They replied, ‘By Allah (Allāhumma), yes!’” (Aḥmad, 4:277 §2471; Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Ibn Kathīr; Makkī, Hidāya, sub Q 2:40).

Lexicographers and exegetes consider “Isrāʾīl” to be a compound word, consisting of two parts: “isrā” (“slave”) and “īl” (“God”); thus the phrase means ʿabd Allah (“slave of Allah)” (Abī Bakr al-Rāzī, Mukhtār al-Ṣiḥāḥ, sub s-r-ā; Samʿānī, Tafsīr; Samarqandī, Baḥr, Māwardī, Nukat; Rāzī, Tafsīr; Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb; al-Qinnawjī, Fatḥ al-bayān, sub Q 2:40), “it is his agnomen (laqab), which means ṣafwatu-Llāh (“the chosen man of Allah”) in Hebrew (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Bayḍāwī; Khāzin, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:40). Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) glossed it as “the slave of Allah; Arabs use different forms for it, such as Isrāʾil, Isrāl, Isrāʾīl and Isrāʾīn” (Zād; sub Q 2:40). It is a non-Arabic word (aʿjamī) for which there is no Arabic etymology (Wāḥidī, Basīṭ, sub Q 2:40). Abū Manṣūr Mawhūb b. Aḥmad al-Jawālīqī (460-540/1067-1145) says the word Isrāʾīl has two forms: (a) “Isrāl” (for this form along with Isrāyīn, see also al-Khafājī, Shifāʾ al-ghalīl, sub Isrāʾil—with short “i”) on the pattern of Mīkāl; and (b) “Isrāʾīn” with a final nūn. He explains this plurality of forms: “When Arabs encounter a foreign word that does not belong to their language, they express it in different wordings, like Baghdādh and Baghdād and also Baghdān” (Muʿarrab, entry No. 4, sub wa ammā Isrāʾīl).

ii. Yahūd: Lexicographers and exegetes offer two explanations for the etymology of the noun yahūd (sing. yahūdī): (a) it comes from Yahūdha, the eldest son of Yaʿqūb, upon him peace, whose name was Arabicized and the letter “dhāl” was changed to “dāl” (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, sub bāb al-hāʾ wal-dāl; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub bāb al-dāl, faṣl al-hāʾ; Māwardī, Nukat; Jurjānī, Darj al-Durar, sub Q 2:62); (b) it is derived from the verb hāda (“he repented”) (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub h-w-d), because they returned to Allah and abandoned the worship of the Calf (q.v.); or because of the saying innā hudnā ilaykaindeed we have returned to You (Q 7:156), as per Ibn Jurayj (d. ca.150/767) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Māwardī, Nukat). The verb hāda is used for a person who adopts the ways of the Jews (ṭarīqat al-yahūd) in his religion (Azharī, Tahdhīb, sub bāb al-hāʾ wal-dāl); Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub h-w-d), thus, the phrase alladhīna hādū denotes the Jews (al-yahūd) and “those who became Jews (ṣārū yahūdan)” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:62); hādū means “they repented” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:62; cf. Baghawī; Samʿānī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 2:62). The Form-I verb occurs ten times in the phrase alla/walla-dhīna hādū (Q 2:62; 4:46, 160; 5:41, 44, 69; 6:146; 16:118, 22:17; 62:6). The singular noun yahūdī is used once (Q 3:67) as yahūdiyyan: Ibrāhīm was neither a Jew nor a Christian and the nominal hūdan (Jews) appears three times (Q 2:111, 135, 140) (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub h-w-d)..

iii. qawmu Mūsā (People of Mūsā): Children of Isrāʾīl are the referent in verses where the expression “People of Mūsā” (qawmu Mūsā; Q 7:148, 159; 28:76) is used as well as where they are ascribed to him as “his people” (qawmihi / qawmahu, e.g. Q 2:54, 60, 67; 5:20; 7:128, 150, 155, 160; 14:6), and where he refers to them as “my people” (qawmī; Q 2:54, 5:20, 21; 7:142; 10:84; 20:86; 43:51; 61:5). In one verse (Q 37:115), they are ascribed to both Mūsā and Hārūn as their people (wa qawmahumā): And We saved them and their people from a great distress. In Q 20:90, Hārūn, upon him peace, calls them my people and in four verses (Q 40:29, 30, 38, 39), a believing man from the House of Firʿawn, who was concealing his belief calls them as O my people. Mūsā, upon him peace, the most-mentioned Prophet of the Children of Isrāʾīl in the Qurʾān, was the son of ʿImrān, the son of Yaṣhar, the son of Qāhith (or Fāhit), the son of Lāvī, the son of Yaʿqūb (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 2:51; Baghawī, Tafsīr sub Q 3:34).

iv. Asbāṭ (Descendants): The noun asbāṭ (sing. sibṭ) occurs five times (Q 2:136, 140; 3:84; 4:163; 7:160). Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Khalīl b. Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī (100-175/718-791) says “al-sibṭ for the Children of Isrāʾīl is like [the noun] qabīla (“tribe”) for the Arabs (ʿAyn, sub s-b-ṭ). Jār Allāh Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) defines al-sibṭ as “grandson (al-ḥāfid); thus, al-asbāṭ means the grandsons [more generally, the descendants] of Yaʿqūb, upon him peace, and the offspring of his twelve sons” (Kashshāf, sub Q 2:136; see also: Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 7:160, and Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub 2:136). Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad b. al-Sirrī al-Zajjāj (d. 311/923) explains the usage of asbāṭ in Q 7:160, and We divided them into twelve tribes, communities: “Some say the noun al-sibṭ means one generation (al-qarn) succeeding the other; but the true meaning is… all those who were born from the lineage of Yaʿqūb are called sibṭ. The descendants of Ismāʿīl are called tribes (qabāʾil); this different usage is for differentiation between the offspring of Ismāʿīl and Isḥāq… The noun al-asbāṭ is derived from al-sabaṭ and al-subaṭ, a tree that is fed to camels, as if Isḥāq is made similar to one tree and Ismāʿīl to another” (Maʿānī).

v. Ahl al-kitāb (People of the Book)/ “those who have been given the Book”: Jews are the exclusive or inclusive referent in the thirty-one instances of the use of the term ahl al-kitāb (“People of the Book”) in eight Madinan (Q 2:105, 109; 3:64, 65, 69, 70, 71, 72, 75, 98, 99, 110, 113, 199; 4:123, 153, 159, 171; 5:15, 19, 59, 65, 68, 77; 33:26; 57:29 59:2, 11: 98:1, 6) and one Makkan (Q 29:46) sura. The technical usage of the term is reserved for Jews (al-yahūd) and Christians (al-naṣārā) (Muqātil; Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Baghawī; Rāzī; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīrs; Q 6:156; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 4: 47; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub 29:46), “along with all [their subsects] who accept Torah and Injīl” (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, masʾalat yuqātal ahl al-kitāb wa-l-majūs ), on the basis of Q 6:156, which constitutes “an explicit proof that [the term] “People of the Book” refers to Jews and Christians only, to the exclusion of Majūs” (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām sub Q 6:156). Q 6:156 forecloses the possibility of any excuse by the Makkan polytheists, who could have claimed the lack of receiving divine guidance, because “the Book was only sent down upon two groups before us, and we were indeed heedless of what they read.”

The phrase “alladhīna ūtū-l-kitābthose who have been given the Book” appears fifteen times (Q 2:101, 144, 145; 3:19, 100, 186, 187; 4:47, 131; 5:5, 57; 9:29; 57:16; 74:31; 98:4); a slightly different wording “alladhīna ūtū naṣīban min al-kitābthose who were given a portion of the Book” is used thrice (Q 3:23; 4:44, 51); whereas Alladhīna ātaynāhum al-kitāb is used once (Q 2:146). Three other varients for the phrase, “People of the Book” are used three times: alladhīna warithū / ūrithū-l--kitāb (Q 7:169; 42:14) and alladhīna yaqraʾūna-l-kitāb (Q 10:94). Exegetes also consider People of the Book to be the referents of the phrases Alladhīna ūtū l-ʿilm (those who have been given knowledge) in Q 17:107 and Ahl al-dhikr (People of Remembrance) in Q 16:43; 21:7.

Exegetical literature identifies—with difference of opinions—verses where Jews are the exclusive referent (e.g., Muqātil, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:101; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:23; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:44), and where Jews and Christians are both included (e.g., Q 4:131, where the phrase is glossed as “People of Torah and Injīl” by Ṭabarī and Samarqandī; Q 5:5, which makes lawful the food of those who were given the Book (Muqātil; Ṭabarī; Baghawī); Q 9:29, which imposes jizya (Muqātil; Ṭabarī; Rāzī; Tafsīrs; Thaʿlabī, Kashf); Q 57:16, which mentions those whose hearts have hardened (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr); Q 74:31, which refers to the number of keepers of the gates of Hell, which the “People of Torah and Injīl” also find in their Books (Ṭabarī), and Q 98:4, as those who became divided after clear evidence had come to them (Muqātil; Ṭabarī, Tafsīrs; Samarqandī, Baḥr).


Synopsis

The lineage of the Children of Isrāʾīl traces back to Prophet Ibrāhīm, through his son Isḥāq and grandson Yaʿqūb, who were also Prophets, upon them all peace. They arrived in Egypt after Yaʿqūb joined his son Yūsuf—upon them both peace—whose trials and ascent to a position of power in Egypt are chronicled in Sūra Yūsuf (Q 12). During the time of Yūsuf and for some time after him, the Children of Isrāʾīl flourished in Egypt, gaining power and wealth. But by the time Mūsā was born, their power and wealth had dwindled and though some of them—such as Qārūn —were extremely wealthy (Q 28:76-79). The Jews suffered under the tyrannical rule of the Pharaoh of the time. Through Mūsā, upon him peace, they were rescued from the great oppressor, granted a passage through the sea and made inheritors of the land and wealth of Pharaoh and his people (Q 28:5), and they were granted that which He gave unto no other in all the worlds (Q 5:20).

After their freedom from the tyranny of the Pharaoh, they came across idol worshippers and They said, ‘O Mūsā, make for us a god, as they have gods.’ He said, ‘You are surely an ignorant people. (Q 7:138). When Mūsā, upon him peace, went to the Mountain for his meeting with Allah Most High, they worshipped the Calf (Q 2:51, 92, 93; 4:153; 7:148-154; 20:88-98). When they were commanded to enter the Holy Land which Allah has prescribed for you, and do not turn back, or you shall become losers, they refused, saying O Mūsā, in this land are domineering people; we shall not enter it until they depart. Prophet Mūsā then supplicated for a separation for him and his brother (Prophet Hārūn) from the iniquitous people (Q 5:20-25). The Children of Isrāʾīl were thus forbidden to enter the Holy Land for forty years (Q 5:26), although they continued to receive other Divine favors, including the quails and al-mann which descended for them (Q 2:57; 7:160; 20:80; see Blessings, Bounties and Favors of Allah; Food and Drink). During these forty years of wandering, Mūsā and Hārūn, upon them peace, died, as did every adult over the age of twenty who had left Egypt with them, as per general accounts in the exegetical tradition.

The prescribed land was granted them under the leadership of Yūshaʿ ibn al-Nūn (cf. Tabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:26), who is not mentioned in the Qurʾān by name, but is recognized as a prophet of Children of Isrāʾīl in the commentaries. Selective subsequent history of the Children of Isrāʾīl is chronicled through their interactions with certain prophets (see below) and one king, Ṭālūt. Those among the Jews who were not true to their own faith are censured. A number of false beliefs held by them are refuted (Q 2:79-80; 3:23-24; Q 4:49). As the guardian and protector (muhaymin) of all previous Divine revelations (Q 5:48), the Qurʾān recounts unto the Children of Isrāʾīl most of that concerning which they differ (Q 27:76). They believed in some parts of the Book and disbelieved in other parts (Q 2:85), they altered their Book (Q 4:46; 5:13, 41-43) and changed the Divine Word given to them (Q 2:58-59). As a result, some of them incurred Divine curse (Q 5:60), wrath upon wrath (ghaḍabin ʿalā ghaḍabin) (Q 2:90) and a terrible punishment (sūʾa-l-ʿadhāb) (Q 7:167). Those who went astray were cursed (Q 5:78) by their Prophets—Dāwūd and ʿĪsā, upon them both peace. A painful punishment awaits those who take usury and unjustly consume the wealth of others (Q 4:161). For their disbelief in the signs of Allah and for the killing of the Prophets, humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them and they earned Divine wrath (Q 2:61; 3:112). For their saying, Allah is poor and we are rich and for their slaying of the prophets without right, they will be told on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Taste you the punishment of burning’ (Q 3:181). Their hearts have been hardened for breaking of the Covenant (Q 5:13); and those who violated the Sabbath were turned into apes (Q 2:65; 7:166); certain types of food were prohibited (Q 4:160; 6:146) to them for wrongdoing on the part of those who are Jews (alladhīna hādū).

Regardless of the appellation used for them, the Qurʾān is ultimately concerned with the beliefs and deeds of the Children of Isrāʾīl, both with regard to their pre-Qurʾānic history—which is extensively mentioned, especially through their interactions with Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace—and their response to its own revelation as the last and final divine Book that confirms earlier Scriptures (Q 2:41, 89, 91, 97, 101; 3:3, 81; 6:92; 35:31; 46:30). Since the Qurʾān came from the same source as their Books, belief in this final Revelation is a sine qua non for the true believers among them who recognize it as they recognize their own children (Q 2:146; 6:20; 19:58; 28:52-53); thus, those who were given knowledge before it, when it is recited unto them, fall down prostrate on their faces. And they say, ‘Glory be to our Lord! Truly, the promise of our Lord is fulfilled. And they fall down on their faces weeping and it increases their humility (Q 17:107-9). Yet, most of the Jews of Madina, who were contemporaries of the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, refused to accept his prophethood, even though they knew his description in the Torah (Q 7:157). Some of them were jealous and hostile, wishing the believers would forsake their faith (Q 2:109; 3:69, 99-100; 4:54; 5:59). The three Jewish tribes of Madina are indirectly mentioned (see the section, “The Jews of Madina and their interactions with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and with the Muslims”).

Recognizing their status as People of the Book, the sacred Law permits Muslims to eat their food and marry their women (Q 5:5). They are, nonetheless, those who have incurred Divine wrath as per the majority view of the exegetes, who identify Jews and Christians to be the respective referents of the concluding verse of Sūrat al-Fātiḥa (Q 1:7): The path of those whom You have blessed, not of those who incure wrath, nor of those who are astray (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Qurṭubī; Samʿānī; Baghawī; Rāzī; Ibn Kathīr; Suyūṭī, Durr). This identification is supported by other verses (Q 2:61; 3:112; 5:60; 48:6) and the ḥadīth of ʿAdiyy b. Ḥātim (see Dhahabī, Siyar, Juzʾ 3, No. 26), in which the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, identifies the Jews as those who have incurred Divine wrath and Christians as those who have gone astray respectively (Tirmidhī, Sunan, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, wa min Sūra Fātiḥat al-kitāb; graded ḥasan gharīb; Aḥmad, Musnad, 32:124 § 19381; Ibn Ḥibbān, Ṣaḥīḥ, Manāqib al-ṣaḥāba, dhikr ʿAdiyy b. Ḥātim, 16:184); al-Suyūṭī calls it “an exegesis by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and by all the Companions and Successors” (Ḥāshiyat Nawāhid al-Abkār, 1:244).


Covenant

Certain details of the Covenant with the Children of Isrāʾīl are given in Q 2:83-84: And [recall] when We made a Covenant with the Children of Isrāʾīl, “Worship none but Allah; be virtuous toward parents, kinsfolk, orphans, and the indigent; speak to people in a goodly way; and perform the prayer and give the alms.” Then you turned away, save a few of you, swerving aside. And when We made a Covenant with you, “Do not shed the blood of your own, and do not expel your own from your homes.” Then you ratified it, bearing witness. Mutual fulfillment of the Covenant is mentioned in Q 2:40: O Children of Isrāʾīl, Remember My blessings which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill My Covenant and I shall fulfill your Covenant, and be in awe of Me.” Most exegetes understand belief in the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, to be part of their Covenant. For instance, al-Ṭabarī’s preferred interpretation of the verse states: “This is the Covenant of Allah (ʿahdu-Llāhi) and His testament (wa waṣiyyatuhu) that He made with the Children of Isrāʾīl in the Torah, that they will explain to people the status of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, that he is a Messenger, whose mention is found in their own Book, and he is the Prophet of Allah, and that they would believe in him and in all that he brought from Allah; and for this, I will fulfill My Covenant with you—and His promise with them is that if they did this, He will have them enter Paradise” (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:40; cf. Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād).


Chosen People

Q 44:32 states: And We certainly knowingly chose (ikhtarnāhum) them over the worlds. The majority of the exegetes understand this divine selection to be temporally restricted, indicating their selection above other nations of their era (ʿalā ʿālamī zamānihim), as per Qatāda, and “chosen for the world of that time (ʿālam dhālika l-zamān),” and “preferred to everyone else who lived among them,” as per Mujāhid (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Samʿānī, sub Q 44:32). Burhān al-Dīn Abū al-Ḥasan Ibrāhīm b. ʿUmar al-Biqāʿī (d. 885/1480) says, “they were chosen, by the Books and the Messengers sent to them, and they were preferred above all those who lived amongst them in their own time” (Naẓm al-Durar).

In three other verses (Q 2:47, 122; 45:16), the verb faḍḍala (“to prefer someone over another”) is used. Abū al-Muẓaffar Manṣūr b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Tamīmī al-Marwazī al-Samʿānī (426-489/1034-1095) explains that this preference (tafḍīl) was realized through the favors mentioned in the preceding verses and it is on account of the excellence of the Jewish ancestors, but the honor extends down to their descendents (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:47). Nāṣir al-Dīn Abū Saʿīd ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar al-Bayḍāwī (d. 685/1286) says, “by this, their forefathers are meant, who lived in the era of Mūsā and after that period” (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:47). ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373), transmitting from the Baṣran Successor, jurist, and Qurʾān expert, Abū al-ʿĀliya Rufayʿ b. Mihrān al-Riyāḥī (d. ca. 93/712) (see Dhahabī, Siyar, Juzʾ 4, No. 85), states that “this preference is by the fact that they were given kingdom (mulk), Messengers (rusul), and Scriptures (kutub), to the exclusion of those who lived in the world (ʿālam) of that era, and for every era (li-kulli zamānin) is its own world” (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:47). Explaining Q 45:16, And indeed We gave the Children of Isrāʾīl the Book, judgment, and prophethood, and We provided them with good things, and We favored them above the worlds, Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, said, “No one from among the individuals of the worlds in the time of Banū Isrāʾīl was more honored in the sight of Allah or more beloved than the Children of Isrāʾīl” (Wāḥidī, Basīṭ, sub Q 45:16).


Blessings

My blessing in Q 2:40, O Children of Isrāʾīl, remember My blessing which I bestowed upon you…, means not just one, but all the blessings because the singular niʿma “is a noun of genus (ism al-jins)—a singular used in the meaning of a plural, as in Q 14:34, …if you were to count the blessing (niʿma) of Allah, you would not be able to number them” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). These blessings included the mention and description (ṣifa) of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, as per Ibn ʿAbbās; as well as numerous blessings bestowed upon their forefathers (ajdādihim), as per al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21-110/642-728) and al-Zajjāj; and all the other blessings distributed over time and granted according to their changing circumstances (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:40). Ibn Kathīr cites all the above-mentioned blessings and adds that the blessing mentioned here is similar to what is mentioned in Q 5:20 in the words of Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace: And when Mūsā said to his people, ‘O my people! Remember the blessing of Allah upon you, when He appointed prophets among you, and appointed for you kings, and gave you that which He gave unto no other in all the worlds. Elsewhere, specific blessings are mentioned: And indeed We gave the Children of Isrāʾīl the Book and judgment, and prophethood, and We provided them with good things, and We favored them above the worlds (Q 45:16). Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī says, “blessings can be divided into two categories: blessings of religion (niʿam al-dīn) and blessings of the worldly kind (niʿam al-dunyā); blessings of religion are far better than those of the worldly life, and for this reason, Allah Most High began by mentioning “the Scripture,  judgment, and prophethood”; these three are distinct from that which follows” (Tafsīr).


Clear Signs

In Q 2:211, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, is commaned to Ask the Children of Isrāʾīl how many a clear sign We have granted to them! And whoever alters the blessing of Allah after it has come to him—then indeed, Allah is severe in punishment. “This was not by way of inquiry (ʿalā wajh al-istikhbār), but rather, as a rebuke (tawbīkh)” (Māwardī, Nukat; Wāḥidī, Wajīz). The clear signs are the miracles brought by their Prophets, or proofs in their Books of the authenticity of Islam (ṣiḥa dīn al-Islām); they are blessings of Allah (niʿmatu-Llāhi) because [the clear signs] are means to Guidance (al-hudā) and deliverance from misguidance (al-najātu min al-ḍalāla) (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). The signs are called clear as they were a decisive proof (ḥujja qāṭiʿa) of truthfulness of Prophet Mūsā (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:211). Signs mentioned elsewhere include Mūsā’s hand (Q 27:12; 28:32), his staff (Q 7:117; 26:45; 27:10; 28:31), the splitting of the sea (Q 26:63), Mūsā’s striking of the rock which yielded twelve springs (Q 2:60; 7:160), shadowing of the Children of Isrāʾīl by clouds (Q 2:57; 7:160), and sending down of the manna and quails (Q 2:57; 7:160; 20:80). 


Their Prophets and Messengers

No number is specified in the Qurʾān for the Prophets and Messengers sent to the Children of Isrāʾīl. The Prophet, upon him blessing and peace, said, “The affairs of the Children of Isrāʾīl were governed and ruled by Prophets, whenever one Prophet  died, another took his place, but there is no Prophet after me; there will be Caliphs, who will increase in number.” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīṭh al-Anbīyāʾ, Mā dhukira ʿan Banī Isrāʾīl; Muslim, al-Imāra, bāb al-amr bil-wafāʾ bi-bayʿat al-khulafāʾ al-awwal fa-l-awwal). A report (athar) from Ibn ʿAbbās, cited by the hadith master Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Bayyiʿ al-Ḥākim al-Naysābūrī (d. 405/ca.1014) as well as Abū Bakr Aḥmad al-Bayhaqī (384-458/994-1066)—and quoted by many exegetes and classified as sound—states, “all but ten Prophets [mentioned in the Qurʾān by name] were sent to the Children of Isrāʾīl; [the ten exceptions are]: Nūḥ, Ṣāliḥ, Hūd, Lūṭ, Shuʿayb, Ibrāhīm, Ismāʾīl, Isḥāq, Yaʿqūb and Muḥammad, upon them blessings and peace” (Ḥākim, Mustadrak, Tafsīr qawlihi taʿālā “wa-dhkur fī-l-kitāb…” [Q 19:41], 2:373-374; Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-īmān, al-īmān bi-l-rusul ṣalawātu-Llāhi ʿalayhim ʿāmmatan; 1:279§132; Haythamī, Majmaʿ, kitāb fīhi dhikr al-anbiyāʾ, 8:210§13806; Tafsīrs of Samʿānī; Baghawī; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs; Suyūṭī, Durrsub Q 2: 128; al-Nasafī,  Tafsīr, sub Q 37:113).

There are implicit Qurʾānic references to three unnamed prophets of the Children of Isrāʾīl, who are identified in the exegetical sources as:

  1. Ḥizqīl (cf. Q 2:243 in Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Samarqandī; Thaʿlabī, Kashf; Makkī, Hidāya);
  2. the prophet mentioned in Q 2:246 in the phrase, “when they said to a prophet of theirs”, who is identified as Shamwīl [also known as Ishmawīl / Ashmawīl; cf. Baghawī, Tafsīr, Wāḥidī, Wajīz, sub Q 2:246] b. Bālā b. ʿAlqama b. Yarkhām (Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya, sub qiṣṣat Shamwīl ʿalayhi-l-salām), or as per Abū Isḥāq Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Thaʿlabī al-Naysābūrī (d. 427/ca.1035) who cites an interpretation by Basran Successor-exegete Qatāda (d. 118), who names him as Yūshaʿ b. Nūn b. Afrāyim b. Yūsuf b. Yaʿqūb (Kashf, sub Q 2:246); he is called Shamʿūn by other exegetes (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, Māwardī; Nukat; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 2:246);
  3. Shiʿyā [variant forms: Shiʿyāʾ, Shaʿyā, Ashʿiyāʾ and Ishʿiyāʾ], who foretold the coming of ʿĪsā, upon him peace, referring to him as “the rider of the donkey (rākib al-ḥimār”) and that of the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, referring to him as “the owner of the camel (ṣāḥib al-baʿīr”; Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 17:4), whom the Jews killed (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Bayḍāwī; Ibn ʿĀshūr; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Ibn ʿAjība, Baḥr, sub Q 17:4-5); he was a contemporary of Prophet Yūnus, upon him peace (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 10:98).

The Prophets mentioned in Q 5:44 (The Prophets who submitted judged by it for the Jews…) are explained in the exegetical literature as Prophets sent after Mūsā, until the coming of ʿĪsā, upon him peace (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr); some exegetes say that during this period, the Children of Isrāʾīl received one thousand prophets (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:44; for a detailed discussion see: Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya; Bāb dhikr jamāʿat min anbiyāʾ Banī Isrāʾīl baʿda Mūsā, ʿalayhi-l-salām). By the consensus of the exegetes, the final prophet sent to the Children of Isrāʾīl was ʿĪsā, upon him peace (q.v.), who was made a Messenger to the Children of Isrāʾīl (Q 3:49), and who said, “O Children of Isrāʾīl! Truly I am the Messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which came before me in the Torah and bearing glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me whose name is Aḥmad” (Q 61:6). The believers (q.v.) are instructed to believe in all of them and make no distinction between them (Q 2:136).


The Book of Mūsā

The Book given to Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace, is explicitly mentioned 18 times as al-Tawrāt—the Torah (for a list of verses see ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub bāb al-tāʾ, al-tawrāt). It is simply called the Book in Q 17:2: And We gave Mūsā the Book, and made it a guidance for the Children of Isrāʾīl, [saying] do not take anyone other than Me as the disposer of your affairs (wakīlan).” Abū al-Layth Naṣr b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Samarqandī (d. 373/983) explains that “the Book is guidance for the Children of Isrāʾīl, that is, an explanation (bayān) for them [that can save them] from going astray” (Baḥr). “The Torah is guidance (hudan),” writes al-Rāzī, “for it contains the prohibition to take other than Allah as a wakīl—and this is pure tawḥīd” (Tafsīr).

Elsewhere, those Jews who did not act according to the Torah and did not obey its commandments, prescriptions, and laws are likened to a donkey carrying books, because donkeys cannot understand the meaning of the books they carry (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād), or as Maymūn b. Mihrān (d. ca. 117/735-736) said, “The donkey does not know whether it carries books on its back or a scuttle” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). The Book given to Mūsā, upon him peace, is called a detailed explanation (tafṣīlan) of all things (Q 6:154), that is, a comprehensive interpretation (bayānan mufaṣṣalan) of everything that is needed in matters of religion (Bayḍāwī, Nasafī, Tafsīrs); containing all legal regulations of the religion (jamīʿ al-sharāʾiʿ al-dīn) (Khāzin, Tafsīr). It is transmitted from Ibn ʿAbbās that Allah Most High gave the Torah written on seven Tablets made of zabarjad [variously interpreted: topaz, aquamarine or chrysolite] and these contained the explanation of all things and moral teaching (mawʿiẓa) (Samarqandī, Baḥr), “that can save from ignorance” (Muqātil, Tafsīr).


Laws

The Children of Isrāʾīl were honored with the Torah, which contains guidance that leads to the truth and justice, a light that enlightens all that was ambiguous for them regarding legal rulings (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 5:44). Specific laws given to the Children of Isrāʾīl are also mentioned. For instance: Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Isrāʾīl that whosoever kills a soul—except for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land—it is as if he had slain all of mankind. And whosoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved all mankind. And our Messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, even after that, were transgressors throughout the land (Q 5:32). The phrase “because of that” refers to the “abominable killing” (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:32) of one brother by the other mentioned in Q 5:27-30 in reference to the first homicide on earth—the killing of one son of Ādam by another (see Brotherhood; Two Sons of Ādam) . The verb katabnā—We decreed is explained as faraḍnā—We imposed (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād); thus it is a general prohibition of unlawful killing (Makkī, Hidāya; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Māwardī, Nukat) and the “Children of Isrāʾīl are specifically mentioned here—although several other nations, among whom killing was forbidden, had passed [since the first homicide] before them—because they are the first nation on earth upon whom a written threat [in the Torah] was sent down concerning murder. Before their time, it was prohibited via oral tradition, but the issue was made more serious for the Children of Isrāʾīl in [their] Scripture (fa-ghulliẓa-l-amr ʿalā banī Isrāʾīl bi-l-Kitāb) and this was in accordance with their transgression (ṭughyān) and bloodshed” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).


Deliverance from Firʿawn (Pharaoh)

At the time of Mūsā, upon him peace, the Children of Isrāʾīl were enslaved and tyrannized by the ruler of Egypt (Q 3:11; 7:103-4, 127; 8:52, 54; 14:6; 26:16; 28:4)—Firʿawn (Pharaoh)—who is characterized as the one who transgressed (innahu ṭaghā) (Q 20:24, 43; 79:17). The principal connotation of ṭaghā is “to disobey (ʿaṣā), to behave in an arrogant manner (takabbara), to disbelieve (kafara), and to haughtily tyrannize (tajabbara)” (Qurṭubī, al-Khāzin, Tafsīrs, sub Q 20:24). “Pharaoh divided the Children of Isrāʾīl into groups—one group was forced to build houses, the other plowed and harvested, and yet another served in the royal court” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:49). He killed the male Israelites because his magicians told him that an Israelite boy would destroy his kingdom (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 2:49) or he saw in a dream “flames of fire emerging from Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis), devouring the houses of the [ancient] Copts (dūr al-qibṭ) but not the houses of the Children of Isrāʾīl. He thus concluded that the undoing of his kingdom would be at the hand of a man from Banū Isrāʾīl” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:49).

In time, Prophet Mūsā was commanded to ask Pharaoh to “send with me the Children of Isrāʾīl” (Q 7:105); elsewhere, both Mūsā and Hārūn, upon them peace, ask Pharaoh to “send with us the Children of Isrāʾīl” (Q 20:47; 26:17). That is, to“set them free from imprisonment and from your tyranny (qahrika) and permit them to worship your Lord and their Lord, for they are the descendants of a noble Prophet, Isrāʾīl, who is Yaʿqūb b. Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm,” and Ibrāhīm is Khalīl al-Raḥmān [the intimate friend of Allah]” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). But Pharaoh would not let them go. Their eventual deliverance from his tyranny was through Divine intervention: We sent revelation to Mūsā, ‘Set forth with My servants by night and strike for them a dry path through the sea. Be not afraid of being overtaken, and fear not (Q 20:77). The deliverance of the Children of Isrāʾīl from Pharaoh’s captivity (see e.g. Q 2:49; 7:105, 138, 141; 20:80; 44:30) is one of the greatest signs of Allah’s blessings upon them (see Q 14:6; 7:103-171; Q 28:3-6); And the most beautiful Word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Isrāʾīl because they were patient. And We destroyed all that Pharaoh and his people had wrought and that which they used to build (Q 7:137). This was a reward for their patience (Wāḥidī, Wajīz); the fulfillment of the Word was to “save them and to destroy their enemies” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād), “by providing them help and establishing them on earth, as also mentioned in His Words, and We wanted to confer favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors (Q 28:5)” (Baghawī, Tafsīr). Many exegetes cite Ibn ʿAbbās and Qatāda, who said that Mūsā, upon him peace, left Egypt with six hundred (or six hundred and twenty) thousand able-bodied fighters, not counting those under the age of twenty due to their youth and those above the age of sixty, due to their old age (Mujāhid, Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 2:50), whereas when the Children of Isrāʾīl first came to Egypt at the time of Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace , they numbered only seventy-two (Baghawī, Tafsīr, Q 2:50).


Inherited and Promised Lands

After their deliverance from the tyranny of Pharaoh, the Children of Isrāʾīl were commanded to dwell in the land (Q 17:103-4). The  exegetes offer various opinions regarding the land where the Children of Isrāʾīl were to dwell: (i) it covered the territory of Jordan, Palestine and Egypt (Samarqandī, Baḥr; Māwardī, Nukat; Tafsīrs of Baghawī, Qurṭubī, and Khāzin); (ii) Syro-Palestine (al-Shām) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Makkī, Hidāya; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar); (iii) the land here is used in a general sense, meaning “whichever part of the earth you desire, in the east and the west, dwell there in peace, without fear of being expelled (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt); (iv) the early Qurʾān commentator Muqātil bin Sulaymān (d. 150/767)—whose exegesis often include Israelite accounts—quoting from Ibn Jurayj (80-150/699-767), considers the land in this verse to mean a land beyond China (warāʾ al-ṣīn), to which one of their tribes was directed after the Children of Isrāʾīl killed their prophets. This tribe sought to disavow the disbelief of the others and asked Allah Most High to separate them from the others. In response to their prayer, a way was opened up for them to go to the land beyond China (Tafsīr sub 17:104; also see below his exegetical remarks on Q 7:159). Several later commentators repeat Muqātil’s narration (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Ibn Kathīr; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 7:159); (v) al-Thaʿālibī considers the land in this verse to mean the land of Egypt, “for land is mentioned in a general way (ʿumūman), and the intended meaning is to relate it to the content of the specific story in which it occurs” (Jawāhir).

In Q 28:5, the Children of Isrāʾīl are said to be the inheritors of the land: We desired to confer blessing upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders (aʾimmatan) and make them inheritors (al-wārithīna). By the consensus of the exegetes, the oppressed are the Children of Isrāʾīl (Ṭabarī, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs; Makkī, Hidāya; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād) and in this verse they are called the inheritors either because they literally possessed the lands previously held by Pharaoh and his people, or metaphorically, because they took with them jewelry from the Egyptians (Rāzī, Baghawī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 26:59). In either case immense wealth came into their possession (Rāzī, Tafsīr). Another passage (Q 44:17-34), however, specifically mentions that it was both the land and the wealth of Pharaoh that was bequeathed to them, when he and his people rejected the message of Mūsā, upon him peace, and Mūsā cried unto his Lord, and his Lord commanded him to set forth at night with My slaves; you will surely be pursued. And leave the sea behind becalmed; their army will be drowned. How many gardens and springs did they leave behind, and sown fields and a goodly dwelling, and prosperity they rejoiced? Thus it was. And We bequeathed it unto another people. Neither Heaven nor earth wept for them, nor were they granted respite. And We delivered the Children of Isrāʾīl from a humiliating punishment—from Pharaoh. Truly, he was the worst squanderer. And We chose them over all the worlds. And We gave them signs wherein was a manifest trial. Al-Ṭabarī, citing Qatāda, and several other exegetes say this verse refers to the bequeathing of the land and wealth of the Egyptians to the Children of Isrāʾīl  (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; cf. Māwardī, Nukat; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs).

Q 10:93 refers to an excellent abode (mubawwaʾa ṣidqin) wherein they were established: And indeed, We established the Children of Isrāʾīl in an excellent abode (mubawwaʾa ṣidqin) and We provided them pure sustenance. They did not differ among themselves until after the knowledge had come to them. Allah will judge their differences on the Day of Judgment. Most exegetes cite the two early opinions about this abode: according to Qatāda, the excellent abode refers to the territory of Syro-Palestine and Jerusalem (al-Shām wa Bayt al-Maqdis); according to al-Ḍaḥḥāk, it refers to Egypt and Syro-Palestine together (cf. Māwardī, Nukat; Makkī, Hidāya; Samarqandī, Baḥr; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; and Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Samʿānī). However, in a clear break with the majority, Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-Wāḥidī al-Naysābūrī (d. 468/1075) interprets the verse to be a reference to the two Jewish tribes of Yathrib, that is, Banū Qurayẓa and Banū al-Naḍīr; and he interprets pure sustenance to be dates and fruits, and their difference to be differences concerning their belief in the prophethood of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace (Wajīz).


Pure Sustenance, Provisions Declared Unlawful

The Children of Isrāʾīl received special two foods (see Food and Drink): al-mann and al-salwā; both mentioned together three times (Q 2:57; 7:160; 20:80) as blessing, because these provisions required no work on their part, and they caused no fatigue or hardship (Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 2:57). Manna, also mentioned in Exodus 16:1-36 and Numbers 11:1-9, is not described in the Qurʾān. Commentaries explain it variously as a snowflake-like substance which was sweet like honey and fell on the trees (Abū ʿUbayda, Majāz; Farrāʾ, Maʿānī, sub Q 2:57; Rāzī, Nasafī, Tafsīrs); either called “taranjīn” (Zajjāj, Maʿānī), or “al-taranjabīn, that we [Arabs] know well” (Farrāʾ, Maʿānī; a sweetish juice which exudes from the alhagi maurorum tree; as if it fell from the heaven). Manna is used in a hadith: “Truffles (al-kamʾatu) are from the mann and its juice is curative for the eye” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:143; Muslim, Ashriba, faḍl al-kamʾati wa mudāwāt al-ʿayn bihā). Al-Māwardī mentions seven different explanations for manna: (i) something that fell on trees and people ate from it; (ii) ṣamgha [samgh and samgha denote, in the language, the fluid that exudes from “ṭalḥ—Acacia gummifera” tree (a variety of acacia); here, a sweet fluid that falls on trees; cf. Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, Thaʿālibī, Jawāhir, sub Q 2:54-57; Samīn, ʿUmdat, faṣl al-mīm wa-l-nūn]; (iii) a kind of drink which they drank by mixing it with water; (iv) honey (ʿasal), which came down [from the sky]; (v) flat loaves of bread; (vi) ginger (zanjabīl); and (vii) al-taranjīn (Nukat; see also Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 2:57).

Al-salwā is glossed simply as a bird (as per Mujāhid and Qatāda), a bird similar to quail (al-sumānī), but greater in size (as per Suddī) or quail itself (cf. Tafsīrs of Ibn Jurayj; Ṭabarī; Yaḥya b. Salām; Zajjāj, Maʿānī; Wāḥidī, Wajīz). The pure sustenance (al-ṭayyibāt) in Q 10:93, and We provided them pure sustenance, is glossed as “permissible provisions” (ḥalāl al-rizq) (Makkī, Hidāya), which were “good and useful (al-nāfiʿ) and delightful (mustaṭāb) by nature and Law” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr).

Certain types of food were declared unlawful for wrongdoing (fa-bi-ẓulmin) on the part of those who are Jews (alladhīna hādū), We made unlawful for them [certain] pure foods (ṭayyibātin) which had previously been lawful to them, and for their averting many [people] from the Way of Allah (Q 4:160). Citing Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150/767), the Andalusian exegete Abū Muḥammad Makkī b. Abī Ṭālib al-Qaysī (d. 437/1045) says this verse refers back to Q 6:146: And to those who are Jews We prohibited every animal of [uncloven] hoof (kulla dhī ẓufur), and of cattle and sheep We prohibited for them their fat (shuḥūmahumā), except what adheres to their backs or the entrails or what is joined with bone. By that We repaid them for their injustice. And indeed, We are truthful (Hidāya; see also: Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 4:160). The wrongdoing on the part of those who are Jews refers to their violation of the Covenant; disbelief in the Signs of Allah (bi-āyāti-Llāh); calumny against Maryam, upon her peace; turning away from the Way of Allah and diverting others from Truth; devouring unlawfully the wealth of the people; forging lies in the name of religion; accepting bribes; and falsifying the Scripture (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 4:160). “They deserved this prohibition because of their infringement (baghyihim), oppression (tughyānihim), opposition to their Messenger and their disagreement with him” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:160).

Another reference to dietary restrictions appears in Q 3:93: All food was lawful for the Children of Isrāʾīl except for what Isrāʾīl had deemed unlawful for himself before the Torah was revealed; ask them to bring the Torah and recite it if they are true in their claim. A hadith explains the circumstances leading to Prophet Isrāʾīl’s self-prohibition of certain food. A group of Jews came to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and asked certain questions, promising to believe in his prophethood if the answers were correct. Among other things, they asked, “Inform us about what Isrāʾīl had made unlawful for himself.” The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, answered: “He suffered from sciatica (ʿirq al-nasā) and when the disease prolonged and he could not find a cure for it, he took an oath to give up his favorite food if he was cured. He was cured and thus he gave up eating camel meat and its milk (Tirmidhī, Sunan, abwāb tafsīr al-Qurʾān, wa min sūrat al-raʿd; Ahmad, Musnad, 4:277 §2471; Ḥākim, Mustadrak, kitāb al-tafsīr, wa min sūrat Āl ʿImrān; 2:292). Prophet Yaʿqūb’s “sons and later descendants also accepted these prohibitions due to their respect for their forefather. They did that without having a Divine revelation for this and without having heard anything about [the prohibition] from the tongue of Prophet Isrāʾīl” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub 3:93). Al-Rāzī adds more details: “A group of Jews said to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, “You claim to follow the religion of Ibrāhīm (millat Ibrāhīm); if it is so then how can you eat camel meat and drink camel milk, while all of these were prohibited in the Religion of Ibrāhīm?” The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, responded: “These were permitted to Ibrāhīm, Ismāʿīl, Isḥāq and Yaʿqūb, upon them peace. But, Yaʿqūb made them unlawful for himself due to some reasons and this prohibition prevailed among his descendants.” The Jews rejected this. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, asked them to bring forth the Torah and show where it mentions prohibition of the camel meat and milk for Ibrāhīm. The Jews could not find a line about this and their lies became evident” (Tafsīr, sub Q 3:93).


Twelve Guarantors (Nuqabāʾ)

Each of the twelve tribes of the Children of Isrāʾīl had a naqīb. The noun naqīb (pl. nuqabāʾ), a hapax legomenon used in Q 5:12, denotes someone “who investigates a nation (al-bāḥith ʿan al-qawm) and their condition” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub n-q-b). Al-Wāḥidī explains naqīb as those who were “chosen to be warrantor (kafīl) and guarantor (ḍamīn) and they guaranted the fulfillment of the Covenant on behalf of their nation” (Wajīz). Naqīb is similar to al-ʿarīf—the one who is fully familiar with a nation and is appointed in a legal capacity as their superior” (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub ḥarf al-bāʾ faṣl al-nūn; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 5:12). Al-Zajjāj says, “al-naqīb is linguistically on the same pattern as al-amīr and al-kafīl… [the nouns] naqab and nuqb mean a path in a mountain and naqīb is the one who is acquainted with the innermost state (dakhīla) of a nation and he knows their virtues (manāqibuhum)—and this is the way to the knowledge of their matters” (Maʿānī).

The verse in which the nuqabāʾ are mentioned also refers to the Covenant established with the Children of Isrāʾīl: Allah had made a Covenant with the Children of Isrāʾīl, and We raised among them twelve chieftains (naqīban). And Allah said, “I am with you! Surely, if you establish the prayer, give alms, and believe in My messengers and support them, and lend unto Allah a goodly loan, I shall surely absolve you of your evil deeds, and shall cause you to enter Gardens with rivers flowing below. But whosoever among you disbelieves thereafter, surely he has strayed from the right way.” The exegetes explain that after the drowning of the Pharaoh, the Children of Isrāʾīl were commanded to go to Syro-Palestine, where tyrants ruled. One man from each tribe was selected as the naqīb of that tribe and these naqībs were sent ahead to the city of the tyrants (al-jabbārīn) to gather information about them and to inform their prophet, Mūsā, upon him be peace. All but two of the nuqabāʾ violated their promise by telling their tribes what they had seen, rather than reporting only to Mūsā. As a result of the news they heard from their nuqabāʾ, the Children of Isrāʾīl refused to fight the tyrants, and were thus punished with forty years of wandering (Ṭabarī; Rāzī; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs. (For more on this incident, see below “Refusing to fight against the Jabbārīn”.)


Believers and Disbelievers among them

The People of the Book are not all equal, among them is a group standing and reciting the verses of Allah during the night and prostrating. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good things. And those are among the righteous. “The meaning being that those who killed the prophets without right are not equal to those who recite the verses of Allah during the hours of the night; these latter are on the Straight Path (dhawū ṭarīqa mustaqīma)” (Zajjāj, Maʿānī). The righteous among the People of Mūsā are praised in Q 7:159: And among the people of Mūsā (min qawmi Mūsā), there is a community (umma) which guides by truth and by it establishes justice. There is considerable diversity of views about the referent of this verse. Some exegetes understand it in relation to the verse that follows, which states that Allah Most High divided them into twelve tribes. Al-Ṭabarī takes it to refer to a tribe that refrained from killing the prophets and asked Allah to be separated from the transgressors. As already mentioned, Muqātil b. Sulaymān al-Balkhī is of the opinion that the verse refers to “a small group (ʿiṣāba)” from the People of Mūsā, “who now live beyond China (min warāʾ al-Ṣīn). They were taken there by night, under the surface of the earth. A river of sand, called Ardaq, was made for them, [originating] in the Jordan river. It flew like water, and Allah had them travel under the earth for a year and a half” (Tafsīr). Several later exegetes repeat this, adding further details, including that this tribe worships Allah in a fair and appropriate way; they believe in Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace; they left the Jewish rite of Sabbath and face the qibla ; and that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, met them during his Night Journey (cf. Samarqandī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Thaʿlabī, Kashf; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). According to al-Ṭabarī, the narration about them living beyond China is attributed to Ibn ʿAbbās by Abū Khālid ʿAbd al-Malik b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Jurayj (d. ca.150/767) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Al-Rāzī discounts these opinions, calling them weak. Other exegetes understand the verse as broadly referring to those Israelites who adhered to Truth when the rest erred; yet another opinion is that the verse refers to those Jews of Madina who believed in the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Māwardī, Nukat; Wāḥidī, Basīṭ; Rāzī, Tafsīr). A pious group among the Children of Isrāʾīl are called leaders in Q 32:24: And We made from among them leaders (aʾimmatan) who guide by Our command, when they were patient and believed with certainty in Our Signs (see also Q 28:5). Leaders here can either mean “chosen leaders (ruʾasāʾ)”, who guide to all kinds of good as devout followers of the Prophets do, or to Prophets themselves (Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Tafsīrs; Māwardī, Nukat; Wāḥidī, Basīṭ). 


Transgressions

An eighty-four verse passage of Sūrat al-Baqara (Q 2:40-123) lists a series of transgressions and acts of disobedience of the Children of Isrāʾīl; others are mentioined elsewhere. These include the following twenty-five:

i. Breaking of the Covenant

The Covenant specifically established with the Children of Isrāʾil (Q 2:40, 63, 80-96, 100-101; 3:187; 4:154; 5:12, 70; 7:134, 33:8) was broken by them  in many ways, including their denial of the Prophets sent to them after Mūsā, tempering of the revelation, abandoning of the sacred Law, their rejecting the Signs of Allah, slaying of the Prophets without right, and their saying, ‘Our hearts are enwrapped’ (Q 4:155; 5:13). The divine response to their claim that our hearts are enwrapped (ghulf)—also mentioned in Q 2:88—is asserts that Allah Himself has set a seal upon their hearts (Q 4:155) refers to their lack of receptivity to the divine Message (Ṭabarī) hesitation to slaughter the cow also constituted a breach of the Covenant because they disobeyed their prophet (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:67; Thaʿālibī, Jawāhir). As a consequence of the breaking of the Covenant, Allah Most High hardened their hearts (Q 5:13), that is, their receptivity for belief and obedience was taken away (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr), their hearts through mixing of belief and disbelief, like gold and silver, which in their natural state are mellable, but harden when mixed with other metals, and a manifestation of their hardened hearts is their distortion of the divine Word, both by actual tempering of the text and through false interpretations  (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). Thus, Because of their breaking of the Covenant, their rejecting the Signs of Allah, their slaying of the Prophets without right, and their saying, ‘Our hearts are wrapped’—nay, but Allah has set a seal upon their hearts because of their disbelief, so they believe not save a few” (Q 4:155).

ii.Tawḥīd Compromised

Two verses (Q 9:30-31) charge the Jews and the Christians with attributing partners to Allah and taking their rabbis and monks as their lords, thus compromising belief in the Absolute Oneness (Tawḥīd) of Allah Most High: And the Jews say ʿUzayr is the son of Allah, and the Christians say the Masīḥ  is the son of Allah; that is a saying from their mouths; they resemble the words of those who disbelieved before. Allah assail them! How they are perverted!  They have taken their rabbis and monks as lords apart from Allah, as well as the Messiah, son of Maryam, though they were only commanded to worship one Allah. There is no god but He! Be He Glorified from all that they associate with Him. The commentators differ about the specific Jews who made the statement about ʿUzayr. Some say it was made by Finḥāṣ, others say it was made by Salām b. Mishkam, al-Nuʿmān b. Awfā, Shās [variant form: Shaʾs] b. Qays and Mālik b. al-Ṣayf, who went to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and said, “How can we follow you? You have abandoned our prayer direction (qibla) and you do not think that ʿUzayr is the son of Allah”. Then Allah revealed the verse (Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; sub Q 9:30; see ʿUzayr.)

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, explained the meaning of taking their rabbis and monks as lords apart from Allah to ʿAdiyy b. Ḥātim, a Companion who was a Christian before accepting Islam, and who once heard the Prophet recite Q 9:31. When the Prophet finished reciting, ʿAdiyy said to him, “We do not worship them.” The Prophet said, “Do they not forbid what Allah has permitted, whereupon you consider it forbidden, and do they not permit what Allah has forbidden, whereupon you consider it permissible?” He said, “Yes.” The Prophet then said, “That is worshipping them (fa-tilka ʿibādatuhum)” (Tirmidhī, Sunan, Tafsīr, wa min Sūrat al-Tawba; hadith classed ḥasan gharīb; Ṭabarānī, Al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, 17:98 § 218; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr).

Tawḥīd was also compromised by the Children of Isrāʾīl soon after they were rescued from the tyranny of Pharaoh: When We brought the Children of Isrāʾīl across the sea, and they came upon a people devoted to their idols, they said, ‘O Mūsā, make for us a god like they have gods.’ He said, ‘You are indeed an ignorant people. As for these people, what they practice shall perish, and vain is that which they do’ (Q 7:138-39). The idols they saw were statues of cows (tamāthīl baqar), which seemed pleasing to them and they demanded that Mūsā, upon him peace, should make similar gods for them because they considered these idols were a means for gaining closeness to Allah Most High, just as the idol worshippers claimed, “We do not worship them, save to bring us closer to Allah” (cf. Q 39:3; Tafsīrs of al-Ṭabarī, al-Baghawī, al-Rāzī; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 7:138). Their demand also shows that the reality of Divine Oneness (tawḥīd) was not yet firmly established in their hearts and they were inclined to worship “other than Allah” (ghayr Allāh) (Qushayrī, Tafsīr).

This was followed by the incident of their worshipping of the Calf made by al-Sāmirī  which they took as their deity (Zajjāj, Maʿānī; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 7:148; Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:54). (For details, see Calf of Children of Isrāʾīl).

iii. Killing of the Prophets

And We declared to the Children of Isrāʾīl in the Book: ‘Verily, twice you will cause corruption in the land and will commit great transgression. So, when the time for the first of the two arrived, We raised against you some of Our slaves, who were great in might, and they ravaged your land. This was a promise that was bound to be fulfilled. Then We granted you an upper hand against them, and strengthened you with wealth and children, and multiplied your numbers. If you do good, you do so for your own self, and if you do evil, that is for your own self as well. For when the time for the second promise comes, they will disfigure your faces and enter the Masjid as they had entered the first time, and utterly destroy whatever they come upon. Maybe your Lord will have mercy on you, but if you revert, We will revert. And We have made hell a prison for the faithless. (Q 17:4-8)

The corruption (fasād) mentioned in the passage is explained in the commentaries as the killing of two prophets, Zakariyyā  and Yaḥyā, upon them both peace (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; also see Makkī, Hidāya); or that of Zakariyyā and Shiʿyā [b. Aṣfiyā] (Māwardī,  Nukat; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Abū al-Barakāt ʿAbd Allāh b. Aḥmad b. Maḥmūd al-Nasafī (d. 710/1310) says the first mischief was the killing of Zakariyyā and the imprisonment of Irmiyāʾ (Jeremiah; with various vowelling: Armiyā, Mujāhid, Baghawī, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs, sub 2:259), and the second was the killing of Yaḥyā b. Zakariyyā and their plan to kill ʿĪsā (Tafsīr; see also Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). Al-Bayḍāwī counts the killing of Shiʿyāʾ (or Irmiyāʾ) as the first mischief and the killing of Zakariyyā and Yaḥyā’ as the second mischief; “and they also intended to kill ʿĪsā” (Tafsīr, sub Q 17:4). The punishment mentioned for the two mischiefs is variously understood by the exegetes: Wahb b. Munabbih (d. ca.109/728) is quoted as saying that for killing Zakariyyā, Allah Most High sent Sābūr Dhū-l-Aktāf—a king from among the kings of the Persians—to lay waste the Children of Isrāʾīl. For their killing of Yaḥyā b. Zakriyyā, Allah Most High sent Bukhtanaṣṣar (Nebuchadnezzar II) against them (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Abū al-Suʿūd Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Muṣṭafā al-ʿAmādī (d. 982/1574) says, “Allah sent His created slaves who possessed great military might and strength, [who fought under] Sanḥārīb (Sennacherib), Bukhtanaṣṣar or Jālūt” (Irshād, sub Q 17:5). Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq b. Ghālib Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. ca.542/1147) summarizes various opinions:

The implication of these verses is that Allah Most High informed the Children of Isrāʾīl in the Torah that there would occur on their part disobedience (ʿiṣyān), oppression (ṭughyān) and ingratitude for the blessings of Allah—such as [His sending of the] Prophets and Books to them—and [as a result] He will send against them a nation that will subdue, kill, and humiliate them. Then He will have mercy upon them and give them back a victorious life and restore their previous status. Then, once again, disobedience, ingratitude, sinning, killing, and disbelief in Allah will occur on their part, and Allah will, once again, send against them another nation that would destroy their houses, annihilate them and force them to excruciating exile; and it is said that between the two occasions, there would be two hundred and twenty years, during which prophets would keep coming to them; it is also said that there would be only seventy years. (Muḥarrar, sub Q 17:4)

Ibn ʿĀshūr is more specific: “The first event resulted in the Babylonian captivity when Bukhtanaṣṣar, the king of Bābil and Āshūr conquered Jerusalem and deported the Children of Isrāʾīl and imprisoned others, while the second event resulted in the conquest by the Byzantine Empire” (Tafsīr).

Eight other verses (Q 2:61, 87, 91; Q 3:21, 112, 181; 4:155; 5:70) mention the killing of the Prophets by the Children of Isrāʾīl. Certain Jews of Madina also tried to kill the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. According to the majority of exegetes, Q 5:11 is a reference to this attempt at the time when the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, had gone to visit the Jewish tribe of Banū al-Naḍīr in Madina with some of his close Companions in order to seek their assistance in paying the bloodmoney (diya) for two men who had been killed by mistake. The Jews plotted to kill him, “saying to each other, ‘you will never find Muḥammad so close to you as he is now’” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Wāḥidī, Asbāb). The Prophet was informed by Jibrīl, upon him peace, and he left the place. Q 5:11 was revealed in this connection: O you who believe! Remember the blessing of Allah upon you, when a people were prepared to stretch forth their hands against you, but He withheld their hands from you. Be conscious of Allah and in Allah let the believers trust. (See Tafsīrs of Qurṭubī, Samarqandī, Rāzī, Ibn Kathīr; Wāḥidī, Asbāb; also see below section on Jews of Madina.)

iv. Their claim, “We slew the Messiah, ʿIsā, son of Maryam, the Messenger of Allah

The claim of the Children of Isrāʾīl to have killed ʿĪsā, upon him be peace, is emphatically denied: And because of their saying, ‘We slew the Messiah, ʿĪsā, the son of Maryam, the messenger of Allah; and they slew him not, nor did they crucify him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt about it; they have no knowledge thereof; they only follow their conjecture; indeed, they slew him not for certain, but Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise. “They wished and plotted to kill him, making great efforts to achieve this, but, undoubtedly, this is absolute unbelief…The Jews disbelieved in ʿĪsā and they were his enemies, they intended to kill him; they called him a magician (al-sāḥir), the son of a magician woman (ibn al-sāḥira)” (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:157).

v. Their tremendous calumny against Maryam

The verse mentioning this calumny (Q 4:156) appears at the end of a passage that enumerates several other transgressions committed by the Children of Isrāʾīl:

The People of the Book demand from you that you bring down a book from the Heaven; indeed, they had asked a greater thing of Mūsā, for they said, ‘Show us Allah openly,’ whereupon the thunderbolt seized them for their wrongdoing. Then they took the Calf, even after clear proofs had come to them; yet, We pardoned this and We gave Mūsā a manifest authority. And We raised the Mount over them by their Covenant, and We said to them, ‘Enter the gate, prostrating,’ and We said to them, ‘Do not transgress the Sabbath.’ And We made with them a solemn Covenant. Then for their breaking of the Covenant, and their disbelief in the signs of Allah, and their slaying of the prophets without right, and their saying, ‘Our hearts are enclosed,’—Nay! Rather, Allah has set a seal upon them for their disbelief, so they believe not, save a few—and for their disbelief, and their uttering against Maryam a tremendous calumny. (Q 4:153-156)

This accusation is also alluded to in Sūra Maryam (Q 19), when Maryam, upon her peace, returns to her people carrying baby ʿĪsā, to whom she gave birth far away from them, they say, O sister of Hārūn, Your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother unchaste (Q 19:28). Divinely instructed, Maryam, upon her peace, points to the baby and they say, how can we speak to a child in the cradle? At this point, ʿĪsā, upon him be peace, speaks to them (Q 19:28-33). Their accusation against her was in fact due to their disbelief in the Absolute Divine Power of creation, for “by this statement they denied Allah’s all-embracing ability to create a child without a father” (Rāzī, Tafsīr) and  “whoever denies the Absolute Power of Allah (qudrat Allāh) is a disbeliever” (Khāzin, Tafsīr). According to scholarly consensus, ultimately based on reports from Ibn ʿAbbās, it was the false charge of adultery (zinā; see Adultery and Fornication; Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Samʿānī, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 4:156).

vi. Hesitation to sacrifice a cow

As per exegetical explanations of the passage Q 2:67-73, which mentions this incident, a man was killed among the Children of Isrāʾīl and his body was placed before the door of someone else’s house. They [the Jews] were confused and differed in identifying the killer. Then Allah Most High ordered His Prophet Mūsā [to command them] to slaughter a cow (Q 2:67) and strike the deceased with a part of the slaughtered cow (Q 2:73); the dead man would be revived and reveal the name of the killer (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Tafsīrs of Rāzī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 2:67-73). Prophet Mūsā informed the Children of Isrāʾīl, Allah commands you to slaughter a cow. They responded, are you mocking us? Mūsā, upon him be peace, replied, I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant. They then asked a series of questions about the nature of the cow to be slaughtered. Finally they slaughtered her, but they almost did not. Al-Thaʿālibī says the response of the Children of Isrāʾīl to Mūsā (are you mocking us?) is “a clear sign of the corruption of their belief (fasādu iʿtiqād) in Mūsā” (Jawāhir, sub Q 2:67). This verse is indicative of their “breaking of the covenant, for they disobeyed their prophet” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:67).

vii. Refusal to fight against the jabbārīn

After the drowning of the Pharaoh, the Children of Isrāʾil were commanded to “enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you, and do not turn back or you will be losers.” They said, “O Mūsā, indeed therein are people of tyrannical strength (qawman jabbārīna), and indeed, we will never enter it until they leave it; but if they leave it, then we shall enter” (Q 5:21-22). The phrase a people of tyrannical strength is generally explained as “tall people, with exceptional physical power; they were the descendants of ʿĀd, and are referred to as ʿamāliqa (giants)” (Baghawī, Tafsīr; Wāḥidī, Wajīz). According to the broad consensus of the exegetes, the twelve representatives (nuqabāʾ) of the twelve tribes (asbāṭ) of Banū Isrāʾīl went on a reconnaissance trip where they saw these mighty people (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Māwardī, Nukat). They returned and told their tribes what they had seen, even though Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace, had commanded them not to tell people anything. Thus they violated the promise, except for Kālib b. Yūfinā, from the tribe of Yahūdhā and Yūshaʿ b. Nūn from the tribe of Ifrāthīm / Afrāʾīm b. Yūsuf. These two are the referrants in Q 5:23, who feared [their Lord] and whom Allah had blessed, said, “Enter upon them by the gate, for once you have entered it, you will be victors. And trust in Allah, if you are believers (Q 5:23) (Baghawī, Tafsīr; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ).

The majority of the Children of Isrāʾīl, however, refused to follow the command, and instead, They said: O Mūsā! Never shall we enter it so long as they remain therein; so, go forth, you and your Rabb, and fight. We shall sit here (Q 5:24). After this response, Prophet Mūsā sought separation from them, saying, My Lord! I have no power over anyone save myself and my brother; so separate us from the iniquitous people!” (Q 5:25). Their response is understood as an act of defiance and disobedience. The word Rabb in their statement so, go forth, you and your Rabb, and fight, may refer to Hārūn, because Arabs use the word rabb (lord) for an elder as well as for one having a higher position, as it is used in Indeed he is my master (rabbī), who has made good my residence (Q 12:23) (Samʿānī, Tafsīr; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt). Or it may be a reference to Allah Most High, meaning “your Lord will help and support you” (Abū ʿUbayda, Majāz; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). The outcome of this event was forty years of wandering: He said, “Then verily, it shall be forbidden them for forty years; while they shall wander on earth. So grieve not for the iniquitous people” (Q 5:26).

viii. Substitution of another word for ḥiṭṭa

Two nearly identical passages (Q 2:58-59; 7:161-62) mention the violation of a Divine command, asking the Children of Isrāʾīl to utter a specific word (ḥiṭṭa) while entering the gate of an unspecified city—identified as one of the gates of Jerusalem, “called bāb ḥittā” by Ibn ʿAbbās, Qatāda, and Suddī (d. 127/745), and as “Jericho (Arīḥā), near Jerusalem” by Ibn Zayd (Tabarī, Tafsīr; cf. Sammarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 2:58; also see Tafsīrs of Rāzī and Ibn Kathīr for other identifications): And when We said, “Go into this city and eat freely of that which is therein, from wheresoever you wish, and enter the gate prostrating, and say, ‘ḥiṭṭa’; that We may forgive you your iniquities and We shall increase the virtuous.” But the wrongdoers replaced what they had been told to say with something else and We sent down upon the evil-doers wrath from Heaven for their evil-doing (Q 2:58-59). The word ḥiṭṭa means “ḥuṭṭa ʿannā awzāranā”—‘take down our loads from us’” (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub ḥ-ṭ-ṭ; Mufradāt, sub ḥ-ṭ-ṭ); or “unburden us an unburdening (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). The Children of Isrāʾīl substituted ḥiṭṭa with another word; thus, instead of saying ḥiṭṭa and entering the gate prostrating, they said ḥabbatun fī shaʿra (“a seed on a hair!”) and entered the gate moving on their buttocks (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, wa-qūlū ḥiṭṭa; Muslim, Tafsīr, Q 2:58; cf. Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:58); or they said haṭā simqāthā azba mazba, a Hebrew phrase which in Arabic is ḥabbatu ḥinṭatin ḥamrāʾu mathqūbatun fīhā shaʿra (“red wheat grain in which is a hair”) as per ʿAbd Allāh ibn Masʿūd (d. 32/ca.652) (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ, qawluhu bāb qawlihi ḥiṭṭa; Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Suyūṭī, Durr, sub Q 2:58); or they said ḥinṭa (wheat) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, Q 2:58). Instead of entering the city in humility, seeking forgiveness—as they were commanded—they entered the city mocking the Divine command (Zamkhasharī, Kashshāf). The command is reiterated in Q 4:154, without the mention of prostration.

ix. Rejection of the Heavenly food

The Children of Isrāʾīl asked for the produce of the earth while they were in the desert and complained about having to eat only the heavenly manna and quail, which was given them without any toiling (cf. Tafsīrs of al-Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī; Ibn ʿAṭiyya; Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 2:61). The verse where this rejection of the heavenly food is mentioned also carries a Divine judgment: And when you said, “O Mūsā, we shall not endure one food, so call upon your Lord for us, that He may bring forth for us some of what the earth produces—herbs,  cucumbers, wheat/garlic, lentils, and onions.” He said, “Would you substitute what is meaner for what is better? Go down to any town, and there you will have what you ask for.” Abasement and poverty were imposed on them, and they earned a burden of wrath from Allah. That is because they disbelieved in the signs of Allah, and killed the prophets without right. That is because they disobeyed, and were transgressors (Q 2:61). The word fūm is understood to mean wheat as well as the bread made from it (al-ḥinṭa wal-khubz; Farrāʾ, Maʿānī) by the early exegetes, as per al-Ṭabarī, who cites a narration from Ibn ʿAbbās—who said “fūm is wheat in the dialect of the Banū Hāshim”. It is also the opinion of several other exegetes including ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ, Mujāhid b. Jabr, Abū Mālik, al-Suddī, Qatāda, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, and Ibn Zayd (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Others understand fūm to mean garlic (al-thawm; Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīrs). The word miṣran is understood as “any big city” by most, but Abū al-ʿĀliya (478/1086) and al-Rabīʿ b. Anas (479/1087) held that the miṣran here refers to Egypt; this is based on a rare reading of miṣran as miṣra and other verses (Q 26:57-59; 44:25-28) which state that Allah Most High made the Children of Isrāʾīl inheritors of the lands and gardens of the Egyptians. Al-Ṭabarī, however, rejects the rare reading, because miṣran (any city) is the consensus opinion based on “all the codices that Muslims have and the agreement of the Readers’ recitation, as no one reads it by leaving out the tanwīn (“-an” the nunation; the sign of indefinite accusative case) and by dropping the alif, except for the one whose argument is not permissible in opposition to the overwhelming consensus of the authoritative Readers.” Furthermore, although Allah Most High bequeathed them the gardens and lands previously possessed by the Egyptians, He did not return them to their land; rather, He promised Syro-Palestine (al-Shām) for them (Tafsīr).

x. Haste in committing sin

And you see many of them hastening to commit sin and transgression (yusāriʿūna fī-l-ithm wal-ʿudwān) (Q 5:62). The phrase many of them, by scholarly consensus (Ibn ʿAbbās; Ṭabarī; Nasafī; Bayḍāwī; Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs), is a reference to the Jews. The noun “ithm—sin” in the verse is generally explained as unbelief by the majority (see e.g. Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Makkī, Hidāya). Al-Baghawī, however, understands it more generally as “disobedience towards Allah, and transgression stands for ẓulm—iniquity; or it is said that sin means their concealment of a portion of Torah, and injustice is what they added to it” (Tafsīr). Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī remarks that “musāraʿa—hurrying” is generally used in the Qurʾān in reference to the virtuous deeds; for instance, “they hasten (yusāriʿūna) to do good deeds” (Q 3:114) and “We hasten (nusāriʿu lahum) for them good things” (Q 23:56) and consequently al-ʿajala (which also means hastening) would have been the word here, but Allah Most High uses musāraʿa advantageously (li-fāʾida), because they (the Jews) would embark boldly upon these objectionable acts as if they were on the right way (ka-annahum muḥiqqūna fīhi) (Tafsīr). “Ambitious desires overwhelmed them and carried them away to the labyrinths of pain” (Qushayrī, Tafsīr).

xi. Tansgression of the Sabbath (al-sabt)

The Sabbath, al-sabt in Arabic, from the root s-b-t, is mentioned six times (Q 2:65; 4:47, 154; 7:163; 16:124) as a noun. Observing the Sabbath was made obligatory for the Children of Isrāʾīl (Q 4:154). It was, however, only ordained for those who differed concerning it (Q 16:124)—a verse which is variously understood to mean: “ordained only for the Jews and not for other religious communities, as it was not part of the Law in the religion of Ibrāhīm, upon him peace” (Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 16:124); as a curse for those who differed about it (Samʿānī, Tafsīr); or because they arbitrarily chose its observance and nonobservance (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Zamakhsharī, Rāzī, Ibn Kathīr). Q 7:163 mentions the dwellers of an unspecified town by the sea, who were tested regarding the Sabbath, as fish would surface on their Sabbath and not on other days. The town is identified in the commentaries as Ayla, Midian, or Tiberias and the event is said to have occurred during the time of Prophet Dāwūd, upon him peace (Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Rāzī; Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs). Two verses (Q 2:65; 7:166) specify punishment for transgressing the Sabbath to have been their metamorphosis into apes, “Be you apes, despised”. The transgressors are also referred to in Q 5:60, as those Allah has cursed and upon whom is His Wrath, and among whom He has made some to be apes and swine. The punishment is recalled in Q 4:47, as a warning to the People of the Book, specifically to the Jews of Madina, to believe in what We have sent down, confirming that which is with you, before We blot out faces and turn them backwards, or curse them as We cursed the People of the Sabbath (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Qurtubī).

According to the majority view, the Sabbath transgressors were metamorphed into apes, they survived for three days during which they neither ate nor drank nor produced offsprings (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Rāzī; Qurtubī). Mujāhid b. Jabr, however, denied their physical metamorphosis and said only their hearts metamorphed and their intellects were made like those of apes (or, as per another edition of his Tafsīr, he said, they did not metamorph into apes, but this verse is like Q 62:5, which likens them to an ass bearing books). Ibn Abī Ḥātim and al-Qurṭubī both cite this opinion and al-Qurṭubī calls it a singular opinion, “which no other exegete has, as far as I know, and Allah knows best” (Tafsīr). (For a fuller exposition, see Sabbath.)

xii. Their distortion (taḥrīf) of the Scripture

This is specifically mentioned in five verses (Q 2:59; 3:78; 4:46; 5:13, 14) and, according to exegetical explanations, was done for financial gain, to conceal the places where the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was mentioned in their Books (see Aḥmad, upon him blessings and peace), to alter the legal rulings of the Torah, “like the Law of stoning” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; for this, also see Q 5:15), after taking bribes (Makkī, Hidāya, sub Q 2:75), and it was accomplished by twisting their tongues (Q 3:78), and through false interpretations by their scholars. Al-Baghawī says some Jews who were known to do this included Kaʿb al-Ashraf, Mālik b. al-Ṣayf, Ḥuyayy b. Akhṭab, Abū Yāsir and Shuʿba b. ʿAmr, who with their tongues altered and changed the real content of their Books (Tafsīr, sub Q 3:78) (see Tampering).

xiii. Dsregard of the Book of Allah

The majority of the exegetes take the referent of Q 2:101 to be the Jews: And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah, confirming that which is with them, a group of those who have been given the Scripture cast the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if they knew not (cf. Baghawī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar). Sufyān b. ʿUyayna (107-198/725-814) explains the verse as: “They wrapped [the Torah] in silk (ḥarīr) and brocade (dībāj), and they decorated it with gold and silver, but they did not permit that which is permitted by it and they did not prohibit that which is prohibited by it. This is the meaning of throwing it behind the back” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:101). The same theme occurs in Q 3:187.

xiv. Their demand to see Allah

Q 2:55: And when you said, ‘O Mūsā, we will never believe you until we see Allah outright (jahratan).’ Al-Ṭabarī says they demanded “to see Allah with the eyes (ʿiyānan), without any veil (lā sātir) between us and Him, and no covering should prevent us from seeing Him, and we should look at Him with our eyes (ḥattā nanẓur Ilayhi bi-abṣārinā)” (Tafsīr). This was said either by the seventy men, who accompanied Mūsā to Mount Ṭūr or by the whole nation of the Children of Isrāʾīl, except those whom Allah saved from this sin (Baghawī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Their demand is also recalled in Q 4:153: The People of the Scripture ask you to bring down a Book from the heaven, but they had asked of Mūsā [even] greater than that, saying, ‘Show us Allah outright.’ Al-Rāzī says that when a Book was revealed unto Mūsā, they were not satisfied with this Divine portent; instead, they asked for the vision (al-ruʾya), with their own eyes (al-muʿāyana). This is a proof that their [new] demand for a Book to be sent down is not for seeking guidance, but mere stubbornness (Tafsīr).

xv. Their Reproachable Sayings

(a) “We are the children of Allah and His beloved

Two passages (Q 5:12-30 and 41-86) in Sūrat al-Māʾida (Q 5) mentions a series of transgressions committed by the Children of Isrāʾīl; in some verses Christians and hypocrites are also included. Some of their transgressions appear successively, making a continuous narrative. Q 5:18 includes Christians in their claim: The Jews and the Christians say, ‘We are the children of Allah and His beloved.’ Most commentators take the statement to be metaphorical, as al-Wāḥidī explains: “The Jews believe that Allah, in His affection and sympathy for them, is like a compassionate and kind-hearted father” (Wajīz). Al-Rāzī says that a word is omitted here; what the Jews meant is naḥnu abnāʾ rusuli-Llāhi—we are the sons of Messengers of Allah (Tafsīr); the Jews made this statement, purposefully wanting to omit that element (rasūl // rusul) of the genitive construction (Khāzin, Tafsīr). According to Ibn ʿAbbās, Allah be pleased with him and his father, the Prophet invited some Jews of Madina to Islam, warning them of Divine punishment, but they rejected his invitation, saying, “Why would we fear punishment from Allah? We are the children of Allah and His beloved” (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Zamakhsharī, Rāzī). Their claim is repudiated and they are asked, Why then does He punish you for your sins? Nay, you are but [mortal] humans, from among what He has created. He forgives whomsoever He wills and He punishes whomsoever He wills, and unto Allah belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is in between them; and unto Him is the journey’s end.

(b) “The Hand of Allah is shackled

The Jews say, “The Hand of Allah is shackled.” Shackled are their hands, and they are cursed for what they say. Nay, but His two Hands are outstretched, He bestows as He wills. Surely, what has been sent unto you by your Lord will increase many of them in rebellion and disbelief. And We have cast enmity and hatred among them until the Day of Resurrection. As often as they kindle a flame of war, Allah extinguishes it. They strive to work corruption on Earth and Allah loves not the workers of corruption. (Q 5:64)

The verse contains a strong reproach for the Jews for their “insolence and recklessness toward their Lord, by describing Him in such an inappropriate manner” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). “Shackled and outspread hands,” says al-Zamakhsharī, “are metaphors for stinginess and generosity, like His Words, And do not make your hand shackled to your neck (Q 17:29)”  (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). Other commentators, relating from Ibn ʿAbbās, ʿIkrima, al-Ḍaḥḥāk, and Qatāda, mention that Allah Most High was generous with the Jews, giving them all kinds of good things and making some of them the wealthiest men. But when they disbelieved in Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, and denied his message and belied him, Allah held back from them what He had bestowed upon them previously; and this is why Finḥāṣ b. ʿĀzūrāʾ said the hand of Allah is shackled (Zamakhsharī, Rāzī, Baghawī, Tafsīrs). Al-Rāzī says: When the Jews saw the extreme poverty of some Companions of the Prophet (q.v.), they said by way of mockery and ridicule that the God of Muḥammad is poor; His hands are shackled (Tafsīr).

(c)  Allah is poor

This statement is quoted verbatim in Q 3:181: Allah has certainly heard the words of those who said, ‘Allah is poor and we are rich.’ We shall record what they said, and their slaying of the prophets without right, and We shall say, ‘Taste the punishment of the burning.’ Al-Ṭabarī and al-Wāḥidī both provide the following occasion of revelation (q.v.) for the verse on the authority of ʿIkrima and al-Suddī, according to which the statement was uttered by Finḥāṣ b. ʿĀzūrā [al-Baghawī gives the name as ʿĀzūrāʾ], who was one of the erudite scholars of the Madinan Jews to Abū Bakr, who hit him and said, “By the One in whose Hand is my soul, if there were no treaty between us and you, I would have cut your throat, O enemy of Allah.” Thereafter, Finḥāṣ went to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and said to him, “O Muḥammad! Look at what your Companion has done.”  The Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said to Abū Bakr, “What made you do what you did?” He said, “O Messenger of Allah, verily the enemy of Allah uttered calumnious words (qawlan ʿaẓima) and he claimed that Allah is poor and they were rich. I became angry for the sake of Allah and I struck his face.” But Finḥāṣ denied this account. Thereafter, Allah Most High revealed, Allah has certainly heard the saying of those who said, ‘Indeed, Allah is poor, while we are rich,’ refutating Finḥāṣ’ claim and corroborating the words of Abū Bakr (Asbāb, sub Q 3:181; see also, Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Baghawī).

(d) We hear and disobey

And when We made a Covenant with you and raised the Mount over you, “Take hold of what We have given you with strength, and listen.” They said, “We hear and disobey,” and they were made to drink the calf into their hearts because of their disbelief. Say, “Evil is that which your belief enjoins upon you, if you are believers.” Zayn al-Islām Abū al-Qāsim ʿAbd al-Karīm b. Hawāzin b. ʿAbd al-Mālik al-Naysābūrī al-Qushayrī (376-465/ca.986-ca.1073) comments, “As if no counsel was beneficial for them, no punishment deterred them from their disobediences, and they paid no heed to any reprimand; and they did not act according what was required” (Tafsīr). “The meaning of listen in the verse, al-Ṭabarī explains, “is to pay heed to what is being commanded, and accept it in full obedience, obey and act upon it” (Tafsīr). “Some scholars hold that they uttered we hear and disobey in reality, an exaggerated statement reflecting their stubbornness and offense; others hold that this is a metaphorical construction and they did not actually pronounce these words, but their actions amounted to saying it” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar). The commentators explain that wa ushribū fī qulūbihim al-ʿijla bi-kufrihim (lit. “and their hearts were made to drink the Calf due to their disbelief”) is “a metaphorical statement (tashbīh wa majāz), indicating that the matter of the Calf had lodged itself in their hearts” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar); it indicates “the love of the Calf” that had taken hold of their hearts (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). Whosoever is an enemy of Jibrīl,  he it is who sent it down upon thy heart by the command of Allah, confirming that which was there before, and as a guidance and glad tiding for the believers (Q 2:97).

xvi.Their claim to be the exclusive friends of Allah

Say, O you who are Jews! If you claim that you are the close friends of Allah, to the exclusion of other people, then long for death if you are truthful” (Q 62:6). In response, they are challenged to long for death, since “Allah does not punish His special friends (awliyāʾ); rather, He honors them (yukrimuhum), and bestowed blessings upon them. So, if you are truthful in your claim, then long for death so that you can find ease from the sorrow of this world (karb al-dunyā), its anxieties (humūmihā), and its distresses (ghumūmihā), and so that you can reach the delights of the Gardens (rawḥ al-jinān) and its blessings through death” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Q 62:7-8 asserts that they will never long for death, because of what their hands have put forth; and Allah knows the wrongdoers. Yet, despite their running away from it, death will certainly take over and they will be returned to the Knower of the Unseen and seen, and He will inform you of that which you used to do. A similar rebuke is given in Q 2:94: If the abode of the Hereafter with Allah is for you alone, to the exclusion of other people, then wish for death, if you are truthful. For anyone who believes that he belongs to the People of Paradise, death should be more beloved to him than life (Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 2:94). But they will never long for it, because of what they have sent ahead, and Allah knows the wrongdoers. You will find them the most covetous of people for life, even more than the idolaters; each one of them would wish to live a thousand years, although that would not remove him from the punishment. And Allah sees whatsoever they do (Q 2:95-96).

xvii. Usury

Q 4:161 censures those Jews who engage in taking usury, a practice that is denounced in the Qurʾān (cf. 2:275-79; 3:130; 30:39), and that was also prohibited for them. The verse also censures devouring others’ wealth falsely. Exegetes say that this refers to the practice of some Jewish rabbis and Christian monks (Q 9:34) who would accept bribes for legal decisions and distort religion through their writings, which they claimed to be Divine writ (Makkī, Hidāya; Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:161).

xviii. Their dispute about Ibrāhīm, upon him peace

Jews and Christians both claimed special status with Allah (Q 2:111-13; 5:18; 62:6) as well as with the Friend of Allah—Ibrāhīm, upon him be peace (cf. Q 4:125: And who is better in religion than the one who submits his face to Allah, is virtuous, and follows the religion of Ibrāhīm as a ḥanīf? And Allah took Ibrāhīm as his intimate friend). The Children of Isrāʾīl claimed this special status due to their genealogical descent from Ibrāhīm, through Isḥāq and Yaʿqūb, upon them all peace. Several commentators report the saying of Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him and his father both, who said, “the Jews say, ‘we are the children of Ibrāhīm’” (cf. Tafsīrs of Samarqandī, sub Q 7:163; Baghawī, sub  Q 3:33; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, sub Q 62:6). They trace this claim variously to incidents involving the Jews of Madina. The Qurʾān denies the Jewish claim of a special status with Allah and His intimate Friend, for Ibrāhīm was neither a Jew nor a Christian and the Torah and Injīl were not sent down but after him (Q 3:65-67). Al-Rāzī says, “The Jews claimed that Ibrāhīm was upon their religion and the Christians claimed that he was upon their religion. Allah has discredited these claims (fa-abṭala-Llāhu ʿalayhim dhālika), for the Torah and Injīl were not sent down but after him; so how can anyone consider [Ibrāhīm] to be a Jew or Christian?” He then entertains an objection: one may argue that you cannot also claim him to be a Muslim, for Islam was not sent down but a long time after him. If you respond by saying that what you really mean is that he adhered to the principles of Islam, then the Jews and the Christians can claim likewise. Al-Rāzī’s answer is that “the Qurʾān informs us that Ibrāhīm was a Muslim and a ḥanīf [cf. Q 2:135; 3:67, 95; 6:161; 16:120, 123; 22:78], whereas the Torah and the Injīl do not say that he was a Jew or a Christian” (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:65).

xix. Their preference to go astray

By the consensus of the exegetes, Jews—and more specifically the Jews of Madina—are the referent in Q 4:44, which begins a passage listing several other transgressions, including their “purchase of misguidance”:  Have you not seen those who were given a portion of the Book, but who purchase misguidance (al-ḍalāla), and wish that you should stray from the Path?” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Baghawī restricts the scope of the referent in this verse to the Jews of Madina, Tafsīr). Makkī explains the phrase purchase misguidance by saying: “they prefer choosing the way that misleads, instead of choosing the path of Divine guidance (al-hudā)” (Hidāya). This is understood as a reference to their replacing true belief with erroneous ways and rejection the Prophet Muḥammad (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Rāzī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 4:44). Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī explains that the verb purchase here means “to prefer”: “The verse contains an ellipsis (iḍmār); the implication is that they buy erring by selling guidance, as in [Q 2:16], It is they who have purchased misguidance [in exchange] for guidance; [their commerce has not brought them profit; and they are not rightly guided]” (Tafsīr, sub Q 4:44; see Buying and Selling).

xx. Belief in jibt and ṭāghūt

Q 4:51 reads: Have you not seen those who were given a portion of the Scripture, who believe in al-jibt and al-ṭāghūt, and they say about the disbelievers, “They are better guided than the believers.” Ibn al-Jawzī mentions four possible occasions of relevation (asbāb al-nuzūl) of this verse, revolving around Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf or Ḥuyayy b. Akhṭab, or both of them together, or involving other Jews. The Jews went to the Quraysh, who asked them if their religion was better or that of Muḥammad. The Jews replied that Quraysh’s religion is superior (Zād). Al-Wāḥidī provides a more detailed account: “Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf went with seventy Jews to Makka to create an alliance between Quraysh and the Jews of Madina. He was welcomed in the house of Abū Sufyān. The people of Makka said to him: You are people of the Book (ahl kitāb) and Muḥammad [also] possesses a Book (ṣāḥib kitāb). And we fear that this proposal is only an artifice on your part. If you wish the pact then prostrate yourself to these two idols. He [Kaʿb] did so and believed in these two [idols]. This is what is referred to by His Words, who believe in al-jibt and al-ṭāghūt” (Asbāb). Exegetes give different explanations for the two nouns; al-jibt is defined as something containing no good (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub j-b-t); it is an Arabicized word (kalima dakhīla), for the stem j-b-t is not known in Arabic—originally it was jibs (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr); it means sorcery and sorcerer (siḥr and sāḥir), idols in general (al-aṣnām), or the devil—al-shayṭān (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Al-ṭāghūt is a collective noun for everything that is worshipped besides Allah (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṭ-gh-y); or the devil itself, or a sorcerer or kāhin (the soothsayer, or the Jewish priest; cf. the Hebrew word kohen, in the sense of priest) (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Abū ʿUbayda Maʿmar b. al-Muthannā al-Taymī (110-209/708-829) says that “jibt and ṭāghūt together mean everything worshipped [besides Allah], be it a stone or earth (madar) or a picture or the devil” (Majāz). Al-Ṭabarī holds that jibt is used to denote idols (al-aṣnām) in general, while ṭāghūt means tarājimat al-aṣnām, those soothsayer-priests who interpret the words of the idols and convey them to the audience, telling them lies so as to lead them astray. He adds: “some hold that jibt is the kāhin while ṭāghūt refers to a Jewish man called Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf who was the leader of the Jews” (Tafsīr). Makkī b. Abī Ṭālib mentions on the outhority of Ibn ʿAbbās that in this specific verse, al-jibt refers to Ḥuyayy b. Akhṭab and ṭāghūt refers to Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf (Hidāya; cf. Ṭabarī, Samʿānī, Tafsīr;Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt), to whom the Jews often turned for advice; they are called by these two names because they always strove to seduce others (ighwāʾ al-nās) and lead them astray (Rāzī, Tafsīr;). Al-Qurṭubī also cites Ibn Masʿūd, who said that jibt refers to Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf and ṭāghūt refers to Ḥuyayy (Tafsīr). Despite differing on the details, exegetes agree that this verse refers to a specific group of Jews (Thaʿālibī, Jawāhir).

xxi. Spreading corruption and wishing war

Q 5:64 criticizes the Jews for wishing war: As often as they kindle a flame of war, Allah extinguishes it. They strive to work corruption on Earth, and Allah loves not the workers of corruption. This is understood by many commentators to refer to the Jews of Madina specifically, and Jews throughout their history more generally. Their corruption means that they strive to defeat Islam and attempt to erase the mention of the name of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, from their books (Wāḥidī, Wajīz). Al-Baghawī says, “Allah made them differ [amongst themselves] in their religion…they spread corruption by violating the Laws of Torah…Allah empowered Bukhtunaṣṣar over them; then they spread corruption once again, and Allah sent the Romans and Byzantines against them; then they spread corruption once again, and Allah empowered the Majūs [Zoroastrians] over them; then they spread corruption once again, and Allah sent Muslims against them” (Tafsīr).

xxii. Denial of the Prophethood of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace

Most of the Jews who were contemporaneous with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, denied his prophethood even though they find him inscribed in the Torah and the Injīl that is with them (Q 7:157), and should have recognized him as they recognize their children, as per one explanation of Q 2:146, those unto whom We have given the Book recognize him/it as they recognize their children, but a group of them knowingly conceal the Truth. The Truth is from your Lord; so be not among the doubters, which may also refer to their recognition of the direction of the qibla, or to both (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Samʿānī; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr; Māwardī, Nukat; Samarqandī, Baḥr). ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām—the Jewish rabbi who became an erudite Companion of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said similar words: “Indeed, I recognize him even more than I recognize my children” (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Samarqandī, Baḥr). The recognition of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, is particularly incumbent on the rabbis (aḥbār al-yahūd) and the monks of the Christians (cf. Ṭabarī; Baghawī, Tafsīrs; Makkī, Hidāya; Wāḥidī, Wajīz), but they “conceal all that is found in their books” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). “The scholars of the Jews and Christians had two vocations (ḥirfatān): They disbelieved in Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, although, they knew in their hearts that he is truly a Messenger sent by Allah Most High—and Allah prohibits this activity in the first verse [meaning Q 3:70]. Their second vocation is to excel in spreading doubts (fī ilqāʾ al-shubuhāt) and in concealing arguments, evidence, and clear proofs (fī ikhfāʾ al-dalāʾil wal-bayyināt); and Allah Most High prohibited this kind of activity in the second verse.” (Tafsīr, sub Q 3:71).

Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, said, Q 2:6, Indeed, those who disbelieve—it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them—they will not believe, was “sent down concerning the Jews of Madina at the time of the Messenger of Allah and it rebukes them for their disavowal of the prophethood of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, and their accusing him of lying, even though they knew him and had knowledge that he was the Messenger of Allah to them and to all people (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Makkī b. Abī Ṭālib says Q 3:99 (Say: O People of the Book! Why do you avert (limā taṣuddūna) those who believe from the Way of Allah, seeking to make it crooked while you are witnesses. And Allah is not unaware of what you do) addresses the Jews and Christians and the meaning of averting from the Way of Allah is their denial of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, and all that he brought of religion (Hidāya; cf. Samarqandī, Tafsīr). This averting from the Way of Allah was realized by belying the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, through their claim that his description is not found in their books (Wāḥidī, Wajīz). Al-Māwardī also situates the verse in the context of Madina and says, “diverting others means their inciting (al-ighrāʾ) the tribes of al-Aws and al-Khazraj so that they began to remember wars of the Time of Ignorance (al-Jāhiliyya)…and this is a specific act on behalf of the Jews [of Madina]; or it may mean their belying the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and their denial of his unquestionable references in their Books” (Nukat).

Ibn ʿAbbās said Q 2:97 (Whosoever is an enemy of Jibrīl, then he is who sent it down upon your heart by the command of Allah, confirming that which was there before, and as a guidance and glad tiding for the believers) was revealed when some Jews came to the Prophet and asked him who brings revelation to him. When he said Jibrīl, they said, had it been Mīkāʾīl, we would have followed you, because the latter is the angel of rain and mercy and Jibrīl brings down war and death and he is our enemy (Wāḥidī, Asbāb, sub Q 2:97). Another account states that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, (d. 23/644), Allah be pleased with him, asked certain Jews why they did not believe in the Prophet, and they said, “Jibrīl is our enemy because instead of us, he gave the prophethood to others” (Wāḥidī, Asbāb, sub Q 2:97; Samarqandī, Baḥr).

xxiii. Believing at the beginning of the day and disbelieving at its end

Q 3:72 reads: And a group of the People of the Book says, ‘Believe in what was sent down unto those who believe at the start of the day and disbelieve at tis end, that haply they may return.’ The exegetes understand this to refer to some of the Jews of Madina (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Baghawī, Ibn Kathīr; Wāḥidī, Wajīz). Ibn al-Jawzī and al-Wāḥidī identify a group of twelve rabbis, who said to one another, let us embrace the religion of Muḥammad in the morning verbally, and disbelieve in him in the evening, and say, “Verily, we have studied our books and discussed the matter with our scholars and we have realized that Muḥammad is not mentioned in [our revealed Book]; maybe his Companions will desist and doubt their belief [in the veracity of Islam]” (Zād; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Baghawī, Tafsīr). Many early exegetes, including Ibn ʿAbbās, Mujāhid b. Jabr, and Muqātil b. Sulaymān al-Balkhī, attribute this statement to the Jews of Madina or to the Jews of Khaybar, who attempted to misguide the weak believers at the time when the direction of the prayer was changed from Jerusalem toward the Kaʿba in Makka (cf. Q 2:144). They said, let us take this directive during the day, but return to our direction in the evening, and it may happen that some Muslims would say, ‘Those are the People of the Book and they know better” (Baghawī, Tafsīr).

xxiv. Wishing to turn Muslims back to disbelief

The desire of the People of the Book to turn the believers back to disbelief is mentioned in Q 2:109 and Q 3:100. Q 2:109 reads: Many of the People of the Book wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy in their souls, even after truth has become clear to them. So pardon and forbear, until Allah comes with His command; truly, Allah is Powerful over all things. Al-Ṭabarī and several other commentators specify the Jewish poet Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf—whose poetry ridiculed the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and who incited Muslims to turn back on their belief—as the special referent of this verse; others cite a report from Ibn ʿAbbās, who said that the verse was revealed after the Battle of Uḥud (3/625), when a group of Jews said to the Muslims, “How do you evaluate what has hit you recently? If you had been following the Truth you would not have been defeated. So turn back to our religion—it is much better for you” (Tafsīrs of Samarqandī; Ibn Abī Hātim, Qurṭubī; Makkī, Hidāya; Wāḥidī, Asbāb, sub Q 2:109).

Q 3:72 states, And a group of the People of the Book says, ‘Believe in what was sent down unto those who believe at the start of the day and disbelieve at tis end, that haply they may return.’ The exegetes understand this to refer to some of the Jews of Madina (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Baghawī, Ibn Kathīr; Wāḥidī, Wajīz). Abū al-Faraj Jamāl al-Dīn Ibn al-Jawzī al-Qurashī al-Baghdādī (510-597/ca.1116-1200) and al-Wāḥidī both say a group of twelve rabbis conspired to use this stratagem to mislead Muslims. They planned to announce their belief in the Prophet in the morning and repudiate it in the evenin and say, “Verily, we have studied our books and discussed the matter with our scholars and we have realized that Muḥammad is not mentioned in [our Book]; maybe his Companions will doubt their faith and will say, they are the People of the Book and they know better than us” (Zād; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Baghawī, Tafsīr).

xxv. Their hostility toward Believers

In Q 5:82, their hostility toward believers is likened to the hostility of the polytheists: You will surely find the most hostile of men toward those who believe to be the Jews and those who ascribe partners unto Allah, and you will find the nearest of them in affection toward those who believe to be those who say, “We are naṣārā (Christians)”; that is because among them are priests and monks, and because they are not arrogant. Al-Rāzī notes that Allah brackets the Jews with the polytheists because they were extremely hostile (fī ghāyat al-ʿadāwa) to Muslims; moreover, the fact that Allah mentions them first, before the polytheists, suggests that they are even more hostile than the polytheists. Al-Rāzī goes on to explain that this verse is intended to relieve the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, of his distress over the Jews’ hostility; Allah is clarifying that their rebellion (tamarrud) and disobedience (maʿṣiya) is nothing new, but part of their history of rejecting their own prophets as well. Even though, from the creedal perspective, the disbelief of the Christians is more offensive (aghlaẓ) than that of the Jews, because Christians dispute the truth in both theology (ilāhiyyāt) and prophetology (nubuwwāt), while the Jews dispute only with regard to prophetology, yet, despite their gross disbelief, the Christians tend to “turn away from the world, focus on worship and they do not have yearning for leadership, pride (takabbur), or haughtiness (taraffuʿ)…. On the other hand, despite their disbelief being lighter (akhaff), the Jews are characterized by their intense greed for this world (bil-ḥirṣ al-shadīd), which is the well-spring of all blameworthy traits, for whosoever is excessive in his pursuit of the world abandons his religion in pursuit of the world and engages in all kinds of  prohibited (maḥẓūr) and abominable (munkar) things (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:82). 


Muslims and the Torah

Abū Hurayra, Allah be well-pleased with him, said, “The People of the Book used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and explain it to Muslims in Arabic. The Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said to them, ‘Neither verify nor deny what the People of the Book say; rather say, We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us (2:136)’” (Bukhārī, al-Iʿtiṣām bil-kitāb wal-sunna, qawl al-Nabī ṣallā-Llāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam “lā tasʾalū ahl al-kitāb ʿan shayʾ”). Aḥmad b. ʿAlī Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (773-852/1371-1449) says, “[in this ḥadīth,] the People of the Book refers to the Jews, but the ruling is general, thus, it also also applies to the Christians” (Fatḥ, 9:111). Al-Bukhārī also cites the saying of Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, who said, “O Muslims! How do you ask the People of the Scripture, while your Book—revealed to His Prophet—is the most recent news from Allah (akhbār bi-Llāhi) and you recite it, the Book that has not been distorted; and Allah has revealed to you that the People of the Scripture have changed with their own hands what was revealed to them and they say, ‘This is from Allah,’ in order to get some worldly benefit thereby. Is not the knowledge revealed to you sufficient to prevent you from asking them? By Allah I have never seen any one of them asking (Muslims) about what has been revealed to you” (Bukhārī, al-Shahādāt, lā yusʾalu ahl al-shirk ʿan al-shahādati wa ghayrihā).

In a related ḥadīth, narrated by Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh, an incident is mentioned which emphasizes the same point: “ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb came to the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, with a book he had obtained from some of the People of the Book. He read it to the Prophet, who became angry, and he said, ‘Are you hesitant regarding it O son of Al-Khaṭṭāb? By the One in whose Hand is my soul, I have certainly been sent with that which is pure and clear proof. Do not ask them [the People of the Book] about anything, for they may inform you of something which is true and you may reject it; or they may inform you of something which is false and you may believe it. By the One in whose Hand is my soul, even if Mūsā was alive, he would have no choice but to follow me’” (Aḥmad, Musnad, Musnad al-Mukthirīn min al-ṣaḥāba, Musnad Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh, 23:349 § 15156; al-Bayhaqī, Shuʿab, 1:347 §175). In religious matters, the Prophetic instructions to Muslims unambiguously forbid any imitation or borrowing from others (“Whoever imitates a people is one of them”, Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, Libās, fī lubs al-shuhra; Aḥmad, Musnad, 9:127 § 5116; al-Ṭabarānī, Musnad al-Shāmiyyīn, 3:94 §1862).


The Jews of Madina and their interactions with the Prophet and Muslims

The three Madinan Jewish tribes—Banū Qaynuqāʿ, Banū al-Naḍīr, and Banū Qurayẓa—contemporaneous with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, are not named in the Qurʾān, but they are the direct and implied referrant of many verses. The twenty-four-verse Sūrat al-Ḥashr (Q 59) contains so many direct references to Banū al-Naḍīr that Ibn ʿAbbās used to call it Sūrat Banī al-Naḍīr (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Baghawī, Tafsīr, Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Khāzin, Lubāb, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 59).

The Jewish response to the Qurʾān began while the Prophet was still in Makka. The Quraysh sent al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith and ʿUba b. Abī Muʿīṭ to the Jewish scholars of Madina, whom they held in high esteem because of their religious knowledge, to inquire about the veracity of his prophethood. The Jews advised them to ask the Prophet three questions; if he answered correctly then he is a prophet. The two returned with the questions and the Quraysh asked the Prophet about the youth who had taken refuge in a cave (Q 18:9), Dhūl-Qarnayn (Q 18:83), and about the spirit (al-rūḥ; Q 17:85). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said I will respond tomorrow, but he did not say if Allah so wills (Q 18:23-24) and did not receive revelation for fifteen (or forty, as per Rāzī) days, which made him very sad. Finally Jibrīl, upon him peace, came with Sūrat al-Kahf (Q 18), which responds to the two questions; the response to the question about the spirit is mentioned in Q 17:85 (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 18:5; cf. Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 17:85; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 18:9; Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 19:64; see Cave; People of the Cave; Dhūl-Qarnayn; Spirit).

Some Jews of Madina accepted Islam, these included the most learned rabbi of Banū Qanuqāʿ, al-Ḥuṣayn b. Salām, to whom Prophet gave a new name, ʿAbd Allāh (al-Dhahabī, Siyar, Sīra ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām). His tribe, however, repudiated him. He said to them, “O Jews! Be conscious of Allah. By Allah, apart from Whom there is no other diety, you know for certain that he is the Messenger of Allah and  he has brought a true religion!” They said, “You lie.” (Bukhārī, Manāqib al-Anṣār, hijrat al-Nabī wa aṣḥābih ilā-l-Madīna; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Islam ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām, qawmuhu yukadhdhibūnahu wa lā yattabiʿūnahu.

Upon his arrival in Madina, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, established a formal Treaty with the three Jewish tribes of Madina and a bond of brotherhood (muʾākhāt) between the Madinan Muslims—Banū al-Aws, Banū al-Khazraj, the Anṣār—and the newcomers from Makka, the Muhājirūn. All communities were to jointly defend against outside aggressors, bearing their share of military expenditures and receiving their share of war booty. Yathrib was declared inviolable for all signatories of the Treaty and mutual rights and responsibilities were guaranteed (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, al-Rasūl yuwādiʿ al-Yahūd). The Treaty did not last, however, and soon after the Battle of Badr (2/624), Banū Qaynuqāʿ demonstrated open hostility. When the news of Muslim victory reached them, Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf, their poet, left Madina and took refuge with the disbelievers in Makka, inciting them with his poetry to take revenge. One day, the Prophet admonished them in their market place, saying, “O Jews, Beware of Allah and of that which befell the Quraysh on the Day of Badr. Submit yourselves before the same would reach you. You surely know that I am a Prophet-Messenger (nabiyy mursal) and you find my mention in your Book.” They said: “O Muḥammad, you should not deceive yourself by [what happened when] you met those inexperienced in war. By Allah, if we were to fight you, you would know that we are the men [of war]” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, amr Banī Qaynuqāʿ). Several commentators say that Q 3:12 was revealed in reference to these Jews: Say to those who disbelieve, ‘You shall be overcome and gathered together in Hell—an evil resting place’ (Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs). Banū Qaynuqāʿ were expelled from Madina.

The second tribe to break the treaty was Banū al-Naḍīr. Their expulsion took place after the Battle of Uḥud, fought in 3/625, when they entered into a treaty with the Quraysh against the Madinan Muslim community. Around the same time, some members of this tribe plotted to kill the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, by throwing a stone on his head from top of a house (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 59; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, amr ijlāʾ banī-l-Naḍīr). Banū al-Naḍīr were permitted to carry with them their belongings that could be loaded on a camel (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 59:2). Q 59:2 ascribes their expulsion to Allah Most High: He it is Who expelled those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book. The verses that follow state that whatever befell them and their palm trees, which were cut down during the siege, was by the permission of Allah (Q 59:2-5).

Banū Qurayẓa, the third Jewish tribe of Madina, broke the Treaty in the midst of the Battle of the Trench imposed on Muslims in 5/627 by a ten-thousand-strong army consisting of Makkan disbelievers and their allies, while all able-bodied Muslims were stationed by the trench, which was hurriedly dug around the city to protect it (see Madina; Tribes and Confederates). When the siege of the city prolonged, the disbelieving Confederates secretly plotted an attack from within the city by persuading the Jews to attack Muslims from their side. Muslims found out the secret plot and thwarted it.  The outcome of the Battle of the Trench is mentioned in Q 33:25: And Allah turned back those who disbelieved in their rage; they attained no good. Allah sufficed the believers in Battle; and Allah is Strong, Mighty. The Prophet, with his Companions, had hardly returned to Madina, laid down his arms, and taken a bath, when Jibrīl came, as per the account of his wife, ʿĀʾisha (d. 58/678)—Allah be well-pleased with her—and said, “Have you laid down your arms? By Allah, we [Angels] have not laid them down yet. So set out for them.” The Prophet asked, “Where (are we to fight now)?” Jibrīl said, “Toward this side,” pointing toward Banū Qurayẓa. So the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, went out toward them (Muslim, al-Jihād wal-siyar, bāb jawāz qitāl man naqaḍa-l-ʿahd wa jawāz inzāl ahl al-ḥiṣn ʿalā ḥukm ḥākim ʿadl ahl li-l-ḥukm, Bukhārī, al-Jihād wal-siyar, al-ghusl baʿd al-ḥarb wal-ghubār; Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, Kitāb al-maghāzī, Ghazwat al-Khandaq).

The Prophet sent word to those Muslims who had fought at the battle to rush toward the Banū Qurayẓa and pray the afternoon prayer there. The Muslim siege of Banū Qurayẓa lasted twenty-five days (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, and Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 33:26-27). Finally, Banū Qurayẓa agreed to have the matter decided by Saʿd b. Muʿādh b. al-Nuʿmān b. Imriʾ al-Qays al-Awsī al-Ashhalī (see Dhahabī, Siyar, Juzʾ 1, No. 41), the leader of Banū al-Aws, who were a close ally of Banū Qurayẓa. Saʿd b. Muʿādh, may Allah be pleased with him, was wounded during the Battle of the Trench and he was in Madina at that time. “The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, sent for Saʿd and he arrived, (riding) a mule. When he approached, the Prophet said to the Anṣār, “Stand up for your chief, for the best among you.” Then he said to Saʿd, “These (i.e. Banū Qurayẓa) have agreed to accept your verdict.” Saʿd said, “Kill their warriors and take their offspring as captives.” On that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “You have judged according to Allah’s Judgment,” or, “according to the King’s judgment” (Bukhārī, Kitāb al-jihād wa-l-siyar, bāb idhā nazala-l-ʿaduww ʿalā ḥukm rajul; Muslim, al-Jihād wal-siyar, bāb jawāz qitāl man naqaḍa-l-ʿahd wa jawāz inzāl ahl al-ḥiṣn ʿalā ḥukm ḥākim ʿadl ahl li-l-ḥukm; also see Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 33:26-27; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Taḥkīm Saʿd fī amr Banī Qurayẓa). By the consensus of the exegetes, the “People of the Book” in Q 33:26-27 refer to Banū Qurayẓa who had supported the confederates: And He brought those of the People of the Book who supported them down from their strongholds, and cast terror into their hearts. Some you slew, and some you took captive. And He bequeathed unto you their land, their homes, their property, and a land you have not trodden. And Allah is Powerful over all things.

The last remaining concentration of Jews around Madina in Khaybar fell after the Battle of Khaybar (7/628) with abundant spoils coming into the hands of the Muslims, fulfilling the Divine promise made in Q 48:20: Allah has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture—then He hastened this for you and restrained the people’s hands from you, that it may be a sign for the believers, and that He may guide you upon a straight path. The majority of exegetes gloss abundant spoils as the spoils of Khaybar (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Rāzī, Ibn Kathīr).

These early Jewish responses to the Qurʾān, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and Muslims have paradigmatically influenced Jewish-Muslim relationships throughout the centuries and they continue to have their impact.


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See also

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