Dāwūd, upon him peace

Muzaffar Iqbal and Csaba Okvath

A Prophet sent to the Children of Isrāʾīl  whose lineage makes him a thirteenth-generation descendent from Ibrāhīm, upon him peace: Dāwūd b. (son of) Īshā b. ʿUwayd b. ʿĀmir b. Salamūn b. Naḥshūn b. ʿAwīnādhāb b. Iram b. Ḥaṣrūn b. Fāriḍ b. Yahūdhā b. Yaʿqūb b. Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 1:476; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya 2:12; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil, dhikr mulk Dāwūd, 1:94). Dāwūd is a non-Arabic proper name; the Hebrew original (Dāwid or Dāwīd) means “the beloved” (al-ḥabīb) (Jawālīqī, al-Muʿarrab, 309 §263; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub d-w-d).

Qurʾānic mentions

Dāwūd, upon him be peace, is mentioned by name sixteen times in the Qurʾān; to him was revealed a scripture called Zabūr (see below) (Q 4:163; 17:55; cf. 21:105). Allah Most High bestowed upon him kingship (Q 2:251), knowledge (Q 27:15), guidance (Q 6:84), and wisdom (ḥikma) (Q 2:251 Q 2:251; 38:20; cf. 21:78-80). He is mentioned in the company of ten other Prophets (Q 4:163) and is counted among the virtuous progeny of Nūḥ, upon him be peace (Q 6:84). Mountains and birds were commanded to glorify the Creator with him (Q 21:79; 34:10); iron was made pliable for him, and he was given the knowledge of making coats of mail (Q 21:78-80; 34:10-11). In Q 38:17, the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, is asked to remember Our servant Dāwūd, the possessor of power (dhā-l-ayd), the oft-turning (awwāb) [to Allah]. He was appointed as a vicegerent upon the earth (Q 38:26), a title (khalīfa fī al-arḍ) which the Qur’ān gives only to him and to Ādam, upon him be peace (q.v.). Dāwūd killed Jālūt (Goliath), the Philistine commander who menaced the Children of Isrā’īl (Q 2:251), and was granted kingship following the rule of Ṭālūt (Saul) (Q 2:248-249). Both Dāwūd and ʿĪsā, upon them be peace, cursed disbelieving Israelites (Q 5:78). During his reign, inhabitants of the Israelite town of Ayla (see Yāqūt, Muʿjam) were transformed into apes as punishment for transgressing the divine command not to fish on the Sabbath (Nasafī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:78; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmīl 1:195). He was granted the ability to discern the truth of an address (faṣl al-khiṭāb) in dispensing justice (see below), and was tested in the case of two adversaries who approached him; when he realized his mistake, he repented and Allah forgave him (Q 21:78; 38:20-26). His son and heir Sulaymān was also a Prophet and king who was granted special knowledge (Q 27:15-16; 38:30).

The scripture revealed to him

Three verses (Q 4:163; 17:55; 21:105) mention the revelation of Zabūr to Dāwūd, upon him peace. Commentaries state that it contained praise (taḥmīd), exaltation (tamjīd), and laudation (thanāʾ) of Allah Most High (Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:163), but not laws (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 17:55; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub z-b-r). It had 150 chapters comprising wise admonitions, guidance, and homilies (mawāʿiẓ) (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:163). Commenting on Q 17:55, Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) writes that the granting of the Zabūr to Dāwūd is a sign of his excellence, showing that Allah Most High prefers some Prophets above others; and that the Zabūr contained a reference to the excellence of Muḥammad and his community, as mentioned in Q 21:105, And We have indeed written in the Zabūr, after the Reminder, that My righteous servants shall inherit the earth, where My righteous servants refers to “Muḥammad and his community” (Kashshāf).  Zabūr is often translated as ‘Psalms’, but there is no proof that Zabūr was the Book of Psalms as found in the Hebrew Bible today.

Divine blessings accorded him

Special Knowledge (Q 2:251). He was taught special knowledge by Allah Most High. This included his military proficiency; the fashioning of coats of armor (Q 21:28); his skill in precisely determining the chain-links of the coats of mail (taqdīr al-sard; cf. Q 34:11); as well as his comprehension of the language of birds and beasts, per the exegetical explanation of Q 27:15-16: And surely We gave unto Dāwūd and Sulaymān knowledge. And they said, “Praise be to Allah Who has favored us above many of His believing servants.” Sulaymān inherited from Dāwūd and said, “O humankind, we have been taught the language of the birds, and we have been given of all things. Truly this is manifest bounty!” (Ṭabarī, Samʿānī; Baghawī Tafsīrs; Makkī, Hidāya; Samarqandī, Baḥr)). Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) says that the knowledge granted them was fahm—clear understanding and discernment; their response to this blessing (“Praise be to Allah.”) is proof of the exaltedness of knowledge and the excellence of its possessors (ināfat maḥallih); and it also refers to the merit of those who carry and transmit knowledge, which raises those to whom it is granted in merit and rank over other believing slaves of Allah—Allah will raise in rank those of you who believed and those who were given knowledge (Q 58:11) (Tafsīr).

Iron was made supple for him (Q 34:10). Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), Allah be pleased with him and his father, says iron behaved in his hands as if it were moldable wax (shamʿ); al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21-110/642-728) says it was like dough in his hands, and he could shape it without using fire; al-Suddī (d. 127/745) adds that it was like moist clay; he did not need a hammer to shape it. Muqātil (d. 150/767) says that he was able to finish a whole coat of armor in a few days or nights (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). This ability was granted him as a miracle, as well as a means of livelihood (Qushayrī, Tafsīr). The bounty mentioned in Q 34:10 (And indeed We gave Dāwūd bounty from Us) is described by Ibn ʿĀshūr as his honoring (tashrīf)—much like the provision from Ourselves mentioned in Q 28:57—comprising the divine bounties of prophethood, kingship, his striving to benefit the community, fair judgments, courage in battle, molding iron into coats of armor unaided, revelation of the Zabūr, and his beautiful voice (Tafsīr, sub Q 34:10).

Wisdom, discernment, and eloquence (38:20). He was granted faṣl al-khiṭāb (Q 38:20), a comprehensive expression meaning (i) the capacity to differentiate between true and false speech (Bayḍāwī, Samʿānī); (ii) “eloquent speech and insight in legal judgments (bayān al-kalām wal-baṣr fī-l-qaḍāʾ)—the distinction between truth and falsehood” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz); and (iii) knowledge of judicial law (ʿilm al-qaḍāʾ) and justice in his rulings (ʿIzz al-Dīn, Tafsīr). Ibn Abī Ḥātim al-Rāzī (d. 327/938) includes another aspect of the expression faṣl al-khiṭāb: it refers to ammā baʿd, an expression first used by Dāwūd, upon him peace, marking the transition (faṣl al-khiṭāb, lit. separating the address) from introductory praise of Allah to the substantive content of a written text or speech (Tafsīr).

Vicegerency and kingship upon the earth (Q 38:26). His appointment as a vicegerent is explained by the exegetes as implying that he was the successor of all previous Prophets (Baydāwī, Tafsīr); and as referring to his combined role as prophet and king, since before him, “prophethood (nubuwwa) lay in one tribe (sibṭ) and kingship (mulk) in another; but Allah Most High gave both to Dāwūd, and this alludes to the historical unification of the Kingdom of Isrāʾīl” (Samarqandī, Baḥr). By this appointment, Allah entrusted him with worldly power by which he enjoined good and prohibited wrong (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; see Commanding Good and Forbidding Wrong). Despite being a king, he earned his living by the work of his own hands, for which he is cited as a praiseworthy example in hadiths (see below). Allah Most High strengthened his kingdom, and 33,000 guards protected him day and night (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 38:20).

An excellent, oft-turning servant (Q 38:17). He is called Our servant, possessor of power, oft-turning (ʿabdanā dāwūdā dhā’l-aydi innahu awwāb). “He turned to Allah Most High in all situations…in the case of blessings, by way of gratitude, and in the case of trials, by way of patience” (Qushayrī). Possessor of power refers to his religious knowledge and to his extraordinary ability to worship, for he would stand for one third of the night in prayers and fast every other day; he never turned away from fighting against the enemies of Allah; and he returned to Him in all of his situations (Rāzī; Ibn Kathīr). His son Sulaymān and Prophet Ayyūb, on them be peace, are the only other prophets so described in the Qurʾān (cf. Q 38:30, 44).

Granted a Prophet-King Inheritor. Of all Dāwūd’s children, it was exclusively Sulaymān who inherited from him knowledge, kingdom, and prophethood, according to Qatāda (d. 117/735) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Makkī, Hidāya; Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 38:17). Sulaymān inherited from Dāwūd and said, “O mankind, we have been taught the language of the birds, and we have been given of all things. Truly this is clear bounty!” (Q 27:16). Allah Most High increased this inheritance as Sulaymān asked for a kingdom the like of which none would possess again: He said, “My Lord, forgive me and grant me a kingdom such as will not belong to anyone after me. Indeed, You are the Bestower” (Q 38:35). This is a figurative (tajawwuzan) inheritance, like that in the hadith, “The learned are the heirs of the Prophets” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 27:16; cf. Tirmidhī, Sunan, Abwāb al-ʿilm, mā jāʾa fī faḍl al-fiqh ʿalā al-ʿibāda).

Mountains and birds followed him in glorifying Allah Most High. Four verses (Q 21:79; 27:16; 34:10; 38:19) mention the mountains and birds hymning together with Dāwūd, upon him peace. For example, in Q 34:10 (And indeed We gave Dāwūd bounty from Us: “O mountains, echo praises of Allah (awwibī) with him; you likewise, O birds!”), awwibī is glossed as tasbīḥ (glorification) (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr; Thaʿlabī, Kashf)—an audible glorification, much as He created speech in trees (cf. Q 17:44; 22:18; Bukhārī, Buyūʿ, bāb al-najjār), a miracle (muʿjiza) for Dāwūd, upon him peace (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 34:10). The mountains and birds glorified their Creator with Dāwūd by the divine injunction: Indeed, We subjected the mountains [to praise] with him, exalting [Allah] at eventide and at the break of day. And [so did] the assembled birds: all with him did turn [to Allah] (Q 38:18-19). Ibn ʿAbbās said, “the birds glorified with him when he glorified; when he recited [the Zabūr], there was no beast that did not attend his recitation and did not weep when he wept.” Wahb b. Munabbih (d. ca.109/728) says, “the mountains were commanded sabbiḥī (glorify Him!) and the birds ajībī (respond!); meanwhile he began to recite the Zabūr in his beautiful voice; no one saw a scene more beautiful than that, or heard anything more pleasant than this” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 34:10). Al-Ṭabarī says, “every creature has spirit (rūḥ), and ‘glory be to Allah!’ (subḥān Allāh) is the prayer of all creatures”. He cites the Successor exegete ʿIkrima Mawlā Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 105/723), who said, “the tree glorifies, the pillar glorifies” (Tafsīr, sub Q17:44). Al-Shirbīnī (d. 977/1569) says, “if it be said, ‘how can glorification of Allah Most High come from the birds while they have no intellect?’ I answer, ‘it is not impossible that Allah Most High created intellects for them, and that they recognize (taʿrifa) Allah Most High and thereby glorify Him alongside; and that was a miracle for Dāwūd, upon him peace” (al-Sirāj al-munīr, sub Q 33:72). Elsewhere he refers to Q 17:44, 22:18, and 24:41 and cites “some folk of knowledge have said that Allah Most High endowed them with intellect and understanding (rakkib-Allāhu fī-hinna-l-ʿaql wal-fahm) when He offered them the Trust (amāna, cf. Q 33:72), so that they comprehended the address and they answered what they answered (al-Sirāj al-munīr, sub Q 33:72).

Beautiful voice. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, once heard the recitation of Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī (d. 44/ca.664), and told him, “Only if you had seen me (delighted), as I heard you last night; indeed you have been endowed with a mizmār (lit. flute), from the mazāmīr of family of Dāwūd.” Here mizmār is a metaphor for sweetness of voice (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, bāb al-tarjīʿ; 9:92; Muslim, Ṣalāt al-musāfirīn wa qaṣrihā, istiḥbāb taḥsīn al-ṣawt bil-Qurʾān; Bukhārī, Faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān, ḥusn al-ṣawt bil-qirāʾa lil-Qurʾān; Baghawī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 4:163; Khāzin, Lubāb, sub Q 2:248; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:78-82).

Judgments and Trials

The Qurʾān presents two rulings of Dāwūd. The first passage reads: And Dāwūd and Sulaymān, when they rendered judgment regarding the tillage, when the people’s sheep strayed therein by night. And We were Witness to their judgment. We made Sulaymān to understand it, and to both We gave judgment and knowledge. We compelled the mountains and the birds to glorify along with Dāwūd; We did this (Q 21:78-79). The incident is explained by Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) as involving the destruction of one farmer’s crop by the sheep of another. Dāwūd, upon him be peace, awarded the sheep to the owner of the field as compensation; but the farmer went to Sulaymān, upon him be peace, and informed him of the judgment, whereupon Sulaymān went to Dāwūd, upon them both be peace, and proposed that the owner of the tillage be given the sheep only until the tillage grew back to its previous state; meanwhile, he could benefit from the sheep’s wool and sell their offspring. Dāwūd, upon him be peace, then recognized his son’s greater understanding of the case (Tafsīr).

The second judgment is mentioned in the longest passage concerning Prophet Dāwūd, upon him be peace (Q 38:17-26). It begins by telling the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, to be patient with the disbelievers and to remember Our servant Dāwūd. It then mentions the latter’s high station, before telling of the case of the two litigants who approached him. One of them said: This brother of mine has ninety-nine ewes, and I have one ewe; yet he has said, “Entrust her to me,’ and he has overcome me in speech.” Dāwūd, upon him be peace, decreed that He has indeed wronged you in asking that your ewe be added to his ewes, and went on to say, “Truly many associates transgress against one another, save those who believe and perform righteous deeds; but how few are they!” As soon as he had passed the judgment, however, he realized that We have tested him; so he sought forgiveness from his Lord, fell down kneeling, and repented. Thus We forgave him that. Truly nearness unto Us shall be his, and a goodly return. O Dāwūd, We have appointed you as a vicegerent upon the earth; so judge among people with truth and follow not caprice, lest it lead you astray from the way of Allah. Truly those who stray from the way of Allah, theirs shall be a severe punishment for having forgotten the Day of Reckoning.

The Qurʾān does not provide any details of the case and the exegetes variously explain it. Some relate Israelite accounts in which he fell in love with Batshāyaʿ (Bathsheba) (cf. Muqātil, Tafsīr, sub Q 27: 1-93; 3:300, Ibn ʿAbbās, Tanwīr), wife of Ūriya (Uria) and asked him to divorce her so that he could marry her (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām). In his detailed commentary on the verses, Qāḍī Abū Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 543/1148) says that even though such a request was not unusual or unlawful according to the law and custom of the time, it was not in accordance with the high station of prophethood; it was this realization that led Dāwūd to repent. Other exegetes cite the full extent of the biblical story, in which Dāwūd, upon him be peace, orders that Ūriya be sent to the forefront of the battle then raging with the intention of having him killed, all in order to marry his wife (Māwardī; Thaʿlibī, Tafsīrs). In view of this enormity alleged by the Israelite accounts, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (13BH-40/609-660) said, “If anyone relates what these storytellers say concerning the matter of Dāwūd, upon him peace, I shall flog him with two ḥadd-punishments, for incriminating one whose sanctity and superior position were raised to a high station by Allah” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 38:24; cf. Thaʿlabī, Kashf, Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, Kirmānī, Gharāʾib; Ibn Juzayy, Tashīl).

Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) says that Dāwūd’s vicegerency granted him by Allah Most High (cf. Q 38:26) is the strongest proof (min aqwa dalāʾīl) of the corruption of the popular accounts (fasād al-qawl al-mashhūr) about this event, because it is an impossibility of the highest order that a person so characterized would shed the blood of Muslims with the intention of taking their wives (Tafsīr, sub Q 38:26). Ibn Kathīr (701-774/1301-1373) observes that neither the Qurʾān nor hadiths confirm such reports, and that it is best to explain the verses on the basis of the plain text of the Qurʾān (Tafsīr).

Al-Ṭabarī also mentions another explanation about the two litigants: they were sent by Allah Most High as a trial for this Prophet, because Dāwūd, upon him peace, desired to be raised to the station of Ibrāhīm, Isḥāq, and Yaʿqūb (Tafsīr). It is also said that the litigants were two angels who came in human form (cf. Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs). In his commentary, al-Rāzī says Dāwūd sought forgiveness because he had given judgment without listening to the second party, or the forgiveness was because of his suspicion of ill intent on the part of the disputants who had suddenly, and by mysterious means, entered the privacy of his palace bedchamber (Tafsīr). Yet since the passage begins by commanding the Prophet to bear patiently that which they say, and remember Our servant Dāwūd, it suggests that the Prophet was given the example of Dāwūd as well as of other Prophets (peace upon them all) who faced hardships but remained patient until Allah dispelled their worries and grief and perfectly arranged their outcome (aḥsan ʿāqibatahum); this was to awaken in him the desire for endurance, to facilitate matters for him, and to prove the veracity of his prophethood (Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 38:17).

His striving in worship

Dāwūd, upon him peace, exerted himself in worship; he would spend the greater part of the night in worship and fast every second day (niṣf al-dahr), such that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “The fast most beloved to Allah is that of Dāwūd, who fasted on one day and not the following day. And the prayer most beloved to Allah is that of Dāwūd, who would sleep half of the night, then pray one third of it, and [again] sleep for a sixth of it” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, aḥabb al-ṣalāt ilā Allāh ṣalāt Dāwūd). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, also said, “The recitation of Zabūr was made easy for Dāwūd. He would order that his mount be saddled, and would finish reciting the Zabur before they were saddled. And he would never eat except from the earnings of his own hand” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīṭh al-anbiyāʾ, aḥādīṭh bāb qawl Allāh taʿālā, wa ātaynā dāwūda zabūra).


ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam.

Baghawī. Tafsīr.

Bayḍāwī. Tafsīr.

Bukhārī. Ṣaḥīḥ.

Dhahabī. Siyar.

Fayrūzābādī. Baṣāʾir.

Ibn ʿAbbās, ʿAbd Allāh. Tanwīr al-miqbās min tafsīr Ibn ʿAbbās, comp. and ed. Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Fayrūzābādī. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.

Ibn Abī Ḥātim. Tafsīr.

Ibn al-ʿArabī. Aḥkām.

Ibn ʿĀshūr. Tafsīr.

Ibn al-Athīr. Kāmil.

Ibn ʿAṭiyya. Muḥarrar.

Ibn Fāris. Maqāyīs.

Ibn Ḥajar. Fatḥ al-Bārī.

Ibn al-Jawzī. Zād.

Ibn al-Jawzī, Abū al-Faraj ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad, Jamāl al-Dīn. Nuzhat al-aʿyun al-nawāẓir fī ʿilm al-wujūh wal-naẓāʾir. Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 1404/1984.

Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbī, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh. al-Tashīl li-ʿulūm al-Tanzīl. Beirut: Sharikat Dār al-Arqam b. Abī al-Arqam, 1416/1995.

Ibn Kathīr. Bidāya.

Ibn Kathīr. Tafsīr.

ʿIzz al-Dīn ʿAbd al-ʿal-D b. ʿAbd al-Salām b. Abī al-Qāsim b. al-Ḥasan al-Dimashqī, Abū Muḥammad. Tafsīr al-Qurʾān. Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 1416/1996.

Khāzin. Lubāb.

al-Kirmānī, Maḥmūd b. Ḥamza b. Naṣr, Abū al-Qāsim Burhān al-Dīn. Gharāʾib al-tafsīr wa ʿajāʾib al-taʾwīl. Jidda: Dār al-Qibla lil-Thaqāfat al-Islāmiyya; Beirut: Muʾassasat ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, n.d.

Makkī. Hidāya.

Māwardī. Nukat.

Muqātil. Tafsīr.

Muslim. Ṣaḥīḥ.

Nasafī, Tafsīr.

Qushayrī. Tafsīr.

Qurṭubī. Tafsīr.

Rāghib. Mufradāt.

Rāzī. Tafsīr.

Samʿanī. Tafsīr.

Samarqandī. Baḥr.

al-Shirbīnī al-Khaṭīb, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad. al-Sirāj al-munīr fī al-iʿāna ʿalā maʿrifat baʿḍ maʿānī Kalām Rabbinā al-Ḥakīm al-Khabīr. 2nd ed. 4 vols. Bulāq: Dār al-Ṭibāʿat al-ʿĀmira, 1299/1881.

Ṭabarī. Tafsīr.

Ṭabarī. Tārīkh.

al-Thaʿālibī, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad b. Makhlūf, Abū Zayd. al-Jawāhir al-ḥisān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān. Beirut: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 1418/1997.

Thaʿlabī. Kashf.

Tirmidhī. Sunan.

ʿUmar, Aḥmad Mukhtār, and ʿAbd al-ʿĀl, Sālim. Muʿjam al-qirāʾāt al-Qurʾāniyya. 8 vols. 2nd ed. Kuwait: Maṭbūʿāt Jāmiʿat Kuwayt, 1408/1988.

Wāḥidī. Wajīz.Yāqūt. Muʿjam al-buldān.

Zajjāj. Maʿānī.

Zamakhsharī. Kashshāf.

See also

© 2023 CIS. All Rights Reserved