Shafaqna – Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:40; Part-1)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
The Children of Israel in the Quran
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَوْفُوا بِعَهْدِي أُوفِ بِعَهْدِكُمْ وَإِيَّايَ فَارْهَبُونِ ﴿٤٠﴾
Translation: O Children of Israel, remember My blessing which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill My covenant that I may fulfill your covenant, and be in awe of Me [alone].
Commentary: “Children of Israel” is the term referring to the descendants of Prophet Yaqub (Jacob), who was also known with the title of Israel1. Historians differ on the literal meaning of Israel; however, Islamic scholars denote that “Isr” means “servant” or “deputy” and “ael” means Allah (SWT); hence Israel means the servant or deputy of Allah2 (SWT).
Prophet Yaqub was the son of Prophet Ishaq (Isaac) and the grandson of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). He had 12 sons who became the eponymous ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Yusuf was the eleventh son of Yaqub, and also his father’s favorite.
Migration to Egypt: Yusuf’s brothers, out of jealousy, plotted to kill him. One of the brothers argued against it and suggested to throw him into a water well so that a caravan might pick him up and take him into slavery.
The jealousy of Yusuf’s brothers prevailed and Yusuf ruthlessly was thrown into a water well. A passing caravan stopped by to draw water; they found instead a handsome boy, not knowing that he was the beloved son of Yaqub.
The caravan sold Yusuf into slavery to “Aziz”, the chief minister of the king of Egypt. Yusuf grew up in the house of Aziz and during his adulthood became the treasure of the king. During all this time, Prophet Yaqub grieved patiently since he was not aware of the fate of his son.
When a prolonged drought struck the region, the king distributed wheat amongst his people to avert famine and starvation. Yusuf’s brothers traveled from Canaan to Egypt to receive their family’s wheat ration. When they arrived to the court of the king, Yusuf recognized his brothers, introduced himself, forgave their sin, and invited them to Egypt. This was the beginning of the migration of the extended family of Yaqub to Egypt.
The descendants of Yaqub lived in Egypt for more than 450 years, during which time they grew into a nation: the nation of the “Children of Israel.” They spread across the fertile land of the Nile Valley, grew crops, and raised herds of sheep and goats to enjoy a prosperous life until the rise of Firon (Pharaoh).
Prophet Musa’s Era: Firon eventually took the Children of Israel as slaves, slaughtered their sons, spared their women and afflicted them with the worst kind of cruelty3. This lasted until Prophet Musa and Haroon led the exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt and towards their homeland in Canaan.
After Musa crossed the Nile River safely, he was summoned to Mount Sinai to receive the divine commandments for the guidance of his people.4 Afterwards, Prophet Musa strived many times to take his nation back to their homeland. The people lacked conviction and willingness to follow the lead of Musa however5. When he directed the children of Israel to liberate the Holy Land from the “tyrannical people6”, their reply was full of irony, insolence, and cowardice. They said, “We will on no account enter the land unless they leave first. We will enter once they leave the land.”
Two chiefs of Israelites, Yusha-ibn-Nun (Joshua) and Kalib-ibn-Youfna (Caleb) 7, tried to intervene and encouraged people to put their trust in Allah and His messenger. Their stance still remained the same: “O! Musa, go with your Lord and fight there if you like and we shall sit here and watch.” Consequently, they wandered through the land for forty years8. Prophet Musa, after a life filled with strife and sacrifice, died in wilderness shortly after the death of his brother Haroun (Aaron).
Prophet Yush-ibn-Nun Era: After the demise of Musa, the leadership of the Children of Israel was passed down to Yusha-ibn-Nun (Joshua). He was a descendent of Yusuf, loyal disciple and close confidant of Prophet Musa. During the journey of Musa with Khazr, as mentioned in chapter 12 of the Quran, Yusha-ib-Nun was Musa’s sole companion9.
Yusha-ibn-Nun mobilized the children of Israel to fight the Canaanites, whom are also called Amalekites. This was not an easy feat, as Canaanite people had built fortified, walled cities and also farmed the land; they were not simply going to give away their land to others. After many hard fought battles, the Children of Israel eventually overcame their adversaries and were able to conquer Jericho and nearby cities.
The Children of Israel who came out of Egypt were raised in slavery and servitude; they were weak and did not have the courage to fight Canaanites. With forty years in the wilderness and a new generation that was raised under the leadership of Musa and Harun however, it was this generation who was willing to overcome their adversaries.
Yusha ibn Nun provided divine guidance for 27 years to his nation after Musa and died at the age of 11010. Just before his death, he called all the tribes for a meeting and received their promise to remain faithful to God and His divine covenant.
Prophet Dawood and Sulaiman Era: After Yusha ibn Nun, disputes and hostility created disarray amongst the Children of Israel. As a consequence, the neighboring tribes became bold and began to raid the Children of Israel’s lands and steal their crops and possessions. Hence, the Children of Israel cried out for help and asked the prophet Shmuel (Samuel) to appoint them a king to put in order their affair. Allah (SWT) fulfilled their prayers and appointed them Prophet Dawood11 (David) followed by Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon). The reminiscence of Sulaiman’s temple in Jerusalem is a testimony to the golden era of the Children of Israel as depicted in Chapter An-Namel.
Post Sulaiman Era: The leadership of the Children of Israel after Sulaiman was passed down to Asif Ibn Barkhiya12; He was an eminent follower of Prophet Sulaiman and was endowed with a supernatural power that enabled him to bring the Queen of Saba’s throne in a twinkle of eye to the court of Solomon.
Shortly after the demise of Prophet Sulaiman, the ten northern tribes of Canaan rebelled against the Sulaiman successor and formed the state of Israel in the north, with the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin forming the state of Judah in the south.
Internal dispute, civil war between the states of Israel and Judah, and also battle between neighboring states led to the downfall of the power and majesty of the Children of Israel. The Assyrians attacked the northern state of Israel and conquered its land, taking away many of its residents to Assyria as prisoners. The northern state lasted 200 years and it never regained its power after the Assyrian attack.
About 100 years later, the king of Babylon called Nebuchadnezzar [«بخت نّصَّر»] invaded the southern state and destroyed the temple of Jerusalem. He took many young and affluent people and skilled workers as slaves to Babylon. In this invasion, the Ark of the Covenant, including its original version of the tablets of the law, was missed. The invasion by the Babylonians is mentioned in the Quran, Chapter 17:4-5.
When Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia later, he gave permission to the people of Judah to return to their homeland and helped them to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Though the people had the freedom to worship as they wished, their land was still under control of the Persians.
Between 323 B.C. and 336 B.C., Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered much of Persia, Egypt, and Palestine (where Jerusalem was located). After Alexander died, these lands were ruled for over a century by his generals or those who followed them.
The Prophet Isa Era: The Prophet Isa-ibn-Maryam (Jesus) was the last messenger to the children of Israel with a new scripture. His message challenged Rome’s religious and political establishment. Hence, the Romans tried to apprehend and crucify him. Allah (SWT) saved and raised him to heaven13. Prophet Isa gave the glad tidings for the arrival of Prophet Mohammad (SAW)14. According to the Quran, the Torah and Bible contain clear prophecies about the advent of Prophet Mohammad (SAW).
People of Books in Medina: Before the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, followers of Prophet Musa were settled down in Medina awaiting the advent of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). They were prosperous people, lived in fortified buildings, and had a deep influence on the social affairs of Medina.
Whenever they had disputes with the Bedouins of Arabia they would pray for victory over them with the help of the Prophet15. When the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina, they opposed his message, although they knew well about his truthfulness16.
A majority of the verses in the second chapter narrated excerpts from the history, rise and fall of the children of Israel and also reminded them that they were prosperous whenever they aligned themselves with the divine command. Allah (SWT) only admonished them for rejecting His message knowing full-well its truthfulness.
The Quran, Al-i-Imran 3:93, Maryam 19:58
Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol.1, P.204, L.8
The Quran, al-Baqra 2:49
Al-Ma’ida 5:12 5:20-26
“the tyrannical people”: also called Canaanites are referred to the Amalekites who were a nomadic, or seminomadic people who inhabited Palestine (Canaan) , Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol.4, P.339, L.21
Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol.4, P.340, L.21
The Quran, Al-Ma’ida 5:20-26
Tafseer-e-Namoona Vol. 12 P. 480, L. 15
[.↑ بحار الانوار، ج۱۳، ص۳۷۵. ]
Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol. 18, P.46, and L. 6; saba verse 12-14)
The Quran, An-Nisa 4:158