A Review of Contemporary Arab Scholarship on the Use of Isrāʾīlīāt for Interpreting the Qurʾan

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Kareem Rosshandler

Keywords

Prophets in the Qur'an, Isrāʾīlīāt, Ka‘ab bin al-Ahbar, ‘Abdullah bin Salam, Wahb ibn Munabah, Old Testament, New Testament, Jewish converts to Islam, Christian converts to Islam

Abstract

The Qur’an and Old and New Testaments have in common some twenty prophetic figures. As a text, the Qur’an engages with members of these earlier scriptural communities both in its direct address to ‘Benī Isrāʾīl’ (the Children of Israel) and in the way it recounts the stories of their prophets. For their part, these earlier scriptures tend to present their accounts of these prophets in more detail than the Qur’an. As such, early Muslims would often consult Jewish and Christian converts to Islam for elucidation of the Qur’an’s core presentation. From this narration process emerged an exegetical genre called Isrāʾīlīāt. While long established in Muslim tradition, this exegetical genre has been a source of serious contention between scholars throughout the ages. Surveying almost a dozen works produced by the Arabic-speaking academy, this paper explores contemporary Arab scholarship on the use of Isrāʾīlīāt for interpreting the Qurʾan. It focuses on scholars’ attitudes towards this exegetical genre and what – if any – role they see it having in interpreting the Qurʾan.

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