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Refuting Missionaries on Qur’an and Kings in Isra’il before Moses

Waqar Akbar Cheema & Gabriel Al-Romaani

Abstract

As we should all be aware of, the Qur’an is the Noble Book of Allah that was sent down in the Arabic language; and it is very important to remember that its revelation was fully in Arabic. It is completely unreasonable and unthinkable to believe that someone who is not well-versed in Arabic would be able to speak about the language used therein, especially if their arguments are based on the translations of verses. Translations are often flawed and leave out some of the pure gems from the text’s original form. One such misconception that became popular among certain groups (mainly Christian missionaries) is the idea that the Qur’an mentions the word ‘kings’ in the time of Moses. However, this misconception does not take into account the Arabic word for ‘king,’ nor does it take into account that this word might not be used in its absolute literal sense. This article aims to display the many uses of the Arabic word for ‘king’ as well as showing why it is perfectly applicable to the verse in the Qur’an that mentions it.

1- Introduction

Christian missionaries have gathered up many articles attacking Islam in an attempt to hinder people from understanding Islam. Upon examination, however, we come to realize that the scholarship of such people is lacking serious weight, integrity and understanding – not only of Islamic sciences and principles, but Biblical knowledge as well. It seems that the goal of such missionaries is to write as much information as possible – without a regard to legitimacy or soundness – so that readers might consider quantity a sign of credibility and scholarship. This is certainly not the case with educated people who are willing to take their time and seriously analyze the claims from a rational point of view. One such unfounded attack on the Qur’an is a so-called “inconsistency” that deals with the usage of the word ‘kings’ when it comes to the Children of Israel.

Allah says in the Noble Qur’an:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنبِيَاء وَجَعَلَكُم مُّلُوكًا وَآتَاكُم مَّا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِّن الْعَالَمِينَ

This is commonly translated as:

“Remember Moses said to his people: “O my people! Call in remembrance the favor of God unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings (mulook), and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.”[1]

The critics of Islam allege[2] that the “author” of the Qur’an erred here for there were no kings/monarchs from amongst the people of Israel before the time of Prophet Moses.

It is certain that this argument sprouts merely from the reading of the translations of the Islamic Scripture.

2- The actual word used and its meanings:

The word “mulook” comes from the word “malak” which means “owning” or “possessing.”

John Penrice writes:

malak: To possess, have power or dominion over; to be capable of able to obtain … malik (pl. mulook): One who possesses, a king[3]

This is to show that original meaning of “malik” is “one who possesses” and as the monarchs are in a way the possessors of the destiny of the whole nation it is usually used for them.

3- Meanings of the word put in the verse:

The following points may be considered while keeping in mind the above stated origins and primary meanings of the word.

1- There is a clear contrast in the wording used to refer to the prophethood and “kingship”/”possessive attribute” of the people of Israel.

The statement about the prophets is “He made prophets from amongst you” which carries the sense that not all of them were blessed with prophethood, rather only a few were, and others were required to follow them. But when it comes to “kingship”/”ownership” it is said, “and made you mulook” which means that all of them were kings. Without a doubt not all people are prophets and without a doubt not all people are monarchs. However, in the case of the children of Israel, Allah has favored them and blessed them with wealth and provisions like He did not bless anyone before; hence they have been given ownership and kingship:

يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ

 “O Children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favored you above all other people.”[4]

 This textual observation itself is a strong suggestion that unlike spiritual authority the temporal power of otherwise only ordinary nature is mentioned here. This point helps us understand the true meaning when we put this reported statement of Moses in the historical context as elaborated below.

 2- With point 1 in mind it is easy to understand the explanation to the word given by earlier Muslim commentators that “malik” (pl. “mulook”) refers to the one who has a wife and owns servants.

عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما، في قوله عز وجل … {وجعلكم ملوكا} قال: المرأة والخادم

 Ibn ‘Abbas said about the word of Allah, ‘And made you kings’: “[It means] having a wife and a servant.”[5]

 Similar meanings were given by al-Hasan al-Basri, Mujahid and other early authorities.[6]

 It implies making them a people having the luxury of an honorable family life, along with servants helping them in their daily routines.

 3- In fact a similar interpretation is attributed to the blessed Prophet – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

قال ابن أبي حاتم: … عن أبي سعيد الخدري، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: “كان بنو إسرائيل إذا كان لأحدهم خادم ودابة وامرأة، كتب ملكا

Ibn Abi Hatim said: Abu Sa‘eed al-Khudri narrated from the Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him: “With the Children of Israel, a person who had a servant, an animal and a wife was counted as a king.[7]

Though the chain of authorities of this narration is weak, it is supported by another narration:

عن زيد بن أسلم: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: “من كان له بيت وخادم فهو ملك”

Zayd bin Aslam narrated: The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – said: “One who has a house and a servant is a king.”[8]

Before we go on to give evidence for similar usage without any direct connection to the verse, it needs to be highlighted that these narrations pose a serious question for disbelieving skeptics who try to question Islam with such points. If Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – was the “author” of the Qur’an and if he actually meant to say monarchs in this verse, why would he explain the word in quite different terms, as shown?

4- Word “mulook” meaning other than kings/monarchs:

Independent of the verse, there is evidence of the word “mulook” to simply mean sovereignty in personal affairs and ownership in general. It is even used for command over one’s own self.

1) The following hadith is good example:

أبا عبد الرحمن الحبلي، يقول: سمعت عبد الله بن عمرو بن العاص وسأله رجل، فقال: ألسنا من فقراء المهاجرين؟ فقال له عبد الله: «ألك امرأة تأوي إليها؟» قال: نعم، قال: «ألك مسكن تسكنه؟» قال: نعم، قال: «فأنت من الأغنياء» ، قال: فإن لي خادما، قال: «فأنت من الملوك»

 ‘Abdur-Rahman al-Hubuli said: “I heard ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-‘As, when a man asked him: ‘Are we not among the poor of the Muhajireen?’ ‘Abdullah said to him: ‘Do you not have a wife with whom you find comfort?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Do you not have a house in which you live?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Then you are among the rich (independent of means).’ He said: ‘I have a servant.’ He said: ‘Then you are among the kings (mulook).’”[9]

2) One might make an objection here saying that the Muslims are using their own meanings, carrying no weight in the argument. Responding to this, we will look at the usage of the world from non-Muslims at the time of Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – as well as the usage of the word in the Bible:

Ka‘b bin al-Ashraf, the infamous member of a Jewish tribe around Madinah – who spent his time inciting the Quraysh against the Muslims and calling for the murder of the blessed Prophet – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – upon learning about the killing of the chiefs of the pagans in the Battle of Badr, said:

هؤلاء أشراف العرب وملوك الناس

“Those were the nobles of Arabia, the kings of the people (mulook-ul-naas).”[10]

We know that the Quraysh were not monarchs, however Ka‘b understood that they were highly regarded by the rest of the Arabs and they were prosperous due to their guardianship over the Ka’bah.

3) In the Arabic translations of Bible’s Book of Revelation the same word is used:

This is given in the Smith & Van Dyke Arabic Bible.

“And has made us kings and priests …”[11]

According to Christian exegetes here “kings” simply means those who control themselves in the spiritual sense, yet Arabic translators use this word, “mulook,” testifying that it can mean other than monarchs.

Matthew Henry writes:

“As kings, they govern their own spirits, conquer Satan, have power and prevalence with God in prayer, and shall judge the world.”[12]

4) In fact in the Jewish history there is evidence of reference to ordinary leaders or chieftains as kings:

“In Palestine almost every chieftain bore this title.”[13]

All of this shows that the meaning of the root of the word (i.e. possession and ownership) defines its different usages and there is no reason to take exception to any meaning unless the context belies it.

5- The Historical Context

Having proved that the meanings understood by classical Muslim scholars are indeed true to the actual word and its usage, we now find its relevance with the true historical context of the statement.

As the context of the Qur’anic passage shows the statement of Moses was made when the Jews had just left Egypt and they were yet to enter the cities in the land of Canaan.

The Jews had lived a life of misery and suppression in Egypt under the Copts. Now as they, with God’s leave, left Egypt they enjoyed freedom from the bondage, a secure family life and material prosperity. Their family life had actually become quite secure even in the wilderness as compared to what transpired with them under the brutal pharaohs. (See Qur’an 2: 49 and Exodus 1: 15-22) As life in wilderness brought to them the security of family, in a way it became a house for them, for what is house except a place bringing security and a certain degree of protection.

In Egypt the Israelites were in bondage, through the Exodus they became masters of their own destiny and even had some people to work for them. In their zeal to attack Islam these critics forget the plain narratives of their own ‘Holy’ Book.

In description of the Exodus, the Bible reads:

“Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.”[14]

It is therefore wrong to assume that Jews left Egypt in a state of destitution.

Then in Exodus 12: 37, after giving the number of the Israelites who left Egypt and the distance they traveled, it continues:

“A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock.”[15]

i.e. there were non-Jewish people with them who accompanied them.

In the same chapter among the Passover restrictions we find the following instruction:

“No foreigner shall eat it. But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it.”[16]

If the Jews had no servants there wasn’t any need to give these instructions. In fact it appears the “mixed multitude” that went with them were their servants. In their commentary to Exodus 12: 38 “mixed multitude” Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh writes:

“According to Deuteronomy 29: 11, they seem to have occupied a very low position among the Israelites, and to have furnished the nation of God with hewers of wood and drawers of water.”[17]

Israelites lived and managed things together as tribes. When Moses – may Allah’s blessings be upon him – prayed for water for the Children of Israel he was instructed to smite a rock with his staff and from it gushed twelve springs – one for each tribe (cf. Qur’an 2: 60, see Darayabadi’s commentary for historical evidence on number of holes in the rock corresponding to the number of tribes). Therefore, if some foreigners drew water for them it meant they served all of them. In contrast to apt slavery in Egypt this was a huge change in the living standards of all of the Children of Israel.

These facts testify the historical truth behind the use of the word “mulook” in the particular sense mentioned.

6- The Best Translation of the Verse and Other Translations:

In the light of all these details we can safely conclude that the best English rendering of the meanings of the verse is given in Saheeh International translation. It reads:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, “O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds.” 

Likewise Muhammad Asad translates it as:

“And, Lo, Moses said unto his people: “O my people! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, and made you your own masters, and granted unto you [favors] such as He had not granted to anyone else in the world.”

It is however important to note that even though some well-known translators have used the word “kings” or “princes” in the translation, they did not mean monarchs.

‘Abdullah Yusuf Ali used the word “kings” but in his short commentary note he said, “From the slavery of Egypt the Children of Israel were made free and independent, and thus each man became as it were a king.”

In the same way ‘Abdul-Majid Daryabadi used the word “princes” in his translation yet in annotations he remarked,i.e., masters of your own selves. A malik is not necessarily a king. He may be anybody possessing dominion, authority, or even independence.”

7- Summary and Conclusion

1) The difference in the way Qur’an describes the blessings of prophethood and temporal ownership itself suggests that “mulook” does not mean monarchs; it rather refers to freedom and luxury of possession.

2) The original meaning of the word “malik” is about possession alone and its variant degrees define the title for each level.

3) The meaning of the word “malik”/”mulook” taken by earliest commentators was used independently but in the same sense (see the narration about ‘Amr bin al-‘As from Sahih Muslim).

4) The Israelites gathered riches as they left Egypt and they even had servants from other nations during the Exodus when Moses – may Allah bless him – made that statement.

5) The most precise translation of the verse is:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, “O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds.”

Thus we see that all objections to the meanings of the verse are unworthy of any attention and we find Islamophobes forgetting their own scriptures while attacking Islam. Truly venom, jealousy and spite know no bounds!

References & Notes:

[1] Qur’an 5: 20

[3] A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran (Karachi: Dar ul-Ishat, 1998) 140

[4] Qur’an 2: 122

[5] al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 2002), Hadith 3214. Al-Hakim graded it as sahih (sound) according to the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim; adh-Dhahabi agreed with him.

[6] at-Tabari, Abu Ja’far Ibn Jarir, al-Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Ta’wil al-Qur’an, (Beirut: ar-Resalah Publications, 2000), Vol. 10, 162-163

[7]Ibn Katheer, Abul-Fida ‘Imad ad-Deen, Tafseer al-Qur’an al-‘Adheem, (Beirut: Dar at-Taybah, 1999), Vol.3, 73

[8]at-Tabari, al-Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Ta’wil al-Qur’an, Vol. 10, 161, Narration. 11626

[9] Muslim bin Hajjaj, as-Sahih, (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 2007), Hadith 7462

[10] Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad al-Mutlabi, as-Seerat an-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1978), Vol.1, 317

[11] NKJV, Rev. 1: 6

[13] Jewish Encyclopedia, “King

[14] Exodus 12: 35-36

[15] Exodus 12: 38

[16] Exodus 12: 43-45

[17]Keil, Carl Friedrich and Franz Delitzsh, “Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament

Published : June 12, 2013                 Last modified : February 17th, 2014

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One comment

  1. Christian missionaries just like Ahmadiyya missionaries (Qadiani) use similar tactics to defame true Islam, they always go around the actual point they try to describe/argue about but not the point itself, like this article says, they fool readers using quantitative approaches, which actually fools many people as they don’t have time to read everything, so they read the title, and see how much is written, and conclude as per the quantity of the writing, rather than quality, but of course this isn’t the case with fair scholastic individuals. This is a very good article, that includes both quantitative, but most important qualitative characteristics, nice job mashallah.

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