At the time when Muhammad was endeavouring to turn his people from idolatry to the faith of Abraham, the Arabs held no religious writings in common, so it was extremely difficult to make them see the evils of their hereditary beliefs. There were three religions in the Peninsula – the Sabaean, Jewish and Christian each of these helped to nurse Islam which lay like an infant in its cradle.
Whilst Muhammad took little of his religious system from Christianity and the Sabaeans, he was vastly indebted to Judaism both for his historical narratives and his doctrines and precepts. Islam is nothing more nor less than Judaism plus the Apostleship of Muhammad. The teachings of Jesus form no part of his religious system
The Jews of Arabia
The Jews were both numerous and powerful in Arabia at the time of Muhammad especially before the Hegira. Among their chief tribes were Bani Qaynuqa, Bani Quraiza and Bani Nadhir, having their villages in the vicinity of Medina.
When it became clear that the Jews would not recognise the prophetic office of Muhammad, he fought several battles with them, and, not without difficulty, either took them prisoners and slew them with the sword, or expelled them from the land. These Jews carefully preserved the Torah and the Zabur and were called (as also the Christians) the ‘People of the Book’ (Ahlu’’l-Kitab). Though the nation knew little or nothing of Hebrew they were familiar with the stories of the Talmud and the foolish tales that had come down from their ancestors, and regarded these as holy and divine.
The Arabs of the day looked upon their neighbours the Jews with honour and respect as being of the seed of Abraham and custodians of the Word of God. So, when Muhammad turned away from idols he began to learn with the utmost care about the teachings, customs and obligations which the faith of Abraham consisted. This is why we find that the Quran bears testimony to the truth of the Jewish religion and the heavenly origin of their divine books.
Although these Jews had an imperfect knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures they were aware of the many traditional stories still current amongst the Jews. It is true that the Quran speaks about Abraham and many others who we read about in the Taurat, yet it also tells us of many wild stories which come from Jewish traditional sources.
The following verses are selections from the Quran that relate directly to the Jews.
Jews are highly favoured
> “O Children of Israel! call to mind the special favour which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all others” (Al-Baqarrah 2:122).
Moses their special law-giver
> “It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book, and they were witnesses thereto” (Al-Maidah 5:44)
Jews have diverged from the truth
> “To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute; And this (He commands): judge thou between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they beguile thee from any of that which Allah hath sent down to thee. And if they turn away, be assured that for some of their crime it is Allah’s purpose to punish them. And truly most men are rebellious.” (Al- Maida 5:48,49)
Jews have perverted the scripture
> “Of the Jews there are those who displace words from their (right) places, and say: “We hear and we disobey”; and “hear what is not heard”; and “ra’ina”; with a twist of their tongues and a slander to faith. If only they had said: “Wet hear and we obey”; and “Do hear”; and “Do look at us”; it would have been better for them, and more proper; but Allah hath cursed them for their unbelief; and but few of them will believe. O ye People of the Book! believe in what We have revealed, confirming what was with you, before We change the face and fame of some (of you) beyond all recognition, and turn them hindwards, or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers, for the decision of Allah must be carried out” (An-Nisa 4:46, 47)
> “Can ye entertain the hope that they will believe in you?Seeing that a party of them heard the word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it. Behold! when they meet the men of faith, they say: “We believe”: But when they meet each other in private, they say: “Shall you tell them what Allah hath revealed to you, that they may engage you in argument about it before your Lord?” Do ye not understand (their aim)? Know they not that Allah knoweth what they conceal and what they reveal? And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture. Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:”This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price! Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.” (Al Baqarrah 2:75-79)
Jews have called Ezra a son of Allah
> “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the truth!” (Al-Taubah 9:30)
Abraham was a ‘Muslim Hanif’ not a Jew
> “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in faith, and bowed his will to Allah’s, and he joined not gods with Allah.” (Al-Imran 3:67)
Jews have transgressed their own divine law
> “For those who followed the Jewish Law, We forbade every (animal) with undivided hoof, and We forbade them that fat of the ox and the sheep, except what adheres to their backs or their entrails, or is mixed up with a bone: this in recompense for their wilful disobedience” (Al-Ana’am 6:146).
Disobedient Jews turned into Apes
> “Say: “O people of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath come to us and that which came before (us), and that most of you are rebellious and disobedient? Say: “Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil; these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!” When they come to thee, they say: “We believe”: but in fact they enter with a mind against faith, and they go out with the same but Allah knoweth fully all that they hide. Many of them dost thou see, racing each other in sin and rancour, and their eating of things forbidden. Evil indeed are the things that they do. Why do not the rabbis and the doctors of Law forbid them from their uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works. The Jews say: “Allah’s hand is tied up.” Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter. Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched: He giveth and spendeth as He pleaseth. But the revelation that cometh to thee from Allah increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. Amongst them we have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgement. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief.” (Al-Maidah 5:59-64)
Old Testament characters mentioned in the Quran
Adam (Adam), Abel (Habil), Cain (Qabil), Enoch (Idris), Noah (Nuh), Abraham (Ibrahim), Lot (Lut), Isaac (Ishaq), Ishmael, (Isma’il), Jacob (Ya’qub), Joseph (Yusuf), Job (Aiyub), Moses (Musa), Aaron (Harun), Korah (Qarun), Pharaoh (Firaun), Haman (Haamaan), David (Da’ud), Goliath (Jalut), Solomon (Sulaiman), Saul (Talut), Jonah (Yunas), Elisha (Al-yasa’).
Old Testament characters mentioned in the traditions in the earliest commentaries on the Quran
Eve (Hawwa’), Hagar (Hajar), Nebuchadnezzer (Bukhtnassar), Joshua (Yusha’), Jeremiah (Armiya), Isaiah (Sha’ya), Benjamin (Binyamin), Ezekiel (Hizqil), Baaalam (Bal’am), Daniel (Daniyal), Sarah (Sarah), and many others but it is remarkable that after Solomon there is no mention of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
The chief incidents of Jewish history recorded in the Quran
The biblical stories are intermingled with a strange and curious mixture of Rabbinical fable. They are worked up into a narrative with the assistance of Talmudic interpretation to form the chief historical portion of the Quran:
The creation of the world, the formation of Adam and Eve, the fall, the expulsion from Eden, Cain’s and Abel’s sacrifices, the death of Abel; Noah’s preaching, the Ark built, the deluge, the tower of Babel; Abraham, the friend of God, his call from idolatry, Isaac the son of promise, Sarah’s incredulity, Hagar and Ishmael, the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Lot and the cities of the plain; Jacob and the tribes, Joseph sold into Egypt, Potiphar’s wife, Joseph tempted, the dreams of the baker and butler, and of the king; Moses, his preservation in infancy, kills an Egyptian, flies to Midian, works miracles in the presence of Pharaoh, manna from heaven, the giving of the law, Aaron’s rod, the golden calf, the passage of the Red Sea; Job’s patience; Balaam cursing the Israelites; David’s psalms, his sin and repentance; Solomon’s wisdom, the Queen of Sheba, the building of the temple; Jonah’s preaching, his escape from the fish: these and many other incidents, evidently taken from the Old Testament, and worked up into a narrative with the assistance of Talmudic interpretation, form the chief historical portion of the Quran.
Many of the doctrines and social precepts of the Quran are also from Judaism
The unity of God, the ministry of angels, the inspired law, the law of marriage and divorce, domestic slavery, the day of sacrifice, prayer and ablution, the lex talionis, the degrees of affinity, the stoning of the adulterer, and many other injunctions, are precisely those of the Mosaic code, with some modifications to meet the requirements of Arabian social life.
The whole construction of the Quran bears out the supposition that its subject matter was received orally and worked into poetical Arabic by a man of genius. Whatever he may have heard from the readings of Jabr and Yasa of the text of the Old and New Testament scriptures: (Husain, the commentator, in remarking upon this verse, says, “It is related that there was a slave belonging to ’Amr ibn Abdi’llah al-Hazrami, named Jabr ( and according to some a second slave named Yasar), who used to read the Law and the Gospel, and Muhammad used, when he passed, to stand and listen.”) it is very evident that he obtained his explanations from one well versed in Talmudic lore.
The Talmud and the Quran
Possibly the greatest puzzlement for Christians who pick up the Quran and read it are the numerous seemingly Biblical stories which bear little similarity to the Biblical accounts. The Quranic stories include heretical Talmudic accounts with many distortions, amendments, and some bizarre additions to the familiar stories we have known and learned. Where did these stories come from, if not from the previous scriptures?
Fortunately, we do have much Jewish (and Christian apocryphal literature) dating from the second century A.D. with which we can compare many of these stories. It is when we do so, that we find remarkable similarities between these fables or folk tales of the later Jewish and Christian communities, and the stories which are recounted in the Quran
The Jewish Talmudic writings were compiled in the second century A.D., from oral laws (Mishnah) and traditions of those laws (Gemara). These laws and traditions were created to adapt the law of Moses (the Torah) to the changing times. They also included interpretations and discussions of the laws (the Halakhah and Haggadah etc.). Most Jews do not consider the Talmudic writings authoritative, but they read them nonetheless with interest for the light they cast on the times in which they were written.
It is important to remember that the Talmudic accounts were not considered by the orthodox Jews of that period as authentic for one very good reason: they were not in existence at the council of Jamnia in 80 A.D. when the Old Testament was canonised, neither for that matter, were the Christian apocryphal material considered canonical, as they were not attested as authoritative both prior to and after the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Thus these accounts have always been considered as heretical by both the Jewish and Christian orthodox believers, and the literate ever since. It is for this reason that we find it deeply suspicious that these unreliable accounts should have made their way into a book claiming to be the final revelation from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
a) Doctrinal matters
The seven heavens and the seven earths found in the Talmud are also in the Quran (Chagiga, 9:2). During the creation, God’s glorious throne was placed in the air upon the water (Rashi on Genesis 1:2; and Sura Hud 11:7). Both in the Quran and Talmud we find seven hells as the appointed abode for the damned, and each hell has seven gates in both documents (Talmud Eurbin, 19.1; Midrash on Psalm 11; and Surah Al-Hijr 15:44).The entrance of Jahannam is marked, according to the Sukkah, by two date-trees, between which smoke issues; and the Quran speaks of a tree in hell (Zaqum) of which the damned are to eat, and of which many terrible things are related (Sukkah 37; and Suras As-Saffat 37:60; Ad-Dukhan 44:43; Al-Waqiah 56:52-53). The Talmud declares that it is as easy for an elephant to enter through the eye of a needle; the Quran substituting a camel for an elephant (Al-A’raf 7:38). The eschatology of the Talmud and the Quran is similar in its descriptions of the happiness of Paradise, the state of the dead and the last day. The lengthened descriptions in the Quran of the future resurrection, judgement and demonology are also tinged with a Talmudical colouring.
b) Moral and Legal Precepts
Among the moral precepts which are borrowed from the Talmud, we may mention that children are not to obey their parents when the latter demand that which is evil (Jebhamoth, 6; and Sura Al ’Ankabut 29:7). Prayer may be performed standing, walking, or even riding (Berachoth, 10; and Suras Al-Baqarrah 2:230, Al-Imran 3:191, An-Nisa‘ 4:103); devotions may be shortened in urgent cases, without committing sin (Mishnah Berachoth, 4:4; and Sura An-Nisa’ 4:101); drunken persons are not to engage in acts of worship (Berachoth, 31:2; and Sura An-Nisa’ 4:43); ablutions before prayer are in special cases enforced, but generally required (Mishnah Berachoth 3:4; and Sura An-Nisa’ 4:43, Al-Maidah 5:6); each permit the use of sand instead of water when the latter is not to be procured (Berachoth 46; and Sura 5:6).
The Shema prayer of the Jews is to be performed “when one is able to distinguish a blue from a white thread,” and this is very similar to the criterion of the commencement of the fast in the Quran (Mishnah Berachoth 1:2; and Sura Al-Baqarrah 2:187). The Jewish source book Mishnah Berachoth deals primarily with laws relating to plants and farming and rules regulating the recitation of the Shema.
c) Social Precepts
The following social precepts are likewise copied from Judaism: a divorced woman must wait three months before marrying again (Mishnah Jebhamoth 4:10; and Sura Al-Baqarrah 2:228); mothers are to nurse their children two full years; and the degrees of affinity within which marriages are lawful (Talmud Ketuboth, 60:1; and Suras Al-Baqarrah 2:233, Luqman 31:13, An-Nur 24:31, Joseph., Antiq. 2:9).