Abrahamic traditions recognise the centrality of Palestine. It is God’s ‘Promised Land’. It is ‘Bayt al-Maqdis’, derived from ‘qudus’, or the ‘Home of Purity’. In a hadith, it is referred to as “Allah’s chosen land, to which His best servants will be gathered”. It is thus bequeathed to God’s chosen ones, and to the people who can uphold and teach principles of objective Truth and Justice. By invoking the 17th chapter of the Qur’an, namely al-Isrāʼ, some Israelite history, and comparison of traditions, this article aims to show that after the previous nations which were given the Covenant of God failed and rejected the last Messenger, they forfeited their position as guardians of the Sanctuary, and the ‘Promise’ of the ‘Promised Land’. Now, this responsibility inescapably sits with the only lasting and enduring tradition of Truth and Justice – Islam.
References to Palestine – whether directly or indirectly – occur around 10 times in the Qur’an. The Land and the Place of Worship are both mentioned explicitly in the first verse of Surah 17, al-Isrāʼ, which is also known as the Surah of the Israelites (‘Surah Banī Isrā’īl’). This chapter not only references Palestine (and its surrounding area of the Levant) in its name, but it explicitly mentions it in the beginning and end:
“Glory be to the One Who took His servant (Muhammad) by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque (al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem) whose surroundings We have blessed, so that We may show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He alone is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”
In its beginning, the chapter outlines the two occasions in which the Israelites were charged over the Holy Land. The verses tell us of how both periods of ascendance over Jerusalem were eventually thwarted after they caused corruption in the land, resulting in their exile and the desecration of the Temple Mount:
“And We warned the Children of Israel in the Scripture, ‘You will certainly cause corruption in the land twice, and you will become extremely arrogant.’”
A Very Brief History of the Israelites in the Promised Land
Scholars have differed a great deal in terms of specifying the two occasions mentioned in Surah al-Isrāʼ. Historical references to the Israelites as a monolithic group (which essentially changed after the exiles in question, due to their mingling with communities all over the world) would suggest that both episodes have already come to pass. This is the position of most classical Muslim exegetes, who reference narrations from the Prophet ﷺ and the Companions. Jewish sources also suggest that two major exiles took place in the past, leading to what became termed as the ‘Jewish Diaspora’.
The Israelites first entered Palestine at around 1400 BC. After living under ‘judges’ or charismatic leaders (maybe Prophets) for around 300 years, a united monarchy under Prophets Dāwūd and Sulaymān عليهما السلام was formed (‘the United Kingdom of Israel’). This momentous development occurred following the defeat of the Jebusites and the conquering of Jerusalem at around 1000 BC. In many cases, the Israelites maintained the role of spiritual leadership (rather than worldly conquerors) to establish monotheism. This was finally established throughout the land under the Kingship of Dāwūd and Sulaymān, where polytheism was removed from the region. The purpose of worldly authority was, therefore, to remove polytheism from the land, after which it would meet its demise over time due to corruption and rivalries.
After Sulaymān, the Kingdom split into a northern kingdom called Israel or Samaria. It consisted of 10 of the 12 tribal regions attributed in name to the various children of Yaʿqūb عليه السلام and his progeny. There was also a southern kingdom called Judah, or ‘Yehuda’, a reference to the fourth of Yaʿqūb’s sons from his first wife, Leah.
Figure 1: 12 tribal regions split between the Children of Yaʿqūb. Reference: Wikipedia (‘Twelve Tribes of Israel’)
In 721 BC, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and dispersed 10 of the 12 Israelite tribes. These 10 tribes were gradually assimilated by other peoples – specifically the present-day Syrian peoples – and steadily disappeared from history. Much of the blood of Israel عليه السلام would have merged amongst the Semitic people of the Levant.
In 612 BC, Assyria fell to the Babylonian Empire.
In 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II, the king of Babylon, invaded Judah, destroying the Temple of Solomon and ravaging Jerusalem. The remaining Israelites were exiled to Babylon (modern-day Iraq). Their designation as ‘Israelites’ thenceforth was terminally lost, as they merged with communities in Babylon and across the world. It is recorded that during this period of exile, the Israelites lost their language and more significantly the original oral Torah, which was fragmentally put back together by their ‘Prophet’ Ezra.
In 538 BC, under the rule of the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, Jews were permitted to return in the holy land, and the Temple of Solomon was rebuilt.
Despite being Persian (not ethnically a ‘Jew’), Cyrus is extolled as the one ‘anointed by God’ in Jewish texts, suggesting the proselytising nature of the divine message held by the followers of the Torah. Interestingly, some contemporary Muslim scholars suggest that Cyrus may be Dhū al-Qarnayn mentioned at the end of the following chapter – Surah al-Kahf. Allah knows best whether that is the case. Much of Surah al-Kahf was revealed in response to Jewish questions directed to the Prophet. Due to Cyrus’ position in Jewish tradition, they would have been well aware of his correspondence to Dhū al-Qarnayn if this hypothesis is correct.
In 516 BC, the Temple was rebuilt.
In 70 CE, following the Jewish revolt and occupation of Jerusalem in 66 CE, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, leaving only the ‘western wall’ or the ‘Buraq Wall’. This structure seems to be part of the original temple, masjid, or place of worship. The final destruction of the Temple removed the function of the ‘Priest’ from the Jewish community, with Zakariyyā عليه السلام being one of the last, and sacrament of atonement through sacrifice. The emergence of the Rabbis (learned men) followed and was established roughly in the timespan of 300-400 CE. These were the Jews at the time of the Prophet ﷺ.
The two ‘falls’ mentioned in the Qur’an probably refer to the corruption and division within the land that immediately preceded the destruction of the Temple.
Modern ‘Israel’ and the ‘Israelites’
Some modern scholars have used the verses of al-Isrāʼ to prophesise future events concerning the contemporary ‘State of Israel’. Though the chapter speaks of an unchanging outcome for those who cause corruption in the land, exclusively superimposing it on the modern Zionist state seems unfitting. The modern Zionist occupation is instead at the very most a fleeting colonial event, such as the Greeks, Persians, Crusaders, Mongols, British, and the like. This is thus uncharacteristic of the land’s rich Abrahamic history. It is notable that virtually all the superpowers of world history have had control or domineering influence over the Holy Land, almost as a sceptre of authority.
Essentially, attempts at superimposing Israelite history – which is centred on an Abrahamic message more closely aligned with Muslims today – onto contemporary Zionism is a dangerous and incorrect move. Since the latter is at heart an intensely secular movement, any such reading may inadvertently serve the Zionist narrative, which relies on that spurious association for its own credibility.
Jewish historians, in fact, consider ‘Israelite’ to be a hereditary designation (the offspring of Yaʿqūb – Jacob, also called ‘Israel’), a geographic one before the exile, and a cultic one, particularly in the post-exilic period, applying to any worshipper of the God of Israel, ‘Yahweh’. Thus, the term ‘Jew’ emerged after the second exile to embrace the many ‘believers’ of multiple ethnicities, through descent or conversion, providing an ethno-religious connection to the Kingdom of ‘Yehuda’ or Judah.
Some can validly argue that by that definition, the people of the land who have been there since time immemorial, worship God, and recognise God’s revelation to Mūsā, ʿĪsā, and Muhammad, and constitute a mixture of previous nations including the Israelites (i.e., the Palestinians) can be called ‘Israelites’. In a 1918 book written by the founders of the Zionist state, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Palestinian peasants – then the majority of its inhabitants – were argued to be the ancient descendants of the Hebrews. Of course, this argument was later dropped by the authors, due to its irreconcilable nature with the Zionist narrative!
Al-Isrāʼ: Preparing the Final Nation of Truth and Justice for Ascendance
The address of al-Isrāʼ, being targeted primarily at the Companions (at a time of limited Jewish presence over the Holy Land), seems to not be a historic one, but a preparatory one. This hypothesis can only be true, however, if the contents of the chapter correspond with it.
Al-Isrāʼ, the Torah, and the Israelites
Surah al-Isrāʼ is also known as Surah Banī Isrā’īl (the Children of Israel), and is amongst the first chapters to be revealed to the Messenger ﷺ. It is thus Makkī, though a few verses could have been revealed in Madinah according to some.
Makkī chapters often emphasise the more fundamental matters, including those of a creedal nature, events of the past, and eschatology, such as death, judgement, the final destiny, and so on. ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd narrates that:
“Surahs Banī Isrā’īl (al-Isrāʼ), al-Kahf, Maryam, Ṭā Hā, and al-Anbiyā’ are amongst my first earnings and my old property, and (in fact) they are my old property (the very first of my knowledge).”
From among the ways the previous chapter (an-Naḥl) connects to al-Isrāʼ is through the former’s reference to Ibrāhīm towards the end, as well as Allah’s statement:
“(Keeping) the Sabbath was ordained only for those who differed over it…”
This means that the Sabbath was only ordained after the Israelites disputed over Allah’s preference of Friday. As such, Allah ordained that Saturday be their holy day and attached a grievous sin to those who dishonoured it. Thus, al-Isrāʼ contains the laws pertaining to the People of the Sabbath – the followers of Judaism, as outlined in the Torah. Al-Ṭabarī reports that Ibn ʿAbbās رضي الله عنه said:
“The whole Torah is encapsulated in fifteen verses of the Chapter of Banī Isrā’īl (al-Isrāʼ).”
A Warning to those who Reject the Truth
Towards the end of the chapter, Allah relates a concise account of the Pharaoh and his interaction with Mūsā عليه السلام and his people. The Pharaoh “resolved to turn them out of the land (of Egypt)”; for his wanting to exile God’s Prophet, he was instead turned out of the land. Allah says: “We drowned him and all of those with him.”
This warning at the end of the chapter relates back to the beginning; as such, Allah warns any later group that associates with the Israelites that their end will be like that of the Pharaoh if they are to do to His last Prophet what the Pharaoh did to Mūsā. In many ways, this is similar to Abū Jahl’s fate for forcing the Prophet ﷺ out of Makkah.
A Renewed Covenant with those who Uphold the Truth
After relating the two accounts of the Israelites, Allah informs that:
“Surely this Qur’an guides to what is most upright, and gives good news to the believers – who do good – that they will have a mighty reward.”
This verse reorients the followers of the final Prophet to pick up the covenant abandoned by the previous nations of believers, particularly the Israelites. Correspondingly, we find the chapter presenting man with the spiritual and moral duty due of Allah’s representatives on Earth, and accordingly in the central land of Bayt al-Maqdis.
Al-Isrāʼ and The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21 – two books of the Torah – relate the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue. These, amongst other commandments, were engraved on two tablets when Mūsā عليه السلام left for Mount Sinai, remaining there for 40 days while the Israelites were in the wilderness.
Of course, these commandments and other stipulations (such as words of spiritual inspiration) of the Torah had already been transmitted and taught orally by Mūsā in Egypt to the generation that was about to die out in the wilderness. Oral transmission was the modus operandi, particularly for divine scripture. Recall that the Israelites were punished for worshipping the calf, despite them doing this before they received the written inscriptions!
The inscription of the Ten Commandments by Allah seems to have been a preparatory codification of these ‘known’ laws to the generation that would carry them into the Holy Land. Such a determination suits a life of settlement, proliferation, and legal application, particularly as the first generation of Israelites had died out.
In keeping to these commandments, the Israelites would inherit the Promised Land, but wickedness would jeopardise their entitlement of it, equivalent to what we read in the promise of al-Isrāʼ. In other words, they knew that the ‘Promise’ of Palestine was contingent on applying the covenant of God; otherwise, if the covenant applied to them regardless of their actions, they would not have been denied it in the wilderness:
“…Perhaps your Lord will have mercy on you, but if you return (to sin), We will return (exile from the Holy Land)…”
Many Jewish traditions regard the Biblical promise made to Ibrāhīm, namely for his descendants to inherit the land, as being one that applies to all Jews, including proselytes (converts). This claim is based on the view that converts actually became the children of Ibrāhīm. Similarly, in the Qur’an Allah affirms that His promise will not apply to wrongdoers:
“(Remember) when Abraham was tested by his Lord with (certain) commandments, which he fulfilled. Allah said, ‘I will certainly make you into a leader for the people.’ Abraham asked, ‘What about my offspring?’ Allah replied, ‘My covenant is not extended to the wrongdoers.’”
Surah al-Isrāʼ was probably revealed 11 or so years after the first inspiration of the Prophet ﷺ, at a similar date to the Night Journey. This would have preceded Caliph ʿUmar’s entry into Jerusalem by around 17 years.
Per the statement of Ibn ʿAbbās, we find this chapter furnishing the nation of the Final Prophet with very much the same framework as that set out in the Decalogue, including one’s relationship with their Creator and their main duties towards man, starting with the closest, followed by the next.
The chapter, therefore, starts with Israel relinquishing their covenant and the consequence of being removed from the Promised Land. It then furnishes the nation of the Final Prophet with several stipulations, many of which are very similar to the Decalogue. This is done to prepare them to pick up God’s final covenant, implement the Truth and Justice in “God’s chosen land on Earth”, lead over those who absconded, and protect themselves from the same outcome. Palestine, then, is the Promised Land, but it is promised to anyone who chooses to follow God’s Way:
|The Ten Commandments (The ‘Decalogue’)||Al-Isrāʼ (Banī Isrā’īl): Chapter 17|
|No other gods before me.||“Do not set up any other god with Allah…”
“For your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him.”
|No graven images or likenesses.||“Say, ‘Had there been other gods besides Him – as they claim – then they would have certainly sought a way to (challenge) the Lord of the Throne.’”
“Glorified and Highly Exalted is He above what they claim!”
|Not take the LORD’s name in vain.||“Honour pledges, for you will surely be accountable for them.”
Al-Isrāʼ is also replete with ‘subḥān’ (seven times), which is to exalt the Name of God from any misuse, falsehood, and deficiency (vanity). “Glorified and Highly Exalted is He above (Subḥānahu) what they claim!”
(Pledges in God’s name to God and to the people)
|Remember the Sabbath day.||As noted above. Mentioned at the end of al-Naḥl (al-Qur’an, 16:124), which is linked to al-Isrāʼ.|
|Honour thy father and thy mother.||“And honour your parents…and be humble with them out of mercy, and pray, ‘My Lord! Be merciful to them as they raised me when I was young.’”|
|Thou shalt not kill.||“Do not kill your children for fear of poverty…”
“Do not take a life – made sacred by Allah – except with right…”
|Thou shalt not commit adultery.||“Do not go near adultery…It is truly a shameful deed and an evil way.”|
|Thou shalt not steal.||“Do not come near the wealth of the orphan…”
“Give in full when you measure, and weigh with an even balance.”
|Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.||“Tell My servants to say only what is best. Satan certainly seeks to sow discord among them.”|
|Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house.||“Do not come near the wealth of the orphan…”|
Moreover, our Prophet ﷺ resembles Mūsā عليه السلام in a number of striking ways. The main parallels include the ages in which they received inspiration, the size and breadth of both of their nations, the spiritual retreats of both, the periods of propagation before the periods of establishment of justice and law, their families, their followers, and the contents of their messages. Per Deuteronomy 18:18, God tells Mūsā:
“I (God) will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee (Moses), and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.“
In addition, Hārūn عليه السلام served the role of supporting Mūsā through verbal validation (taṣdīq):
“…so send him with me as a helper to support what I say (yuṣaddiqunī), for I truly fear they may reject me…”
This in many respects resembles the mission and character of Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq رضي الله عنه.
In a further resemblance, Biblical sources suggest that Prophet Yūshaʾ b. Nūn (Joshua) عليه السلام served Mūsā from the age of 18-20 for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. He died at the age of 110 years, 50 or so years after entering Canaan. In this case, he would have been in his late 50s when he led the believers into Bayt al-Maqdis.
ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb also served and accompanied the Messenger from his youth. He was killed in the year 644 AH at sixty-three years of age and had led the believers into Bayt al-Maqdis in the year 638 AH, putting him at approximately 57 years old. ʿUmar, therefore, closely resembles Yūshaʾ b. Nūn!
Picking up the Trust (Amānah)
Bayt al-Maqdis is for those who can pick up the trust that was absconded by those before us. It seems that Palestine can also be read through the verse:
“You are the best community ever raised for humanity – you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah. Had the People of the Book believed, it would have been better for them. Some of them are faithful, but most are rebellious.”
Had they believed, the covenant would have remained theirs. Thus you, the followers of the Final Message, became the best nation due to your belief as well as commanding the good and forbidding the evil. The continuity of Allah’s message and the divine right to preside over Palestine is contingent on these conditions. Consequently, īmān, a cognisance of Truth, requires acting upon its dictates and enjoining good and forbidding evil. The latter reference in the verse would imply that those before us failed in precisely these conditions, and thus God’s covenant was entrusted to others.
The right to divine leadership is elucidated in similar terms in another verse:
“(They are) those who, if established in the land (given authority) by Us, would perform prayer, pay alms-tax, encourage what is good, and forbid what is evil. And with Allah rests the outcome of all affairs.”
Since Muhammad ﷺ is the Last Messenger of God, it follows that Divine Justice must culminate fully in his way and message. In addition to his finality and his personhood being invariably linked to īmān, his journey to Bayt al-Maqdis and his leading of the Prophets there emphasises that his way of Truth and Justice naturally encompasses and recognises previous peoples and even more so justly manages their presence. History attests to this fact, from ʿUmar’s conquering of Jerusalem and his treaty with its inhabitants to the very last Ottoman guardians over the land. The final message is therefore the only message that provides the devices necessary for living with the People of the Book, that is, the devices for Divine Justice required of the Promised Land.
Present occupying invaders with dubious claims have no right to be guardians of the sanctuary. For one thing, they reject the Prophethood of Muhammad ﷺ, denying the Truth. But on top of this, the purely ethnocentric ‘Promised Land’ narrative necessarily trivialises virtue and good action. This constitutes the replacement of Truth and Justice with a nationalistic and racist narrative which is nothing more than collective egoism and pride.
The land is promised only to those who uphold God’s covenant, as shown (according to Jewish sources) by the effective exile of Israel through 40 years in the wilderness, and the two exiles afterwards due to idolatry and disobedience to Yahweh. Quraysh similarly forfeited their rights as Guardians of the Sanctuary (the Haram) due to their idolatry. One may then ask: can the ‘Promised Land’ be denied from the friends of Mūsā but granted to modern secularity and killers of the faithful?
A promise contingent on what pleases the Creator logically extends to the followers of His final message. This is why Palestine, when endowed to God’s servants – the same God as the God of Israel – will invariably land with Islam. If Makkah is the heart (Sun), Bayt al-Maqdis is the mind (Moon). It represents the state of the Ummah. When the Ummah is strong, Bayt al-Maqdis is safe, but when it is weak, Bayt al-Maqdis is exposed. It is the barometer of the Ummah.
The fight for Bayt al-Maqdis is not merely a fight for one’s homeland, but about safeguarding the physical manifestation to the gateway to Paradise for all mankind, so they have access to the physical expression of man’s ascension to Paradise – Allah.
 Sunan Abū Dāwūd, on the authority of Ibn Ḥāwalah.
 Special thanks are given to Dr. Najmuddin Hasan and Sh. Ali Hammuda for their invaluable contributions to this article and overall review of the piece.
 al-Qur’an, 17:1.
 al-Qur’an, 17:3.
 middleeasteye.net/opinion/how-zionists-use-racial-claims-deny-palestinians-right-their-homeland (which quotes the 1918 book Eretz Israel by David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi).
 al-Bukhārī on the authority of ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd رضي الله عنه.
 al-Qur’an, 16:124.
 See Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī.
 al-Qur’an, 17:103.
 Tafsīr al-Ālūsī.
 al-Qur’an, 17:9.
 al-Qur’an, 17:8.
 Conversion to Judaism Resource Center.
 al-Qur’an, 2:124.
 al-Qur’an, 17:22.
 al-Qur’an, 17:23.
 al-Qur’an, 17:42-43.
 al-Qur’an, 17:34.
 al-Qur’an, 17:43.
 al-Qur’an, 17:23-24.
 al-Qur’an, 17:31.
 al-Qur’an, 17:33.
 al-Qur’an, 17:32.
 al-Qur’an, 17:34.
 al-Qur’an, 17:35.
 al-Qur’an, 17:53.
 al-Qur’an, 17:34.
 Deuteronomy, 18:18.
 al-Qur’an, 3:110.
 al-Qur’an, 22:4.