Rebuttal to Jochen Katz's Article "Qur'an Contradiction: Prophets and Kings in Israel before the time of Moses?"

By

Bassam Zawadi

 

Jochen Katz's article could be located here.

Jochen's main argument is that since the Qur'an in Surah 5:20 says that Allah made the Israelites kings at a time when that never happened, this proves that this is a historical error in the Qur'an.

The verse states:

Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples."

The Arabic word translated as kings is mulook. This word in the singular is malik in Arabic. The word malik in Arabic does not only necessarily refer to a king in power according to traditional Arabic. It is true that in vernacular Arabic, it almost always refers to a king. However, we must examine the word malik according to the correct traditional Arabic language.

Imam az-Zamakhshari in his commentary has it:

 

وقيل: الملك من له مسكن واسع فيه ماء جار. وقيل: من له بيت وخدم. وقيل: من له مال لا يحتاج معه إلى تكلّف الأعمال وتحمل المشاق

And it is said: Al Malik is he who has a spacious residence with running water. And it is also said: whoever has a house and servant. And it is also said: whoever has money that is not needed to be spent in order to get rid of burdens and necessities. (Az-Zamakhshari, Al Kashaaf, Commentary on Surah 5:20, Source)

Al Suyuti states:

 

And, mention, when Moses said to his people, 'O my people, remember God's favour to you, when He established among you, that is, from among you, prophets, and established you as kings, possessing servants and retinues, and gave you such as He had not given to any in all the worlds, in the way of manna and quails, the parting of the sea and other things. (Jalal ud-Din Siyuti, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Commentary on Surah 5:20, Source)

 

Al Suyuti states that they were like kings in that they possessed servants and retinues.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi has it in his commentary:

قال السدي: يعني وجعلكم أحراراً تملكون أنفسكم بعد ما كنتم في أيدي القبط بمنزلة أهل الجزية فينا، ولا يغلبكم على أنفسكم غالب،

 وثانيها: أن كل من كان رسولاً ونبياً كان ملكاً لأنه يملك أمر أمته ويملك التصرف فيهم، وكان نافذ الحكم عليهم فكان ملكاً، ولهذا قال تعالى:


{ فَقَدْ ءاتَيْنَا ءالَ إِبْرٰهِيمَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلْحِكْمَةَ وَءاتَيْنَـٰهُمْ مُّلْكاً عَظِيماً }[النساء: 54]


 وثالثها: أنه كان في أسلافهم وأخلافهم ملوك وعظماء، وقد يقال فيمن حصل فيهم ملوك: أنتم ملوك على سبيل الاستعارة،

 ورابعها: أن كل من كان مستقلاً بأمر نفسه ومعيشته ولم يكن محتاجاً في مصالحه إلى أحد فهو ملك. قال الزجاج: الملك من لا يدخل عليه أحد إلاّ بإذنه. وقال الضحاك: كانت منازلهم واسعة وفيها مياه جارية، وكانت لهم أموال كثيرة وخدم يقومون بأمرهم، ومن كان كذلك كان ملكاً.

Al Suddi said: It means and we made you free persons who own themselves after you were in the possession of the Copts as people of the Jizya, and no one would conquer you successfully.

Secondly: Every person who was a Messenger or Prophet was a king because he owned the command of his community and he owns the right to behave the way with them as he pleases. He had a piercing and effective control over them, so he was a king over them and that is why Allah said:

Or do they envy mankind for what God hath given them of his bounty? but We had already given the people of Abraham the Book and Wisdom, and conferred upon them a great kingdom. (Surah 4:64)

Thirdly, their ancestors and successors had kings and great people, and it could be said to those who have kings in their ancestry or in future generations "You are kings by way of borrowing"

Fourthly, whoever is independent in terms of his living and is not in need for anyone, he is a malik. Al Zajjaj said: The malik is he who has people enter upon him with his permission. Al Dahhak said: Their houses used to be spacious and it had running water, and they had a lot of money and servants doing what they ordered, and whoever is like that is a malik. (Fakhar ad-Din ar-Razi, Tafsir Al Kabir, Commentary on Surah 5:20, Source)

 

Imam Razi has done an excellent job explaining the different possible meanings of the word malik and how all of them could be easily harmonized with Surah 5:20 in light of history.

 

Ibn Kathir has it in his commentary:

 

Allah said next,

[وَجَعَلَكُمْ مُّلُوكاً]

(made you kings) `Abdur-Razzaq recorded that Ibn `Abbas commented: "Having a servant, a wife and a house.'' In his Mustadrak, Al-Hakim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, "A wife and a servant, and, a

[وَءَاتَـكُمْ مَّا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَداً مِّن الْعَـلَمِينَ]

(and gave you what He had not given to any other among the nations (`Alamin).) means, during their time.'' Al-Hakim said, "Sahih according to the criteria of the Two Sahihs, but they did not collect it.'' Qatadah said, "They were the first people to take servants.'' A Hadith states,

«مَنْ أَصْبَحَ مِنْكُمْ مُعَافًى فِي جَسَدِهِ، آمِنًا فِي سِرْبِهِ، عِنْدَهُ قُوتُ يَوْمِهِ، فَكَأَنَّمَا حِيزَتْ لَهُ الدُّنْيَا بِحَذَافِيرِهَا»

(He among you who wakes up while healthy in body, safe in his family and having the provision for that very day, is as if the world and all that was in it were collected for him.) (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Source)

 

The above hadith is found in Sunan Al Tirmidhi, Hadith no. 2268, Source and it has been authenticated by Shaykh Al Albani in Silsilatil Ahaadeeth Al Saheeha, Hadith no. 2318.

 

Jochen might argue back that we must examine the word malik according to the language that Moses (peace be upon him) was speaking. However, we don't know exactly what word Moses (peace be upon him) used. We don't know if he used the word "king" in his language. So when the Qur'an translates Moses's (peace be upon him) statement into Arabic, we must examine the words according to the Arabic language and not the language of Moses (peace be upon him).

 

In conclusion, the Arabic word malik does not have to literally be referring to a king and it could mean several other things as well. Jochen's job would be to show that the word must be literally be referring to a king in order to have a successful argument, however he has not done so. 

 

                                                                             Appendix

 

Jochen responded back over here, however brother Waqar (may Allah bless him) provided an excellent counter response over here.

 

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