The Qur’ān, Chosen People and Holy Land

 

 

Seth Ward

 

Professor Issa Boulatta’s distinguished career has been marked by scholarship and promotion of open inquiry and discourse about Arabic literature and about Qur’ān among students and colleagues from varied backgrounds—Muslim, Christian and Jewish. The results give ample testimony to his achievement in scholarship and teaching with the highest standard of care for humanity in discourse. It is an honor to participate in this tribute to Professor Boulatta.

 

 

 

 

Much of what is written and said by Muslims today about Israel and the Jews in the name of Islam or of the Qur’ān is decidedly negative: statements about Jews and Judaism are shaped by the perceived political realities. It is easy enough to focus on a reading of the Qur’ān in which Jews are portrayed as sinners and implacable enemies of today’s Muslims, and the latter are the only true spiritual descendants of the Children of Israel and followers of the Abrahamic religion. Yet many verses in the Qur’ān may be read in a broader way. God may grant land to whomever He wishes, and is ever-merciful, forgiving and rewarding those who remain steadfast. More specifically, many verses in the Qur’ān support the chosenness of Israel, and even God's specific promise of the Land to the Israelites. This essay reviews the Qur’ānic verses about the chosenness of Israel and God’s assignment of the Promised Land to them.

 

Over two decades ago, the late Ismā’īl Rājī al-Fārūqī noted that Jewish-Christian dialogue had had many achievements; but Muslim-Christian dialogue had little to show for itself and Muslim-Jewish nothing at all.[1]  Authentic Islamic-Judaic discourse drawing on the Qur’ān could be shaped by verses describing divine promises to the Israelites, much as Christian-Jewish dialogue has been shaped by a Christian reinterpretation of the meaning they give to the old Jewish covenant with God. Muslims and Jews have much to gain by seeking a dialogue about scripture and shared values.

 

 

 

The Qur’ān contains several passages regarding the chosenness of Abraham’s progeny and of the Israelites (banī Isrā’īl), most often in the context of the Exodus. In the times of Moses, son of ‘Amram (Arabic: ‘Imrān), the Israelites were saved from Pharaoh, witnessed miracles and prostrated themselves before God in true worship. We read in the Qur’ān that God was gracious to Adam and to those with Noah. His grace extended to “the descendants of Abraham and of Israel, and of those whom We have guided and chosen (ijtabaynā), for when the revelations of the Merciful were recited to them they fell down to their knees in tears and adoration” (19:58)[2]. “God chose (Inna ’ṣṭāfā ’llāh) Adam and Noah, Abraham's descendants and the descendants of ‘Imrān, above the nations” (3:33).[3] “We saved the Israelites from the degrading scourge, from Pharaoh, who was a tyrant and a transgressor, and chose them knowingly (akhtarnāhum) above the nations. We showed them miracles which tested them beyond all doubt” (44:30-32).  “We gave the Book to the Israelites and exalted them (faḍalnāhum) above the nations.”  (45:16) “O Children of Israel: remember my favor (ni‘matī) which I have bestowed upon you and that I exalted you (faḍaltukum) above the nations” (2:122). In each of these verses, the Qur’ān refers to Israel as chosen. The same message may be learned by noting that the Israelites were given the Book as an inheritance wa-awrathnā Banī Isra’īla ’l-Kitāb (40:53); and that “the Book was bestowed as inheritance upon those whom God has chosen” (alladhīna ’stafaynā min ‘ibādinā) (33:32). The Qur’ān also honors the Israelites with peace, Guidance and safety: “peace upon those who have followed the Guidance” and “we have saved you from your enemy”—in context, both referring to the Israelites (20:47, 84).

 

The promise or grant of the Land to the Israelites is also found in the Qur’ān:  “We said then unto the Israelites: ‘Dwell in the Land.’” (wa-qulnā min ba‘dihī li-Banī Isrā’īla ’skunu ’l-arḍ) This promise comes towards the end of Chapter 17, to which we will soon turn in some detail.

 

The Land itself is also blessed or chosen. The “blessed land” is the land in which God settled the Israelites. It was already blessed in the days of the Patriarchs: “We delivered [Abraham] and [his nephew] Lot to the land which We have blessed (al-arḍ allātī bāraknā fīhā)” (21:71). So, too, God enabled Solomon to bring the wind to the land “which We have blessed” (21:81). The Israelites were settled in the Land after the persecutions of Pharaoh and the exodus from Egypt. Moses tells the people to have heart, as the Lord may “destroy your enemies and make you rulers in the Land”  (wa-yastakhlifakum fī al-arḍ) (7:129). This came to pass, and  “We gave the persecuted people dominion over the Eastern and Western Lands, which we have blessed” allatī bāraknā fīhā (7:137).[4]

 

The blessed cities (al-qurā allātī bāraknā fīhā) of 34:18 occur in the context of a narrative about the Sabaeans of pre-Islamic Yemen; the sūra refers to the famous breaking of the Mārib Dam.  But the qurā are understood by Islamic commentators to refer to the cities of al-ShāmSyria.” In other words, this phrase, too, refers to the blessed land of the Israelites.

 

Israel is to find its true homeland there: The land of the Israelites is described as mubawwa’, “place prepared as a lodging.”  “We settled the Israelites in a homeland of truth (mubawwa’a ṣidq)[5] and provided them with good things” (10:93).

 

The “Holy Landal-arḍ al-muqaddasa—etymologically the same as Hebrew ha-aretz ha-qedosha—occurs only once in the Qur’ān, and refers to the land of the Israelites. In a passage referring to the “words of Moses to his people,” encouraging them when they were afraid of giants in the promised land, we read: “Remember my people, the favor which God has bestowed upon you. He has raised up prophets among you, and made you kings, and given you that which he has given to no other nation. Enter, my people, the Holy Land (al-ardạ ‘l-muqaddasa), which God has decreed for you (allatī kataba ‘llāhu lakum)” (5:21). Indeed, Ibn Kathīr goes so far as to consider these verses a Divine command to Israel for jihād to enter Jerusalem, which was in their hands in the time of Jacob. Although they sinned and strayed from God, their punishment was to delay their entry for forty years—after which they were to enter the Land.[6]  The Israelites are also commanded to “enter the gate,” which probably also refers to entering the Land or entering Jericho. (4:154, 5:23).

 

 

Perhaps the most striking narrative about the history of the Israelites in their land occurs in chapter 17. This chapter is usually entitled Al-Isrā’ “The Night Journey;” sometimes it is called Banū Isrā’īl. The “Night Journey” refers to usual Islamic understanding of the first verse (which forms a separate subject from the rest of the chapter):[7] Muhammad was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem and thence to Heaven. This verse is the only Qur’ānic reference to this story: “Glory to Him who made his servant go from the Sacred House to the farther Temple (al-masjid al-aqṣā), whose surroundings we have blessed (alladhī bāraraknā ḥawlahū), that we might show him of our Signs” (17:1). There is considerable discussion about the meaning of al-masjid al-aqṣā in this verse. It may refer to “the highest heaven;” according to some versions of Muhammad’s account of his heavenly journey, the Angel Gabriel took him by the hand from where he slept directly to “the lowest heaven,” leading him successively upwards, with no reference to Jerusalem at all.[8] Alfred Guillaume has argued convincingly that in its original context the verse refers to a point on the outskirts of the ancient sacred enclave around Mecca.[9] The view that has become standard in Islam, however, is that Muhammad journeyed first to Jerusalem. This verse is therefore taken to refer either to the Jewish Holy Temple, the place from which Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven—in other words, the Rock underneath today's Dome of the Rock—or to Jerusalem in general. The blessing of its surroundings would thus appear to be a reference to the Holy Land, as is the case with similar language used elsewhere in the Qur’ān.  As for today’s Al-Aqṣa Mosque (Arabic: masjid al-aqṣā, as in the verse), it of course did not exist in Muhammad’s time. During most of Muhammad’s prophetic career, Jerusalem was under Persian control (614-628). Byzantines returned triumphantly to Jerusalem in 629 and Muhammad is said to have rejoiced when he learned Jerusalem was once again under the control of People of the Book.[10] After Jerusalem was conquered by Islam, several years after Muhammad’s death, Muslims in Jerusalem gathered for prayer at the southern end of the Temple Mount enclosure, the side closest to Mecca; when the mosque was built, its name recalled the verse. Interestingly, the language of blessing is different when the Qur’ān discusses the Holy House in Mecca. Here the notion of “blessing” is not made to agree with “land,” nor is the blessing applied to the surrounding area. “The first House placed on the earth was in Bakka (i.e. Mecca), as a blessing (mubārakan) and guidance for the nations.” (3:91). 

 

 

Chapter 17 continues with a discussion of the Book given to Moses.[11] This Book reminds the Israelites that they are descendants of those whom God carried on the Ark with Noah, a motif we have seen from passages elsewhere in the Qur’ān. The Book—presumably a reference to the Torah—contained a promise about the Land. Although the text of the promise is not mentioned at this juncture, it could hardly be other than the land. The Qur’ān notes that Moses' Book contains predictions that twice the Israelites will commit evil in the land (17:4). Possibly this is a reference to the two passages of reproof (tokaḥa, Lev. 26:14-41, Deut. 28:15-68) read in synagogues, according to today's standard reading cycle, shortly before Shavu‘ot and Rosh Hashanah. The prediction was fulfilled: the Qur’ān reviews the history of God's punishment, referring to two formidable armies who punished Israel. The first army “ravaged the land and carried out the punishment with which you had been threatened” (17:5). But God granted victory to Israel, and again Israel became rich and numerous (17:6). Then the prophecy of a second transgression was fulfilled, and God “sent another army to afflict you and to enter the Temple (al-masjid) as the former entered it before, utterly destroying all that they laid their hands on” (17:7). The verses refer to the destruction of the First and Second Temples, in 586 BCE and 70 CE. The book given to Moses had predicted that God would scourge the Israelites twice; the Qur’ān envisions future forgiveness and renewal—again punishable by destruction. “God may yet be merciful unto you, but if you again transgress, you shall again be scourged. We have made Hell a prison-house for unbelievers” (17:8). The end of chapter 17 returns to an account of Moses, and the command to “Dwell in the land” noted above. The process of forgiveness and victory, transgression and destruction is to cease when the promises of the hereafter come to pass, and “we shall bring you all together’” fa-idhā jā’a wa‘du ’l-ākhirati ji’nā bikum lafīfan) (17:104). The chapter ends with a call to all mankind to pray to God, calling upon him as God or as the All-Merciful or by whatever name, praying with neither too loud nor to soft a voice, and proclaiming His oneness and his greatness (17:110-111).

 

God has caused the Egyptians to abandon “gardens, fountains and…a noble place maqām karīm” and “we have cause the Israelites to inherit them (awrathnāhā)” (26:59; see also 44:25-29 where the language is very similar and the Israelites are mentioned in the next verse). “Gardens and fountains” are also associated with the heavenly paradise.  In 5:12, we find the Divine promise to cause them “to enter gardens under which rivers flow.” This sounds like Paradise to be sure, but it is also a description of Jerusalem, e.g. in Zamakhsharī on 17:1.[12]

 

Even had there been no promise, God’s ability to offer any land to anyone whom He chooses is underscored by the Qur’ān: “Lord… You bestow sovereignty on whom you will and take it away from whom you please” (3:26). “The earth is God's, He gives it to whosoever He chooses.” And similarly, God bestows favor on whom He will and takes it away from whom he will (e.g. 3:74).  We have seen that the Israelites were offered the “Eastern and Western Lands,” (7:137) but the Qur’ān reminds us that “The East and West are God's, He guides whom he wills to the right path” (2:142). God can thus offer sovereignty to anyone He wishes. Indeed, any sovereignty exists only by Divine favor.

 

Thus, we see that there is much material in the Qur’ān which links Israelites to the “blessed” or “holy” Land.  Abraham came to this land when he first left his homeland; the Israelites came to this Land when God brought them out of Egypt; the Temple of the Israelites stood in this Land.  Moreover, God may at any moment give a land to whomever He chooses, and God promised that the Israelites will be gathered together in the land just before the end-times.

 

Many of these passages are associated with the revelations of the Meccan period, i.e., before Muhammad emigrated to Medina in 622 CE. Other passages in the Qur’ān, many associated with Muhammad's Medinan period, are far less favorable to the notion of Israelite land and have a negative attitude towards the Jews; sometimes the verses cited above themselves appear in such contexts.

 

Jewish discourse takes it as a given that there is an unbroken continuity from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to the ancient Israelites to the Jewish people of Roman times, Muhammad’s times and our own days. In the Bible, Jacob is renamed Israel, and Jacob's descendants—the twelve tribes—are known as the Children of Israel, who recognize the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Qur’ān recounts a story similar to one found in Jewish literature: The children of Jacob (also known as Israel) gather around him on his deathbed. He asked them about their loyalty to God, and together, they recited a verse, Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” [13] This verse, is the quintessential profession of Jewish faith, mentions the negation of all other gods save God, and the profession of divine Unity. In context, the verse also asserts the loyalty of the individual sons—the Twelve Tribes—to the People which bears the name of their father.  The Qur’ān does not read the biblical narrative the same way. Ishmael joins the others as an ancestor. Jacob’s children, “the tribes” swear loyalty to the God of Jacob and of Jacob’s “forefathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac,” and promise to surrender themselves to God, (wanaḥnu lahū muslimūn) i.e., to be Muslims (2:133). We read in the next verse that the people formed by the Tribes—the Israelites—is no more: “That community has passed away (tilka ’l-umma qad khalat).” (2:134) (compare the next section, especially 2:140-141: which ends with the identical wording “Do you claim that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac Jacob and the Tribes were all Jews or Christians?…. that community has passed away….”) Abraham himself is not seen as the progenitor of the Israelites, or even of the Israelites and the Arabs. Instead, “Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian. He was an upright man who surrendered himself (to God) (ḥanīfan musliman)” (3:67).  Thus “those who are nearest to Abraham”—the true inheritors of Abraham's promises—are those “who follow him, this Prophet (i.e. Muhammad) and the true believers” (3:68).  God was gracious to the descendants of Abraham, and Israel; but God’s grace also included others, “those whom [He] has guided and chosen” (19:58), and moreover, “the generations who succeeded them neglected their prayers and succumbed to their desires. These shall assuredly be lost” (19:59), and cannot demand Divine favor: “Let the People of the Book know that they have no control over the grace of God faḍli ’llāh” (57:29). In short, they have become enemies—and they have become unbelievers. Like the idolaters, they associate others with God, and even consider humans to be Divine: the Qur’ān says that Jews believe Ezra to be the son of God (9:30).

 

The Qur’ān refers to the notion of covenant in several terms, including  ‘ahd and ayman, as well as mīthāq “Covenant,” which appears 25 times. In many instances, the term is used of those who were allied to the Muslim community. But mīthāq often refers to a divine covenant with a people, in chapters considered to have been revealed late in Muhammad’s career. There is the “mithāq of the believers,” and most particularly the “Covenant of the Israelites” in chapters 2, 4 and 5, and the Covenant of those to whom the Book was given in 3:187.  In these late chapters, the Covenant is almost always presented as rejected. “The covenant of those to whom the Book was given… they sold it for a paltry price” (3:187; see also 2:40, 2:86, 2:90). Addressing the Israelites, the Qur’ān notes that the covenant was made when the mountain was held over their heads, but they have turned away from it.  (2:63-4).[14] The Qur’ān teaches that the promises and revelations Jews claim for themselves are forgeries, and reiterates to the Jews “you have turned away from your bonds with Allah” (2:83). This passage refers to shedding kinsmen’s blood and turning them out of their homes (2:84), and God has cursed them for their unbelief (2:88).  God made a covenant with the Israelites, but the Israelites said “we hear and disobey” (2:93) and have broken the Covenant (fa-bimā naqḍihim mithāqahum) (4:154-5, 5:12-13). They turned away from God’s messengers, playing blind and deaf, even after God turned to them again in mercy. (5:70-71). There is an additional reference to what must be the Covenant of the Israelites in 5:7. Here, those who received the covenant say “we hear and obey” and there is no immediate reference to breaking the covenant. But it may also be noted that there is no specific reference to the Israelites or to the Mountain raised over their heads.

 

Moreover, the covenant does not apply to evil-doers (2:123 and frequently). The Qur’ān even recounts the Divine prerogative to reward the Muslims at the expense of the People of the Book: “He made you masters of their land, their houses, and their goods, and of yet another land on which you had never set foot before” (33:27). The context is no doubt that of Medina, the city of Muhammad, and the oasis of Khaybar in what is today NW Saudi Arabia. In both places, the peoples of the book referred to were Jews, some of whom were dispossessed, expelled or slaughtered. Such verses include: Take not the Jews and Christians as friends (5:51) Regarding “those who have received a portion of the Scripture…” i.e. the People of the Book, they purchase error, and “God knows best who your enemies are” (4:44-46). Indeed you will find that the vehement of men in enmity to those who believe are the Jews and polytheists” (5:82)  The verse about Medina and Khaybar refers to a one-time dispossession, but another well-known verse may be said to imply continuing struggle, at least until the non-Muslims have recognized the hegemony of Islam. “Fight those to whom the Book has been given, who believe not in God and the Last day, who forbid not what God and his Apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true faith, until they pay tribute (jizya) out of hand and are utterly subdued” (9:29).

 

 

 

Thus we have seen that the Qur’ān describes God’s election of the Israelites, and that God granted the Land of Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Some verses about the Land the Israelites were to receive broadens it to “East and West”—understood as Egypt and Syria by some commentators. We also saw them inheriting “the gardens and fountains” of the Egyptians, in language similar to that used to refer to Paradise. But we have also seen verses which explain why the Qur’ān is not often read this way. The Qur’ān discusses the descendants of the Israelites, and notes that Jews and Christians, or at least some of them, have fallen away from the true path, pervert scriptures, do evil and fight the Believers. Yet, many of these references are in Medinan sūras. Rather than understand them in broad terms, they must be seen in the context of the asbāb al-nuzūl, the specific history of the Community of Believers during that period. And the evil end which meets them is no different than that which is in store for those who claim to be Muslims yet do evil.

 

 

There is much in the Qur’ān and in Islamic tradition which allows for dialogue and common ground, or at least heated debate, even on highly controversial issues. For example, the contention that there is no connection between Judaism and the Ḥaram al-Sharīf—the Temple Mount—flies in the face of the Qur’ān, which tells the story of the destruction of both Temples, as we have seen. Moreover, Jerusalem was not under Islamic control when the Prophet is said to have visited there—nor, for that matter, when he recommended his followers to visit or support Jerusalem.[15] The Qur’ān may be read to show a sense of discontinuity between Israelites of old and the Jews of today—yet the Qur’ān also records God’s promise which allows for the possibility of their reinstatement.

 

This may be illustrated by the Qur’ān passage including the command to replace an earlier qibla, direction faced in prayer. The earlier qibla is unspecified in the Qur’ān, but always understood as facing Jerusalem. The qibla commanded by the Qur’ān is towards the Holy Mosque in Mecca (2:144). But this passage also recognizes that there is an arbitrariness to this, as “East and West are God’s” (2:142). Addressing Muhammad, the verse says that the new Meccan “qibla will be pleasing to you” (qibla tarḍāhā) (2:144); others are unlikely to adopt the qibla of the Muslims, no matter what verses or proofs are brought to bear (2:145). “Each one has the direction in which he faces . . . and God will bring them all together” (2:148).   It is antithetical to Islam to prevent anyone from prayer to God, anywhere, facing any direction; this would include Muslim prohibition of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, where prayer to God has been prevented several times by rocks being thrown from above.

 

The Qur’ān cannot be seen only as a book read by extremists to justify extremism, but also as scripture which can be used by Muslims who fight against a political interpretation of Islam that stresses armed struggle, and who reject terror and hatred as un-Islamic. The liberal tradition of modern Islam also has deep roots developed over nearly two centuries, although in contrast to “political Islam,” it usually is nearly invisible to outside observers. Many Muslims stress that today, Muslims must put aside the lesser jihād (literally "exertion") of armed struggle to join in a “greater” and more holy struggle against the evil which lurks within ourselves. Muslims justify marriage to Christian and Jewish women not only because the Qur’ān allows them to do so but because these communities are fundamentally monotheistic: if they really practiced polytheism, how could religious Muslims allow their wives to continue to practice these religions? Islamic attitudes to Judaism—and to Israel—must come to stress the brotherhood of ancestry and belief, to debate the State of Israel as possibly justified by Islam, and to interpret the negative material in the Qur’ān as reflecting particular occasions in the past. As we have seen, the Qur’ān provides ample scope for such interpretations. Jewish-Christian relations have shown much success in concerted effort on both sides to find teachings consistent with religious values which overcome both Christian triumphalism and charges of deicide, and Jewish teachings about the proverbial hatred of Esau—symbolizing Christianity—for Jacob. Among the rules of reasoning which may be applied in Islam, some legal traditions recognize that rulings may be issued on the basis of such concepts as istiḥsān or maṣlaḥa: what makes life better or more suitable for the Muslims. Certainly, under the concept of maṣlaḥa, much benefit would accrue to Muslims by emphasizing Qur’ānic elements allowing for a peaceful coexistence with an Israeli state. This would remove a cause of much death and destruction, liberating energy to concentrate on economic advancement and intellectual development—and leaving more time and ease for prayerful devotion to the Almighty.

 

There can be no progress towards stopping violence without a framework for societal justification for doing so. For Arabs and Israelis, the Muslim and Jewish traditions provide important societal grounding, but the religious sources are being used most often to support highly rejectionist viewpoints; often they are re-interpreted in this way. To succeed, any peace process must re-focus use of religious sources to promote a religious justification to reject bloodshed in favor of prayer, service and harmony among men.

 

“Lord, make this a land of peace and bestow plenty upon its people” (2:125).  The Qur’ān’s blessing applies to the Ka‘ba in Mecca. May it be God's will that the blessings of peace and prosperity apply also to the Land called Holy and Blessed in the Qur’ān.

 

Seth Ward

 



[1] Foreword, Trialogue of the Abrahamic Faiths. Herndon, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Alexandria:  Al-Sa‘dawi, 1991, x-xi. (First edition: 1982; the lectures in the book were given in 1979).

 

[2] Ismā‘īl is mentioned 19:54, without mentioning his progeny as is the case with Abraham and Israel. It is not immediately clear from the text whether the chosenness mentioned here refers to the progeny of Abraham and Israel or to Prophets from among their progeny.

[3] Here, ‘Imrān is the father of Moses, although in the next verse of the Qur’ān, ‘Imrān appears as the name of the grandfather of Jesus. Most Muslims do not believe that the Qur’ān considers Mary mother of Jesus to be the same as Miriam, sister of Moses, although in the Qur’ān both are Maryam the daughter of ‘Imrān.

[4] Al-Zamakhsharī glosses this as Egypt and Syria.

[5] Al-Zamakhsharī “a safe domicile (manzal), that is, Egypt and Syria.”

[6] Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Aẓīm, on the verse; vol. 2 p. 53.

[7] In the article “Isrā’ ” in EI, B. Schrieke noted that discussion of the original meaning of the verse and whether it was originally part of its current chapter were beyond the scope of the article. Such issues are also beyond our scope here.

[8] Variant ḥadīth traditions have Gabriel lead Muhammad by the hand directly from his home to the lowest heaven and thence upward, i.e. bypassing Jerusalem; others recount how Muhammad traveled on Burāq to Jerusalem. A third possibility raised by some is that this occurred in a dream. Sources also differ about the details which might serve to assign a date to this event. Some sources imply the ascent to heaven is to be dated very early in Muhammad’s life or career; perhaps the most common dating is to c. 619, the year in which his wife Khadīja and his uncle ‘Abbās died. The story of  the development of this and other elements of the sacred biography of Muhammad is comprehensively retold in Uri Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder: The Life of Muhammad as viewed by the early Muslims. Princeton NJ: Darwin, 1995. On the place of Jerusalem in Islamic tradition, see Goitein, “The Sanctity of Jerusalem and Palestine” in Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, Leiden: Brill, 1968, 135-148. Goitein takes issue with Goldziher about the role of the Umayyads in promoting the sanctity of Jerusalem; interestingly, the history of interpretation of the isrā’ does not play a major role in his argument. 

[9] A. Guillaume, “Where was the Al-Masjid al-Aqṣā?”  Al-Andalus 18 (1953) 323-336. This is of course irrelevant to the traditional Islamic interpretation of this verse.

[10] Some sources believe that Persians handed day-to-day control of Jerusalem to the Jews, which would mean it under Jewish control at the time often cited for the isrā’. It is not clear that this should be considered historical. See M. Gil, A History of Palestine 634-1099,  New York: Cambridge 1992 sections 5-11 (pp. 5-10)

[11] Compare kitāb Mūsā “The Book of Moses” 11:17; here it is always simply al-kitāb

[12] In this context, it is interesting to note the Biblical comparison of the area of Sodom prior to its destruction as “like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10); the midrash understands this as trees and agricultural lands (Genesis Rabbah 41:7). The Land of Israel is not usually described as “a garden” but as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” The major exception is Deut. 7:7-10 in which the Land is described as having streams of water and springs, and producing agricultural products and minerals; the final line of this passage provides that the Israelites will eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord for the bounteous Land.

[13] Pesahim 56a; See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Laws of reciting the Shema,” 1:4.

[14] This is well-known Midrash is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a.

[15] A well known hadīth reports that Muhammad was asked about Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) and said “Go and pray in it, for a prayer in it is the equivalent of a thousand prayers elsewhere.” If one could not go there, “send a gift of oil to in order to be lit in its lanterns, for one who does so is the same as the one who has been there.” Cited by Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah, and Ibn Hanbal; see  Mustafa Abu Sway, “The Holy Land, Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Islamic Sources” CCAR Journal, Fall 2000, p. 63.