An Introduction to the Banī Isrā’īl

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An Introduction to the Banī Isrā’īl



Since the forthcoming verses and many other sūrahs of the Qur'aan discuss the Banī Isrā’īl, it is appropriate that a person becomes acquainted with their background so that he may understand the Qur'ān better.


The Homeland And Children of Hadhrat Ibrāhīm u


Hadhrat Ibrāhīm u hailed from Babylon where Namrūd reigned. The people of the place including Hadhrat Ibrāhīm u’s father were all idolators. Hadhrat Ibrāhīm uattempted to preach tauhīd to them but instead of listening to him, they were bitterly opposed to him and even cast him into a raging fire.


One of his wives was Hadhrat Sarah uwho happened to be the daughter of his paternal uncle. His other wife was Hadhrat Hājar (Hājirah) u. Hadhrat Is’hāq uwas born from Hadhrat Sarah uwhile Hadhrat Hājar ubore Hadhrat Ismā’īl u. Hadhrat Hājar and Ismā’īl uwere the two whom Hadhrat Ibrāhīm u left alone in the desert of Makkah and became the founders of this great city. Hadhrat Ibrāhīm ualso had other children whose names have been recorded in the book, “Al Bidāya Wan Nihāyah”.


Hadhrat Is’hāq uhad a son called Hadhrat Ya'qub uwho was also known as Isrā’īl (meaning ‘the chosen servant of Allah’ or ‘Allah’s slave’). His progeny is therefore referred to as the Banī Isrā’īl (“the children of Isrā’īl”). Hadhrat Ya'qub u’s son was Hadhrat Yusuf uwhose incident is discussed in Sūrah Yusuf.

The Banī Isrā’īl Arrive in Egypt


When Hadhrat Yusuf uruled Egypt, his eleven brothers also emigrated to Egypt where their progeny flourished till their twelve tribes numbered 60 000 in total. Their homeland was Kan’ān in Palestine which was the place to which Hadhrat Ibrāhīm u emigrated after leaving Babylon.


While the progeny of Hadhrat Ismā’īl uprospered in Makkah, the progeny of Hadhrat Is’hāq uprospered in Kan’ān and later in Egypt. After the demise of Hadhrat Yusuf u, the Banī Isrā’īl were greatly oppressed in Egypt because they were aliens in the country.

The Coptics of Egypt made the Banī Isrā’īl their slaves and they even slaughtered the sons of the Banī Isrā’īl.

The Prophethood of Hadhrat Moosa u,


Allah Ymade Hadhrat Moosa u a prophet from amongst the Banī Isrā’īl who preached to Fir'oun and requested that he free the Banī Isrā’īl from bondage. However, Fir'oun neither accepted Hadhrat Moosa u’s preaching, nor did he release the Banī Isrā’īl. Instead, he claimed divinity.


The Banī Isrā’īl Escape from Egypt


By Allah’s command, Hadhrat Moosa u eventually led the Banī Isrā’īl out of Egypt one night. When Fir'oun’s army caught up with them, they were at the seashore. Allah Ythen commanded Hadhrat Moosa uto strike the water with his staff, causing the sea to make way for twelve dry roads. The Banī Isrā’īl were then able to cross safely.


When Fir'oun and his army decided to pursue them, Allah Ycaused the sea to close on them, drowning them all. Fir'oun was also killed, but Allah preserved his body, which is still present today in a museum in Egypt. Addressing him, Allah says in verse 92 of Sūrah Yunus,“Today We shall preserve you, with your body, to be a sign for those after you.”


Ibn Kathīr +reports in Al Bidāyah Wan Nihāyah (Vol.1 Pg.270) that when they crossed the sea, the Banī Isrā’īl numbered 600 000, excluding women and children. By then they had already lived in Egypt for 426 solar years.


After Emerging From Egypt


Although their original homeland was far off, the Banī Isrā’īl could have reached it in a reasonable amount of time. However, the journey took forty years because they wandered about, lost in the valley of Teeh. Every night, they arrived at the same place from where they had departed in the morning.


During that period, they harassed Hadhrat Moosa u greatly and even started worshipping the calf when he went to Mount Toor to receive the Torah. When he returned, they refused to believe him unless they personally heard Allah Yspeaking and saw him with their own eyes.


Allah provided manna (a sweet liquid) and salwa (quails – the food of Paradise) for them from Jannah but they expressed ingratitude by requesting for the common vegetables of the world. When they refused to practise the injunctions of the Torah, Allah suspended Mount Toor over their heads, threatening to drop it on them if they remained stubborn. 


Hadhrat Moosa u passed away during these forty years, after which Hadhrat Yusha Ibn Noon ubecame their prophet and eventually led them to Baitul Muqaddas. The various incidents mentioned above have all been discussed in the verses of the Qur'ān.


The Jews Arrive In Madinah


Historians write that when the kāfir tyrant Bukht Nasr attacked Baitul Muqaddas, he banished the Jews from there. Many of them emigrated to Hijaaz, Wadi Qura, Tayma and Madinah. At that time, there were some people of the Banī Jurhum residing there, along with some descendants of the Amāliqah tribe who planted and harvested dates.


The Jews gradually grew in number until they outnumbered the others. They expelled the others from Madinah, thereby seizing possession of the city. They resided there for as long as Allah willed. [Futuhul Buldaan Pg.329]


Certain historians have mentioned that the Jews had read in the Torah that the final messenger of Allah will appear in a city where dates flourish and which is bordered by two rocky deserts. Therefore, they set out from Baitul Muqaddas to search for this place so that they could receive him and follow him. When they recognised Madinah to be the place, they settled there. [Umdatul Akhbār Fi Madinatil Mukhtār Pg. 34, and Mu’jamul Buldān Vol.5 Pg.82]C

 (Adapted from Anwārul Bayān)