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This word, meaning 'of Jewish origin' refers to explanations derived from non-Muslim sources and
especially from the Jewish tradition, but also including other ahl al-kitâb in general. Such material was
used very little by the sahâba, but more by the tabicûn and even more by later generations. There are many
aspects of the Qur'ân which can be explained by referring to such sources, when there is common ground
between the Qur'ân and the other traditions. However, the information taken from such sources must be
used with great caution and cannot be considered sound according to the standards of 'ilm al-hadîth, unless
traced back to the Prophet himself and his Companions. The Prophet has already cautioned Muslims
against this source of knowledge:
Narrated Abû Huraira: The people of the scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used
to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah's apostle said: 'Do not believe the people of the
scripture or disbelieve them, but say: "We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us"' (2: 136).
Similarly Ibn Mas'ûd, the well-known Companion, is reported to have said: 'Do not ask the ahl al-kitab
about anything (in tafsîr), for they cannot guide you and are themselves in error....'
Hence one distinguishes three kinds of the so-called isrâ'îlîyât:
Those known to be true because the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad confirms them.
Those known to be false, because the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad rejects them.
Those not known to be true or false, and we do not say they are true or false.
Characteristics of the Content
1- They aim at hair-splitting unnecessary details with no real lesson or point of reproof e.g. the dimensions
of Noah’s Ark.
2- Quite often they go against reason and enter the realm of fiction: a rock running with Moses’s clothes
3 - we find a startling similarity between them and the Biblical or Apocryphal narratives e.g. details of the
episode of David killing Goliath (Jalut) or taking a man’s wife.
3- Many of them constitute blasphemy against the great Prophets, at least by Islamic standards. Infact no
reasonable person will dare to attribute that kind of things to the Messengers of the Almighty e.g. Prophet
David and Uriah’s wife, Moses running naked in front of his people.
4- The chain of transmission includes people who converted to Islam from Judaism or Christianity. They
then narrated what they had heard from the popular legends of their ancestors, like Ka’b Ahbar, Wahb bin
Munabbih etc. Others had contact with these individuals and attributed what they heard to the Prophet or
Companions like Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him.
--Encyclopedia of Islam:
Isrāʾīliyyāt (905 words)
Vajda, G.
, an Arabic term covering three kinds of narratives, which are found in the commentators on the Ḳurʾān, the
mystics, the compilers of edifying histories and writers on various levels. 1. Narratives regarded as
historical, which served to complement the often summary information provided by the revealed Book in
respect of the personages in the Bible (Tawrāt and Ind̲j̲īl), particularly the prophets (Ḳiṣāṣ al-anbiyāʾ).
2. Edifying narratives placed within the chronological (but entirely undefined) framework of “the period of
the (ancient) Israelites” (ʿahd Banī Isrāʾīl).
3. Fables belonging to folklore, allegedly (but sometimes actually) borrowed from Jewish sources. The line
of demarcation between this class and the preceding one is difficult to establish.
The prophetic legends appeared very early in Muslim literature, although few if any traces still survive
which in fact go back, in the form in which we have them, to the first century of the Hid̲j̲ra.
The earliest sources of information were either converted Jews or, perhaps, Arabs who had had contacts,
before their conversion to Islam, with the Jews and Christians of the Arabian peninsula and the
neighbouring regions. Mention may be made of ʿAbīd/ʿUbayd b. S̲h̲arya al-Ḏj̲urhumī [see ibn s̲ h̲arya],
whose narrations concerning the ancient history of the kings of the Arabs and Persians and biblical ¶
history (the confusion of languages, the dispersal of mankind) were said to have been recorded in writing
by order of Muʿāwiya, ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām [q.v.], Kaʿb al-Aḥbār [q.v.] and, later, Wahb b. Munabbih
[q.v.]; the last-named is believed to have written a K. al-Mubtadaʾ, entitled also Isrāʾīliyyāt; there is no
reason to question the authenticity of this belief, and it may be accepted that authors like Ibn His̲ h̲ām (d.
218/833) made extracts from it which in turn were passed on to later authors; however, the particular
compilations which claim to relate certain traditions of these personages do not offer the smallest guarantee
of their authenticity or antiquity, or of their earlier date in relation to the great compositions of taʾrīk̲h̲,
tafsīr and ḳiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ produced from the 3rd/9th to the 5th/11th centuries.
Narratives of the second category were perhaps already utilized by al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī [q.v.], d. 110/728, and
thus contemporary of Wahb; they certainly formed part of the stock of edifying parenesis, at least from the
time of Mālik b. Dīnār [q.v.], d. about 131/748; it may therefore be thought that this genre made its first
appearance in devotional literature during the period of the tābiʿūn. Al-Muḥāsibī [q.v.] did not hesitate to
have recourse to it (Riʿāya, ed. M. Smith, 234, 1. 11-12, 242 f.); Ibn Abi ’l-Dunyā [q.v.] used it freely, and,
of the later and very popular authors, besides Abū Nuʿaym al-Iṣbahānī (Ḥilyat al-awliyāʾ), G̲h̲azālī (Iḥyāʾ)
and Muwaffaḳ al-Dīn Ibn Ḳudāma (K. al-Tawwābin, ed. G. Makdisi, Damascus 1962).
The practice of introducing folklore themes (such as the motif of the “three wishes”) into narratives set in
the time of the Banū Isrāʾīl is one which the moralists and men of letters readily adopted.
It was the works of pure imagination of this kind, and also the extravagant flights of fancy of the ḳuṣṣāṣ in
their over-loaded, embellished versions of the histories of the prophets which have caused the Isrāʾīl yyāt to
be condemned by strict scholars such as Ibn Kat̲ h̲īr (cf. H. Laoust, in Arabica, ii (1955), 75, where the
reference should be Bidāya, i, 6), a condemnation repeated in more specific terms by al-Sak̲h̲āwī (Iʿlān,
trans. apud Fr. Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography,2 Leiden 1968, 335); however, the feeling of
distrust and the warnings sounded on this subject go back to a very much earlier date; they are to be found
in Ibn Ḳutayba [q.v.], in his Taʾwīl muk̲h̲talif al-ḥadīt̲ h̲ (see G. Lecomte, Le Traité des divergences du
ḥadīt̲ h̲ d’Ibn Qutayba, Damascus 1962, 310-16), and they have left traces in the classical collections of
ḥadīt̲ h̲ (cf. G. Vajda, in JA, 1937, 115-20).
(G. Vajda)