Using Isra’iliyaat (Judeo-Christian Material) to Explain the Quran

Definition of Isra’iliyaat

Any reports that Muslim scholars take from the Jews and Christians.

Purpose of doing tafseer of the Quran through such reports

To benefit from their reports in clarifying some of the reported words in the Quranic stories or whatever is related to it. It is correct to consider the isra’iliyaat as a source from among the sources of tafseer, because the pious predecessors from the companions, the followers, and their followers from among the early generations used them based on certain principles.

Four ways a mufassir can benefit from isra’iliyaat

  1. Guidance over a possible meaning for a verse
  2. Defining something vague in a verse
  3. Knowing the reason behind a particular story
  4. Learning details of stories mentioned briefly in the Quran

Other points related to this topic

  • The reports from the isra’iliyaat are not used by the mufassir to take either legal and theological rulings from it. They are only used to clarify something in a verse or to add further details to what is mentioned in a verse.
  • There is dispute over some of their reports due to what is claimed in them contradicting correct belief with regards to the infallibility of the prophets. Their reports suggest that they were not infallible.
  • After examining the use and statements of the salaf (pious predecessors from the early generations), it appears that they treated the isra’iliyaat in the following ways:
    • Their intention was to clarify a general meaning of a word used in a verse, therefore, the report used by them from the isra’iliyaat did not contradict the overall meaning of the word.
    • The details presented in the isra’iliyaat are neither believed in nor disbelieved

Standards for using isra’iliyaat to explain the Quran

  1. It should be in agreement with the Quran
  2. The isra’ili report should not oppose a report from Allah and His Messenger
  3. It should be in agreement with the Arabic language
  4. It has approval from the companions and their students. Meaning they cited the isra’ili report without denying it
  5. It should be something possible and not impossible

There is hardly a book of tafseer found which does not contain some sort of isra’iliyaat. Difference of opinion over the details of a story does not invalidate the basis of a story. For example, there is a difference of opinion over what type of tree was it that was prohibited to Adam and Hawwa in paradise. This difference does not invalidate the basis of the story that there was some type of tree that was prohibited to them.

Source: al-Tahreer fee Usool al-Tafseer by Sh. Musa’id al-Tayyar

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