A Review of Contemporary Arabic Scholarship on the Use of Isrāʾīliyyāt for Interpreting the Qurʾan

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Kareem Rosshandler

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Abstract

The Qur’an, the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament have in common some twenty prophetic figures. The Qur’an engages these earlier scriptural communities both in its direct addresses and in the way it recounts the stories of these prophets. The earlier scriptures tend to present accounts of these prophets in more detail than the Qur’an. As such, early Muslims would sometimes consult Jewish and Christian converts to Islam to elaborate on the Qur’an’s allusive and terse references. From this process emerged a body of narratives called Isrāʾīliyyāt. Although well established in Muslim tradition, the practice of using such narratives to exegetical purpose has also long been a source of serious contention between scholars. This essay reviews nearly a dozen recent Arabic works in order to consider contemporary perspectives on the use of Isrāʾīliyyāt for interpreting the Qurʾan.

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