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The Promised Land – As Promised in the Three Holy Books

 article about The Promised Land – As Promised in the Three Holy Books

This article belongs to With a Grain of Piquant Salt column.


In a recent essay, I talked about a rather interesting, obscure point raised by a number of people, about how Allah actually promised Israel to the Jews. As it so happened, an email was floating around about how a Dr. Salim Mansur in Canada created a stir (a very small one!) saying that the Qur'an states that the Jews have the right to the land of Israel, hence Muslims should acknowledge Israel's right to exist right where it does. Tellingly, this debate didn't go anywhere, but generally, this aspect doesn't seem to be debated with the usual theological vigour and reach as other aspects have. Obviously, the main people who are talking about this are the Jews, but I did find some Islamic theologians who also seem to support this view to an extent. Anyway, enough of the cyber-background, here's what I found out. To get to the bottom of this, a bit of logic, a bit of theological research and a huge dollop of salt will be required.


 


First the bald facts: Seriously, baldness is involved. My sister did go bald while (1) searching for the relevant suras and psalms (2) searching for different tafseers and background and (3) pulling out her hair when we were debating this logically. So a big "thank you" to her. Nobody really disputes the basic points. This is what the holy books say:


 


• On that day, God made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates. The land of the Kenites, Kenizites, Kadmonites; the Chitties, Perizites, Refaim; the Emorites, Canaanites, Gigashites and Yevusites." (Genesis 15:18-21)


 


• Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea [Mediterranean Sea], and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see [it] with your eyes, but you shall not go over there." (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)


 


• Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant, saying, "Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. "Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. (Joshua 1:1-6)


 


• "From the wilderness and this Lebanon (NIV says:...'from the desert to Lebanon'), even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea [Mediterranean Sea] toward the setting of the sun will be your territory. "No man will [be able to] stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. "Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. (Jos 1:4)


• "O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah has prescribed for you and turn not on your backs for then you will turn back losers." (Qur'an 5.21)


 


• "We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling place, and provided for them sustenance of the best." (Qur'an 10:93)


 


• "Dwell securely in the land of promise." (Qur'an 17:104)


 


Given that the Talmud, Bible (both Old and New Testament) and the Qur'an are considered to be holy books, I think we can take it as "God-given" that Israel was given over to the Jews. There are a whole host of other questions, what exactly is the land in question? Where do its boundaries lie? Can other people join in the same land or is it exclusive? What about other people like the Philistines? Irrespective of all these questions, the basic point, which was very surprising and unknown to me, was the clear cut point in the Qur'an and other holy books that Israel was given to the Jews.


So far so good, but the main objection, I understand, to this is that the land was given over to the Jews for participating in a covenant, a bargain if you must. (see Genesis 15:18-21) In other words, God (the Lord / Allah) said repeatedly, be nice and have this land for being good. If you are bad and break the covenant, you will be punished.


 


• [Qur'an 2.40] O children of Israel! call to mind My favour which I bestowed on you and be faithful to (your) covenant with Me, I will fulfil (My) covenant with you; and of Me, Me alone, should you be afraid.


 


• [Qur'an 2.47] O children of Israel! call to mind My favour which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations.


 


• [Qur'an 2.83] And when We made a covenant with the children of Israel: You shall not serve any but Allah and (you shall do) good to (your) parents, and to the near of kin and to the orphans and the needy, and you shall speak to men good words and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate. Then you turned back except a few of you and (now too) you turn aside.


 


• [Qur'an 2.211] Ask the Israelites how many a clear sign have We given them; and whoever changes the favour of Allah after it has come to him, then surely Allah is severe in requiting (evil).


 



 


There have been four covenants according to (mainly Sunni) mainstream Muslim theological thought. There is a huge body of knowledge and research and there are strict rules on what comprises a covenant and what is classified as a promise. The summary is that the first covenant was with Adam and you know what he did to break that covenant and how he was punished. As the story goes, the Jews also broke the covenant and were punished (more on this later). Then came Jesus with the third covenant, but that was broken as well. Finally came the Prophet Mohammad and the fourth covenant is still in play, and the result of this fourth covenant will be known on the Day of Judgment.  __


So here's the issue. From what I can understand, there is a difference between a curse and a punishment. In the Qur'an, if you break a covenant, the curse (of hell and brimstone) is invoked immediately. But the punishment can be immediate or can wait till the Day of Judgment. And in our research, we could not find anywhere, in the Qur'an or elsewhere, where it says that the grant of land to the Israelis / Jews was withdrawn, revoked or declared void. There are suras which say: "'O God, King of the kingdom (1), Thou givest the kingdom to whom Thou pleasest, and Thou strippest off the kingdom from whom Thou pleasest; Thou endowest with honour whom Thou pleasest, and Thou bringest low whom Thou pleasest: all the best is in Thy hand. Verily, Thou hast power over all things.'"(2) [Qur'an 3:26], but this is a rather generic statement, which is talking about the power of God and how He can punish people, but nowhere is a particular kingdom (or land) mentioned. Also related are these suras:


 


• "God took the covenant of the children of Israel ... Because they broke their covenant, We cursed them and made their hearts hard: they change the words from their places, and they forgot part of what they were reminded of ... And from those who said "We are Christians" We took their covenant, and they forgot part of what they were reminded of; so We produced enmity and hatred between them until the Day of Resurrection. And God will make them aware of what they have-done.(Q 5:12-14)


 


• "Those who break God's covenant after adhering to it and cut what God has commanded to be joined and commit corruption in the earth - on them is the curse, and for them is the Evil Abode! (Q 13:25, cf. 40:52)"


 


• [7.163] And ask them about the town which stood by the sea; when they exceeded the limits of the Sabbath, when their fish came to them on the day of their Sabbath, appearing on the surface of the water, and on the day on which they did not keep the Sabbath they did not come to them; thus did We try them because they transgressed.


 


So while it is clear that they did break the covenant according to the Qur'an (and understandable because of the fact that Islam was a new religion and clear blue water had to be established between the old ways and the new way), it is not clear at all that the land grant was withdrawn. Also, if their punishment is to be on the Day of Judgment, until then, they do need a place to stay and that place is the land which was originally granted to them, to wit, Israel.


 


To further confirm this, Jews are currently in sovereignty over the land of Israel and that is what Allah wanted originally. This further leads one to argue that since the Jews are still in control and the Day of Judgment is still not on us (thank God for that!), and if the covenant has indeed been broken, Allah seems to still be thinking about the punishment. Another possibility is to consider the fact that they are back after their banishment, which could mean that they have been punished and now their punishment is over. Confusing or what? But there you go, over to you, gentle readers, this is what I understood. But since I am no theologian or a professor of comparative religion, it is up to you to make up your mind, refer to other religious guru's for further enlightenment and take this with a grain of piquant salt.  



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