Refuting Missionaries on Qur'an and Kings in Israel Before Moses

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله وحده و الصلاة و السلام على من لا نبي بعده و على آله و أصحابه أجمعين
 Does the Qur'an err when it mentions "mulook" (normally translated as 'kings') in the House of Israel before the time of Prophet Moses? We bring to you the answer to this question in the light of exegetical traditions traced back to the Holy Prophet, his companions and other early Muslims, analysis of the relevant Qur'anic verse, original, meanings of the word 'mulook' and historical context including Biblical testimony.

1- Introduction:

Christian missionaries have gathered up many articles attacking Islam in an attempt to hinder people from understanding Islam. Upon examination however, we come to realize that the scholarship of such people is lacking serious weight, integrity and understanding not only of Islamic sciences and principles, but Biblical knowledge as well.  It seems that the goal of missionaries is to whrite as much clogged information as possible so that readers might consider quantity a sign of credibility and scholarship.  This is certainly not the case with educated people who are willing to take their time and seriously analyze the claims from a rational point of view.  One of such unfounded attacks on the Quran is a so called inconsistency that deals with the usage of the word “kings when it comes to the Children of Israel.  

Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنبِيَاء وَجَعَلَكُم مُّلُوكًا وَآتَاكُم مَّا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِّن الْعَالَمِينَ

This is commonly translated as:

“Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings (mulook), and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.” (Qur’an 5:20)

Islamophobes like Jochen Katz allege that author of the Qur’an erred here for there were no kings/monarchs from amongst the people of Israel before the time of Moses, may Allah bless him. 
It is certain that this argument sprouts merely from the reading of the translations of the Islamic Scripture. 

2- The actual word used and its meanings:

The word “mulook” comes from the word “malak” which means “owning” or “possessing.” 

John Penrice writes:

مَلَكَ : To possess, have power or dominion over; to be capable of able to obtain … مَلِك : One who possess, a king; Plur. مُلُوك [1]

This is to show that original meaning of “malik” is “one who possess” and as the monarchs are in a way the possessors of the destiny of the whole nation it is usually used for them.

3- Meanings of the word put in the verse:

Following points may be considered while keeping in mind the above stated origins and primary meanings of the word.

1- There is a clear contrast in the wording used to refer to the prophethood and “kingship” /”possessive attribute” of the people of Israel.

Statement about Prophets is “He made prophets from amongst you” which carries the sense that not all of them were blessed with prophethood rather only a few were, and others were required to follow them. But when it comes to “kingship”/”ownership” it is said, “and made you the mulook” which means that all of them were kings. Without a doubt not all people are prophets and without a doubt not all people are monarchs.  But in the case of the children of Israel, Allah has favored them and blessed them with wealth and provisions like He did not bless anyone before; hence they have been given ownership and kingship:

يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ

“O Children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favored you above all other people;”[2]

 This textual observation itself is a strong suggestion that unlike spiritual authority the temporal power of otherwise only ordinary nature is mentioned here. This point helps us understand the true meaning when we put this reported statement of Moses in the historical context as elaborated below.

2- With point 1 in mind it is easy to understand the explanation to the word given by earlier Muslim commentators that “malik” (plur. “mulook”) refers to the one who has a wife and owns servants.
عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما، في قوله عز وجل ... {وجعلكم ملوكا} قال: المرأة والخادم

Ibn Abbas said about the word of Allah, ’And made you kings’: “[It means] having a wife and a servant.”[3]

Similar meanings were given by Hasan al-Basri, Mujahid and other early authorities.[4]

It implies making them a people having the luxury of an honorable family life, along with servants helping them in their daily routines.

3- In fact a similar interpretation is attributed to the Holy Prophet- may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

قال ابن أبي حاتم: ... عن أبي سعيد الخدري، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: "كان بنو إسرائيل إذا كان لأحدهم خادم ودابة وامرأة، كتب ملكا"

Ibn Abi Hatim said: Abu Sa’id al-Khudri narrated from the Messenger of Allah –peace and blessings of Allah be upon him: “With the Children of Israel, a person who had a servant, an animal and a wife was counted as a king.[5]

Though the chain of authorities of this narration is weak, it is supported by another narration:

عن زيد بن أسلم:  قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: "من كان له بيت وخادم فهو ملك"

Zayd bin Aslam narrated: The Messenger of Allah- peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- said: “One who has a house and a servant is a king.”[6]

Before we go on to give evidence for similar usage without any direct connection to the verse, it needs to be highlighted that these narrations pose a serious question for disbelieving skeptics who try to question Islam with such points.  If Prophet Muhammad –peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- was the author of the Qur’an and if he actually meant to say monarchs in this verse why would then he explain the word in quite different terms, as shown?

4- Word “mulook” meaning other than kings/monarchs:

Independent of the verse, there is evidence of the word “mulook” to simply mean sovereignty in personal affairs and ownership in general. It is even used for command over one’s own self.

1) Following hadith is good example:

أبا عبد الرحمن الحبلي، يقول: سمعت عبد الله بن عمرو بن العاص وسأله رجل، فقال: ألسنا من فقراء المهاجرين؟ فقال له عبد الله: «ألك امرأة تأوي إليها؟» قال: نعم، قال: «ألك مسكن تسكنه؟» قال: نعم، قال: «فأنت من الأغنياء» ، قال: فإن لي خادما، قال: «فأنت من الملوك»

'Abd al-Rahman al-Hubuli reported: I heard that a person asked 'Abdullah b. 'Amr b. 'Aas saying: Are we not amongst the destitute of the emigrants? Abdullah said to him: Have you a spouse with whom you live? He said: Yes. ‘Amr again asked: Do have a place to live in? He said: yes. ‘Amr said: Then you are amongst the rich. He said: I have a servant also. Thereupon he (Abdullah b. 'Amr b. 'As) said: Then you are amongst the kings (mulook).[7]

2) The missionaries might make an objection here saying that the Muslims are using their own meanings, carrying no weight in the argument.  Responding to this, we will look at the usage of the world from non Muslims at the time of Prophet Muhammad –peace and blessings of Allah be upon him-as well as the usage of the word in the Bible:

Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf, the infamous member of a Jewish tribe around Madinah, who spent his time inciting the Quraish against the Muslims and calling for the murder of the Holy Prophet–peace and blessings of Allah be upon him-, on learning about the killing of the chiefs of the pagans in the Battle of Badr said:

هؤلاء أشراف العرب وملوك الناس

“Those were the nobles of Arabia, the kings of the people (mulook-ul-naas).”[8]

We know that the Quraish were not monarchs however Ka’b understood that they were highly regarded by the rest of the Arabs and they were prosperous due to their guardianship over the Ka’bah.   

3) In the Arabic translations of Bible’s Book of Revelation the same word is used:

وَجَعَلَنَا مُلُوكًا وَكَهَنَةً
This is given in the Smith & Van Dyke Arabic Bible.

And has made us kings and priests ...”[9]

According to Christian exegetes here “kings” simply means those who control themselves in the spiritual sense, yet Arabic translators use this word, “mulook”,  testifying that it can mean other than monarchs. 

Matthew Henry writes: 

“As kings, they govern their own spirits, conquer Satan, have power and prevalency with God in prayer, and shall judge the world.”[10]

4) In fact in the Jewish history there is evidence of reference to ordinary leaders or chieftains as kings.

“In Palestine almost every chieftain bore this title.”[11]

All this shows that the meaning of the root of the word i.e. possession and ownership defines its different usages and there is no reason to take exception to any meaning unless the context belies it.

5- The Historical Context:

Having proved that the meanings understood by classical Muslim scholars are indeed true to the actual word and its usage, we now find its relevance with the true historical context of the statement.

As the context of the Qur’anic passage shows the statement of Moses was made when the Jews had just left Egypt and they were yet to enter the cities in the land of Canaan. 

The Jews had lived a life of misery and suppression in Egypt under the Copts. Now as they, with God’s leave, left Egypt they enjoyed freedom from the bondage, a secure family life and material prosperity. Their family life had actually become quite secure even in the wilderness as compared to what transpired with them under the brutal pharaohs. (See, Qur’an 2:49 and Exodus 1:15-22) As life in wilderness brought to them the security of family, in a way it became a house for them, for what is house except a place bringing security and a certain degree of protection.

In Egypt the Israelites were in bondage, through the Exodus they became masters of their own destiny and even had some people to work for them. Jochen Katz in his overstretched rebuttal to Bassam Zawadi forgets the plain narratives of his own ‘Holy’ Book in his passion to attack the Islamic Scripture, The Glorious Qur’an.

In description of the Exodus Bible reads;

“Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing.  And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.[12]

It is therefore wrong to assume that Jews left Egypt is the state of destitute. 

Then in Exodus 12:37 after giving the number of the Israelites who left Egypt and the distance they traveled, it continues;

“A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock.”[13]

i.e. there were non-Jewish people with them who accompanied them.

In the same chapter among the Passover restrictions we find the following instruction;

“No foreigner shall eat it. But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it.”[14]

Had the Jews no servants there wasn’t any need to give these instructions. In fact it appears the “mixed multitude” that went with them were their servants. In their commentary to Exodus 12:38 “mixed multitude” Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh write;

“According to Deut 29:11, they seem to have occupied a very low position among the Israelites, and to have furnished the nation of God with hewers of wood and drawers of water.”[15]

Israelites lived and managed things together as tribes. When Moses- may Allah’s blessings be upon him- prayed for water for the Children of Israel he was instructed to smite a rock with his staff and from it gushed twelve springs- one for each tribe (Cf. Qur’an 2:60, see Darayabadi’s commentary for historical evidence on number of holes in the rock corresponding to the number of tribes). Therefore, if some foreigners drew water for them it meant they served all of them. In contrast to apt slavery in Egypt this was a huge change in the living standards of all of the Children of Israel.

These facts testify the historical truth behind the use of the word “mulook” in the particular sense mentioned.

6- The Best Translation of the Verse and Other Translations:

In the light of all these details we can safely conclude that the best English rendering of the meanings of the verse is given in Saheeh International translation. It reads;

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, “O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds.” 

Likewise Muhammad Asad translates it as;

“And, Lo, Moses said unto his people:" "O my people! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, and made you your own masters, and granted unto you [favours] such as He had not granted to anyone else in the world.”

It is however important to note that even though some well-known translators have used the word “kings” or “princes” in the translation, they did not mean monarchs.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali used the word “kings” but in his short commentary note he said; “From the slavery of Egypt the Children of Israel were made free and independent, and thus each man became as it were a king.”

In the same way Abdul Majid Daryabadi used the word “princes” in his translation yet in annotations he remarked, “i.e., masters of your own selves. A ملك is not necessarily a king. He may be anybody possessing dominion, authority, or even independence.”

7- Summary and Conclusion:

1) The difference in the way Qur’an describes the blessings of prophethood and temporal ownership itself suggests that “mulook” does not mean monarchs; it rather refers to freedom and luxury of possession.

2) The original meaning of the word “malik” is about possession alone and its variant degrees define the title for each level.

3) The meaning of the word “malik”/”mulook” taken by earliest commentators was used independently but in the same sense, see the narration about ‘Amr b. Al-‘Aas from Sahih Muslim.

4) The Israelites gathered riches as they left Egypt and they even had servants from other nations during the Exodus when Moses- may Allah bless him- made that statement.

5) Most precise translation of the verse is,

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, “O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds.”

Thus we see that all objections to the meanings of the verse are unworthy of any attention and we find Islamophobes forgetting their own scriptures while attacking Islam. Truly venom, jealousy and spite know no bounds!


One can quote scores of errors in the Bible but just for taste we talk of a few here.

In Numbers 21:3 we read, And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called Hormah.”

But then in Judges 1:17 “And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah."

A more clear translation is,They put a curse on the city, destroyed it, and named it Hormah.” (Good News Translation)

If the city was named Hormah much later how can the city be so called at the time of Moses, may Allah bless him- the supposed author of the Book of Numbers? Not only this, do the Christians actually believe that Moses lived to see Canaanites delivered to Israel?

 Given the Christian idea of inspiration one wonders whether the Holy Spirit - part of the Triune Christian Godhead- failed or forgot to inspire the truth on these issues. At the very least it proves the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have not been safe from adulteration. 

According to the prophecy in Ezekiel 26: 7-12 Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar were to attack Tyre and verse 12 says ' They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise:' but even though they attacked and laid the siege for 13 years, they could NOT take the spoils and thus God promised him the Land of Egypt as wages for the trouble they did undergo at Tyre. Gill and Adam Clarke in their commentaries agree that Nebuchadnezzar lost the spoils of the rich city of Tyre because of the timely arrangements of the people of the city. In the commentary of Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, it is clarified that “many nations” in Ezekiel 26:3 refers to the composition of the Army of Nebuchadnezzar. This proves that the prophecy in Ezekiel 26:12 failed. Did God fail to do what he promised or he inspired these historic blunders?

Christians should be the last people to even think of raising questions about the Qur’an at least as long as they believe in Bible as an inspiration from God.

Indeed Allah knows the best!

-- by Waqar Akbar Cheema & Gabriel K. Al-Romaani

[1] A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran, Darul Ishat, Karachi, 1998, p.140
[2] Qur’an 2:122
[3] Mustadrak al-Hakim, Hadith 3214. Al-Hakim graded it as Sahih according to the conditions of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Al-Dhahbi agreed with him.
[4] Al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Jami’ al-Bayan fi Ta’wil al-Qur’an, Al-Resala publications, Beirut 2000 vol. 10 pp.162-163
[5] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, Dar al-Taybah, Beirut 1999 vol.3 p.73
[6] Al-Tabari, Tafsir, vol. 10 p.161 Narration. 11626
[7] Sahih Muslim, Book 42, Hadith 7102
[8] Sirat Ibn Ishaq, Dar al-Fekr, Beirut 1978 vol.1 p.317
[9] NKJV, Rev. 1:6
[11] Jewish Encyclopedia, Art. King, Last Access on November 29, 2012 6:52 pm GMT
[12] Exodus 12:35-36
[13] Exodus 12:38
[14] Exodus 12:43-45
[15] Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at, Last Access on November 29, 2012 6:53 pm GMT

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    1. Very impressive. May Allah reward you with jannatul firdaus. Amen.

    2. Mansha Allah Good work brothers....Indeed the truth has come.....Allah is great. Islam is the truth.