Why did Allah address Sons of Israel as Jew or Judah (Yehuda)?

The Details of the Question

- What is the historical background of it? Was it metaphorical?
- Why did Allah name or address a religious group or nation that has the same name as Judah (Yehuda), the fourth child of the Prophet Yaqub (Jacob)?
- What was the characteristic of Judah, the son of Israel? Why did he get that name?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is necessary to address and express a nation with whatever title it is known. It is more appropriate in terms of wisdom and eloquence.

Accordingly, it is necessary to express the nation known as Jews with that name that everyone knows.

However, in the Quran, Jews are mentioned with words such as Israel, Banu Israel, Yahud, Hud and Hadu as well as the People of the Book. However, the word yahud is only used in the chapters sent down in Madinah because there were Jews in Madinah and messages were given to all Jews to come until the Day of Judgment through them.

Judaism in Islamic Resources

Jews, who accepted belief in the oneness of Allah as the principle of the religion, the Torah, which they believed to have contained divine decrees as the basis of the religion, who were the addressees of divine revelation, and who accepted Hz. Musa (Moses), who conveyed that revelation to his people as the Prophet, have been the neighbors of Muslims since the first periods of Islam.

Especially during the Madinah period, their relations with Muslims are mentioned in the Quran, and those relations played an important role in the considerations of Muslims about them.

Relations with Jews, who have lived together with Muslims throughout history, gained a special importance with the status of People of the Book given to them by Islam; both religions revealed their own viewpoints through mutual correspondence and refutations.

When the religion of Islam emerged, the Jews in the Arabian Peninsula had spread to the areas stretching from the Port of Ayla in the Gulf of Aqaba to the farthest corners of Yemen and Oman, from Madinah to Bahrain. The main centers where they lived were Madinah (mainly), Khaybar, Wadilqura, Tayma, Maqna, Fadak, Taif and Yemen.

There were no Jews in Makkah but the Jews who were merchants and soothsayers attended the fairs held annually in the region. There were more than twenty Jewish tribes in Madinah including Sons of Qaynuka, Sons of Qurayza, and Sons of Nadir.

When the Prophet (pbuh) migrated to Madinah, almost half of the city’s population consisted of Jews. (see Hamidullah, İslam Peygamberi, 1/614-615)

The strongest and most organized Jewish community outside Madinah was in Khaybar.

Judaism in the Quran and Hadiths

The determinations and evaluations of Islam about Judaism and Jews are based on the Quran.

In the Quran, the history, faiths, holy books, prophets, ethical behaviors, social relations of Sons of Israel and their actions against Muslims are mentioned. Besides, the stories about Hz. Musa (Moses) and Sons of Israel are narrated more than the stories about other prophets and nations.

Apart from the verses mentioning Moses and his struggle against Pharaoh separately, information about Sons of Israel and Jews is repeated in twenty-four chapters.

In addition, a great part of the chapter of al-Baqara and chapter of al-Araf includes the incidents about Sons of Israel, warnings and reminders to Jews.

The reasons why Sons of Israel are given such a large place in the Quran are as follows: Muslims were in contact with the Jews; the necessity of emphasizing the common ground between the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Ibrahim and Sons of Israel / Jews; showing Jews the deviations that occurred in their religion; the necessity of clarifying their belief that the last prophet would emerge from among them and their claim of being the chosen people.

There are both positive and negative statements in the verses of the Quran about Sons of Israel and Jews. On the one hand, it is stated that Allah bestowed blessings upon Sons of Israel in the past and made them superior to the worlds and on the other hand, it is pointed out that they did not keep their promise to their Lord, with some minor exceptions, and that they were cursed due to their sins.

In the Quran, Jews are mentioned with words such as Israel, Banu Israel, Yahud, Hud and Hadu as well as the People of the Book. Although the word yahud is only used in the chapters sent down in Madinah, the phrase Banu Israel (Sons of Israel) is also included in the chapters sent down in Makkah, generally in the verses in which the incidents that took place in pre-Islamic periods are mentioned.

The address in the form of “O Sons of Israel” is not included in any of the eighty-six chapters that were revealed before Hijrah (Migration). The address in those verses is always in the form of “O sons of Adam” or “O people”.

The phrase Banu Israel mentioned in the chapter of Taha (20/80) is not an address; it is used in order to point to the Jews in a story that is narrated. (see Hamidullah, 1/596)

Nearly half of the verses about Jews were sent down in Makkah; and the chapters of Taha and al-Araf, almost all of which are about Sons of Israel, were also sent down in Makkah.

The phrase Sons of Israel, which is mentioned in forty-one places, refers to the children of the Prophet Yaqub (Jacob) and their descendants, the people of the Prophet Musa (Moses), the Jews of the first and second temple period, the Jews of the previous period such as the people of Jesus along with the Jews living in the Arabian Peninsula during the Era of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

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