Ismāʿīl, Dhū ’l-Kifl, and Idrīs A Reading of the Qurʾānic Text and Muslim Exegesis

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Iqbal Adbel Raziq

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Abstract

Several figures whom the Qurʾān names as Israelite prophets are also mentioned in Jewish and Christian scriptural literature, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Zachariah, John, and Jesus. But some of these prophetic figures are shrouded in obscurity, such as Ismāʿīl, Dhū ’l-Kifl, and Idrīs. Ismāʿīl, for one, figures separately from Abraham in some Meccan verses, in contrast to Medinan verses that mention him alongside Abraham. As for Dhū ’l-Kifl and Idrīs, their names have no equivalent in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. The present study investigates the figures of Ismāʿīl, Dhū ’l-Kifl, and Idrīs. It proceeds in two stages. The first section investigates the identity of the three figures and their characteristics as reflected in the Qurʾān through a philological reading of the qurʾānic text and by examining the context in which these figures appear. I also compare the qurʾānic verses with passages from the Hebrew Bible. The second section examines how classical Muslim scholars interpreted Ismāʿīl, Dhū ’l-Kifl, and Idrīs, and how these figures were utilized in various contexts. This study offers a new understanding of the three figures and connects them with the biblical Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha. The study shows that this understanding accords with some classical Islamic exegetical opinions, whose echoes faded away in later books and sources. In the early phase the ʿulamāʾ were concerned to explain the reason for the separation of Ismāʿīl from Abraham in some verses of the Qurʾān and offered conflicting exegeses regarding the identity of Dhū ’l-Kifl. They agreed, however, that Idrīs was the Enoch of the Hebrew Bible.

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