Bani Israel: Who Are They, and Why Does the Quran Mention Them?

What can we learn from the stories surrounding Bani Israel? Let’s delve into the Quran by absorbing its profound teachings.
by Muslim.Sg 2024-05-10 • 27 min read
Muslim.Sg is a Muslim lifestyle platform that aims to deepen your understanding of faith, in collaboration with the Asatizah Youth Network (AYN). We are part of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
2024-05-10 • 27 min read

This article was written by the Muslim.Sg editorial team (Alia Abdullah, Ustaz Mateen Hisham and Nuratika Ramli). 

The Quran is an enduring guide for humanity until the end of time. A significant theme within its corpus of knowledge is drawing lessons and parallels from human history to offer us lessons in navigating life, both its beauty and challenges, such as where Allah s.w.t. mentions Bani Israel numerous times in the Quran.

Who are the Bani Israel?
Why are they mentioned so many times in the Quran?
What could be the wisdom behind it?

Understanding the context of Quran on Bani IsraelUnderstanding the context is vital to grasping the meaning and significance of any term in the Quran, which should be read in its entirety. Without understanding the context, there is a risk of misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Read: How to Learn to Read Quran

The Quran holds timeless lessons and guidance with depths that can last a lifetime of learning. Islam's vast wealth of knowledge is a testimony to that. Thus, learning about the Quran from credible sources such as the asatizah (religious teachers) who are ARS-certified teachers is highly encouraged.

Look for: Asatizah Youth Network (AYN)

Who Are Bani Israel?

‘Bani’ means ‘descendants’ in Arabic, while ‘Israel’ is a name or title given to Prophet Ya'qub a.s. (Jacob).1 Hence, ‘Bani Israel’ in the Quran refers to the descendants of Prophet Ya'qub a.s. 

The word 'Israel' originates from the Hebrew language, but scholars differ on what it really means. According to the companion, Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas r.a, Isra-el means “The servant (Isra) of God (-el)’.2

Ibrahimi Mosque in PalestineIbrahimi Mosque, Hebron, West Bank, Palestine. This historical site is said to house the resting place of the Prophets Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya’qub (Israel) a.s, along with their wives a.s. The site is now divided into a Mosque and a Synagogue. 

In his tafsir (Quranic exegesis), Ibn Asyur stated that Isra can also mean captive or bounded, like the Arabic word ‘Asr’.3 In this regard, the American Muslim scholar Omar Suleiman comments that Isra-el means ‘bounded to God by the covenant’. This title praises Prophet Ya’qub a.s. for honouring the covenant bestowed upon him.

A covenant is like a promise to fulfil each other’s commitment in a solemn agreement. The Quran often mentions the covenant by the terms ‘ahd’ or ‘mithaq’, referring to the commandments of Allah s.w.t. upon the Bani Israel and the instruction to adhere to it. In return, Allah promises them their bountiful rewards and blessings. Ibn Asyur explains further that the covenant Bani Israel took from Allah is to establish the religion, to support all the Prophets a.s, to forbid from shedding the blood of another and to believe in the religion entirely.4 

On the other hand, the Quran tells us about the descendants of Prophet Ya’qub a.s. or the ancient Israelites by mentioning Bani Israel, which is different from the modern settler colonial state of Israel that was formed through the violent and forceful displacement of thousands of Palestinians during the Nakba in 19485, and have now killed more than 30,000 innocent civilians in Gaza since October 20236.

Palestinians seeking refuge

We must not conflate some of these terms casually together. For example, a modern-day Israeli is not necessarily equivalent to the Bani Israel addressed in the Quran. Instead, it refers to those who identify themselves as a civilian of the modern settler colonial state of Israel7. A Jew is not necessarily a Zionist or an Israeli. Since October 2023, many Jews have come out in support of Palestine and have been protesting against the Israeli government.

Peaceful protests

Why Does the Quran Mention Bani Israel?

Allah s.w.t. calls upon the Bani Israel for distinct objectives, just as how they were called by other terms in the Quran, such as ‘Yahud’, ‘Nasara’ and ‘Ahli Kitab’. All of which may have different connotations for objectives and wisdom.

According to Ibn ‘Asyur, the Quran mentions ‘Bani Israel’ to remind them of the blessings and honour bestowed upon their early predecessors, calling upon the descendants to stay faithful to their covenant. This includes all Jews, whether they are well-versed in their scriptures (Ahli Kitab) or the ordinary Jew. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:

يَـٰبَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ ٱذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتِىَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَوْفُوا۟ بِعَهْدِىٓ أُوفِ بِعَهْدِكُمْ وَإِيَّـٰىَ فَٱرْهَبُونِ

O children of Israel! Remember My favours upon you. Fulfil your covenant and I will fulfil Mine, and stand in awe of Me (alone).

(Surah Al- Baqarah, 2:40)

By mentioning the descendants of Israel, Allah reminds them of their forefather, Prophet Ya’qub a.s, who stayed true to the covenant. Thus, Allah calls upon them to return to follow 'Israel' in fulfilling the covenant and in gratitude for the blessings they received.

Mount Sinai (Jabal Musa) in the Sinai Peninsula, EgyptMount Sinai - Jabal Musa, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. This site is one of the locations claimed to be the place where Prophet Musa a.s. received revelation from Allah s.w.t. - the Torah. 

In other verses, Allah s.w.t. mentions ‘Yahud’ to specifically address those who adhere to Judaism, the religion of Prophet Musa a.s. In later generations, non-ethnic Jews (who did not come from the descendants of Israel) began to convert to Judaism, like the Himyarites and the Khazars. Thus, Al-Yahud is the name of their religion.

Scholars also defer regarding the origin of the word ‘Yahud’. Ibn Kathir presents three views in his tafsir.8

- First, it means ‘to become merciful and to return to Allah in repentance’. This is also mentioned in Surah Al-A’raf, where Allah records Musa a.s. saying: “Indeed, we have turned (hudna) to You (in repentance).” (7:156)

- The second view refers to the name of their lineage, which traces back to Yahuza (Judah), one of the sons of Ya’qub a.s. Yahuza’s tribe later became the most significant faction among the twelve tribes of Israel and thus founded the land of Judea. Due to the majority of the descendants coming from Yahuza, they are mostly commonly known as Yahud.

- The third is by the 8th-century scholar and linguist Abu Amr Al-Basri, who views the word ‘Yahud’ as ‘moving while reciting the Torah’.

Like ‘Yahud’, ‘Nasara’ refers to a group of people affiliated with their religion, particularly those who adhere to the religion of Prophet Isa a.s. Initially, during its nascent days, the Nasara were also descendants of Israel before non-Jews embraced it. ‘Nasara’ comes from the Arabic word n-s-r (نصر), which means victory or support. It is said that they are called ‘Nasara’ because they support one another. This is as per the conversation of Prophet Isa a.s. and his disciples, recorded in the Quran: “he asked, ‘Who will stand up with me (ansari) for Allah?’ The disciples replied, ‘We will stand up (ansar) for Allah.’” (Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:52)

When Allah s.w.t. called upon the ‘Ahli Kitab’ (People of the Book), the message is addressed with emphasis upon those who have knowledge of the scriptures. For example:

وَلَمَّا جَآءَهُمْ رَسُولٌ مِّنْ عِندِ ٱللَّهِ مُصَدِّقٌ لِّمَا مَعَهُمْ نَبَذَ فَرِيقٌ مِّنَ ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ كِتَـٰبَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَآءَ ظُهُورِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Now, when a messenger from Allah has come to them—confirming their own Scriptures—some of the People of the Book (Ahli Kitab) cast the Book of Allah behind their backs as if they did not know.

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:101)

Khaybar Fort Madinah Province in Saudi ArabiaKhaybar Fort, Madinah Province, Saudi Arabia. During the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, the city of Khaybar, which is located north of Madinah, was populated by the Jews, particularly from Bani Nadir and Bani Qainuqa’. After uncovering their plot to attack Madinah by uniting with other Jewish and Arab tribes, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. led a military campaign to intervene in their plot and cease any potential operations to threaten Madinah again.

In some other verses, the word ‘Ahli Kitab’ is not even mentioned, but it is clear from the context that the verse is referring to them:

فَوَيْلٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يَكْتُبُونَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُولُونَ هَـٰذَا مِنْ عِندِ ٱللَّهِ لِيَشْتَرُوا۟ بِهِۦ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلًا ۖ فَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَّهُم مِّمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ

“So woe to those who distort the Scripture with their own hands then say, “This is from Allah”—seeking a fleeting gain! So woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they have earned.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:79)

This surah teaches us that bearing knowledge accounts for a considerable responsibility. While the ‘People of The Book’ often refers to the scholars of Judaism and Christianity, they also include other monotheistic communities who have received divine scriptures too. 

At a glance, the Quran may address the above with specific names referring to particularspecific groups and religions. Still, the message also has immense implications for humanity to learn from this experience, especially believers who take the Quran as divine guidance. Just because some of us may not come from that lineage, it does not mean we are not accounted for the same responsibility.

Does The Quran Only Address Bani Israel Negatively?

The stories of Bani Israel teach us important lessons. They are often mentioned to show us examples of how people who are known to have been given a covenant from Allah, and blessings and honour would behave, good and bad, and what happens as a result.

When the Quran addresses Bani Israel, it’is important that we do not consider it to be all of Bani Israel in its entirety. 

فَـَٔامَنَت طَّآئِفَةٌ مِّنۢ بَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ وَكَفَرَت طَّآئِفَةٌ

“Some of the Children of Israel believed and some disbelieved.”

(Surah As-Saf, 61:14)

Just because a person may be a descendant of Bani Israel, it does not mean that the person is blameworthy. The Quran makes it clear that those who transgressed will be punished, while the innocent and virtuous will be rewarded accordingly.

لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَعَلَيْهَا مَا ٱكْتَسَبَتْ

All good will be for its own benefit, and all evil will be to its own loss.

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:286)

In fact, the Quran also acknowledges the virtuousness of some members of Bani Israel, prompting them to take their virtuous forefathers, the Prophets a.s, as examples and standards of their behaviour.

Prophets and Virtuous Role Models from Bani Israel

Several prophets mentioned in the Quran were from Bani Israel, including Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Dawud (David), and Sulaiman (Solomon), among others a.s. 

For example, as mentioned in the Quran, Prophet Musa a.s. (Moses) was sent during a time when the people under the tyrant Pharaoh lived in humiliation, idolatry and servitude for many years. Allah reminds Bani Israel of His favours upon them, including saving them from the tyranny of Pharaoh and parting the sea for them.

Luxor TempleLuxor Temple, Luxor City, Egypt. This ancient historical site displays many giant statues, including statues of Ramesses II as featured in this picture. Amongst other potential figures, Ramesses II was believed by some to be the Pharoah who claimed divinity and challenged Prophet Musa a.s.

The stories of Prophet Daud and Prophet Sulaiman a.s. are also timeless testimonies of Allah’s favours upon Bani Israel when the ancient Israelites were at odds in a battle against an enemy under the command of Jalut (Goliath), Allah s.w.t. appointed Prophet Daud a.s. to step up and confront the formidable foe. Although people were expecting the great warrior Jalut to win, Prophet Daud a.s. triumphed by the will of Allah s.w.,t. and thus led to victory for Bani Israel.

This victory also led to a period of peace, order and justice for the Bani Israel under the leadership of Prophet Daud a.s, who became their king, and subsequently, his son, Prophet Sulaiman a.s, who inherited the title. Allah s.w.t. blessed Prophet Sulaiman a.s. to rule over his domain, including the animals and jinns (a creation of Allah s.w.t. that is not commonly visible to the naked eye). 

وَوَرِثَ سُلَيْمَـٰنُ دَاوُۥدَ ۖ وَقَالَ يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ عُلِّمْنَا مَنطِقَ ٱلطَّيْرِ وَأُوتِينَا مِن كُلِّ شَىْءٍ ۖ إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَهُوَ ٱلْفَضْلُ ٱلْمُبِينُ

“And David was succeeded by Solomon, who said, ‘O people! We have been taught the language of birds, and been given everything (we need). This is indeed a great privilege.’”

(Surah An-Naml, 27:16)

Masjid Al-Aqsa in Baitul MaqdisMasjid Al-Aqsa, Baitul Maqdis - Jerusalem, Palestine. A hadith of the Prophet s.a.w. tells us about how Prophet Sulaiman a.s. built the Masjid Al-Aqsa and then prayed to Allah s.w.t. by virtue of this deed. The original structure built by Prophet Sulaiman was destroyed during ancient times.

Another virtuous group of people from Bani Israel was the family of Imran, who is honoured with a dedicated chapter in the Quran named Surah Ali-’Imran.

These virtuous figures exemplified unwavering faith and closeness to Allah s.w.t, serving as God-conscious leaders and guides for their people.

Read: 3 Beautiful Lessons from the Story of Maryam a.s.

The Quran recounts many favours that Allah s.w.t. bestowed upon Bani Israel during their time. In addition to the various Prophets bestowed upon their community, they were granted many other blessings.

يَـٰبَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ ٱذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتِىَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّى فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ

“O Children of Israel! Remember (all) the favours I granted you and how I honoured you above the others (of your time).”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:47)

In these verses, Allah reminds Bani Israel of His favours upon them.

The Disobedience of Bani Israel 

Unfortunately, many of the ancient Israelites did not embrace Allah’s favours, leaving us with timeless lessons to learn from. This is a stern warning for us not to repeat the same mistake, and we should continue to strive to do good. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ ۗ وَلَوْ ءَامَنَ أَهْلُ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُم ۚ مِّنْهُمُ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ ٱلْفَـٰسِقُونَ

“You are the best community ever raised for humanity—you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah. Had the People of the Book believed, it would have been better for them. Some of them are faithful, but most are rebellious.”

(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:110)

One significant example of such rebellious behaviour is found in Surah Al-Baqarah, where Allah recounts the story of how Bani Israel repeatedly disobeyed Him despite witnessing His miracles and receiving guidance through Prophet Musa a.s.

“(And remember) when you said, ‘O Moses! We will never believe you until we see Allah with our own eyes,’ so a thunderbolt struck you while you were looking on. Then We brought you back to life after your death, so that perhaps you would be grateful. And (remember when) We shaded you with clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, (saying), ‘Eat from the good things We have provided for you.’ The evildoers (certainly) did not wrong Us, but wronged themselves. And (remember) when We said, ‘Enter this city and eat freely from wherever you please; enter the gate with humility, saying, ‘Absolve us.’ We will forgive your sins and multiply the reward for the good-doers.’ But the wrongdoers changed the words they were commanded to say. So We sent down a punishment from the heavens upon them for their rebelliousness.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:55-59)

Despite Allah’s blessings upon them, they continued to transgress and disobey Allah's commands. 

Mosque of Nabi MusaThe Mosque of Nabi Musa, Jericho, West Bank, Palestine. This site was claimed to be the resting place of Prophet Musa a.s. according to an interpretation from a hadith narration. In Islam, all resting places of the Prophets a.s. remain uncertain except for Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

Our Deeds and Intentions Matter

In Islam, success is not determined by lineage or God-given favours but by one's choices and actions in life. Every person will be judged based on their deeds and intentions.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَلَا إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَإِنَّ أَبَاكُمْ وَاحِدٌ أَلَا لَا فَضْلَ لِعَرَبِيٍّ عَلَى أَعْجَمِيٍّ وَلَا لِعَجَمِيٍّ عَلَى عَرَبِيٍّ وَلَا لِأَحْمَرَ عَلَى أَسْوَدَ وَلَا أَسْوَدَ عَلَى أَحْمَرَ إِلَّا بِالتَّقْوَى أَبَلَّغْتُ

“O people, your Lord is one, and your father Adam is one. There is no favour of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?”

(Musnad Ahmad)


Islam upholds the equality and dignity of all individuals, including people of the Jewish faith. We know that stories of Bani Israel in the Quran do not justify hostility against Jewish people merely because of their ethnic origin. As mentioned above, many of our beloved Prophets a.s. are from Bani Israel.

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. had good relations with Jewish people. He stood as a mark of respect when a Jewish funeral procession passed by him. He also married Safiyyah Bint Huyyay r.a, who was of Jewish descent, and she is considered one of the honoured mothers of believers. 

Masjidil Nabawi

In fact, in one account, there was a dispute between Hafsah Bint Umar and Safiyyah Bint Huyyay, wives of the Prophet s.a.w. Anas Ibn Malik r.a. reported:

بلغَ صفيَّةَ أنَّ حفصةَ قالت بنتُ يهودِيٍّ فبكت فدخلَ عليها النَّبيُّ صلَّى اللَّهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ وهيَ تبكي فقالَ ما يبكيكِ قالتْ قالتْ لي حفصةُ إنِّي بنتُ يهوديٍّ فقالَ النَّبيُّ صلَّى اللَّهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ وإنَّكِ لابنةُ نَبِيٍّ وإنَّ عمَّكِ لنبيٌّ وإنَّكِ لتحتَ نبيٍّ ففيمَ تفخرُ عليكِ ثمَّ قالَ اتَّقي اللَّهَ يا حفصةُ

It was reported to Safiyyah that Hafsah called her ‘daughter of a Jew’ (as a slur) and she cried. Then the Prophet s.a.w. entered upon her presence while she was crying and asked: ‘What makes you cry?’ She said, ‘Hafsah said to me I am a daughter of a Jew’. So the Prophet s.a.w. said, ‘You are the daughter of a prophet, and your uncle is a prophet, and you are under (the care) of a prophet. So what is she so proud of herself over you?’. Then he said (to Hafsah), ‘Have taqwa O Hafsah’

(Sunan At-Tirmizi)

This hadith encapsulates Islam’s position in denouncing racism, the idea that a group is blameworthy because of their race or ethnicity. There are so many prophets from Bani Israel. Some of them are brothers to one another, like Prophet Musa and Prophet Harun a.s. That is why Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. reminds Safiyyah of her lineage and that she is his direct care, the last and final Prophet, s.a.w.

The tragic stories of Bani Israel are lessons for us, prompting us to look inward and ask questions like: 

- How do we uphold honesty and integrity? 
- Will we prioritise our Islamic ethics amidst temptations? 
- How can we best display gratitude for Allah’s favours? 
- How do we stand firm, unwavering in our faith, despite the tests and trials that may come our way?

It is our responsibility to read the Quran and internalise its lessons, leading us to become better Muslims who bring compassion to all. Allah s.w.t. issues an eternal reminder to Muslims and the People of the Book:

مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَٰلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَىٰ بَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ أَنَّهُۥ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَآ أَحْيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًا ۚ وَلَقَدْ جَآءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا بِٱلْبَيِّنَـٰتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ

On that account, we decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a human life, unless in retribution for murder or for spreading corruption in the land, it would be as if he had killed all of humankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved all of humankind. Our messengers came to them with clear signs, but many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.” 

(Surah Al-Ma’idah, 5:32)

1 Ibn Kathir views that Israel refers to Ya’qub a.s. based on a hadith narrated by Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas r.a, where the Prophet s.a.w. asked “Do you know that Israel is Ya’qub a.s?” (Musnad Ahmad)
2 Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Al-Quran Al-’Azim (Tafsir of The Great Quran), Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:40
3 Ibn ‘Asyur, Tafsir At-Tahrir Wat-Tanwir (Tafsir of liberation and lumination), Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:40
4 Ibid, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:27
5 Khalidi, R. (2020). The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance 1917 - 2020. Metropolitan Books.
6 (2024, March 27). 32,490 Palestinians killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, health ministry says. Reuters.
7 Dana, T., & Jarbawi, A. (2017). A Century of Settler Colonialism in Palestine: Zionism’s Entangled Project. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 24(1), 197–220
8 Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Al-Quran Al-’Azim (Tafsir of The Great Quran), Surah Al-A’raf, 7:156

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