Few have commented on the book purporting to be the literal word of God as successfully as Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (838-923), an Iranian scholar of considerable intellect and perception, and the author of a 30-volume commentary on the

Few have commented on the book purporting to be the literal word of God as successfully as Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (838-923), an Iranian scholar of considerable intellect and perception, and the author of a 30-volume commentary on the Qur'an that is widely considered to be definitive. We excerpt here its text dealing with Qur'an 5:21, in which God appears to grant the Holy Land to the Jews in perpetuity. Tabari discusses conflicting identities for the Holy Land, then examines the lexical implications of God's command that the Jews be granted the land. Translation by Muhammad Al-Hussaini — The Editors

"O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has prescribed for you, and turn not back in your traces, to turn about losers." (Qur'an 5:21)

Tabari's commentary on the verse

This is a statement by God (glorious be His remembrance) concerning the words of Moses (may God bless him and grant him peace) to his community from among the Children of Israel, and his order to them according to the order of God to him, instructing them to enter the holy land.

Thereafter, the people of interpretation differ in relation to the land which He means by the Holy Land. Some of them say, "It refers to at-Tur [the mountain, Mount Sinai] and that which is around it." This brings to mind those who have said that "The Holy Land is at-Tur and that which is around it." It has also been related [from Muhammad]: "Enter the Holy Land, namely at-Tur and that which is around it."

Others have said, "It is ash-Sham [Greater Syria]." And in another saying, "The holy land is ash-Sham."

Others have said, "It is the land of Ariha [Jericho]."

It has also been said that "The Holy Land is Damascus and Palestine and part of the Jordan. And this is meant by His saying, 'The holy, the purified, the blessed.'"

And the meaning of His saying, "Which God has prescribed for you," is what He has confirmed in the Preserved Tablet [al-lawh al-mahfuz, i.e. the eternally preserved tablet of the holy scriptures in heaven] that it is yours as settlements and dwellings, in place of the oppressors who are in it.

Assume someone were to say, "How can He say, 'Which God has prescribed for you' while you know that they [the Children of Israel] did not enter it because He said, 'So indeed it is forbidden for them.' In that case, how can it be confirmed in the Preserved Tablet that it is settlements for them while it is forbidden for them to settle in it?" [The answer is that] it is said, "Indeed it is prescribed for the Children of Israel as an abode and as settlements, and they did settle it and reside in it, and it became to them just as God, Majestic and Glorious, said."

Another narration glosses the words, "Which God has prescribed for you" as "Which God has granted to you." And as-Suddi[1] used to say, "The meaning of kataba [he wrote, he prescribed] in this context is amara [he ordered, he commanded]." Thus, "Enter the Holy Land which God has prescribed for you" is glossed as "Which God has ordered you to do."

Bishr[2] related an interpretation of "O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has prescribed for you," meaning "They were commanded it, as they were commanded the prayer and the zakat [the alms tax] and the hajj [the annual pilgrimage to Mecca] and the 'umra [the minor pilgrimage made at any time of year]."[3]

[1] One of two Qur'an commentators of the same name.—Eds.
[2] Probably Bishr ibn Musa al-Asadi.—Eds.
[3] Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir at-Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, 12 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1412/1991-92), 15:127.