The Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (Arabic: قصص الأنبياء) or Stories of the Prophets is any of various collections of stories about figures recognised as prophets and messengers in Islam, closely related to tafsir (exegesis of the Qur'an).

Since the Quran refers only parabolically to the stories of the prophets, assueming the audience is able to complete the rest from their own knowledge, it became necessary to store the version the original audience had in mind to keep the purpose of the message, when Islam met other cultures during its expansion.[1]

Authors of these texts drew on many traditions available to medieval Islamic civilization such as those of Asia, Africa, China, and Europe. Many of these scholars were also authors of commentaries on the Qurʾān; unlike Qurʾān commentaries, however, which follow the order and structure of the Qurʾān itself, the qiṣaṣ told its stories of the prophets in chronological order, which makes them similar to the Jewish and Christian versions of the Bible. The narrations within the Qisas al-anbiyāʾ frequently emphasise wisdom and moral teachings rather than limiting themselves to historical-style narratives.[2]


The Qiṣaṣ thus usually begins with the creation of the world and its various creatures including angels, and culminating in Adam. Following the stories of Adam and his family come the tales of Idris; Nuh and Shem; Hud and Salih; Ibrahim, Ismail and his mother Hajar; Lut; Ishaq, Jacob and Esau, and Yusuf; Shuaib; Musa and his brother Aaron; Khidr; Joshua, Eleazar, and Elijah; the kings Samuel, Saul, Dawud, and Sulaiman; Yunus; Dhu al-Kifl and Dhu al-Qarnayn; all the way up to and including Yahya and Jesus, son of Maryam. Sometimes the author incorporated related local folklore or oral traditions, and many of the Qiṣaṣ al-'Anbiyāʾ's tales echo medieval Christian and Jewish stories.


Pharaoh watches a serpent devour a demon in the presence of Musa; from a manuscript of Qisas al-Anbiya, c. 1540.

The Qurʾān frequently mentions and makes use of stories of biblical figures, but only in the case of Joseph son of Jacob (Yūsuf ibn Yaqūb) does it narrate a prophet's story linearly and in full. Implicitly the original audiences of the Qurʾān had enough knowledge of these biblical figures to understand the allusions, but subsequent early Muslims felt the need for more information about these figures, who came in Islam to be known as prophets (أنبياء, anbiyāʾ).[3]: xii–xiii  Particularly influential sources of biblical knowledge, whose information was transmitted by later Muslim scholars, were ʿAbdullāh ibn Salām (d. 663), Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (d. c. 652), and Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. c. 730); their information underpinned the first written expositions of the Qurʾān's allusions to biblical figures, exegetical commentaries (tafsir).[3]: xii–xiii  These commentaries inspired a tradition of historical writing that began to present biblical figures in a more linear, narrative form; the principal work of this kind was the Tarikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk by al-Tabari (839–923).[4][3]: xv–xvi 

Alongside written commentaries in the early Islamic period, under the Umayyad Caliphate, people paid storytellers (quṣṣāṣ) to preach about religion to the people; they communicated legends about biblical figures that were circulating both orally and in writing among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. Along with preachers during the Friday prayers, they were the first paid functionaries of Islamic religion. From the eighth century they were increasingly disparaged as folkloric preachers, and were disregarded by institutional scholars (ʿulamāʾ).[5][3]: xiv–xv 

By the early ninth century CE the tradition of both written commentaries and oral storytelling inspired collections of fully narrated biographies of the prophets, and these Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ became a distinct genre of Islamic literature:[6][7][3]: xii–xvi  the earliest to survive are Mubtadaʾ al-dunyā wa-qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ by Abū Ḥudhayfa Isḥāq ibn Bishr Qurashī (d. 821) and the Kitāb badʾ al-khalq wa-qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ of ʿUmāra ibn Wathīma (died 902).[8][9]: 132–33  Perhaps the most important work, characterised by Roberto Tottoli as "probably the most comprehensive collection of stories of the prophets, and [...] the most widely known in the Arab world", was Abū Isḥāq al-Thaʿlabī ʿArāʾis al-majālis fī qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, from around the early eleventh century.[9]: 133 

Like the Qurʾānic commentaries or Jewish haggadic texts, however, the Qiṣaṣ are often didactic rather than simply narrative.[7] Unlike the Qurʾān, the Qiṣaṣ were never considered as binding or authoritative by theologians. Instead, the purpose of the Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ was to offer Muslims complementary material on the basis of the Qurʾān, to explain the signs of God, and the reason for the advent of the prophets.[10] Themselves derived from Jewish and Christian texts, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ went on to influence Jewish writing within the majority-Muslim world: for example, the fourteenth-century Jewish scholar Shāhin-i Shirāzi drew on such sources.[citation needed]

During the mid-sixteenth century, several gorgeously illuminated versions of the Qiṣaṣ — such as Zubdat al-Tawarikh and Siyer-i Nebi — were created by Ottoman authors and miniature painters. According to Milstein et al., "iconographical study [of the texts] reveals ideological programs and cliché typical of the Ottoman polemical discourse with its Shi‘ite rival in Iran, and its Christian neighbors in the West."[11]

Islamic scholars and theologians have consistently regarded the writings in Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ as undependable for studying the lives of Prophets or for historical research; viewing the work with disapproval.[12] Abdul Wahhab Najjar's (1862–1941) modern Qiṣaṣ explains the stories of the prophets solely based on Quranic sources, being diametrically opposed to the Medieval tractats of the same title. However, they share the chronological structure of earlier Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ and a summary of the prophetic moral lessons.[13]

Major Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ

author title date (CE) language modern translations
Abū Ḥudhayfa Isḥāq ibn Bishr Qurashī Mubtadaʾ al-dunyā wa-qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ c. 800 Arabic
ʿUmāra ibn Wathīma Kitāb badʾ al-khalq wa-qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ ninth century Arabic French[14]
al-Ṭabarī Tārīkh al-Rusul wa al-Mulūk early tenth century Arabic English[15]
Baḷʿamī Tarikhnama tenth century Persian
Abū Isḥāq al-Thaʿlabī ʿArāʾis al-majālis fī qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ early eleventh century Arabic English,[16] German[17]
Ibn Muṭarrif al-Ṭarafī Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ earlier eleventh century Arabic Italian[18]
Abū Naṣr Aḥmad al-Bukhārī Tāj al-qiṣaṣ c. 1081 Persian
Muḥammad al-Kisāʾī Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ c. 1100 Arabic English,[3] Hebrew
Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm ibn Mansūr ibn Khalaf twelfth century
Nāṣir al-Dīn ibn Burhān al-Dīn Rabghūzī Qiṣaṣ-i Rabghūzī 1310/1311 Khwārazm Turkish English[19]
Ibn Kathir Qaṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ fourteenth century Arabic
Muḥammad Rabadán Discurso de la luz de Muhamad 1603 Spanish

See also


  1. ^ Hagen, G. (2009). "From Haggadic Exegesis To Myth: Popular Stories Of The Prophets In Islam". In Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’an as Literature and Culture. Leiden, Niederlande: Brill. p. 302
  2. ^ Weismann, Itzchak; Sedgwick, Mark; Mårtensson, Ulrika (6 May 2016). Islamic Myths and Memories: Mediators of Globalization. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-11220-4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f al-Kisāʾī, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh (1997). The Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisa’i. Translated by Thackston Jr., Wheeler M. [Chicago, IL]: Great Books of the Islamic World. ISBN 187103101X.
  4. ^ De Nicola, Bruno, Sara Nur Yıldız, and A. C. S. Peacock, eds. Islam and Christianity in medieval Anatolia. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2015.
  5. ^ Lutz Berger "Islamische Theologie", Facultas Verlags- und Buchhandels AG 2010 isbn 978-3-8252-3303-7 p. 19
  6. ^ Andrew Rippin The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation isbn 9781351963626 p. 316
  7. ^ a b Schöck, Cornelia (11 October 2021). Adam im Islam (in German). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3-11-240112-5.
  8. ^ Khoury, Raif Georges (2000). "ʿUmāra b. Wat̲h̲īma". In Bearman, P. J.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. & Heinrichs, W. P. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume X: T–U. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 835–836. ISBN 978-90-04-11211-7.
  9. ^ a b Roberto Tottoli, 'The Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ of Ibn Muṭarrif al-Ṭarafī (d. 454/1062): Stories of the Prophets from al-Andalus', Al-Qantara, 19.1 (1998), 131–60.
  10. ^ Andrew Rippin The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation isbn 9781351963626 p. 319
  11. ^ Stories of the Prophets Archived 3 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Rippin, Andrew; Pauliny, Jan (2017). "16: Some remarks on the Qisas al-Anbiya works in Arabic Literature". The Qur'an: Formative Interpretation. 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA: Routledge. pp. 320–321. ISBN 978-0-86078-701-3. Islamic theological circles have never considered qisas al-anbiya works of either type as a reliable source.. All Islamic theologians until the present day have maintained a negative attitude toward qisas al-anbiya works((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  13. ^ Andrew Rippin The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation isbn 9781351963626 p. 322
  14. ^ Khoury, Raif Georges, ed. (1978). Les légendes prophétiques dans l'islam depuis le Ier jusqu'au IIIe siècle de l'Hégire. Otto Harrassowitz.
  15. ^ History of Tabari (The History of the Prophets and Kings) - Complete 40 Volumes by Umair Mirza
  16. ^ Abū Isḥāq Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Thaʻlabī, Lives of the Prophets, trans. by W. M. Brinner, Studies in Arabic Literature, 23 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), ISBN 9004125892, ISBN 9789004125896.
  17. ^ Busse, Heribert, ed. Islamische Erzählungen von Propheten und Gottesmännern: Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʼ oder ʻArāʼis al-maǧālis. Vol. 9. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006.
  18. ^ Roberto Tottoli, "Le Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ di Ṭarafi" (PhD thesis, Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples, 1996).
  19. ^ Al-Rabghūzī, Stories of the Prophets. Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ: An Eastern Turkish Version, ed. by H. E. Boeschoten and J. O’Kane, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2015), ISBN 9789004294837.


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