THE ZABUR IN ISLAMIC THINKING
The Quran recognises that David glorified and praised God. The mountains and the birds alternated with him in these praises (Al-Anbiya 21:79, Saba’ 34:10, Sa’d 38:18). Muhammad, it seems, took literally the passages where creatures and elements joined David in their praises so it seems that when David was fatigued Allah caused other parts of nature, both animate and inanimate to relieve him. David is presented as a model Muslim, praising Allah, fasting, prostrating, acting justly and fighting for the honour of Allah
The traditions tell us that David recited, rather than sang in worship: “Narrated Abu Huraira, The Prophet said, ‘The reciting of the Zabur was made easy for David. He used to order that his riding animals be saddled, and would finish reciting the Zabur before they were saddled.’” (Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55 Number 628).
The term zabur was used by poets in pre-Islamic times to denote a body of writing. Muhammad used its plural form in order to mean earlier revealed books for example “Without doubt it is (announced) in the mystic books of former peoples.” (Al-Shuara’ 26:196) and “so were rejected messengers before thee, who came with clear signs, books of dark prophecies, and the book of enlightenment.” (Al-Imran 3:184).
The singular use in the Quran was exclusively connected with David “and We gave to David (the gift of) the Psalms.” (Al-Isra 17:55). Later, in Al-Anbiya 21:105, Psalm 37:29 is quoted in an almost verbal translation “Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): My servants the righteous, shall inherit the earth.”
Therefore, Zubur is the plural of a genuine Arabic word which means writing. It can be associated with the Ethiopian mazmur or the Hebrew mizmor, both of which mean psalm or melody.
A fragment of an Arabic translation of the Psalms dating from the second century A.H is the oldest known specimen of Christian-Arabic literature. Found in Damascus the text contains an Arabic translation of Psalm 78 verses 20-31 and 51-61.
David in the Quran and Tradition
According to the Quran David, Arabic Dawud, was a King of Israel and a Prophet, to whom God revealed the Zabur or Book of Psalms. He has no special title as all Muslims are agreed that he was not a law-giver or the founder of a dispensation. This kingly prophet is known in the Quran as the khalifa of Allah: “O David! We did indeed make thee a vicegerent on earth” (Sa’d 38:26) In the Traditions several episodes from various parts of the Bible relating to the wars of the Israelites with the Midianites and Philistines are connected with his name.
As well as his praises, David is known in Islam for his piety. Masudi believed that the building known as the Citadel or Tower of David in Jerusalem housed, at its highest point, the mihrab Duwud, the place where David prostrated and worshipped. The following hadith shows that Muslims believe David was a true Muslim when he prostrated in worshipped : “So David was one of those prophets whom Prophet (Muhammad) was ordered to follow. David prostrated, so Allah’s Apostle (Muhammad) performed this prostration too.” (Bukhari Volume 6 Book 60 Number 331)
According to this next hadith fasting was said to be the normal practice of David; “Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As: The Prophet said, “Then fast like the fasting of David who used to fast on alternate days and would never flee from the battle field, on meeting the enemy. (Bukhari Volume 3, Book 31, Number 200)
David and Goliath
Muhammad knew that David slew Goliath (Al-Baqarrah 2:251) but mistakenly places the setting in the context of the life of Gideon. Goliath is referred to as Talut; this may be something to do with Muhammad expressing himself as a poet for we have several couplets in the Quran; Jalut and Talut (Saul), Habil and Qabil (Abel and Cain) and Harut and Marut, the two spirits who taught sorcery.
David, shares with his son Solomon, the gift of wisdom (An-Naml 27:15), together they gave judgement over the damage caused by some sheep in a field (Al-Anbiya 21:78). In another passage David judged between two litigants who reached him by climbing over a wall while he was at prayer, even without hearing the full case (Sa’d 38:21-24). The reference to the ninety-nine sheep seems to indicate some confusion with the biblical text which relates Nathan’s parable to David (2 Samuel 12).
David, the inventor of coats of mail
According to the Quran David is thought to be the inventor of coats of mail (Al-Anbiya 21:80) and iron seems to have been pliable in his hands (Saba’ 34:10).
David curses the Sabbath-breakers
Al Baqarrah 2:65 states that Sabbath breakers were turned into monkeys and expositors link this with the curse of David (Al-Maidah 5:78) when they transgressed beyond proscribed bounds.
Some Muslim apologists find the coming of Muhammad prophesied in the Zabur as well as in the Tawrat but Ibn Hazm criticises several passages of the Psalms as being forgeries.
David and the Muslim commentators
Although they agree in the main points with the biblical record Tabari makes Goliath (Jalut) to be a descendent of the ‘Adites and the Thamudites. They attack Saul (Talut) and David after killing Goliath with a sling then he marries Talut’s daughter and shares his authority. Talut becomes jealous and tries to kill him so David flees, hides in a cave to which a spider weaves its web, thus protecting David from Saul. Tabari gives David‘s genealogy, tells the story of Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, David’s repentance and the plan to build the temple.
The Christian and the Book of Psalms
Christians worship the same God as the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, in their time of adversity they appealed to God for help; when they experienced abundant provision, they gave thanks. In the Book of Psalms we are united in worship with biblical characters such as Moses, David, Solomon, Asaph, Heman, and the sons of Korah but they are ascribed to David because he is the author of most of them.
Christianity is a religion with a song and follows the example of David “the sweet Psalmist of Israel”. He organised a choir of godly people to sing praises during worship (1 Chronicles 6:31, 16:4-8). Solomon continued this good practice in the first temple (2 Chronicles 5:12,13). When the second temple was built Ezra re-instated this worshipful practice (Ezra 3:10-11). The Jews sang these ‘songs of Zion’ (Psalm 137:3).
Christ approved the singing of the Psalms in worship (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26) and the Apostle Paul commanded it (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). The practice has continued down to our present day, so that Christians are worshipping with the same words that Moses, David, Solomon and others used – words that are suitable for all.