Bal'am Ba'ura

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Balaam and the Angel, preventing his donkey moving forward. A Torah-based reading of Balaam's story.

Balaam or Balʿam Bāʿūrā (Arabic: بَلْعَم باعورا) was a scholar in the period of the Prophet Moses (a) who based on some hadiths, knew God's Greatest Name and whose prayers were answered by God, but he was seduced and misguided by Satan. Balaam is mentioned in Islamic narrations as well as the Torah. Some exegetes of the Qur'an take the verse 175 of Qur'an 7 to be concerned with Balaam. There are various stories about Balaam that are considered to be Isra'iliyyat by some exegetes.


Balaam's father is said to be "Beor" and in Islamic texts his father is referred to as "Ba'ura'",[1] "Ba'ur"[2] and "'Awr",[3] and his wife is said to be called "Bisus".[4] Some people believe that Balaam was an Israelite[5] and that he lived in Syria (Levant) in a region known as "Balqa".[6]

Balaam is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an, but some exegetes[7] of the Qur'an maintain that the verse 175 of Qur'an 7 is about him:

The story of Balaam appears in the Torah as well.[8]


Balaam was a knowledgeable scholar who was employed by the Prophet Moses (a) as a preacher and propagator of his religion.[9] Some exegetes of the Qur'an take the sentence: "Relate to them an account of him to whom We gave Our signs"[10] in Qur'an 7 to be about Balaam.[11] However, there is a disagreement among exegetes of the Qur'an as to what "Our sings" means:

  • Some people believe that Balaam knew God's Greatest Name[12] and his prayers were always answered by God.[13] There is a hadith from Imam al-Rida (a) that supports this view.[14]
  • Others believe that Balaam only knew God's Book and was not aware of God's Greatest Name.[15]


Balaam finally deviated from the right path. Some exegetes take the Qur'anic verse "but he cast them off. Thereupon Satan pursued him, and he became one of the perverse."[16] to be about Balaam.[17] There are two views about the prophet whom Balaam stood against when he deviated form the right path:

  • Some people hold that Balaam stood against Moses (a) and helped the Pharaoh.[18]
  • Some historians, such as al-Mas'udi, hold that Balaam helped the king of his country who was at wars with the Prophet Joshua (a) and the Israelites.[19]

Unreliable Stories

Main article: Isra'iliyyat
Balaam and the Angel

Different stories have been mentioned about Balaam. A number of Qur'anic exegetes take these stories to be Isra'iliyyat on which one cannot rely.[20] Below are a number of such stories:

  • Balaam who wanted to destroy Moses's (a) army asked the ruler of his country to send women to welcome the Israelites, so that they are seduced by the women and are thus defeated.[21]
  • Balaam was promised by God to have three of his requests or prayers answered. His wife asked him to devote one of his prayers to her, and Balaam accepted her request. His wife asked him to make her the most beautiful woman in the Israelites. Balaam prayed to God and then she turned into the most beautiful woman. When she saw that there is no woman in the Israelites more beautiful than her, she turned away from Balaam. Balaam prayed to God and transformed her into a dog. His children persistently asked him to turn their mother back to the human form, and he did so. Thus, all three of his promised prayers were gone.[22]
  • According to some sources, when Balaam wanted to go and curse Moses (a) and his people, his donkey stopped walking. Balaam hit the donkey, and the event recurred three times. Finally, the animal began to speak by the permission of God and told Balaam that he was seeing angels preventing him from going forward.[23]


  1. Rāwandī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ, p. 173.
  2. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 8, p. 29.
  3. Ibn ʿAsākir, Tārīkh madīnat Damascus, vol. 10, p. 396.
  4. Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-maʿānī, vol. 5, p. 104.
  5. Fayḍ al-Kāshānī, Tafsīr al-Ṣāfī, vol. 2, p. 253.
  6. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 1, p. 437.
  7. Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān, vol. 9, p. 82.
  8. Numbers, chapter 22.
  9. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 7, p. 14.
  10. Qurʾān, 7:175.
  11. Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, vol. 1, p. 248.
  12. ʿAyyāshī, Tafsīr al-ʿAyyāshī, vol. 2, p. 42.
  13. Baḥrānī, al-Burhān, vol. 2, p. 615.
  14. Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, vol. 1, p. 248.
  15. Fayḍ al-Kāshānī, Tafsīr al-Ṣāfī, vol. 2, p. 253; Ṭūsī, al-Tibyān, vol. 5, p. 32.
  16. Qurʾān, 7:175.
  17. Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, vol. 1, p. 248.
  18. Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, vol. 1, p. 248.
  19. Masʿūdī, Ithbāt al-waṣīyya, p. 65.
  20. Rashīd Riḍā, al-Manār, vol. 9, p. 348.
  21. Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān, vol. 9, p. 85.
  22. Ibn ʿAsākir, Tārīkh madīnat Damascus, vol. 10, p. 399.
  23. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 3, p. 460.


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