Religious territorial claims

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Territorial disputes have been justified by religious claims. One of the most long running and controversial is the Palestine/Israel problem.


Jewish claim of Israel/Palestine/Levant

For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

The Bible says that God promised the land around Jerusalem to the Israelite Jews. Genesis 12:7 Bible-icon.png Genesis 28:13-15 Bible-icon.png

"The Bible is very clear that the "children of Israel", the Jews, were the divinely appointed inhabitants of the Land. [1]"

"Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are - northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see, I give to you and your seed for ever."

Genesis 13:14-15 Bible-icon.png

"Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates"

Genesis 15:18 Bible-icon.png

This claim encompasses north east Egypt, Sinai, modern Israel, modern Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, western Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia (see also Exodus 23:31 Bible-icon.png). The Bible says that existing tribes that occupied the lands were to be driven out. Deuteronomy 20:17 Bible-icon.png [2]

After Joshua captured Canaan, he divided the territory into parcels Numbers 34:1-12 Bible-icon.png. This is now regarded as "the holy land" by Jews but the overall area is different and contradictory to that specified in Genesis 15:18 Bible-icon.png. It comprises modern Israel, modern Palestine and Lebanon. Apologists claim that these prophecies will eventually be fulfilled or have some other explanation. [3] Ezekiel contains the prophecy of the territory occupied in the end times, which is broadly similar to that specified in Numbers Ezekiel 47:13-20 Bible-icon.png.

Zionists, those who support the existence of a Jewish homeland in that area, point out that religious claims are not the only justification their claim of the territory. [4]

Perspective of the Qur'an

The claim to the territory is arguably recognised in the Qur'an, [5] although other commentators question this and point out the hostility of the Qur'an to Judaism. [6]

"And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, "O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds. O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has assigned to you and do not turn back [from fighting in Allah's cause] and [thus] become losers.""

Surah 5:20-21 Bible-icon.png
"Being thus accursed, the Jews are not the legitimate heirs of the promise made in Qur'an 5:21. The true heirs are those who have remained faithful to God (i.e., the Muslims), not those whom he has cursed (i.e., the Jews). [6]"

Islamic claims

Islam makes rather grand territorial claims:

"Jerusalem belongs to us. Al-Aqsa [Mosque in Jerusalem] belongs to us. Jerusalem belongs to us, and the whole world belongs to us. Every land upon which Islam has set foot will return to us."

— Shaykh Safwat Hegazy [7]


While Jerusalem is not directly mentioned in the Qur'an and played no part in early Islam. Later dynasties built a temple in Jerusalem and called it Al-Aqsa Mosque, the "furthest mosque". In a case of religious revisionism, Surah 17:1 Bible-icon.png was reinterpreted to refer to this mosque and therefore was a place that Mohammed had allegedly visited (but constructed long after the Qur'an was written and the death of Mohammed). [8] It is now regarded as the third holiest site in Islam.

Entire planet

The Qur'an often calls for violence to spread Islamic law: (see Surah 4:101 Bible-icon.png Surah 8:15 Bible-icon.png Surah 9:5 Bible-icon.png and many many others) [9]

"Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah [taxation of non-believers] willingly while they are humbled."

Surah 9:29 Bible-icon.png

Hadiths records Muhammad's prophecy of the final political triumph of Islam:

"Allah drew the ends of the world near one another for my sake. And I have seen its eastern and western ends. And the dominion of my Ummah [nation] would reach those ends which have been drawn near me"

— Sahih Muslim 2889 a [12]

Christian claim to Jerusalem

While Jerusalem has a central place in the Bible and is considered very significant, possession of the city not considered relevant by most modern Christians. However, the Crusades were a series of military expeditions from Europe into the Holy Land which aimed to capture the territory for Christendom from Islamic states. The crusades were begun under Pope Urban II in 1095 and eventually ended with the defeat of Christian forces in 1291.

"Let this then be your war-cry in combats, because this word is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, let this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"

— Pope Urban II, recorded by Robert the Monk [10]

Native American claims of sacred sites

There are sites that are considered sacred by Native Americans and this has resulted in disputes over their ownership. The Black Hills are claimed by the Sioux and the dispute has been continuing since 1877. [11]

K’iche’ claims in Guatemala

The K’iche’ of Guatemala are involved in a land dispute with their government over mining in the Guatemalan highlands. [12]

Aboriginal claim of Uluru/Ayers Rock

Australian Aborigines consider Uluru to be sacred and successfully regained control it in 1985. It is now jointly managed and has restrictions intended to protect the site. [13] Climbing is discouraged and photography limited to certain locations (although the ban is rarely enforced).

Counter arguments

Scriptures are not reliable

The Bible and the Qur'an are not reliable documents. The territorial claims were written thousands of years ago to suit the political situation at the time and are not a useful guide for modern times.

Such a God is unworthy of worship

Many atrocities throughout history have been motivated by religious beliefs. However, a God what would command such a thing is not worthy of worship.


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. Muhammad Al-Hussaini, The Qur'an's Covenant with the Jewish People, Claims to the Holy Land, Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2009, pp. 9-14
  6. 6.0 6.1 Robert Spencer, The Qur'an: Israel Is Not for the Jews, Claims to the Holy Land, Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2009, pp. 3-8
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. [7]
  10. [8]
  11. [9]
  12. [10]
  13. [11]

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