Some people claim the Quran says Dawood (AS) invented chain mail armor but this is historically inaccurate. They say chain mail armor was actually invented by the Celts about six centuries after Dawood (AS).
Archeology and Its Reliability
Archeology as a science depends heavily on the lack of evidence to make conclusions. The notion that chain mail was invented by the Celts is based on chain mail not being found in archaeological research (at least according to the supporters of this claim) before 3 BC and the oldest chain mail found being from the Celts.
This is not the strongest basis for conclusion and should not be taken very definitively in the first place.
Tafsir of Verses
There are two passages relevant to this discussion.
The first passage is what Allah says in Surah Anbiya:
And We taught him the fashioning of لَبُوسٌ (coats of armor, weapons, etc.) to protect you from your [enemy in] battle. So will you then be grateful?Quran 21:80
We can derive two things from the first verse:
- Allah taught Dawood (AS) how to make لَبُوسٌ. This includes armor, weapons, and other tools of protection and war.
- A weaker derivation is that this knowledge given to him comes to us through him. That is because Allah says Dawood (AS) was taught to make those things “to protect you from your battle”. Allah turns the perspective around and talks to the readers, implying that whatever was taught to Dawood (AS) passed down to the readers so that they were able to use it to protect themselves. It also implies no one before Dawood (AS) knew these things.
The second passage is what Allah says in Surah Saba:
And We certainly gave David from Us bounty. [We said], “O mountains, repeat [Our] praises with him, and the birds [as well].” And We made pliable for him iron,
[Commanding him], “Make full coats of mail and calculate [precisely] the links, and work [all of you] righteousness. Indeed I, of what you do, am Seeing.”Quran 34:11
We can derive two things from these verses:
- Allah made iron easy to mold for Dawood (AS).
- Allah taught Dawood (AS) how to make chain mail, and he used to make chain mail.
The first verse implies that Dawood (AS) made some things that were used by humans as a whole because of him. The second verse mentions that Dawood (AS) made chain mail.
It is possible for someone to connect the two verses and say the لَبُوسٌ mentioned in Surah Anbiya probably refers to the chain mail Allah mentions in Surah Saba. That would mean: Dawood (AS) made chain mail and chain mail started being used by humans due to him. Let us call this interpretation 1. It is based on connecting the two verses to say لَبُوسٌ in the first verse is not general but specifically refers to the chain mail mentioned in Surah Saba. However, this connection between the verses is definitely not necessary.
It is perfectly possible to say the first verse is speaking about other weapons and armor, and the second verse says nothing about chain mail being taught to others. It is also perfectly possible for someone to say the first verse does not necessitate Dawood’s knowledge of armor came to us. Rather, Allah simply takes the opportunity to remind us about how we were blessed with armor as well.
So, chain mail was taught by God to Dawood (AS) as in the second verse. But, there is no necessary indication that this knowledge was given to others by Dawood (AS) or that it was anything but simply miraculous knowledge from Allah. It was knowledge given to him miraculously which no one learned from him, but there were other things he made which were also used by humans after him to protect themselves in battle. Let us call this interpretation 2.
There is nothing in this second interpretation that would contradict archeological records that claim chain mail came to widespread use after the invention of the Celts.
Someone might object to this interpretation by saying it goes against the interpretation of the past exegetes.
It is true that it is not allowed to contradict the early Muslim exegetes in totality when they have agreement on a topic. However, Muslims are not bound to stick to the interpretation of individuals other than the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), no matter how well-respected. An individual is not the same as an agreement among all the scholars.
Only one early exegete is quoted to have said something about Dawood (AS) inventing chain mail: Qatadah. Tabari in his Tafsir (which is one of the earliest tafsirs) mentions that Qatadah said: “Before Dawood, there used to be plated armor. The first one to make these chains and links was Dawood.”
Qatadah (RA) either got this information from Jewish tradition or he is speaking based on his independent reasoning to connect between the two verses like in interpretation 1 as mentioned before.
Wherever Qatadah is coming from in this opinion, it does not necessitate we follow him. The fact that he is alone in saying this from the early generations also means this opinion is not binding.