Judaism's views on Muhammad

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Muhammad
Muhammad

Very few texts in Judaism refer to or take note of Muhammad. Those that do, reject Muhammad's proclamation of receiving divine revelations from God and label him instead as a false prophet.

Background[edit]

In Judaism, prophets were seen as having attained the highest degree of holiness, scholarship, and closeness to God and set the standards for human perfection. The Talmud reports that there were more than a million prophets, but most of the prophets conveyed messages that were intended solely for their own generation and were not reported in Scripture. The Talmud reports that there were prophets among the gentiles (most notably Balaam, whose story is told in Numbers 22, and Job, who is considered a non-Jew by most rabbinical opinions). The prophet Jonah was sent on a mission to speak to the gentiles of the city of Nineveh.

References to Muhammad[edit]

In the Middle Ages, it was common for Jewish writers to describe Muhammad as ha-meshuggah ("The Madman"), a term of contempt frequently used in the Bible for those who believe themselves to be prophets.[1][2][3]

Maimonides[edit]

In his Epistle to Yemen, Maimonides seems to refer to Mohammed as something like a Madman and imbecile.[4]

However, in his authoritative work of law the Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12), Maimonides indicated that nevertheless Muhammad was part of God's plan of preparing the world for the coming of the Jewish Messiah: "All those words of Jesus of Nazareth and of this Ishmaelite [i.e., Muhammad] who arose after him are only to make straight the path for the messianic king and to prepare the whole world to serve the Lord together. As it is said: 'For then I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech so that all of them shall call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord' (Zephaniah 3:9)."[5]


The [Muslims] are not idol worshipers, [idolatry] has ceased to exist in their mouths and hearts, and they attribute the proper Oneness to God with no blemish. And because they [the Muslims of the 13th century] lie about us, and falsely accuse us of saying God has a son, it does not mean we can lie about them and say they are idol worshipers… And if someone should say that they worship in an idolatrous shrine [the Kaaba], as their ancestors worshiped idols there – this does not matter. The hearts of those who bow down toward it today are [directed] only to Heaven [towards One God]… [Regarding] the [Muslims] today, all of them [including] women and children have ceased to believe in idolatry. Maimonides, Responsa #448.

Natan'el al-Fayyumi[edit]

Nethanel ibn al-Fayyumi (also known as Natan'el al-Fayyumi, Netan'el Ibn al-Fayyumi, or Nethanael ben al-Fayyumi), a prominent 12th-century Yemenite rabbi and theologian, and the founder of so-called Jewish Ismailism, wrote in his philosophical treatise Bustan al-Uqul ("Garden of Wisdom") that God sends prophets to establish religions for other nations, which do not have to conform to the precepts of the Jewish Torah. Nethanel explicitly considered Muhammad a true prophet, who was sent from Heaven with a particular message that applies to the Arabs, but not to the Jews.[6][7] However, Al-Fayymi's explicit acceptance of Muhammad's prophecy was rare and virtually unknown until recent times beyond his native Yemen.[8]

Midrash[edit]

A relatively unknown apocalyptic Midrash Secrets (Nistarot) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, written in the Crusader period, compares Muhammad, "a prophet sent to Ishmael according to God's will", to the Jewish Messiah. According to this text, ascribed to the famous 1st-century sage and mystic Simeon bar Yochai, Muhammad's role as a prophet includes redeeming the Jews from the Christian ("Roman" or "Edomite") oppression and playing a positive role in the messianic process.[9]

Secrets of Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohai has been published as a part of a number of Midrash collections.[10] A recent Hasidic edition was included in the book called Yalkut ha-Royim, endorsed as authoritative by Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the leader of the Satmar Hasidim.[11]

Fabrications and obscure references[edit]

One Yemenite Jewish document, found in the Cairo Genizah, suggests that many Jews had not only accepted Muhammad as a prophet, but even desecrated Sabbath in order to join Muhammad in his struggle; However, this document, called Dhimmat an-nabi Muhammad (Muhammad’s Writ of Protection), was fabricated by Yemenite Jews for the purpose of self-defence.[12]

A number of stories from the Islamic tradition about Muhammad entered mainstream Jewish thought incidentally, due to the great cultural convergence in Islamic Spain of the 9th-12th centuries, known as the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. For example, Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonne, one of the early Hasidic mystics, wrote that one pious man (hasid) taught that the internal struggle against the evil inclination is greater than external battle, quoting Bahya ibn Paquda's popular treatise Chovot HaLevavot. In the Judeo-Arabic original version of that book, Bahya Ibn Paquda refers to both external and internal battle as jihad and the "pious man" about whom the story is originally told is Muhammad, though the author does not mention his source by name.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Norman A. Stillman (1979). The Jews of Arab lands: a history and source book. Jewish Publication Society. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8276-0198-7. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism By Ibn Warraq Page 255
  3. ^ The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History page 21
  4. ^ Translation of Epistle to Yemen/XVIII translated by Boaz Cohen
  5. ^ A. James Rudin. Christians & Jews Faith to Faith: Tragic History, Promising Present, Fragile Future, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, pp. 128–129.
  6. ^ The Bustan al-Ukul, by Nathanael ibn al-Fayyumi, edited and translated by David Levine, Columbia University Oriental Studies Vol. VI, p. 105
  7. ^ Gan ha-Sekhalim, ed. Kafih (Jerusalem, 1984), ch. 6.
  8. ^ Abraham's children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation, by Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, Tim Winter, T&T Clark Int'l, 2006, ISBN 0-567-08161-3, p. 137 Netanel's work was virtually unknown beyond his native Yemen until modern times, so had little influence on later Jewish thought.
  9. ^ Abraham's children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation, by Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, Tim Winter, T&T Clark Int'l, 2006, ISBN 0-567-08161-3, p. 133 "Nistarot" places the Muslim conquests in an eschatological context, and implies that Muhammad had a positive role to play in the messianic process.
  10. ^ http://www.hebrewbooks.org/43333 Midrash Tadshe, p. 45
  11. ^ Yalkut ha-Royim, published by Krausz, 1960, Williamsburg, p. 100
  12. ^ Yakov Rabkin "Perspectives on the Muslim Other in Jewish Tradition" PDF (126 KB)
  13. ^ A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue: Philosophy and Mysticism in Bahya ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart, by Diana Lobel, University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-3953-9, p. ix How does a perennially popular manual of Jewish piety come to be quoting Islamic traditions about the Prophet Muhammad? Muslim Spain of the tenth through twelfth century, known as the "Golden Age" of Hispano-Jewish poetry and letters, is a time of great convergence and cultural creativity.

See also[edit]