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Bahira (Arabic: بحيرى‎, Classical Syriac: ܒܚܝܪܐ), or "Sergius the Monk" to the Latin West, was a Syriac or Arab[1] Gnostic Manichean Nasorean or Nestorian Christian (or Arian[2]) monk who, according to tradition, foretold to the adolescent Muhammad his future prophetic career.[3][4] His name derives from the Syriac bḥīrā, meaning “tested (by God) and approved”.[5]

Islamic tradition[edit]

Muhammad meets the monk Bahira. From Jami' al-Tawarikh ("The Universal History") c. 1315.

The story of Muhammad's encounter with Bahira is found in the works of the early Muslim historians Ibn Hisham, Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi, and Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, whose versions differ in some details. When Muhammad was either nine or twelve years old, he met Bahira in the town of Bosra in Syria during his travel with a Meccan caravan, accompanying his uncle Abu Talib ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.[3] When the caravan was passing by his cell, the monk invited the merchants to a feast. They accepted the invitation, leaving the boy to guard the camel. Bahira, however, insisted that everyone in the caravan should come to him.[4] Then a miraculous occurrence indicated to the monk that Muhammad was to become a prophet.

It was a miraculous movement of a cloud that kept shadowing Muhammad regardless of the time of the day. The monk revealed his visions of Muhammad's future to the boy's uncle (Abu Talib), warning him to preserve the child from the Jews (in Ibn Sa'd's version) or from the Byzantines (in al-Tabari's version). Both Ibn Sa'd and al-Tabari write that Bahira found the announcement of the coming of Muhammad in the original, unadulterated gospels, which he possessed; the standard Islamic view is that Christians corrupted the gospels, in part by erasing any references to Muhammad.[3]

Christian tradition[edit]

Muhammad and the Monk Sergius, engraving of 1508 by Lucas van Leyden (The soldier takes Muhammad's sword. see text).

In the Christian tradition Bahira became a heretical monk, whose errant views inspired the Qur'an. Bahira is at the center of the Apocalypse of Bahira, which exists in Syriac and Arabic which makes the case for an origin of the Qur'an from Christian apocrypha. Certain Arabist authors maintain that Bahira's works formed the basis of those parts of the Qur'an that conform to the principles of Christianity, while the rest was introduced either by subsequent compilers such as Uthman Ibn Affan or contemporary Jews and Arabs. The names and religious affiliations of the monk vary in different Christian sources. For example, John of Damascus (d.749), a Christian writer, states that Muhammad "having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy."[6]

For Abd-al-Masih al-Kindi, who calls him Sergius and writes that he later called himself Nestorius, Bahira was a Nasorean, a group usually conflated with the Nestorians. After the 9th century, Byzantine polemicists refer to him as Baeira or Pakhyras, both being derivatives of the name Bahira, and describe him as an iconoclast. Sometimes Bahira is called a Jacobite or an Arian. The early Christian polemical biographies of Muhammad share in claiming that any supposed illiteracy of Muhammad did not imply that he received religious instruction solely from the angel Gabriel, and often identified Bahira as a secret, religious teacher to Muhammad.[5]

In a later development of the story Muhammad and Sergius get drunk. While they are sleeping in a stupor a Jew (or in some versions a soldier) takes Muhammad's sword and kills Sergius with it. When he awakes Muhammad sees his bloody sword and is convinced that he killed Sergius in a drunken rage. In shame he bans the use of alcohol among his followers.[7]



  1. ^ Al-Masudi, "Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma'adin al-jawhar" ,وقال المسعودي، ت : 345 هـ إن بحيرا الراهب على دين المسيح عيسى بن مريم، واسم بحيرا في النصارى سرجس، وكان من عبد القيس.
  2. ^ John of Damascus, Des hérésies, chap. CI.
  3. ^ a b c Abel, A. "Baḥīrā". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second edition. Brill. Brill Online, 2007 [1986].
  4. ^ a b Watt, W. Montgomery (1964). Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, p. 1-2. Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ a b Roggema, Barbara. "Baḥīrā." Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Edited by: Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. Brill Online, 2014 [2011]. Accessed July 12, 2014.
  6. ^ St. John of Damascus's Critique of Islam; from Writings, by St John of Damascus (De Haeresibus, chap. 101), The Fathers of the Church vol. 37 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1958), pp. 153-160.
  7. ^ Bushkovich, Paul, "Orthodoxy and Islam in Russia", Steindorff, L. (ed) Religion und Integration im Moskauer Russland: Konzepte und Praktiken, Potentiale und Grenzen 14.-17. Jahrhundert, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010, p.128.