The Jewish Foundation of Islam: Allah and Islam in Ancient History - Charles C. Torrey

The Jews of Arabia

Unquestionably the first impression gained by a reader of the quran Koran is that Muhammad Mohammed had received the material of his new faith and practice mainly from the Jews of the Hijaz. On almost every page are encountered either episodes of Hebrew history, or familiar Jewish legends, or details of rabbinical law or usage, or arguments which say in effect that Islam is the faith of Abraham and Moses. It is natural to suppose that all this was ultimately derived from Israelites; and that these Israelites were Muhammad Mohammed's own neighbors is the unescapable impression constantly produced by his language: he is speaking to those who were within reach of his voice, not to far distant or imaginary hearers.

These facts, if taken by themselves, would obviously indicate that the Arabian prophet's religious education had been thoroughly Jewish. Even so, we should be reduced to conjecture as to the details of the process: how, and in what form, he obtained his instruction; what teachers and what means of teaching were available... But there are many more facts to be taken into account. Islam is a fusion of diverse elements, some easily identified, others of obscure origin.

...Many others follow in the same track, asserting that the influence of Christianity was more potent than that of Judaism in starting muhammad Mohammed on the course which he followed; giving him the outlines of his conception of a new religion and providing him with the essentials of its material. Many of those elements which on their face appear to be manifestly of Israelite origin are explained as properties which had been taken over by the Christians and came through them to the Arabian prophet.

This latter argument can be turned the other way with at least equal force. The two religions, Judaism and Christianity, had much in common in that day; each had continued to exercise some influence on the other. Jews had some knowledge of Christian literature, and vice versa. There are in the quran Koran numerous passages in regard to which one might say (and some scholars actually have said): "Here is distinctly Christian doctrine"; or even, "Here is a saying plainly suggested by such and such a verse of the New Testament." Another, with equal justification, could claim the same utterances as showing Israelite influence, and find equally close parallels in the Hebrew scriptures.

...The general knowledge of certain Christian doctrines, and of specific Christian terms, was much more widespread in Arabia in the prophet's time than the scholars of a former generation realized. New evidence has been collected, as will appear. The most of the catchwords and other characteristic properties which muhammad Mohammed has been credited with introducing to his fellow-countrymen are now seen to have been well known to them before his day. the quran Koran itself there is no clear evidence that muhammad Mohammed had ever received instruction from a Christian teacher, while many facts testify emphatically to the contrary; and that, on the other hand, the evidence that he gained his Christian material either from Jews in Mekka, or from what was well known and handed about in the Arabian cities, is clear, consistent, and convincing.

...The doctrines which fill the earliest pages of the quran Koran: the resurrection, the judgment, heaven and hell, the heavenly book, revelation through the angel Gabriel, the merit of certain ascetic practices, and still others, were quite as characteristically Jewish as Christian.

Certainly the average student of quran Koran, Bible, Talmud, and Mid-rash could easily receive the impression that rabbis and scribes, experts in halacha and haggada, and well informed laymen besides, had for a considerable time been close to muhammad Mohammed's ear, and continued to be within reach of his tongue. He persistently attacks the "people of the Book" in a way that shows unmistakably that he thought of them as acquainted, one and all, with their scriptures. It is their knowledge that impresses him, and their refusal to receive him and his "Muslims" into their privileged circle that exasperates him. What he is lashing is a real Israelite community, close at hand, not a distant or imaginary learned people. Yet we hear it said repeatedly, in these days, that there were no genuinely Jewish settlements in Mekka and Medina. What has become of them?

Second Lecture - The Genesis Of The New Faith

...The Arab tales and traditions, in their mention of the Israelites of the Hijaz, give everywhere the impression of a people relatively high in civilization. The respect with which Mohammed, even in his utmost exasperation, speaks of this "people of the Book" shows that for him they stood on a superior plane; and this not merely because of their religious inheritance, but also because they possessed knowledge of history and literature to an extent which differentiated them, as a people, from any native Arab community. It is not merely a few men that he has in mind; the manner in which he speaks of "the children of Israel" shows that his thought is of the Jewish people in general, as he and his fellows had come in contact with them. In our conception of the state of civilization represented by them we probably shall underestimate rather than the contrary.

What literature may we suppose the Jews of the Hijaz to have possessed, in the time of Mohammed? On the theory of their origin here presented-the only possible theory, I maintain, to account for the plain facts before us-the question can be answered with very high probability. If these Hebrew settlements had existed since the sixth century B.C., and had kept in touch with the outside world (as they could not have failed to do, in view of the constant and very lively traffic), their history in this respect was like that of other Jewish colonies. Certainly they had all the sacred literature possessed by their neighbors in Palestine and Babylonia. They were indeed in a part of the world utterly different from any of the regions occupied by their brethren of the Dispersion. Life in Arabia had its unavoidable requirements, and they had become Arab tribesmen, at least externally; but they kept their religion, and their traditions; it is hardly conceivable that they should have done otherwise. Religious feeling, long-established customs, pride of race, consciousness of the great superiority of the Israelite faith to the native paganism, the influence of frequent visitors from the Jewish communities in the north and east, the enduring reputation of such learned Arabian Jews as Simeon of Teima and doubtless others whose names we do not know-these factors, especially, were potent in maintaining Arabian Judaism. Obvious and acknowledged superiority is not readily thrown away. It would have been easier to forsake the faith and the inherited practices in Rome or Alexandria than in the oases of the desert. The colonists, here as elsewhere, brought with them their sacred books, and scribes were of course raised up as they were needed.

Outside the quran Koran we should hardly expect to find any contemporary allusion to the learning of these Israelites. We do know that two of the large Jewish tribes of Medina, the nadir Naðær and the quraiza Quraiña, were called the kahinani Kåhinånæ (i.e. the two kahin kåhin tribes); the name indicating that they claimed, doubtless with good reason, that their membership included certain priestly families. 10 In Ibn hisham Hishåm's Life of the Prophet (ed. Wüstenfeld, p. 659) there is preserved a poem by a Jewish contemporary of Mohammed which deserves attention. It dates from the third year of the Hijra, when Muslims and Jews were already in open hostility. One of the latter, kab Kaÿb ibn al-Ashraf, who was connected with the tribe nadir Naðær, had made himself especially obnoxious to the prophet, and was accordingly assassinated, by high command...


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