Muslims and the Jews during the Period of the Three Caliphs
Ayatullah Muhammad Jawad Chirri
Late Director of the Islamic Center of America
The attitude that Imam Ali and those who followed him took towards new converts from people of the scripture was an alert attitude which tried to keep the purity of Islamic teachings. They did not listen to allegations from those who adopted Islam and claimed to have knowledge in religion through the Old Testament and wanted to pass it on to Islam. This sober attitude was taken by Imam Ali and his followers while prominent companions, including the Caliphs, were deceived by scriptural scholars. The following is an example of such allegations:
Ka'b Al-Ahbar A man from Yemen named Ka'b Ibn Mati' Al-Himyari, also nicknamed Abu Ishaq, from the clan of Dhu Ru'ayn (or the clan of Dhu Al-Kila'a) came to Medina during the time of 'Umar. He was a prominent Rabbi and became known as Ka'b Al-Ahbar. He declared his Islam and resided in Medina during 'Umar's reign.
He stayed in Medina until the days of 'Uthman. This new Muslim was not an imaginary person as the Jew Abdullah Ibn Saba, who is portrayed by legend as being a mysterious person and difficult to prove that he ever existed. Indeed, Ka'b Al-Ahbar was a real person; many companions knew him because he resided in Medina and was looked upon with high prestige by the second and the third Caliphs.
He narrated many stories, claiming that they were from the contents of the Old Testament. Many famous companions, such as Abu Hurayrah, Abdullah Ibn 'Umar, Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-As, and Mu'awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan reported his stories. Ka'b was with 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab when 'Umar entered Jerusalem. This rabbi reported many strange tales, the contents of which testify for their own lack of authenticity. One such tale is the following: A companion named Qays Ibn Kharshah Al-Qaysi reported that Ka'b Al-Ahbar said:
"Every event that has taken place or will take place, on any foot of the earth, is written in the Tawrat (Old Testament), which Allah revealed to His Prophet Moses. (Ibn Abd al-Barr, Al-Isti'ab, part 3, page 1287)
Such a report should arouse the attention of the reader, because it states that which is inconceivable. The earth contains billions of square miles, and each mile contains millions of cubic feet, and each part of the earth may become a place of thousands of events from the time of Moses until the Day of Judgement. Yet, Ka'b al-Ahbar claimed that all these events are recorded in the Old Testament. The parts of the Old Testament which were dictated or written by Moses do not come to 400 pages.
Recording all the events of the world, between the time of Moses and the Day of Judgement, may take millions of pages. If we take all that was written in the Old Testament, including the books which are attributed to the Prophets after Moses and before Jesus, it does not amount to more than 900 pages. How could this small number of pages contain the record of billions of events?
In fact, if only the events of death and birth alone were recorded from the time of Moses until the Day of Judgement, they would reach astronomical figures. Furthermore, the pages of the Old Testament do not record future events. All they contain are some past events which took place during or before the time of the biblical Prophets. Considering all these aspects, the claim of Ka'b Al-Ahbar that the Old Testament contains records of what had happened and what will happen until the Day of Judgement belies itself.
Ka'b Al-Ahbar Counts the Days of the Caliph 'Umar
This international Rabbi was able to deceive many companions through his trickery. Even a prominent companions such as 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab could not escape his tricks. Ka'b's influence had grown during the days of 'Umar's caliphate to such a degree that he was able to say to 'Umar:
"Amir Al-Mu'minin, you ought to write your will because you will die in three days."
'Umar: "How do you know that?"
Ka'b: "I found it in the Book of God, the Tawrat (Old Testament).
'Umar: "By God, do you find 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattab in the Old Testament?" Ka'b: "By God, no. But I found your description in the Old Testament and your time is coming to an end."
'Umar: "But I do not feel any pain or sickness."
On the following day Ka'b came to 'Umar and said:
"Amir Al-Mu'minin, one day has passed and you have only two more days." The following day Ka'b came to him and said:
"Amir Al-Mu'minin, two days have gone and you have only one day and one night remaining."
The following morning, 'Umar came out to lead the prayer at the mosque. He used to commission men in order to arrange the rows of worshippers. When they were in a straight line, he started the prayer. Abu Lulu entered the mosque carrying a dagger with two heads and a handle in the middle. He hit 'Umar six times, one of them hit the Caliph in the navel, killing him. (AI-Tabari, part 4, page 191)
Looking at the Old Testament, one does not find any prediction that names or describes 'Umar. Also, no Rabbi, other than Ka'b, ever claimed that the Old Testament predicted the existence of 'Umar, his murder, or defined the time of his death. Had information of this kind been contained in the Tawrat, the Jews would have been very proud of it and would have used it in an attempt to prove that the Jewish religion is the right religion.
A Part of the Conspiracy
It seems clear that 'Umar's assassination was a conspiracy, and that Ka'b Al-Ahbar was a part of the plot. The assassination of 'Umar would weaken the Muslims because an outburst of violence against the caliphate would shake the confidence in the Islamic regime and create confusion. Announcing the event before it took place made the companions believe in what Ka'b predicted and what he claimed to be recorded in the Old Testament, therefore, making him a reliable source for future information.
Such confidence would enable him to interfere in major events and suggest the name of the future caliph. A number of prominent companions believed the information that Ka'b used to fabricate pertaining to the past and future. Ka'b did not speak only about events that happened on earth, but he also gave information concerning the heavens and the Divine throne.
Al-Qurtubi, in his commentary on the Qur'anic chapter of Ghafir, reported that Ka'b said:
" When God created His throne, the throne said: 'God did not create any creature greater than me.' The throne then shook itself to show its glory. God roped the throne with a snake which had 70 thousand wings; each wing had 70 thousand feathers; each feather had 70 thousand faces; each face had 70 thousand mouths, and each mouth had 70 thousand tongues. Out of these mouths words glorifying Allah came with a quantity equal to the number of drops of rain that have fallen, and the leaves on the trees, and the number of pieces of gravel and soil, and the number of days of the world, and the number of angels. The snake coiled around the throne, for the throne was much smaller than the snake. The throne was covered by only half the snake."
Imam Ali's Attitude towards Ka'b
'Umar and a number of prominent companions had a very positive attitude toward Ka'b. However, the most knowledgeable and farsighted among them, namely Imam Ali, discredited Ka'b. Ka'b did not dare come close to him. History, as far as I can determine, does not mention that Ka'b met Imam Ali, in spite of the fact that the Imam was in Medina for the duration of Ka'b's stay. It is reported that Imam Ali said about Ka'b: "Certainly he is a professional liar."
Ka'b Interfered In the Islamic Affairs
Ka'b took advantage of 'Umar's good heartedness and used all of his shrewdness to make 'Umar keep Imam Ali away from the caliphate. Ka'b was motivated by his resentment towards Islam and his hatred of Imam Ali. After all, it was Imam Ali who brought the Jewish influence in Hijaz to an end at the battle of Khaybar.
It is amazing that the Caliph had so much confidence in Ka'b. He even sought his advice about the future of the caliphate. Ibn Abbas reported that 'Umar said to Ka'b Al-Ahbar, in the presence of Ibn Abbas, the following:
"I would like to name my successor because my death is near. What do you say about Ali? Give me your opinion and inform me of what you find in your books, because you allege that we are mentioned in them."
"As to the wisdom of your opinion, it would be unwise to appoint Ali as a successor because he is very religious. He notices every deviation and does not tolerate crookedness. He follows only his own opinion in Islamic rules and this is not a good policy. "As far as our scriptures, we find that neither he nor his children will come to power. And if he does, there will be confusion."
'Umar: Why will he not come to power?
Ka'b: Because he has shed blood and Allah has deprived him of authority. When David wanted to erect the walls of the temple in Jerusalem, Allah said to him: 'You shall not build the Temple because you have shed blood. Only Solomon shall erect it.'
'Umar: Did Ali not shed blood rightly and for the truth?
Ka'b: Amir Al-Mu'minin, David also shed blood for the truth.
'Umar: Who will come to power according to your scripture?
Ka'b: We find that after the Prophet and his two companions (Abu Bakr and 'Umar), power will be transferred to his enemies (the Umayyads) whom he fought for religion. When 'Umar heard this, he sadly said:
"We belong to God and to Him we shall return."
Then he said to Ibn Abbas:
"Ibn Abbas, did you hear what Ka'b said? By God, I heard the Messenger of God say something very similar. I heard him say:
'The children of Umayyad shall ascend to my pulpit. I have seen them in a dream jumping on my pulpit like monkeys.' Then the Prophet said that the following verse was revealed about the Umayyads:
"And We made that dream, which We have shown you, only as a test to the people and the cursed tree in the Qur'an . . ." (Ibn Abi Al-Hadid, in his Commentary on Nahj al-Balaghah, conveying from the dictations of Abu Ja'far Muhammad Ibn Habib, part 12, page 81)
This dialogue should alert us to the deceptive and successful attempt on the part of Ka'b to influence future events by satanic suggestions. It contains a great deal of deception which produced many harmful results to Islam and the Muslims. It is very easy to read the following into this dialogue:
(1). Ka'b was very vindictive towards the Imam because he is the one who smashed the Jewish stronghold in the Arabic Peninsula. Ka'b thought, and rightly so, that if Ali was given the leadership, he would remove all Jewish influence from Arab Society.
Therefore, Ka'b was very anxious to have the leadership in the hands of the Umayyads who were unconcerned with the future of Islam. They only concerned themselves with the materialistic aspect of this world. In addition, they were as hostile to Imam Ali as Ka'b. The Umayyads and Ka'b considered Ali their common enemy. He had destroyed their leaders in the defense of Islam.
(2). Ka'b said: "Ali is highly religious and he does not close his eyes on any crookedness; nor does he tolerate any deviation from the Islamic path, and this is not a good policy." Ka'b either forgot or he deliberately deleted from his story the fact that the Messenger was the most religious and most successful head of state in the history of the world.
(3). Ka'b also said that he found in the scripture that neither Ali nor his children would come to power because he has shed blood. In addition, Ka'b said that it is written in the scripture that David did not build the Temple of Jerusalem because he shed blood and that his son Solomon was destined to build the Temple.
Ka'b did not mention and he made the Caliph forget that David, in spite of his shedding blood and being prevented from constructing the Temple, came to power and became a ruling king. The Holy Qur'an declares that Allah said to David:
"Oh David, We certainly have made you a Caliph on earth. You should judge between people rightfully. ." (ch. 28, v.26)
Ka'b also forgot that the great Prophet shed the blood of enemies for the truth. In fact, he led several battles and this did not prevent him from ruling and administering the affairs of the Muslims, nor did it prevent him from building an Islamic state.
(4). Furthermore, Ka'b, by saying that shedding blood prevents coming to power, makes those who endeavor in the name of God less valuable than those who do not endeavor. This contradicts the Holy Qur'an which declares: "Those believers who sit still, other than those who have a disabling hurt, are not equal to those who endeavor in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives.
Allah has conferred upon those who endeavor for religion with their lives and wealth a rank above those who sit (at home). And to each, Allah has promised well, but He has bestowed on those who strive a great reward above the sedentary: degrees of rank from Him, and forgiveness and mercy. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Merciful." (ch. 4, v.95)
It would be illogical to think that Allah commands people to endeavor in His way, and then punishes the endeavourers by preventing them from coming to power.
(5). It is curious that Ka'b claimed that the Jewish scriptures mention that Islamic leadership would pass from the Prophet and his two companions to his enemies. There is no mention of anything pertaining to this in the Old Testament, in spite of the fact that Ka'b had said to Qays Ibn Kharshah:
"There is no place on earth that is not mentioned in the Old Testament, along with the events which will happen at that place until the Day of Judgement." Ka'b actually did not find in his Jewish scriptures any of the events he fabricated. He only stole what he overheard from the companions of the Prophet. Companions, including 'Umar, reported that the Messenger said:
"Banu Umayyah shall climb on my pulpit, and I have seen them in a dream jumping on the pulpit like monkeys." It is amazing that the Caliph heard these words from the Messenger of God and still did not suspect that Ka'b had stolen them and ascribed them to Jewish scripture.
Furthermore, Ka'b said that he found in Jewish books that power will be transferred, after the Prophet and his two companions, to the Prophet's enemies. This did not occur. The caliphate passed to 'Uthman after 'Umar, and 'Uthman was not an enemy of the Prophet. He was an outstanding companion. Furthermore, after 'Uthman, contrary to what Ka'b had predicted, the caliphate passed to Imam Ali. It is more amazing that the Caliph heard all the false statements which Ka'b attributed to the Old Testament and did not even command Ka'b to show him the Jewish Book from which he received his information. The Second Caliph, with all his prominence, righteousness, and intelligence, took the word of Ka'b as if it came from Heaven and was inevitable.
He forgot that the matter of his successor was in his hands. It was entirely up to him to choose Imam Ali or any other person. It was expected that the Second Caliph would please the Prophet by preventing the Umayyads from coming to power after seeing the Prophet deeply disturbed over his dream in which the Umayyads were jumping on his pulpit like monkeys. One word from 'Umar could have changed the course of history. The Second Caliph could have appointed Ali as a successor and prevented the Umayyads from coming to power. Unfortunately, he kept the Imam away from the caliphate by forming a committee of six members, most of whom were unfriendly to Ali and friendly to 'Uthman, the righteous Umayyad, who was extremely attached to his clan. Contrary to what was expected, however, the Second Caliph did that which Ka'b liked and the Prophet disliked. Thus, a Jew, newly converted to Islam, claiming that he had knowledge of what was in the past and what will be in the future, was able to change the course of Islamic history through his influence on a prominent caliph, 'Umar. What a historic catastrophe!
Ka'b during the Reign of the Third Caliph ('Uthman)
The influence of Ka'b continued to grow after the death of 'Umar. During the reign of the Third Caliph, 'Uthman the righteous Umayyad, Ka'b was able to give verdicts in Islamic affairs. The Caliph often agreed with him, and no one among the attendants of the Caliph's meetings would oppose him, except for people like Abu Dharr who became so furious one time upon hearing Ka'b giving verdicts in Islam that he hit him with his rod, saying
"Son of a Jewish lady, are you trying to teach us our religion?"
To secure for himself a bigger influence and a better future after the death of 'Uthman, Ka'b tried to please Mu'awiyah by predicting his future arrival to the helm of the Islamic rule.
Ibn Al-Athir reported in his Kamil (part 3, page 76) and Al-Tabari reported in his History (part 4, page 343) that while the Caliph 'Uthman was returning from his pilgrimage accompanied by Mu'awiyah and Ka'b, the caravan driver sang a song in which he predicted that Ali would be the successor of 'Uthman. Ka'b belied the singer saying:
"By God, you lie. The ruler after 'Uthman will be the rider of the blond mule."
Ka'b was referring to Mu'awiyah, and he falsely attributed this information to the Old Testament."
With this prediction, Ka'b, the international Jew, took aim at more than one target:
1. He continued his campaign against Imam Ali, trying his best to convince the Third Caliph to keep the Imam away from power. He had previously succeeded in convincing the Second Caliph to keep the Imam away.
2. He inflamed the ambition of Mu'awiyah to ascend the caliphate.
3. He secured for himself a prominent position with Mu'awiyah. History records that Ka'b moved from Medina to Damascus during the reign of 'Uthman. There he lived in the shadow of Mu'awiyah who befriended him and made him one of his closest associates. Mu'awiyah directed Ka'b to report anything that he considered advantageous to him.
Mahmood Abu Rayyah, in his book Adhwa (lights) on AI-Sunnah AI-Muhammadiyyah, reported that Ibn Hajar Al-'Asqalani, recorded in his book (Al-Isabah, part 5, page 323), that Mu'awiyah ordered Ka'b to narrate to the people of Damascus anything that puts Damascus and its people above other provinces.
We should not forget to mention that Ka'b belied the caravan driver, saying: "By God, you lie. The ruler after 'Uthman will be the rider of the blond mule." This prediction did not come from the Old Testament as Ka'b said. He actually heard it from the good companions who heard it from the mouth of the Prophet when he was informing them of what will happen after his death.
Abu 'Uthman Al-Jahiz, in his book Al-Safyaniyah, reported that Abu Dharr said that he heard the Messenger of God saying:
"When the man with big eyes, a wide throat, and who eats and never gets full, becomes the ruler of the nation, the nation should be alarmed."
Abu Dharr also reported in the presence of 'Uthman that the Messenger of God said:
"When the children of Abu Al-As (the Umayyad clan of Marwan) reach the number of 30, they will make the Islamic treasury their own, treat the servants of God as their servants, and stereotype the religion." (the author, Amir Al-Mu'minin, page 431).
It should be mentioned that the Prophet prohibited taking from the book of the people of the scripture. Ahmad reported that Jabir Ibn Abdullah reported that 'Umar came to the Prophet with a book which he obtained from some followers of the scripture. He read it in front of the Prophet. The Prophet became furious and said:
"Son of Al-Khattab, by the One in Whose hand is my soul, if Moses were alive, he would have to follow me."
Al-Bukhari reports that Ibn Abbas said: "How do you ask the people of the scriptures about anything while your book, which was revealed by Allah to His Messenger (Muhammad), is the newest Book? You read it pure without interpolation by any non-Qur'anic words. The Qur'an has informed you that people of the scripture tampered with and changed their book."
However, Abu Hurayrah and Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn al-As reported that the Messenger of God said: "Take from the Israelites, and you will not be committing a sin."
Both Abu Hurayrah and Abdullah were students of Ka'b. It is reported that Abdullah Ibn Amr Al-As acquired two camels loaded with books of people of the scripture and used to give information to Muslims from these books. Ibn Hajar said: "Because of this, many prominent scholars among the students of the companions of the Prophet avoided taking information from Abdullah Ibn Amr Al-As (Fath Al-Bari, part 1, page 167).
Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida, in his magazine Al-Manar of Egypt, said about Ka'b (correcting those who stated that Ka'b is very knowledgeable): "Being extremely knowledgeable does not necessarily mean being truthful." Ka'b's knowledge was attributed to the Old Testament so that it would be accepted. He also reported from other books and attributed these reports to the Old Testament to make them acceptable.
Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida added that Ka'b was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent Rabbis before declaring his Islam and very capable of deceiving the Muslims. Sayyid Muhammad Rida also said that Ka'b was one of the Jewish heretics who displayed Islam and worshipped only to make his religious reports and opinions accepted.
His conspiracy became popular and it deceived some of the companions. When some of the companions conveyed Ka'b's reports without attributing them to him, some of their students and people after them took the reports as the words of the Prophet Muhammad. The scholar and journalist Sayyid Rida said "Ka'b was a volcano of fabricated hadiths. I am sure that he was a liar and I have no confidence in his Islam." (Al-Manar magazine, part 27, page 541)
Sayyid Rashid Rida said about Ka'b Al-Ahbar and Wahb Ibn Munabbih the following:
"These two men were the worst Israelite reporters and the most deceptive to the Muslims. All fairy tales pertaining to Islam, to the creation, the Prophets and their words, faith-testing trials, and the Day of Judgement, have no other source than these two men."
They were an example of the popular proverb:
"There is in every valley a mark from the fox,"
meaning that these two men left their mark on everything they touched. No one should be frightened by the fact that some of the companions and their students were deceived by the tales these two persons told. No one is immune from the belief in statements of liars. (Sayyid Rida, Al-Manar; part 27, page 783).
This information was recorded by Muhammad Abu Rayyah, AI-Sunnah AI-Muhammadiyyah, and page 174. We ought to mention that Muhammad Ibn Sa'd, in his book Al-Tabaqat, part 5, page 542, mentioned that Wahb Ibn Munabbih said: "I have read 92 books, all of which came from heaven. 72 are in the churches and in the hands of the people, and 20 are only known to a few." This is what Wahb Ibn Munabbih said. But the Holy Qur'an only mentions five revealed books!
1. The Book of Ibrahim
2. Al- Tawrat (Old Testament)
3. AI-Injil (New Testament
4. Al-Zabur (Psalms of David)
5. The Holy Qur'an
Thus, we have only five Heavenly books. Where did Wahb Ibn Munabbih find the other 87 books? As we come to this point, we find that many companions, many of their students, and many commentators on the Qur'an from the righteous Sunni scholars have taken a great deal of information from Ka'b Al-Ahbar and Wahb Ibn Munabbih.
The Second Caliph, 'Umar, was one of those who accepted the reports of Ka'b Al-Ahbar. The Third Caliph believed him as well. Mu'awiyah, furthermore, not only accepted the reports of Ka'b, but also ordered him to pass his information along to the people of Damascus. This means that Mu'awiyah wanted the people of Damascus to accept what Ka'b reported. Abu Hurayrah, the most frequent reporter of hadith among the companions, Abdullah Ibn 'Umar, and Abdullah Ibn Amr Al-As also accepted the reports of Ka'b. On the other hand, we find that Imam Ali, the companions who followed him and their students did not take from Ka'b or any other Israelite reporter who embraced Islam. Ka'b did not even contact Imam Ali or the companions who were around him, such as Abu Dharr, Ammar Ibn Yasir, Al-Miqdad Ibn al-Aswad, Salman Al-Farisi, and Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari.
Readers of books of hadiths, which were recorded by Shi'ite scholars, do not find reports that were originated by Ka'b, Wahb, or any of the Israelites. If there is anything of that kind found in Shi'ite books, it was taken from books of Sunni scholars. It has already been mentioned that Imam Ali said about Ka'b: "Certainly he is a professional liar."
The Imams from the descendants of Imam Ali did not accept the hadiths of Ka'b. It is reported that Zurarah Ibn A'yan was sitting near Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir, grandson of the Imam Ali, while the Imam was facing the Ka'bah. The Imam said: "Certainly looking at (Ka'bah) is a worship of God." A man from Bajilah said to Abu Ja'far: Ka'b Al-Ahbar says:
"The Ka'bah prostrates to the Temple of Jerusalem every morning."
Abu Ja'far (Muhammad Al-Baqir) said to the man:
"What do you think about what Ka'b said?" The man answered: "Ka'b told the truth." Abu Ja'far retorted saying: "No, you have lied and Ka'b has lied." Zurarah said: I have never seen the Imam before this event saying to any other person: "You have lied." (Sayyid Hashim Ma'ruf, Sirat A1-Imams Al-Ithna 'Ashar, part 2, page 418).