The Risāla al-hādiya by ‘Abd al-Salām al-Muhtadī al-Muhammadī

Camilla Adang

The present contribution offers, for the first time, an English translation of al-Risāla

al-hādiya, a polemical tract written by ‘Abd al-Salām al-Muhtadī al-Muḥammadī,

a Jewish convert to Islam who lived in Istanbul in the early Ottoman period.

Apart from the information provided by the author himself in the tract—from

which we learn that he converted during the reign of Sultan Bāyazīd II (ruled

886/1481-918/1512)—we find additional data in the well-known bibliographical

survey Kashf al-unūn by Ḥājjī Khalīfa, also known as Kâtib Çelebi (d. 1067/1657).

In this work, which lists books according to the alphabetical order of their titles,

two entries may be found on our author, or rather his tract, one under al-Risāla alhādiya,

the other under al-Hādiya. The tract is described as a short refutation of Judaism

in three parts (whose titles are given by Ḥājjī Khalīfa); the author is named

as ‘Abd al-Salām al-Muhtadī or al-Daftarī, who converted to Islam from Judaism,

and who knew the entire Torah by heart. During the reign of Sultan Selim I (ruled

918/1512-926/1520) he became a daftarī (that is, an official in the Ottoman financial

administration), and he founded a mosque and a number of religious endowments.

2 Unlike other converts to Islam, ‘Abd al-Salām al-Muhtadī does not provide

a detailed explanation of the reasons or circumstances of his conversion to Islam.

As various others before and after him, he suggests that it was the very Torah

that inspired him; if only people would understand it correctly, they would become

convinced of the truth of Muḥammad’s mission, as he himself had. He

mentions the encouragement received from Sultan Bāyazīd, but it is not clear to

what this amounted. An identical claim is made by the author of a very similar,

though less sophisticated tract, who goes by the name of Salām ‘Abd al-’Allām.3

 

In his Künhü l-akhbār the somewhat earlier writer Muṣṭafā ‘Ālī of Gallipoli

(d. 1008/1600), lists a former Jew named ‘Abd al-Salām among the defterdārs

(finance ministers) who served under Selim I.4 The famous traveller Evliya Çelebi

(d. 1095/1684), perhaps taking his cue from Muṣṭafā ‘Ālī, also mentions the Jewish

convert ‘Abd al-Salām as defterdār during the reign of this sultan.5 Although neither

of these sources adds that this official is the author of al-Risāla al-hādiya, it is

very tempting to attribute the tract to him, for how many former Jews named ‘Abd

al-Salām could have been attached to the imperial treasury under the same ruler?

In the Ottoman records, the defterdār ‘Abd al-Salām is mentioned as the owner

of various properties, some of them purchased from Jews in different quarters of

Istanbul and attached to his own waqf.6 Some of these transactions seem to have

benefited the Jewish community,7 and it may well be to this patronage that the

Jewish author Yosef Sambari refers in his Divre Yosef, completed in 1673, when he

describes a talmid hakham in Istanbul who went over to the religion of Ishmael

and changed his name to ‘Abd al-Salīm Efendi. In this position he was able to

help and support the Jews at the time of their sorrow and to cancel a number of

harsh enactments that had been imposed on them. He wrote a letter to the Jews

in which he said, referring to himself: “The Lord has created every thing for its

own end, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Prov. 16:4).8 Sambari’s statement

suggests that ‘Abd al-Salām enjoined considerable influence with the authorities.

 

According to Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, ‘Abd al-Salām, the author of al-Hādiya,

was not ‘Abd al-Salām the defterdār and property-owner; the latter apparently

hailed from Egypt and came to Istanbul after Selim’s conquest of Egypt. The

Hādiya was written earlier, and dedicated to the previous sultan, Bāyazīd II. However,

İhsanoğlu has another candidate: İlyās b. Abram (Eliahu ben Avraham), a

Jewish doctor and scholar from Spain who came to Istanbul after the expulsion of

1492 and soon converted to Islam.9 Eliahu ben Avraham is the author of a wellknown

Arabic tract about the bubonic plague which he dedicated to Sultan Selim

I after his move to Istanbul. Attractive though İhsanoğlu’s theory may be, there is

no evidence linking Eliahu to ‘Abd al-Salām al-Muhtadī.10 Further research is

needed to decide conclusively whether al-Muhtadī and the defterdār are one and

the same person, but this is beyond the scope of this contribution.

 

The Rightly-Guiding Epistle11

 

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent, in whom I put my faith.

Praise be to God who in the end of time graciously bestowed upon his servants

the message of his Beloved who was sent from among the Banū ‘Adnān, the illiterate

Hashimite Arab prophet who was sent to men and jinn alike, and by whom

the [sequence of] the prophets was sealed, and whose nation includes the martyrs

and the righteous. May God bless our messenger Muḥammad, and grant him

benediction and salvation–[he] who was exclusively granted six things that the

[other] messengers were not given12–and his family and companions, who strove

in the way of God with their hearts and souls, even if the critics scolded them.13

 

Now then, ‘Abd al-Salām al-Muhtadī al-Muḥammadī,14 the poor soul who is

desirous of the eternal benevolence of Aḥmad15 says: His Eternal Happiness16

supported me and cast into my heart the love of Islam and the Muslim, and hatred

of those who are neither scholars nor students. I perused the books of the Torah,

one after the other, and found therein evidence of how the Jews are thwarting

God, exalted is He, and Moses, peace be upon him, one foul thing after another,

when “trading the grace of God for unbelief. They established their people in the

house of perdition: Gehenna, exposed to its flames; a wretched abode”.17 “They

are content to be with ones who stayed behind. God sealed their hearts, so that

they did not believe”18 until they saw the painful punishment, for they rejected

the prophethood of the Seal of the Prophets, which is tantamount to rejecting the

prophethood of the Kalīm19 and they did not turn to God in repentance, so how

can they say: “We have turned unto you”20. O you who stubbornly oppose the

clear truth, be mindful of that which has been imposed upon you in the Torah, the

truthful words of God, He who hurls the truth against falsehood and shatters it,

for He is the annihilator [of falsehood] who dispenses justice,21 and if you do not,

woe to you from what you ascribe [to Him], and beware, after the establishment

of proof, of the sword of a sultan who walked the path of Jesus in time (?), resplendent

with the gleam of trust and protection; a sultan who accumulated all his

praiseworthy qualities in the rich pastures of sound action, between the sheep and

the wolves, lightning sparking off his sword’s edge. He will deliver you from the

gaping chasm through [his] benevolence and charity, solicitude and graciousness.

 

These are the proofs excerpted from the book of Moses, peace be upon him,

concerning the Seal of the Prophets, Muḥammad the Chosen One. If you repent

and return to belief in [the true contents of] this book22, you will be safe in the

security of Islam from the evil nature of the End that will come upon humanity

in the course of time. But if you do not embrace Islam, you will not be safe from

the edge of the sword of the sultan, son of the sultan, Sultan Bāyazīd Khān, may

God assist him in perpetuating the religion and may He assist his empire in fighting

the unbelievers and the heretics. He who says Amen!, God will save his soul.

 

This call encompasses all of humanity.

 

When I gathered the proofs setting forth the evidence against the despicable

sect, I used it as a means to enter [the sultan’s] service by addressing it to his noble

name, seeking to obtain the greatest measure of his all-embracing grace. I entitled

it “The Rightly-Guiding Epistle”. It is divided into three sections, and on

God we rely for the [just] division.

The first section deals with the invalidation of the proofs of the Jews; the second

with the confirmation of the prophethood of Muḥammad, prayer and peace

be upon him, on the basis of phrases [taken] from the Torah after its alteration by

the Jews; the third section demonstrates that they have altered certain words in

the Torah.

 

As for the first section [on the invalidation of the proofs of the Jews], the exegetes

of the Jews claim that the religion of Moses, peace be upon him, will be eternally

valid, and say: “We have found [certain] sayings in the Torah that demonstrate

the eternal validity (abadiyya) of the religion of Moses, peace be upon him,

such as the words of the Exalted: ‘washāmrū banī Isrāyīl hasha bath ladhūrusam barīth

ūlām’,23 till the end of the verse. [In Arabic24] this means: “the nation of the Children

of Israel shall observe the Sabbath throughout their times as an eternal covenant

(ahdan abadiyyan)”. Now this verse [so they say] demonstrates the eternal validity

(abadiyya) of [the commandment of] refraining from work on the Sabbath. If

God, exalted is He, would order an end to inactivity on the Sabbath in the Glorious

Qur’ān, this would imply a contradiction in the words of the Creator, far is He

exalted above this!

 

This being the case [so they say], the religion of Moses, peace be upon him,

must be eternally valid, and therefore they say: we shall not obey a messenger

who abolishes this precept.

 

I say: [Our] reply to their claim is that even if the verse which occurs in the Torah

is qualified by something that according to the Hebrew language25 conveys [the

concept of] eternity, namely the expression ūlām, [this] abad has two meanings;

the first is that of a lengthy duration, and the second absence of finiteness. What

is meant by [the expression] abadiyya that is mentioned in this verse is the first

sense, not the second one, and the eternal validity of the religion of Moses, peace

be upon him, is not implied by the second sense, which is what you mean, and

no contradiction is implied either, because every commandment comes down

from God, exalted is He, for a particular period because of a certain wisdom and a

benefit.

 

If these incompetent people among the exegetes of the Jews object, saying: “What

is your proof that what is meant by abadiyya in the verse quoted is the first sense

rather than the second one?”, we say: “You have taken the second sense from the

saying of the Exalted ūlām wāid, where He says in the Torah: Adhūnay yamlak

ūlām wāid,26 which [in Arabic] means: ‘God reigns forever’. And you say: If ūlām

is combined with id, this combination [of words] means abadiyya in the second

sense, but if ūlām is not combined with id, then what is meant by ūlām is

abadiyya in the first sense. Now, in the above-mentioned verse the saying of the

Exalted: washām rū is not [thus] combined, so know that the intended meaning is

the first sense, not the second one.

 

Similar to this is what you [Jews] object with regard to the Torah, saying: God,

exalted is He, says in the Torah: Kī tiqnah abad ibrī shash shānīm yabud wabasabīat

yaā ufshī waim yūmar haabad aabtī adhūnay waishtī wabānay lū aā ufshī [….]

waraa adhūnaw udhunū bimara waabadū l ū l ām. 27 This means [in Arabic]: If

you buy a Hebrew slave, this slave shall serve for six years, and in the seventh he

shall go free, but if the slave says: ‘I love my master, my wife and my sons; I will

not be set free’, then his master will pierce his ears with an awl and he will serve

him forever (abadan).

 

Elsewhere in the Torah God, exalted is He, says: wa-safart sab shānīm saba faamīm

wa-hayū tisa wa-arbaīm sana wa-qadastim thanath hā amīshim aw qarāthim darūr

bāra la-kul yūshabih hiya wa-hā-abad ad thanath ha-yūbal yabud wa-yaā maimakh

lū ymākhar mim karath abad, until the end of the verse.28

 

This means [in Arabic]: “Count seven years seven times, so that they shall be

forty-nine years, then [in] the fiftieth year you shall hallow and proclaim in the

land, and the herald shall say: After forty-nine years every person shall become

free, and the slave who was in the jubilee year shall go free, and shall not ever be

sold (abadan)”. There is a contradiction between these two verses, because the

purport of the first verse is that if in the seventh year the slave says, “I love my

master, I will not be set free,” he will forever serve his master (abadan), whereas

the meaning of the second [verse] is that in the jubilee year every slave will be set

free, and there is a clear contradiction between these two [statements].

 

You reply to this objection that abad has two meanings, that of lengthy duration

and absence of finiteness, but what is meant by abad [in these two verses] is the

first sense, not the second, because the expression ūlām is not combined with

id, so [in the end] your reply is in fact [identical to] our reply.

 

Then [the Jews] say: If the religion of Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon

him, were true, it would be abrogating and the religion of Moses, peace be upon

him, abrogated, because on most issues the precepts of the Glorious Furqān29 differ

from those of the Torah, which would imply regret on the part of the Creator,

exalted is He, and God, exalted is He, is far from that, and highly exalted above it.

 

Moreover, He says in the Torah: Lū īsh al wa-kadhab wa-bani Adam wayatanakham,

30 until the end of the verse, which [in Arabic] means: “God is not a man […]

nor a son of man that he should be regretful”. According to this [verse] the eternity

of the religion of Moses, prayer and peace be upon him, is required [so they

say].

 

In answer to this objection I say: We do not accept that this implies regret on the

part of God, because the meaning of regret is that the one who regrets performs

an act, and then realizes the inappropriateness of this act, and even the appropriateness

of its opposite, and says: ‘If only I had not done that’, and God, exalted is

He, is free from this, because He knows from eternity all that was and all that will

be, and in His hands is the dominion over all things.31

 

At the basis of [their] objection lies a lack of understanding of the meaning of

regret. It is similar to when a doctor says to a sick person, for example: “Do not

eat meat, for it is harmful to you”, then after some time has passed and the condition

of the sick man has changed, the doctor says to him: “Eat meat!” This distinction

is not attributable to the doctor’s knowledge, but rather to the shift in

the patient’s condition and the change in what is beneficial to him, and it is the

same here. Consider this.

 

Then they objected and said: God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: Kī yaqūm baqirbakah

nābī ū ūlam alūm wa-nathan alayka ūth ū mūfath lamūr nilkhah aarī lūham

aarīm wa-nabudum lū tishma lū wa-hanabī hāhū yūmath,32 and the rest of the

verse. The meaning of this verse [in Arabic] is: “If a prophet should rise up from

among you, or sees an event, and he brings you proof and evidence but says:

‘Come and worship another deity (mabūd)’, do not accept him, nor obey him,

nor sympathize with him, but kill him. This verse [they say] proves that not a

single human being must be obeyed, whoever he might be, if he says: “I am a

prophet, so obey me, and worship with another [kind of] worship”, because this

contradicts the Torah. According to this [verse], then, the eternity of the religion

of Moses, peace be upon him, must be accepted.

 

I say in response: this is an abominable error and a tremendous misstep, as will be

clear to anyone endowed with the slightest [degree of] discernment, and you err

with regard to the meaning of “another deity” like someone who lacks any insight

or understanding, because you have taken [the expression] “another deity” [which

occurs in the verse] to mean “another [kind of] worship,” and [in fact] say: “If a

man should claim and say, ‘I am a prophet, so obey me and worship with another

[kind of] worship’,” we do not accept his words and will not obey him, but we

will kill him; we will not sympathize with him at all, because his claims contradict

what is stated in the Torah, as is imagined by the Jews–God’s curse be on all of

them; “surely God’s is upon the evildoers”.33 And know, o Jewish people, that

what is meant by “another deity” is not “another [kind of] worship” as you claim,

but rather another god, as is stated in the Glorious Qur’ān: “Whoever hopes for

the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none the sharer

of the worship due unto his Lord”.34 This being the case, our lord and master, and

lord of the prophets, Muḥammad (may God bless him and grant him salvation)

did not say: “I am a prophet, come and worship another god”, which would allow

you to say: “We do not follow the lord of the messengers, may God bless him

and grant him salvation”.35

 

Then they say: We shall not obey anyone after Moses (peace be upon him) even

if what he says is in accordance with the Torah, as long as he does not produce a

miracle. As for the miracle that [your] prophet, prayer and peace be upon him,

produced, claiming: ‘this is from my Lord’, we have seen it and heard it, and it is

not a miracle and does not constitute proof in our eyes, but it is [just] eloquence

and stylistic beauty, and it is possible that someone more eloquent and more stylistically

gifted will appear after [Muḥammad]. Don’t you see that [in the same

way] Plato, Aristotle, Euclid and Ptolemy [each] appeared [consecutively] at a certain

point in time and that their speech was characterized by eloquence and stylistic

beauty – even if none of them was a prophet?

 

We say: the relation between [these] sages is not like the relation that obtains between

the prophet and others, because even if the sayings36 of the sages are dissimilar,

still one is comparable to the other. As for the sayings that were brought

by the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him salvation, they were not

matched by anyone at any time, and had it been from other than [God] “they

would have found therein much incongruity”37. Their analogy, then, is like an

analogy with a discrepancy.38 Consider!

 

Then they said: We do not obey a single human being as long as we have not

heard the voice of God, exalted is He, even if his precepts should be in agreement

with those of the Torah, because God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: Hadawārīm

haaluh dibbar adhūnay al qahalkam qūl jādhūl wāyikdawam al sana lūath

ābah nīm wātmr wa-hin qūl adhūnay samanu mitūkh hāish, and the rest of the verse.39

 

The meaning of this verse [in Arabic] is: “These are the words God spoke to your

congregation with a great voice, and God wrote these words on two tables of

stone, and you said: Here we have heard the voice of God from the midst of the

fire”. Now this verse demonstrates that as long as we do not hear the voice of God

we are not required to obey any prophet, which is indicated by the fact that God,

exalted is He, enjoined [the Israelites] not to obey Moses [until] after they had

heard the voice of God and acknowledged it saying: If we were to hear the voice

of God during the time of another prophet, like we heard it in the time of Moses,

peace be upon him, we would obey, but we did not hear it and therefore we do

not obey him.

 

We say in response: At that time the Children of Israel said to arat Moses,

peace be upon him: “O prophet of God, beseech God, exalted is He, on our behalf

so that we shall not hear the voice of God [again] or else we shall die at

once”, as God says in the Torah: wa-yūmrū banī Isrāyīl im yūsfīm ananu lsmūa qūl

adhūnay awd wa-matnu qarab wa-sama kul ashir yūmar adhūnay alakhah wa-samanu

wa-yūmar adhūnay haībū ashar dibarū.40

 

The meaning of this [in Arabic] is: “The Children of Israel said: ‘If we hear the

voice of God another time we shall die. Draw you near [to Him] and listen to all

that God, exalted is He, shall command you, and we shall hear it from you’. And

God said: ‘They spoke well’.” From this it becomes clear that God, exalted is He,

accepted their wish that He, exalted is He, refrain from making His voice heard,

which is why He said, “They spoke well”.

 

Then the Jews said: God, exalted is He, said in the Torah: kl hadāwār ashar anī

maaw atkhah lū tūif alaw wa-lū tighragh mimanū, and the rest of the verse,41 which

[in Arabic] means: “Every commandment that I shall command you, do not add

to it nor detract from it.” So how can we [possibly] add to it or detract from it?

But if we obey [your Prophet Muḥammad] we are bound to add and detract

[some], because some precepts of [your] Furqān differ from the precepts of [our]

Torah.

 

We say: The answer to this is that the adding and subtracting that is not permitted

is adding to or subtracting from the conditions of the commandments, not to or

from the [essential] commandment itself. It is like the fact that in the Torah there

was just one fast, then afterwards the prophet Jeremiah, peace be upon him, added

four fasts [to that one], and you obeyed him;42 the prophet Solomon, peace be

upon him, added one commandment which in the Hebrew language is called

erubin;43 and the prophet Mattathias,44 peace be upon him, added a commandment

called Hanukkah, and you obeyed in all of that, and similar cases are too

numerous to be counted.

 

You objected to [the new dispensation] saying, How can we obey a commandment

not imposed upon us in the Torah, when it is prohibited in the very Torah to

add to its commandments? But you [yourselves] answer that what is meant by [the

expression] “every commandment” is: the conditions of every commandment, that

is, “do not add to the conditions or detract from them”. As an example, you mentioned

the commandment of the priestly blessing (barakat al-imām) which was laid

down in three specific verses, as He has clarified in the Torah,45 and you say that

the blessing of the priest may neither consist of two, nor of four verses. Also, it is

not allowed to exchange these specific verses for other ones, and it is likewise with

regard to every one of the commandments of the Torah. Thus you replied, and

your reply is essentially [the same as] our reply.

 

Then the Jews said: God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: Tūrā iwā lanū Mūsā

hiya mūrāshah qhlth Yaqūb.46 [In Arabic] this means: When arat Moses, peace

be upon him, passed on he said, with regard to the Torah, that it became the heritage

of the community of Jacob. This verse demonstrates that it is not required to

obey anything but the precepts of the Torah, and therefore they say: we do not

obey anyone whose precepts differ from the precepts of the Torah.

 

We say: We do not accept that what is meant by the [above-mentioned] saying of

Moses, peace be upon him, is what you mention, but rather [hold] that what

Moses, peace be upon him, meant by these words is that the children of Jacob,

peace be upon him, obeyed the Torah, and that obedience to the Torah is confined

to them [alone]; Moses, peace be upon him, does not mean that the community

of Jacob, peace be upon him, is confined to obedience to the Torah

[alone] or that their obedience cannot be to anything but the Torah.47 As for the

counter-arguments they put forward, they are very weak so there is no point in

mentioning them.

 

Then I say to them: O Jewish people, if you refuse [to acknowledge] abrogation,

this will be refuted as well. Don’t you see that certain commandments that are

laid down in the very Torah have for some reason themselves become abrogated,

such as the daily worship of the prophet Aaron, peace be upon him, inside the

tabernacle; when the sons of the prophet Aaron, peace be upon him, introduced

a foreign [i.e.,unholy] fire [into the tabernacle], God, exalted is He, caused them

to die, and then God, exalted is He, commanded Moses, peace be upon him: Say

to your brother that he should not enter the tabernacle except once a year and

not go in at all times.48

 

Similar things are numerous. So why do you deny that abrogation exists in the

very Torah, and how can you deny that the Qur’ān abrogates certain precepts of

the Torah? This is manifest to whoever contemplates and abandons obduracy.

 

The second section, on the confirmation of the prophethood of

the lord of both worlds, Muḥammad (prayer and peace be upon

him), from the Torah itself , [ even] after the Jews had altered i t

 

The first proof is God’s saying in the Torah: wa-yūmar adhūnay nābī aqīm laham

mi-qarab aīhim kāmūkhah wa-nathitī dabaray ba-fīw wa-dabar alīhim kul ashar

aawanū wa-hayah hāyish ashar lū yisma al baray ashar yadabar bi-smī anūkhī adrūsh

mamū, and the rest of the verse.49 Now, the meaning of this verse [in Arabic] is:

God, exalted is He, said: “I will raise up a prophet for the Children of Israel from

among their brethren, like you, and I will put my words into his mouth; and the

prophet shall speak to them all the words that I shall command them, and the

man who will not listen to the words that the prophet shall speak in My name, I

will require [it] of him”. There are three aspects to this verse, each of which demonstrates

the truth of the prophethood of Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon

him.

 

The first aspect is that the expression “from among their brethren” points

to the prophethood of Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon him, because the

ones that are meant by the “brethren” in [the phrase] “from among their brethren”

are the brethren of the Children of Israel, who are the Children of Ishmael,

peace be upon him, and there is no one among the prophets of that descent except

our Prophet Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon him, so know that this

verse indicates the truth of his prophethood, peace be upon him.

 

The second aspect is that the expression “like you” points to him, for

“like you” is addressed to Moses, prayer and peace be upon him, and what is

meant by it is that he is “like you” in that he received the scripture containing

commandments and prohibitions, and among the prophets who are acknowledged

by the Jews none rose up who was like Moses in that he was given the

scripture. Know, therefore, that it is Muḥammad [who is being referred to here].

 

No one can say: How do you know that what is meant by the expression “like

you” is “like you” in the sense that he, too, received the scripture containing precepts,

when it is possible that what is intended is that he is “like you” in another

one of his characteristics?

 

For we say: Before this verse God, exalted is He, says something which [in Arabic]

means: “Say, o Moses, to the Children of Israel: Do not obey that which the

masses obey, because they obey sorcerers and astrologers, and you are not like

that; rather, God will raise up for you a prophet from among your brethren like

me, so obey him.”50 This in fact means “obey a prophet like me who shall bring

precepts that contradict the precepts of the sorcerers and the astronomers”. This

verse, now, demonstrates that what is meant by “like” is the likeness that is in the

revelation of precepts to him.

 

The third aspect is that God’s words, exalted is He, “I will put my words

into his mouth” indicate that the scripture will be revealed to this prophet, and

this prophet is [therefore] Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon him, and the

one who is meant by this prophet is not Joshua ben Nun as the Jewish scholars

imagine when applying this verse to him, for these three aspects each indicate that

the one intended is not Joshua, for Joshua belonged to the Children of Israel, and

was not from among their brethren. In addition, he was not “like” Moses, peace be

upon him, because the scripture was not revealed to him. Moreover, [God] did

not put His words into [Joshua’s] mouth, and this is very clear.

The second proof : God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: wa-lū qām nābī

ūdh bāsrāyīl kamūshīya ashar yadū adūnay fānīm alfānīm, and the rest of the verse.51

[In Arabic] its meaning is: “No prophet will rise up from among the Children of

Israel like Moses whom God, exalted is He, knew face to face”. This verse indicates

that someone like Moses will come from among others than the Children of

Israel, and we have not found anyone like Moses, peace be upon him, from others

than the Children of Israel, except Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon

him. As for the leading exegetes of the Jews, they said that the prophet who came

from among others than the Children of Israel was Balaam ben Beor, but this is

an absurd error and a patent lie, for Balaam, even if he would be a prophet in

their view [which he is not], is not like Moses, peace be upon him, for Moses,

peace be upon him, was a messenger [of God] to whom the scripture was revealed,

while Balaam was not a messenger in their view either. In particular, we do

not accept that he was a prophet; rather, he was a governor who was divested of

his position, and in the end he died an unbeliever, so how could he be like

Moses?52

The t h i r d p r o o f : God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: Adūnay mi-sīnā bā 

wa-zara mi-sāīr lamū hūfīghah mi-har fāran wa-athah marbūth qūdas, and the rest of

the verse.53 [In Arabic] this means: “The might of God came from Mount Sinai

and rose up from Mount Seir and shone from Mount Paran and gave from the

multitude of holiness”. This verse, now, includes [a reference to] four books that

were sent down on the part of God: the first is the Torah, which was sent down to

Moses, peace be upon him, on Mount Sinai, and the Jews followed him; the second

is the Evangel (al-Injīl) which came down to Jesus, peace be upon him, and the

Christians followed him. The Christians, now, were from the lineage of Esau, the

brother of Jacob, and he was king on Mount Seir, as is mentioned in the Torah.54

The third [scripture] is the Glorious Qur’ān which was sent down to Muḥammad,

prayer and peace be upon him, who was from the lineage of Ishmael, peace

be upon him, and Ishmael was associated with Mount Paran, as is made clear in

the Torah.55 Mount Paran is a mountain in the Ḥijāz. The fourth [scripture] is the

Psalter (al-Zabūr), which was sent down to David, peace be upon him, and it is indicated

by the expression “the multitude of holiness” as is clear from the tales of

the prophets56 and the Psalter [itself]. If [the Jews] object that the Psalter should

have been mentioned after the Torah and before the Evangel and the Furqān, according

to the [chronological] order of their revelation, we say: the reply to this is

that the Psalter was devoid of precepts, and therefore [God] put it last and mentioned

the other [books] according to their order of revelation. This verse is the

strongest evidence and the most convincing indication of the truth of the

prophethood of Muḥammad and Jesus, prayer and peace be upon both of them,

because no one rose up from Mount Seir and shone forth from Mount Paran except

the two of them, and here, too, the Jews have absolutely nothing to go on.

 

The fourth proof is the saying of the Exalted in the Torah: wa-yiqrā Yaqūb

al bānaw wa-yūmar ilayhim hāfū wa-ajīdha lakum ashar yiqra athkam bārīth hayyāmīm

lū yāsūr shaba min Yahūdah wa-maūqaq mi-bin rijlaw adh kay yābū Shīlū wa-

lū yiqhath amīm.57 [In Arabic] this means: “Jacob told his sons, saying to them:

‘Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the last days. The

judge will not depart from Judah nor a ruler from between his feet until the coming

of the one for whom and unto whom the nations will gather’”. In this verse

there is an indication that our master Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon

him, will come after the termination of the rule of Moses and of Jesus, prayer and

peace be upon the two of them, because the one who is meant by “the judge” is

Moses, peace be upon him, since after Jacob there was no lawgiver until the time

of Moses except Moses [himself], peace be upon him. The one meant by “the

ruler” is Jesus, peace be upon him, for after Moses, peace be upon him, until the

time of Jesus, peace be upon him, there was no lawgiver except Jesus [himself],

peace be upon him, and after the two of them there was no lawgiver except

Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon him.

 

And know that the one meant by Jacob’s saying “in the last days” is our

prophet Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon him, because in the last days, after

the rule of the judge and the ruler elapsed, no one has appeared except our

master Muḥammad, peace be upon him. [God’s] words “until the coming of the

one for whom …,” meaning the rule, also point to him, as is indicated by the

wording of the verse and by its context. As for His saying, “and unto whom the

nations will gather”, it is an obvious sign and a clear indication that the one intended

is our master Muḥammad, prayer and peace be upon him, because the nations

did not gather except unto him. The only reason why the Psalter is not

mentioned is that it does not contain precepts, and [moreover] the prophet

David, peace be upon him, was [himself] a follower of Moses, peace be upon

him, and the announcement of Jacob [specifically] refers to a [new] lawgiver.

 

The fifth proof: It is clear that most proofs of the Jewish scholars are based

on numerology, that is, the letters of the alphabet. Thus, for example, they looked

for an indication of the length of the continued existence of the Temple in the

letters of the alphabet, and when the prophet Solomon, prayer and peace be

upon him, built the Temple the Jewish scholars gathered and said: This building

will remain standing for 410 years, then destruction will befall it, because they

calculated the word bi-zāt (be-zot) in God’s words in the Torah: bi-zāt yabū Hārūn al

ha-qūdas,58 whose meaning [in Arabic] is “bi-zāt the priest (al-imām)—who is indicated

by the name of Aaron—worships in the Temple,” and they ruled that the

length of its stay and the rule of the priests there is bi-zāt years, that is, 410 years.

Similar proofs of theirs are too numerous to be counted.

Now if it is like that, then I say59: God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: wa-yūmar

Adhūnay li-brāhīm li-smāīl samatīkhah hinah barakti ūthū wa-hirbathī ūthū wa-hifrathī

ūthū bi-mād mād,60 which [in the language of the Arabs] means “God, exalted is

He, said to Abraham: behold I have accepted your plea with regard to Ishmael

and I will bless him and multiply him and make him fruitful bi-mād mād.” Now

when the numerical value of the letters [in the expression] bi-mād mād is calculated,

the outcome is the name of our prophet Muḥammad, prayer and peace be

upon him, because the numerical value of [each of] these two expressions61 is

ninety-two. That which demonstrates what we have said is the phrase “I will bless

him and multiply him and make him fruitful bi-mād mād, “because the blessing of

the children of Ishmael, his multiplication and his fruitfulness occurred only

through [Muḥammad], and there is one word in particular in which God, exalted

is He, mentions the blessing of Ishmael, his being multiplied and rendered fruitful:

[the expression] bi-mād mād which He did not mention in [His] blessing of

his brother Isaac, peace be upon him, and this is a clear proof.

 

They objected to this proof saying that the [letter] in [the expression] bimād

mād is not an integral part of the word but rather an auxiliary letter that establishes

a connection. If the [numerical value of the] name of Muḥammad is to

result from it, a second is needed, and it would have to say bi-bi-mād mād.

 

We say: it is well known among them that if two s come together, one auxiliary

and one an integral part of the word, the auxiliary one is elided and the one

that forms part of the actual word remains. This is common among them in

countless places, and there is no need to mention it here, and this is what we reply

with regard to the second in bi-mād mād.

 

The third section demonstrating the alteration of some words

in the Torah, from a number of respects.

 

The first aspect: We have found in the Torah that they possess that in the

early days there was a king who was associated with Canaan who was called “the

Canaanite”, and Abraham [lived] in his kingdom. It was struck by a famine and

Abraham, peace be upon him, moved from one corner [of the kingdom] to another,

and thus we find in the Torah they possess: wa-yabūr Ibrāhīm bā ari adh

maqūm Shakham adh Aylun Mūrah wa-ha-Kanāanī az ba-ar.62 [In Arabic] this

means: “Abraham went in the land from the town of Shekhem to the desert of

Moreh while the Canaanite was in the land at that time”. From his words “while

the Canaanite was in the land at that time” one may understand that at the time of

Moses, he was not in the land, but this is untrue, because the Canaanite never

moved away from his place and from his kingdom except in the time of Joshua

ben Nun, because God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: “O Moses, you will not

oust the Canaanite from his kingdom, but [only] Joshua, peace be upon him, will

oust him”. Now if that were so, the expression “at that time” is a mistake which

occurred in the wording of the book of the later [scholars]. The greatest of the

exegetes of the Torah among the Jews, whose name is [Abraham] Ibn Ezra, understood

this alteration and said: “In the expression ‘at the time’ there is a great secret

on which the one with understanding keeps silent”.

 

The second aspect : In the Torah they possess we found: wa-yaal Musā al

Har Nabū wa-yamuth sham wa-yaqbur uthū wa-yabkū banī Isrāyīl ath Mūsā thalūshim

yūm.63 [In the language of the Arabs] this means “And Moses climbed Mount

Nebo and died there, and he was buried there and the Children of Israel lamented

Moses thirty days”. What is to be understood from these accounts which are presented

in the past tense is that these events took place in the past, but it is well

known that the Torah was revealed to Moses when he was healthy and alive, not

after his life, and it is even said: “He died there and was buried and they lamented

him”, which points to their alteration of the Torah which is found nowadays.

The th i r d a s p e c t : We have found in the Torah: Wa-lū yāda īsh qabūr āthū ad

hayūm hadhah.64 [In Arabic] its meaning is: “No man knows his grave, i.e., the

grave of Moses, peace be upon him, until this day”. From its meaning their alteration

is clear, because His saying “until this day” shows that Moses, prayer and

peace be upon him, died before this statement was made. This in turn shows that it

was not revealed to Moses, peace be upon him, and this is obvious, so one should

consider it.

 

Know that the Torah that the Jews possess contains many examples of such sayings.

For this reason the above-mentioned exegete [Ibn Ezra] said: “If you understand

the secret of these words and the like of them, you will distinguish the

truth, and one should look at his interpretation.”

 

Know, furthermore, that we have already found in the most famous interpretation

of the Torah called by them the Talmud,65 that in the days of King Ptolemy (Talmāy),

who lived after Nebuchadnezzar, the king had asked the Jewish scholars for

the Torah, and they were afraid to show it, because he objected to some of its

commandments, so seventy men from among the Jewish scholars gathered together

and altered whatever they wished of the words which this king objected to

out of fear of him. Now, if they admit to the alteration carried out by them, how

can it be believed and how can one rely on a single verse? God is the one whose

help we seek in the search for the truth at which “falsehood cannot come […]

from before or from behind”.66 Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds, and our

perfect prayer be upon our lord Muḥammad.

 

 

1 I use the opportunity to thank the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, which funded the research for

this article. I am grateful also to Judith Pfeiffer, Yaron Ben-Naeh and Yasin Meral for providing

me with bio- and bibliographical details about the author of the tract presented

here (or his namesake), as well as to Sabine Schmidtke for her valuable comments.

2 Muṣṭafā b. ‘Abd Allāh al-Qusṭanṭīnī al-Rūmī, Kashf al-unūn an asāmī al-kutub wa-l-funūn

1-2, Beirut 1413/1992, vol. 1, p. 900; vol. 2, p. 2027. Cf. Moritz Steinschneider, Polemische

und apologetische Literatur in arabischer Sprache zwischen Muslimen, Christen und Juden. Leipzig

1877 (reprint Hildesheim 1965), p. 64 § 51; idem, Die arabische Literatur der Juden. Ein Beitrag

zur Literaturgeschichte der Araber, großenteils aus handschriftlichen Quellen. Frankfurt am

Main 1902 (reprint Hildesheim 1986), pp. 268f., § 223. Steinschneider mentions the tract,

but does not seem to have been aware of the second entry in the Kashf, under al-Hādiya.

3 See on this tract Joseph Sadan, “A Convert in the Service of Ottoman Scholars Writing a

Polemic in the Fifteenth-Sixteenth Centuries” [Hebrew], Peamim 42 (winter 1990), pp. 91-

104, and idem, “Naïveté, verses of Holy Writ, and polemics: Phonemes and sounds as criteria:

Biblical verses submitted to Muslim scholars by a converted Jew in the reign of Sultan

Bāyazīd (Beyazıt) II (1481-1512),” in O ye Gentlemen. Arabic Studies on Science and Literary

Culture in Honour of Remke Kruk, eds. Arnoud Vrolijk and Jan P. Hogendijk, Leiden

2007, pp. 495-510, which is a somewhat revised English version of the first article, and now

Camilla Adang, “A Polemic against Judaism by a Convert to Islam from the Ottoman Period:

Risālat Ilzām al-Yahūd fīmā zaamū fī l-Tawrāt min qibal ilm al-kalām,” Journal Asiatique

297.1 (2009), pp. 131-151.

4 See Joannes Schmidt, Pure water for thirsty Muslims. A study of Muṣṭafā Ālī of Gallipoli’s

Künhü l-aḫbār, Leiden 1992, pp. 260, 355; Mark Alan Epstein, The Ottoman Jewish Communities

and their Role in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Freiburg 1980, p. 36.

5 Evliya Çelebi, Evliya Çelebi seyāatnāmesı, vol. 1, Istanbul 1314/1896, p. 345.

6 Ḥājjī Khalīfa mentions the establishment of waqfs, but without naming them. However,

the Defterdar Abdüsselam Camii in Izmit, ca. 100 km east of Istanbul, and the Defterdar

Abdüsselam Bey Medresesi in the Istanbul suburb of Küçükçekmece, both attributed

to the famous imperial architect Sinan (d. 996/1588) and his school, may be associated

with him. If he was able to commission Sinan this must mean that he was wealthy as well

as influential.

7 See Dilek Akyalçın, The Jewish Communities in the Making of Istanbul Intra Muros: 1453-

1520, MA Thesis, Sabancı University, 2003, pp. 60f.

8 Yosef Sambari, Sefer divrei Yosef by Yosef ben Yitzhak Sambari. Eleven Hundred Years of Jewish History

Under Muslim Rule. The full text edited on the basis of manuscripts and early printed

editions and annotated by Shimon Shtober, Jerusalem 1994 [in Hebrew], pp. 389-90.

9 Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Büyük Cihad’dan Frenk fodulluğuna, Istanbul 1996, pp. 89-96; see

also Mehmed Süreyya, Nuri Akbayar, Seyit Ali Kahraman, Sicill-i Osmanî, vol. 1, Istanbul

1996, p. 139.

10 On Eliahu ben Avraham and his work, see Ron Barkai, “Between East and West: A Jewish

Doctor from Spain,” in Intercultural contacts in the Medieval Mediterranean, ed. Benjamin Arbel,

London/Portland 1996, pp. 49-63.

11 The present translation is based on the edition by Sabine Schmidtke in “The Rightly Guiding

Epistle (al-Risāla al-Hādiya) by ‘Abd al-Salām al Muhtadī al-Muḥammadī. A Critical

Edition”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 36 (2009), for which five manuscripts were

used. The relatively large number of manuscripts, dating from different periods, is an indication

of the tract’s continued popularity. No full analysis of the tract is undertaken at this

point; I refer the reader to a forthcoming collection of polemical treatises from the Ottoman

period, three of them by Jewish converts to Islam (edited by Camilla Adang, İlker

Evrim Binbaş, Judith Pfeiffer and Sabine Schmidtke) in which such an analysis is undertaken

and the style, contents and reception of the treatises are discussed.

12 The authoritative adīth collections of al-Bukhārī and Muslim contain traditions according

to which the Prophet listed not six, but five things that were exclusively granted to him

among God’s messengers: He was sent to all of humanity rather than to any particular nation;

the spoils of war were made lawful for him, which had not been the case for his predecessors;

the whole earth was made pure for him and a source of purification (namely

with sand in the absence of water), as well as a suitable place for prayer; God had rendered

him victorious by instilling fear in his enemies, even those at a month’s journey’s distance;

he had been given the right of intercession.

13 Possibly a reference to the Shī’ites who are known for their hostility to those of the

Prophet’s Companions who did not support the candidacy of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib for the

succession to Muḥammad.

14 These names were not chosen fortuitously: al-muhtadī means the one who has been rightly

guided viz. to Islam, in other words, a convert, while al-Muḥammadī seems to be a name

that is common for converts, like al-Islāmī. Perhaps the translation “the Muslim convert”

might be justified. We do not know what the author’s original, pre-conversion name was.

15 I.e., Muḥammad.

16 The sultan.

17 Qur’ān 14:28f.

18 Cf. Qur’ān 9:87, 94.

19 I.e., Moses, the one who was addressed by God and conversed with Him.

20 See Qur’ān 7:155. The verb hāda/yahūdu of course echoes the word yahūd, Jews.

21 Cf. Qur’ān 21:18.

22 I.e, the Torah.

23 Exod. 31:16.

24 Wa-manāhu bi-lughat al-Arab.

25 All the manuscripts consulted actually read lughat Imrān, which would mean “the language

of Amram”, who was Moses’ father. Since this is a highly unusual way to refer to the Hebrew

language, which is obviously what is meant here, preference is given to the reading

lughat al-ibrān, the language of the Hebrews.

26 Exod. 15:18.

27 Cf. Exod. 21:2-6.

28 Cf. Lev. 25:8, 10, 40-42.

29 I.e., the Qur’ān.

30 Num. 23:19.

31 Cf. Qur’ān 23:88.

32 Cf. Deut. 13:2-6.

33 Qur’ān 11:18.

34 Qur’ān 18:110.

35 The point made by the author is that while the Torah condemns the worship of another

god, this does not apply to a different way of worshipping the same deity, who is the one

and only God worshipped by Muslims and Jews alike. There is no reason not to accept

Muḥammad, since he never called to worship another god; on the contrary.

36 All manuscripts have kamāl here instead of kalām, which is obviously required by the context,

as is shown also by the Qur’ānic verse in the next sentence.

37 Qur’ān 4:82. According to Muslim belief, the Qur’ān is God’s word and neither the

Prophet nor any other person had had a hand in its composition; it is inimitable and no

one will be able to match it, unlike products of the human mind. The inimitability of the

Qur’ān is regarded as a miracle.

38 In Islamic legal theory this is regarded as a faulty and invalid type of reasoning by analogy;

see Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. Third revised and

enlarged edition, Cambridge 2003, pp. 273f.

39 Cf. Deut. 5:22-24.

40 Cf. Deut. 18:16-17, Deut. 5:24, 25, 27, 28 and Exod. 20:19.

41 Cf. Deut. 12:32.

42 It is Zechariah rather than Jeremiah who is credited in the Hebrew Bible with the institution

of four additional fasts; see Zech. 8:19.

43 See the Talmudic tractate Eruvin.

44 The text has Mathiyā’, but the context makes it clear that Mattathias is intended, the father

of the Maccabee brothers who revolted against Seleucid rule in Judea in the 2nd century

BC. Cf. 1 Macc. 4. Neither in Judaism nor in Islam is Mattathias regarded as a

prophet.

45 Cf. Num. 6:24-26.

46 Cf. Deut. 33:4.

47 The point is, of course, that Jews may, or rather should, also accept other laws, viz. that of

Muḥammad. Apparently a critique of particularist tendencies within Judaism.

48 Cf. Lev. 10:1-2; 16:1, 34.

49 Cf. Deut. 18:18-19.

50 Cf. Deut. 18:14-15.

51 Deut. 34:10.

52 For the enigmatic figure of Balaam, the “gentile prophet”, see Num. 22-24.

53 Cf. Deut. 33:2.

54 Cf. Gen. 33:16.

55 Cf. Gen. 21:21.

56 Arabic qia al-anbiyā; probably the biblical books of the prophets are intended, rather

than the popular islamicized accounts known under that name.

57 Cf. Gen. 49:10.

58 Cf. Lev. 16:3.

59 Meaning: If they can use numerology to argue their point, so can I.

60 Cf. Gen. 17:15, 20.

61 I.e., of bi-mād mād (Hebrew: bi-meod meod) on the one hand, and Muammad on the other.

62 Cf. Gen. 12:6; 13:7.

63 Cf. Deut. 34:1, 5, 6, 8.

64 Cf. Deut. 34:6.

65 Cf. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Megillah 9 a-b. The reference is to the production of the

Septuagint; see Abraham Wasserstein and David J. Wasserstein, The Legend of the Septuagint.

From Classical Antiquity to Today, Cambridge 2006.

66 Qur’ān 41:42.

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