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-ẓunūn 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
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
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 wā’id, where He says in the Torah: Adhūnay yamlak
‘ūlām wā’id,26 which [in Arabic] means: ‘God reigns forever’. And you say: If ‘ūlām
is combined with wā’id, this combination [of words] means abadiyya in the second
sense, but if ‘ūlām is not combined with wā’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 ya’bud wabasabī’at
yaṣā ḥufshī waim yūmar ha’abad aḥabtī adhūnay waishtī wabānay lū aṣā ḥufshī [….]
waraṣa’ adhūnaw udhunū bimarṣa’ wa’abadū 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 sab’a fa’amīm
wa-hayū tisa’ wa-arba’īm sana wa-qadastim thanath hā ḥamīshim aw qarāthim darūr
bāraṣ la-kul yūshabih hiya wa-hā-’abad ‘ad thanath ha-yūbal ya’bud wa-yaṣā ma’imakh
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
wā’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
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 ḥūlam ḥalūm wa-nathan alayka ūth ū mūfath lamūr nilkhah aḥarī lūham
aḥarīm wa-na’budum 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 (ma’būd)’, 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
ha’aluh dibbar adhūnay al qahalkam qūl jādhūl wāyikdawam ‘al sana lūḥath
ābah nīm wātmr wa-hin qūl adhūnay sama’nu mitūkh hā’ish, 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 Ḥaḍrat 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 anaḥnu lsmū’a qūl
adhūnay ‘awd wa-matnu qarab wa-sama’ kul ashir yūmar adhūnay alakhah wa-sama’nu
wa-yūmar adhūnay haṭībū 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
maṣaw atkhah lū tūḍif ‘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]
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 ṣiwā lanū Mūsā
hiya mūrāshah qhlth Ya’qūb.46 [In Arabic] this means: When Ḥaḍrat 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
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 aḥīhim kāmūkhah wa-nathitī dabaray ba-fīw wa-dabar alīhim kul ashar
aṣawanū wa-hayah hāyish ashar lū yisma’ al baray ashar yadabar bi-smī anūkhī adrūsh
m’amū, 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
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 yad’ū 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
The t h i r d p r o o f : God, exalted is He, says in the Torah: Adūnay mi-sīnā bā’
wa-zaraḥ mi-sā’īr 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’ Ya’qūb
al bānaw wa-yūmar ilayhim hāṣfū wa-ajīdha lakum ashar yiqra’ athkam bāḥrīth hayyāmīm
lū yāsūr shabaṭ min Yahūdah wa-maḥūqaq 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-smā’īl sama’tīkhah 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] bā’ 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 bā’ is needed, and it would have to say bi-bi-mād mād.
We say: it is well known among them that if two bā’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 bā’ 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-ya’būr Ibrāhīm bā ariṣ ‘adh
maqūm Shakham ‘adh Aylun Mūrah wa-ha-Kanā’anī az ba-arḍ.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-ya’al 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
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-ẓunūn ‘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], Pe’amim 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 za’amū 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 seyāḥatnāmesı, 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
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 ḥadīth 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-ma’nāhu 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
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 qiṣaṣ 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-me’od me’od) on the one hand, and Muḥammad 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.