Judaism's views on Muhammad

Judaism's views on Muhammad

A series of articles on
Prophet of Islam

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Judaism has no special or particular view of Muhammad, and very few texts in Judaism directly refer to or take note of Muhammad. Judaism rejects his self-proclamation of receiving divine revelations from God and labels him instead as a false prophet.



In Judaism, prophets were seen as having attained the highest degree of holiness, scholarship, and closeness to God and set the standards for human perfection. The Talmud reports that there were more than a million prophets, but most of the prophets conveyed messages that were intended solely for their own generation and were not reported in Scripture. The Talmud reports that there were prophets among the gentiles (most notably Balaam, whose story is told in Numbers 22, and Job, who is considered a non-Jew by most rabbinical opinions). The prophet Jonah was sent on a mission to speak to the gentiles of the city of Nineveh.

References to Muhammad


Maimonides referred to Muhammad as a false prophet and an insane man. In his Epistle to Yemen he wrote "After [Jesus] arose the Madman who emulated his precursor [Jesus], since he paved the way for him. But he added the further objective of procuring rule and submission [talb al-mulk; pursuit of sovereignty] and he invented what is well known [Islam]."[1]"

Moreover, Maimonides asserted that Muhammad's claim to prophethood was in itself what disqualified him, because it contradicted the prophecy of Moses, the Torah and the Oral Tradition. His argument further asserted that Muhammad being illiterate also disqualified him from being a prophet.[2]

In his authoritative work of law the Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12), Maimonides indicated that nevertheless Muhammad was part of God's plan of preparing the world for the coming of the Jewish Messiah: "All those words of Jesus of Nazareth and of this Ishmaelite [i.e., Muhammad] who arose after him are only to make straight the path for the messianic king and to prepare the whole world to serve the Lord together. As it is said: 'For then I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech so that all of them shall call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord' (Zephaniah 3:9)."[3]

Natan'el al-Fayyumi

Nethanel ibn al-Fayyumi, a prominent 12th-century Yemenite rabbi and theologian, and the founder of so-called Jewish Ismailism, wrote in his philosophical treatise Bustan al-Uqul ("Garden of Wisdom") that God sends prophets to establish religions for other nations, which do not have to conform to the precepts of the Jewish Torah. Nethanel explicitly considered Muhammad a true prophet, who was sent from Heaven with a particular message that applies to the Arabs, but not to the Jews.[4][5] However, Al-Fayymi's explicit acceptance of Muhammad's prophecy may be unique and was virtually unknown until recent times beyond his native Yemen.[6]

Fabrications and obscure references

One Yemenite Jewish document, found in the Cairo Genizah, suggests that many Jews had not only accepted Muhammad as a prophet, but even desecrated the Sabbath in order to join Muhammad in his struggle against the infidels; However, this document, called Dhimmat an-nabi Muhammad (Muhammad’s Writ of Protection), was apparently fabricated by Yemenite Jews for the purpose of self-defence.[7]

An obscure Kabbalistic apocalyptic tract called Secrets (Nistarot) of Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohai implies that Muhammad, who is alluded to in the tract as "a prophet sent to Ishmael", plays a positive role in the messianic process.[8]

A number of stories from the Islamic tradition about Muhammad entered mainstream Jewish thought incidentally, due to the great cultural convergence in Islamic Spain of the 9th-12th centuries, known as the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. For example, Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonne, one of the early Hasidic mystics, wrote that one pious man (hasid) taught that the internal struggle against the evil inclination is greater than external battle, quoting Bahya ibn Paquda's popular treatise Chovot HaLevavot. In the Judeo-Arabic original version of that book, Bahya Ibn Paquda refers to both external and internal battle as jihad and the "pious man" about whom the story is originally told is Muhammad, though the author does not mention his source by name.[9]


  1. ^ Norman Roth. Jews, Visigoths, and Muslims in Medieval Spain: Cooperation and Conflict, BRILL, 1994, p. 218.
  2. ^ Marc B. Shapiro. "Jewish Views on Islam", My Jewish Learning website.
  3. ^ A. James Rudin. Christians & Jews Faith to Faith: Tragic History, Promising Present, Fragile Future, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, pp. 128–129.
  4. ^ The Bustan al-Ukul, by Nathanael ibn al-Fayyumi, edited and translated by David Levine, Columbia University Oriental Studies Vol. VI, p. 105
  5. ^ Gan ha-Sekhalim, ed. Kafih (Jerusalem, 1984), ch. 6.
  6. ^ Abraham's children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation, by Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, Tim Winter, T&T Clark Int'l, 2006, ISBN 0567081613, p. 137 Netanel's work was virtually unknown beyond his native Yemen until modern times, so had little influence on later Jewish thought.
  7. ^ Yakov Rabkin and Hinda Rabkin. "Perspectives on the Muslim Other in Jewish Tradition"PDF (126 KB)
  8. ^ Abraham's children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation, by Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, Tim Winter, T&T Clark Int'l, 2006, ISBN 0567081613, p. 133 "Nistarot" places the Muslim conquests in an eschatological context, and implies that Muhammad had a positive role to play in the messianic process.
  9. ^ A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue: Philosophy and Mysticism in Bahya ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart, by Diana Lobel, University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0812239539, p. ix How does a perennially popular manual of Jewish piety come to be quoting Islamic traditions about the Prophet Muhammad? Muslim Spain of the tenth through twelfth century, known as the "Golden Age" of Hispano-Jewish poetry and letters, is a time of great convergence and cultural creativity.

See also

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