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Jerusalem vs. Mecca in Ibn Qutayba's Kitāb Aʿlām al Nubuwwa


This article investigates one polemical issue, the substitution of Mecca for Jerusalem, in the writings of Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh b. Muslim b. Qutayba (828–889 ce). In his Book of the Signs of Prophethood (Kitāb Aʿlām al-Nubuwwa), Ibn Qutayba interprets five Biblical verses that speak of Jerusalem as actually alluding to Mecca. The investigation queries the quality of several Biblical allusions in Ibn Qutayba's work, probes Ibn Qutayba's reasoning in using them, and asks how they fit into the larger and longer-lasting polemic between Islam and Judaism concerning the identity of the son whom Abraham bound on the altar. It is found that the two issues—the place most sacred to God and the identity of the bound son—are strongly connected in the polemic between Islam and Judaism and between different schools of Islamic exegesis.

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1 See further, Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava, ‘Taḥrīf,’ Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd Edition), 12 vols. (Leiden, 2000), vol. 10, pp, 111112; Mazuz, Haggai, The Religious and Spiritual Life of the Jews of Medina (Leiden, 2014), pp. 1721.

2 This Qurʾānic idea appears in Q. 7:157: Those who follow the messenger, the prophet of the common folk (ummī), whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel […].”. Translation taken from the Qurʾān The Koran interpreted. Edited by Arberry, Arthur J. (London, 1964). This article is dedicated to Mrs Shoshanah Mandelboim.

3 On Ibn Qutayba's life and work, see Lecomte, Gérard, ‘Ibn Ḳutayba,’ Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd edition), 12 vols. (Leiden, 1971), vol. 3, pp. 844847; Adang, Camilla, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Ḥazon (Leiden, 1996), pp. 3036.

4 Vajda, Georges, “Judaeo-Arabica: Observations sur quelques citations bibliques chez Ibn Qotayba,” Revue des études juives 99 (1935), pp. 6880.

5 Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (Princeton, 1992), p. 80.

6 Translation taken from The King James Version of the English Bible: An Account of the Development and Sources of the English Bible of 1611 with Special References to Hebrew Tradition (Chicago, 1941).

7 Throughout this article, I used the critical edition of the text as appears in Schmidtke, Sabine, “The Muslim Reception of Biblical Materials: Ibn Qutayba and his Aʿlām al-nubuwwa,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 22/3 (2011), pp. 249274, at pp. 245–260 (hereinafter: Ibn Qutayba, Aʿlām al-Nubuwwa). Ibn Qutayba, Aʿlām al-Nubuwwa, p. 257.

9 Ibid., pp. 257–258.

10 Ibid., p. 258.

11 Ibid., p. 255.

12 Mujāhid b. al-Makhzūmī, Jabr al-Makkī, Tafsīr Mujāhid (Cairo, 1989), p. 569; al-Balkhī, Muqātil b. Sulaymān, Tafsīr Muqātil b. Sulaymān, 3 vols. (Beirut, 2003), iii, p. 104.

13 See further, Jaʿfar, Aḥmad b. Abī Yaʿqūb b., Taʾrīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, 2 vols. (Beirut, 1960), vol. 1, p. 25; ʿAlī, Abū al-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl b., Al-Mukhtaṣar fī Akhbār al-Bashar, 2 vols. (Beirut, 1997), vol. 1, p. 30; al-Wardī, Zayn al-Dīn ʿUmar b. Muẓaffar b., Taʾrīkh Ibn al-Wardī, 2 vols. (Najaf, 1969), vol. 1, p. 16. E.g., al-Māwardī, Abū al-ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. ḥabīb, Tafsīr al-Māwardī: al-Nukat waʾl-ʿUyūn, 4 vols. (Kuwait, 1982), iii, p. 421; 3:421; al-Maḥallī, Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Aḥmad and al-Suyūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abū Bakr, Tafsīr al-Jalālayn (Cairo, 2004), p. 483.

14 E.g., al-Andalusī, Abū ḥayyān Muḥammad b. Yūsuf, Tafsīr al-Nahr al-Nahr al-Mādd min al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ, 6 vols. (Beirut, 1995), vol. iv, p. 637.

15 See further, Firestone, Reuven, “Abraham's Son as the Intended Sacrifice (Al-Dhabī , Qurʾān 37:99–113): Issues in Qurʾānic Exegesis,” Journal of Semitic Studies 34/1 (1989), pp. 95131, especially at pp. 98–99, 113, 127 and 129; Doukhan, Jacques, “The Akedah at the Crossroad: Its Significance in the Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 32/1–2 (1994), pp. 2940, at p. 34; Mazuz, Haggai, “Polemical Treatment of the Story of the Annunciation of Isaac's Birth in Islamic Sources,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 17/2 (2014), pp. 252262. In this context, it is interesting to mention that in order to prove that the bound son was Ishmael, some Muslim sages referred to part of Gen. 22:2 as evidence. The verse reads: “And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). These Muslim sages argued that the words “your son, your only son” could only refer to Ishmael because he was the oldest, ignoring the rest of the verse, which clearly speaks about Isaac. For an example of such a Muslim sage, see Weston, Sidney Adams, “The Kitāb Masālik al-Naẓar of Saʿīd Ibn ḥasan of Alexandria: Edited for the First Time and Translated with Introduction and Notes,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 24 (1903), pp. 312383, at p. 337.

16 See Q. 142–146 and the commentaries on these verses; see also Mazuz, The Religious and Spiritual Life of the Jews of Medina, pp. 37–39.

17 Kister, Meir Jacob, “You Shall Only Set Out for Three Mosques: A Study of an Early Tradition,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 24 (2000), pp. 173196, at p. 178.

18 On the link between Ishmael and Mecca in Islamic sources, see also Rubin, Uri, “Islamic Retellings of Biblical History trans,” in Langermann, Y. Tzvi and Stern, Josef (eds.), Adaptations and Innovations: Studies on the Interaction between Jewish and Islamic Thought and Literature from the Early Middle Ages to the Late Twentieth Century, Dedicated to Professor Kraemer, Joel L. (Paris-Louvain, 2007), pp. 299313, at pp. 304–306.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
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