External references to Islam

I knew that a collection of sources did exist online somewhere.  It seems that Peter Kirby, back in 2003, produced one and it is here.  It is excerpted from Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. (1997)  Nearly all of it is about the Islamic invasions, as might be expected.

5 Responses to “External references to Islam”


  1. stephan

    One reference to Mohammed which is typically overlooked is found in the Samaritan chronology attributed to Abu l-Fath, Ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Samiri al-Danafi. His chronology is a compilation of Samaritan history from cited earlier sources.

    I pulled out the text called the Continuato (as it is a continuation of the original chronicle written by Abu l-Fath undoubtedly by someone else) out of my library. It has an interesting account about Mohammed being recognized as the one prophesied by each of the Jewish, Samaritan and Christian traditions of the Middle East owing to his having certain marks on his body.

    The brief account in Levy-Rubin’s 2002 translation (Darwin Press p 46 – 48)

    At that time there were three men astrologers who used to foretell coming events: the first Sarmasa, a Samaritan from Askar; the second, Ka’n al-Achbar a Jew; and the third, ‘Abd Allah, a Christian from Lydda (Ludd). These three were aware of each other’s skill, and they saw in their dreams that the rule of Byzantium had ended, that the rule of Isma’il was beginning, and that a leader (qa’im) was arising for them from amongst the descendants of Hashim. His sign would be found on his back [in the form of] a yellow mole the size of a palm, and the first thing to occur would be that he would emerge from a city called “the city of the messenger.” The three men met together and said: “Let us go and see whether it is he or not; if it is he, we shall contemplate what we should do, [so that] we will not be hurt [by him like we were] by those who preceded [hinm].” The three departed and arrived at his city, where he was staying. When they approached him and saw him they said: “Who could overcome him?” They decided that Ka’b al-Achbar should approach him. So [Ka’b] approached him and greeted him, and Muhammed asked him “Who are you?” He answered: “I am one of the Jewish dignitaries, and I found in my Torah that [one] of the descendants of Isma’il will arise, who will rule and conquer the world and no one will stand in his way.” [Then] ‘Abd Allah said likewise “I found this same in the Gospel,” and they did not recognize any authority but him. When Sarmasa, the Samaritan approached him he said to him: “You will be the one to profess the faith and law; with it you will subdue the necks of the infidels and you will rule the world through it. We were told that there is a sign between your shoulders.” [Mohammed] stood up and revealed his back, and they saw the mole on his back. When Ka’b al Achbar heard Sarmasa’s words he became a hypocrite in his religion; ‘Abd al-Salam too became a hypocrite.

    The story goes on to tell how the Jews and the Christians received more favorable treatment in the Islamic world owing to the ‘hypocrisy’ of their representatives. Just thought I would mention it to you

  2. Roger Pearse

    Very interesting – thank you. What date is the text?

  3. stephan

    There is some debate as to the actual date of the composition. Here is what Milka Levy-Rubin writes in the introduction:

    This text which will be called the Continuatio (for reasons that will be clarified below) appears at the end of the Samaritan chronicle Kitab al-ta ‘rikh written in Arabic and compiled from earlier sources by Abu l-Fath ibn Abi l-Hasan al-Samiri al-Danafi in CE 1355. The text, the main part of which appears solely as part of one of the oldest and most trustworthy Mss. of the chronicle, the Biblioteque Nationale Ms. Samaritain no. 10, describes the history of the Samaritans in Palestine during the early Muslim period up to and including the first third of the tenth century. It contains considerable information not only about the history of the Samaritan people but also about political events of the period in Palestine, Syria and Egypt. What makes the information in this text especially valuable is the fact that it is of a completely different character for that conveyed in the Muslim chronicles pertaining to the same period. While the latter focus on events, changes and intrigues that influenced the Muslim world in general, and the ruling class in its political centres in particular, our text presents the history of the period from two other points of view (i.e. from the dhimmis the protected non-Muslim population) and from the perspective of life in Palestine …)

    As far as I can tell the only thing that can be determined is when the Paris Ms was copied:

    … according to its colophons the Paris MS (Vilmar’s Ms. C) was copied during the years 1523 – 24: the first part was completed on 18 Jumada I 930/24 March 1524, while the second part covering the period from Muhammad to al-Radi was completed on 20 Ramadan 930/ 22 July 1524. The copyist was Musallam ibn Yusuf ibn Ibrahim ibn Hiba ibn Qabas the Samaritan of the clan of Yusuf.

    I should note that the Samaritan tradition identifies:

    the hijira occurred in the year 2000 of the fanuta, a time of expectation among the Samaritans. These last 1000 years were also the sixth millennium from the time of Creation, the last millenium before the return of the rahuta, which will occupy the seventh millenium – the Jubilee.

    Indeed it has been shown that the hijira fell on the year Samaritan jubilee further emphasizing something already noted by Cooke and Crone among others – namely the obvious Samaritan influence over earliest Islamic religious concepts.

    The bottom line is that it seems that the fourteenth century is a good date for the compilation of earlier sources. The division between two books at the time of Muhammed was because as Vilmar suggests it was ‘considered by the Samaritans as a crucial turning point in history’ – related to the coming of the Samaritan messianic figure.

    Hope this long garbled message helps

  4. stephan

    It seems I have some more time. The author traces the story of the mark on the back of Mohammed’s back to other sources. Here is the footnote provided by Levy-Rubin:

    The following story presents another version of the famous story of Bahira, the Christian monk who met Mohammed in his youth and identified him as the future prophet by finding on him the stigmata of prophesy in the form of a mole between his shoulders. See al-Tabari, Ta’rikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk, ed. M.J. de Goeje et al. (Leiden, 1879 – 1901), I, 1123ff; EI2, s.v. “Bahira” … ‘Abd Allah ibn Salam, Ka’b al-Achbar and Bahira appear together in Muslim tradition along with several other figures from the ahl al-kitab who joined Islam, bringing with them certain written traditions of the faith. See Ibn al-Nadim, Kitab al-fihrst, ed. G Fluegel (Leipzig, 1871 -72) I. 22. ‘Abd Allah ibn Salam was in fact a converted Jew

  5. Roger Pearse

    I’ve seen this sort of thing in historical texts in Arabic mss before. A continuation is not uncommon.

    The main text ends ca. 1355, and extra text is a continuation, therefore written afterwards. This could be at any time up to 1524, if the ms is unique and so possibly the autograph.

    Thank you for all this extra info.



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