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Ka'b al-Ahbar

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Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (Arabic: کَعْب الأحْبار), (b. 32/652 or 34/654) was a Jewish scholar who converted to Islam in the period of the caliphate of Shaykhayn (the first two caliphs after the Prophet (s)). Ka'b al-Ahbar was a confidant of the Second Caliph and propagated many Isra'iliyyat among Muslims. The Prophet's (s) companions displayed different positions and behaviors regarding Ka'b. Imam al-Baqir (a) said that Ka'b al-Ahbar was a liar. None of his hadiths has been cited in the Four Books of the Shi'a.


Ka'b b. Mati' al-Himyari al-Yamani was one of the Tabi'un.[1] His kunya was Abu Ishaq.[2] He was a prominent Jewish scholar in Yemen during the period of Jahiliyya.[3] According to some historians, he could discern the accuracy or inaccuracy of what was attributed to the Bible.[4]

In the period of the Second Caliph, he went to Medina where he stayed.[5] And in the period of the Third Caliph, he went to Syria and stayed in Homs where he died in 32/652-53[6] or 34/654-55.[7]

He was known as "Ka'b al-Ahbar". "Al-Ahbar" is the plural form of "al-hibr" (Arabic: الحِبْر) which means a religious scholar.[8] Ka'b quoted frequently from the Torah, referring to it as the "Book of Allah".[9]

Conversion to Islam

Ka'b converted to Islam during the caliphate of Abu Bakr or early in the period of the caliphate of 'Umar.[10] According to some sources, Ka'b converted to Islam during the Conquest of Jerusalem at the suggestion of the Second Caliph.[11]

Al-'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib asked Ka'b, "why did you not convert to Islam during the life of the Prophet (s) and why did you do so during the caliphate of 'Umar?" Ka'b replied, "my father wrote me some notes from the Torah and told me to act upon them. He sealed all his books and made me promise not to open the seals. When I witnessed the emergence of Islam and saw that it was safe against all troubles, I told myself that my father might have concealed a piece of knowledge from me. Thus, I opened the seals on those books. I saw the characteristics and features of the Prophet (s) and his people in the books and converted to Islam."[12]

In the View of the Sahaba

Second Caliph

The main companion of the Prophet (s) who introduced and trusted Ka'b was the Second Caliph. Different accounts have been provided for the story in different Sunni sources.

Ka'b was talking to some people in the mosque. The caliph sat among those people and asked Ka'b to give him some advice.[13] On another account, the Second Caliph asked Ka'b to tell him about the resurrection.[14] One day the caliph summoned Ka'b and told him, "O Ka'b! How do you find me in the Torah?" Ka'b replied, "the caliph is an iron fort, not fearing anyone's blame on the path of God."[15]

In some cases, the caliph rejected Ka'b's remarks and suggestions. For example, 'Umar reportedly told Ka'b, "quit transmitting hadiths or I will send you to the land of monkeys."[16] This remark was not limited to Ka'b; instead, it was a general decision made by the caliph to prohibit the transmission of hadiths from the Prophet (s). Moreover, the Second Caliph opposed Ka'b's suggestion to construct a mihrab in Jerusalem.[17]

Sympathetic Sahaba

Ja'far Murtada al-'Amili believes that the reason why the Sahaba have frequently transmitted hadiths from Ka'b was the Second Caliph's confidence in, and consultation with, him.[18]

Abu Darda', one of the Prophet's (s) Sahaba, believed that Ka'b al-Ahbar was very knowledgeable.[19] Mu'awiya referred to Ka'b as a scholar,[20] saying that "Ka'b al-Ahbar is the most truthful person who transmits [contents] from the books of the People of the Book, although we have heard lies from these books too."[21] According to some historians, Mu'awiya's praises of Ka'b were very well-known at the time.[22]

Ibn 'Abbas and 'Amr b. al-'As disputed over the recitation of a word in the Qur'an. They enquired about Ka'b's view.[23] In another case, Talha and Ibn 'Abbas disputed an issue and they consulted Ka'b to settle their dispute.[24] Such stories show that they trusted Ka'b. Moreover, Ka'b is one of the few Tabi'un from whom the Sahaba of the Prophet (s) transmitted hadiths. Al-Dhahabi believes that this was a scarce and significant event.[25]

Unsympathetic Sahaba

According to Shiite sources, Ka'b said something in the presence of Imam 'Ali (a) and the Second Caliph, against which Imam 'Ali (a) argued in the meeting.[26]

A harsh encounter between Abu Dhar al-Ghifari and Ka'b is reported in some sources:

'Uthman asked, "is it problematic if we withdraw some money from the public treasury (bayt al-mal) and spend it for our own needs or give it away to some people?" Ka'b replied, "there is no problem here." Abu Dhar raised his walking stick and hit it at Ka'b's chest, reprimanding him by saying, "O the son of a Jew! How dare you talk about our religion!"[27]

Transmission of Hadiths

There are different views about the acceptance or rejection of hadiths from Ka'b. Many Isra'iliyyat are attributed to him and are cited in various sources. However, in his Sahih, al-Bukhari never cited a hadith from Ka'b, although he mentioned Ka'b in his commentary on a hadith.[28] Sahih Muslim does not cite any hadith from Ka'b either.[29] Moreover, no hadith from Ka'b is cited in the Four Books of the Shi'a.

Fabricated Hadiths

A person told Imam al-Baqir (a) that "Ka'b al-Ahbar said, 'the Ka'ba prostrates every morning for Jerusalem'". The Imam (a) asked the man about his view of what Ka'b had said. The man said, "Ka'b al-Ahbar has told the truth. What he said is true." The Imam (a) said, "you are wrong, and Ka'b al-Ahbar has lied just like you."[30]

Al-'Allama al-'Askari believes that stories of the Jews, praises of the People of the Book, and praises of Jerusalem found their way into Islamic sources through Ka'b al-Ahbar.[31]

Ibn Kathir, an exegete of the Qur'an, writes with regard to one of the Isra'iliyyat, "these are what People of the Book have cited from their own books, such as hadiths from Ka'b and Wahb —may God be lenient towards them for the Isra'iliyyat they have propagated among Muslims— including stories of Children of Israel; some of these did exist, some did not and some others were distorted."[32]

Rashid Rida, a contemporary Sunni exegete of the Qur'an, believes that many hadiths regarding the material, the size, the width and the length of Moses's Tablets were false Isra'iliyyat, holding that such stories were propagated among Muslims by Ka'b al-Ahbar and others like him.[33]

Murder of 'Umar

According to some historical sources, three days before the murder of the Second Caliph, Ka'b had told him that he would live only for three more days, asking him to write his will. He told him that he had found the prediction in the Torah.[34] There are many debates about this story. Some people believe that it shows that Ka'b was complicit in 'Umar's murder, while others reject this conjecture.


  1. Ziriklī, al-Aʿlām, vol. 5, p. 228.
  2. Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, vol. 3, p. 397.
  3. Ziriklī, al-Aʿlām, vol. 5, p. 228.
  4. Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, vol. 3, p. 397.
  5. Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Muntaẓam, vol. 5, p. 38.
  6. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 7, p. 309.
  7. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 11, p. 627.
  8. Farāhīdī, al-ʿAyn, vol. 3, p. 218.
  9. Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 10, p. 409.
  10. Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, vol. 3, p. 397.
  11. Ibn Aʿtham, al-Futūḥ, vol. 1, p. 228.
  12. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 7, p. 309-310.
  13. Abū Naʿīm al-Iṣfahānī, Ḥilyat al-awlīyāʾ, vol. 5, p. 371.
  14. Ibn al-Mubārak, al-Zuhd wa l-raqāʾiq, vol. 2, p. 117.
  15. Abū Naʿīm al-Iṣfahānī, Ḥilyat al-awlīyāʾ, vol. 6, p. 25.
  16. Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya wa l-nihāya, vol. 8, p. 106.
  17. Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya wa l-nihāya, vol. 7, p. 58.
  18. Jaʿfar Murtaḍā, al-Ṣaḥīḥ min sīrat al-nabīyy, vol. 1, p. 121.
  19. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 7, p. 310.
  20. Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣāba, vol. 5, p. 483.
  21. Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 9, p. 110.
  22. Jaʿfar Murtaḍā, al-Ṣaḥīḥ min sīrat al-nabīyy, vol. 1, p. 124.
  23. Suyūṭī, al-Durr al-manthūr, vol. 4, p. 248.
  24. Akhbār al-dawla al-ʿabbāsīyya, p. 125.
  25. Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-nubalāʾ, vol. 3, p. 490.
  26. Warrām, Majmūʿat Warrām, vol. 2, p. 5-6.
  27. Masʿūdī, Murūj al-dhahab, vol. 2, p. 340.
  28. Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 9, p. 110.
  29. Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-nubalāʾ, vol. 3, p. 490.
  30. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 4, p. 240.
  31. ʿAskarī, Naqsh-i aʾimma dar iḥyāʾ-i dīn, vol. 1, p. 494.
  32. Ibn Karhīr, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 6, p. 177.
  33. Rashīd Riḍā, al-Manār, vol. 9, p. 164.
  34. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 4, p. 191.


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