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Yakub of Syria (Ka'b al-Ahbar) Last Jewish Attempt at Islamic Leadership

Yakub ben Shallum was a scholar, and he was educated in Pumbedita. He continued to follow Rabbinic tradition such that later Islamic historians questioned whether he ever "converted" to Islam. Yaakov was known as Ka'b Ibn Mati' Al-Himyari, also nicknamed Abu Ishaq, from the clan of Dhu Ru'ayn came to Medina during the time of 'Umar. He was a prominent Rabbi and became known as Ka'b Al-Ahbar. He declared his Islam and resided in Medina during 'Umar's reign. He stayed in Medina until the days of 'Uthman. He was born after the death of the Prophet, because he is counted among the Tabi‘in. He narrated many Isra'iliyat.

Yakov reported based on Rabbinic teachings and Jewish mysticism[1], which sounded strange to Sadducean literalist ears. For example a companion named Qays Ibn Kharshah Al-Qaysi reported that Ka'b Al-Ahbar said: "Every event that has taken place or will take place, on any foot of the earth, is written in the Torah, which Allah revealed to His Prophet Moses."[2] To one unaccustomed to Rabbinic parable and analogy such a report is inconceivable. The earth contains billions of square miles, and each part of the earth may have thousands of events. Yet, Yaakov (Ka'b al-Ahbar) claimed that all these events are recorded in the Torah, which is not more than 400 pages. Recording all the events of the world, between the time of Moses and the Day of Judgement, could take millions of pages. Furthermore, Sadduceans did not believe in the reuse of prophecy, thus the pages of the Torah could not record future events.

Many companions knew him because he resided in Medina and was looked upon with high prestige by the Khalif 'Umar and 'Uthman. He narrated many stories, claiming that they were from the Torah. Many famous companions, such as Abu Hurayrah, Abdullah Ibn 'Umar, Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-As, and Mu'awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan reported his stories. Ka'b was with Khalif 'Umar when he entered Jerusalem.

In 642CE, After the debacle with the pigs[3] implicated Heman and resulting in Heman's removal from the Exilarch, 'Umar he summoned Yaakov (Ka’b al-Ahbar) to find his thoughts on the matter.

'Umar summoned Yaakov and said to him: "Where do you think better to build the musalla, oratory? " Ka’b replied: "Beside the rock". In another narration: "If you seek my advice, I prefer to pray behind the rock, i.e. the rock would be the qiblah." 'Umar said: "O Jewish person [son of a Jewish woman], you are mixing your Jewishness [with Islam]. I shall build it at the forefront of the mosque, as to us belong the forefronts of the mosques, and I saw you and the way you took off your shoes." He said: "I liked to conduct it with my foot."

'Umar observed that Ka'b took off his shoes. This was not in accordance with Rabbinic custom[4], rather Islamic – specifically Khawarji – custom. It appears to 'Umar that Ka'b was adopting Islamic custom. He also appeared that he was requesting that the qiblah be changed back to Jerusalem.

When 'Umar started to make repairs on the Bayt al-Maqdis, Temple Mount, from the trash which the Romans buried it in, 'Umar heard the takbir, God is Greater, announced from behind him. 'Umar was averse to evil do anything of showy false piety. He said: What is this? They replied: Ka’b said God is Greater and people repeated after him. 'Umar said: Bring him here. Ka’b said: O Amir al-Mu’minin, a prophet foretold of what you did today five hundred years ago. He asked: How is that? He replied: The Romans attacked Banu Israel and buried it (Bayt al-Maqdis), till you were appointed a ruler, when Allah delegated a prophet over the sweepings who said: O Jerusalem, I have good tidings for you, al-Faruq,[5] has come to cleanse you of that which inside you. In another narration: Al-Faruq came to you with obedient soldiers, who will retaliate and take vengeance of your people upon the Romans.

This Haddith seems to show Yaakov's true intentions. Perhaps with the liberation of Jerusalem by the Muslims, Yaakov began to be interested for the first time in mixing Judaism and Islam to push Muslims to achieve "Jewish goals", as it says "take vengeance .. upon the Romans". This is exactly what happened in 614 CE during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem. The Jews & Persians took vengeance on the Romans and it is said that several tens of thousands of Christians died. This turned the war against the Persians and brought about the fall of the Persian empire. So it obviously would have been unwise for 'Umar to take up this cause. 'Umar ordered Jews removed from Masjid al-Aqsa to a synagogue outside the Temple Mount, outside its south western corner.[6]

Jews prayed in synagogues in the south western corner until the early Sixteenth Century. At that time the Islamic Ottoman empire forbade them to pray in the synagogues and destroyed them. They sent the Jews to pray near the Western Wall and the history of this wall as a temporary place of prayer and a bridge to the Temple started at this time. This tradition is referred to also in an anonymous Hebrew letter[7] and by Isaac Helo (1333), who says that the place was pointed out by an old Jew to the Mohammedan conqueror on condition that he preserve the western wall.[8] The event of the Sakhara rock is reported by a number of Arabic writers who says that the original position of the Temple was pointed out to 'Umar by the Ka'b.[9]

Yaakov's reply, "I liked to conduct it with my foot" seems to imply that Yaakov's actions were strictly personal and he had not thoughts of rebellion like his brother Heman. This settled any grievance that 'Umar had with Yaakov, although it probably further increased 'Umar's distrust of Islamic Jews. Khalif 'Umar is reported as seeking Yaakov's advice about the future of the caliphate. Ibn Abbas reported that 'Umar said to Yaalov, in the presence of Ibn Abbas: "I would like to name my successor because my death is near. What do you say about Ali? Give me your opinion and inform me of what you find in your books, because you allege that we are mentioned in them." Yaakov said of 'Ali, "As to the wisdom of your opinion, it would be unwise to appoint Ali as a successor because he is very religious. He notices every deviation and does not tolerate crookedness. He follows only his own opinion in Islamic rules and this is not a good policy."

Islamic historians claim that Yaakov predicted the death of Khalif 'Umar. "Amir Al-Mu'minin, you ought to write your will because you will die in three days." 'Umar asked, "How do you know that?" Yaakov replied "I found it in the Book of God, the Torah." In three days, 'Umar came to lead the prayer at the mosque and was assassinated.[10]

The influence of Yaakov continued to grow after the death of 'Umar. During the reign of the Third Khalif 'Uthman, Yaakov was able to give verdicts in Islamic law. The Khalif often agreed with him, and no one among the attendants of the Khalif's meetings would oppose him. During Mu'awiyah's sojourn at Medina on the occasion of his visit to Khalif 'Uthman, Mu'awiyah asked Yaakov how the prevailing Khawarji disturbances against 'Uthman would end. Ka'b predicted that 'Uthman would be murdered and that in the long run the Grey Mule (meaning Mu'awiyah) would succeed in rising to power.

Islamic literature says Yaakov obtained a prominent position with Mu'awiyah. It is said that Yaakov moved from Medina to Damascus during the reign of 'Uthman. There he lived in the shadow of Mu'awiyah who befriended him and made him one of his closest associates. Mu'awiyah directed Ka'b to report anything that he considered advantageous to him. Mu'awiyah ordered Ka'b to narrate to the people of Damascus anything that puts Syria-Palestine (Israel) and its people above other provinces.[11]

In 658CE, during the hostilities between 'Ali and Mu'awiya for control of the Caliphate, the Battle of Siffin occurred, as many as 70,000 muslims died fighting each other. Yaakov (Ka'b al-Ahbar), allegedly foretold the battle of Siffin; the Banu Israel (Jewish troops of Nehemiah), he said, fought nine times at that very place until they destroyed one another. The Arabs, Ka'b added, would conduct the tenth battle at the same place, until they slaughtered one another and hurled at each other the same stones hurled by the Banu Israel. He also reported as saying: "One killed by the Khawarij, has ten lights, eight lights more than the light of the martyrs (nur al-shuhada). Ka`b is reported as enlisting in the summer expedition and joined it although he had fallen ill. He said: "I would rather die in Harasta than in Damascus, and die in Duma rather than in Harasta (meaning that he travel only a few miles towards battle), and thus forward in the Path of God (ha-kadha quduman fi sabili llah).[12]

But perhaps only Yaakov's name is being used based on teachings he gave previously, because it is unlikely that Yaakov would have joined Mu'awiya, given his anti-Jewish stance – and the fact that the rebel Khalif Zubair had appointed Yaakov's son Ishak as Exilarch after Bustonai's passing.

Rabbinic literature says Yaakov was executed in 643CE. Islamic histories mention that around this time Abu Dharr, a strict ascetic, became incensed upon hearing Ka'b giving verdicts in Islamic law. Yaakov had justified 'Uthman's withholding State funds from being distributed to the poor. Abu Dharr struck and perhaps killed Yaakov with his rod, saying "Son of a Jewish lady, are you trying to teach us our religion?"


  1. Concerning maaseh merkavah, Al-Qurtubi, in his commentary on the Qur'anic chapter of Ghafir, reported that Ka'b said: " When God created His throne, the throne said: 'God did not create any creature greater than me.' The throne then shook itself to show its glory. God roped the throne with a snake which had 70 thousand wings; each wing had 70 thousand feathers; each feather had 70 thousand faces; each face had 70 thousand mouths, and each mouth had 70 thousand tongues. Out of these mouths words glorifying Allah came with a quantity equal to the number of drops of rain that have fallen, and the leaves on the trees, and the number of pieces of gravel and soil, and the number of days of the world, and the number of angels. The snake coiled around the throne, for the throne was much smaller than the snake. The throne was covered by only half the snake."
  2. Ibn Abd al-Barr, Al-Isti'ab, part 3, page 1287
  3. This is traditionally referred to as happening upon 'Umar's first entry to Jerusalem, but according to this narration, 'Umar said he would build the musalla "at the forefront of the mosque". This implies that there already was a mosque at Al Aqsa when 'Umar summoned Yaakov, so this could probably only occur after the wooden mosque had been built.
  4. Zohar, Parshas Balak, while refering to Exodus 3:5, says that the commandment to stand barefoot on holy ground was changed by the Rabbis because of its adoption by "sinners".
  5. This title means Redeemer, and has messianic connotations.
  6. Referred to in B. Mazar's research as beit Menorot, House of the Menorahs because of the red menorahs that had been painted on the entrance. This synagogue however has a Quibla that faces Mecca and not Jerusalem.
  7. Ozar Tov, 79, 13
  8. Carmoly, "Itine'raires de la Terre Sainte," p. 237
  9. Z. D. P. V." xiii. 9 et seq
  10. AI-Tabari, part 4, page 191
  11. Mahmood Abu Rayyah, in his book Adhwa (lights) on AI-Sunnah AI-Muhammadiyyah, reported that Ibn Hajar Al-'Asqalani, recorded in his book (Al-Isabah, part 5, page 323)
  12. "On the burial of martyrs", Michael Lecker, Jerusalem