Who is Kabul-Ahbar (Ka'b al-Ahbar)?

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Who is Kabul-Ahbar (Ka'b al-Ahbar)?
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Ka'bul- Ahbar is one of the famous scholars of Sons of Israel. He is a Yemeni Jew; he became famous for his vast knowledge on the Torah. He learned the attributes of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from holy books and became a Muslim. He tried to persuade the Jewish scholars around him. He was accepted as the most reliable among the narrators of the People of the Book. He had a copy of the Torah that had not been distorted during the emergence of Islam; he encouraged the scholars to accept Islam by giving examples from the verses of the Torah that indicated the Prophet (pbuh). Some of those verses are mentioned in Risale-i Nur Collection and the phrase "one of the great scholars of Sons of Israel" (Mektubat: Letters, p. 167) is used for him.

His full name is Abu Ishaq Ka'b bin Mati bin Heynu (Haysu) al-Yemeni. Ka'b's exact date of birth is not known. When the narration that he died at the age of 104 is considered, his year of birth can be accepted as 551. He is from Yemen and is a member of the Zuruayn tribe living there.

It is narrated that he has vast knowledge; he was given the nickname "ahbar" because he wrote his writings in ink. Ahbar is the plural form of the word hibr (ink). It is also stated that he is known as al-Ahbar because of his vast knowledge about the Bible.

There are different narrations about Ka'b's becoming a Muslim. According to a narration, it is stated that he became a Muslim during the time of the Prophet when Hz. Ali went to Yemen and talked to him. According to another narration, he went to Madinah during the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr or Hz. Umar but he could not find the Caliph there; then, he went to Jerusalem and became a Muslim in the presence of the Caliph there. It is clearly stated in all three narrations that he became a Muslim.

Ka'b, who is the son of a Jewish scholar, learned some of his religious knowledge from his father. However, his father wrote some of the Torah, gave it to him and wanted Ka’b to content himself with it; he put his books in a closet and locked it. Besides, his father made him promise that he will not read except the copies that he gave him. After that, when the Prophet emerged and the religion of Islam started to spread everywhere, he read the books that his father had hid and had a lot of knowledge about the properties of the last Prophet.

Ka'b, who had a version of the Torah that had not been distorted yet, knew about the sound and fabricated information included in their books.He could discern what was true and what was wrong in them. He had knowledge about the last Prophet based on the information in the Torah; therefore, he believed in him and tried to persuade other scholars to believe in him.

Ka'b narrated the hadiths that he learned from the Companions including Hz. Umar. The hadiths he narrated are included in the books of Abu Dawud, Darimi, Tirmidhi and Malik. He benefited from the Companions; and the Companions and Tabiun benefited from his knowledge. Hz. Umar, Abdullah bin Zubayr, Abdullah bin Abbas, Abu Hurayra and Muawiya are among the Companions that benefited from his knowledge. In addition, some Tabiun reported the hadiths they learned from him. Ka'b also told some stories in his meetings but when he heard that telling stories was prohibited except by the people whom the Caliph appointed, he gave up telling stories.

It is stated that the only undistorted copy of the Torah was left to him by his father and that he made interpretations based on this copy. Some of the interpretations made by him about Quranic verses were found to be compatible with hadiths by the Companions and they were approved. The information reported by him about the last Prophet is mentioned in various Islamic resources; some of his reports from the Torah are included in Risale-i Nur Collection. It is reminded that Abdullah ibn Salam and Ka'bul-Ahbar showed and announced the following verse from the Torah:

"O Prophet ! We have sent you as a witness (for Allah's True religion) And a giver of glad tidings (to the faithful believers), And a warner (to the unbelievers) And guardian of the illiterates. You are My slave and My messenger (i.e. Apostle). I have named you "al-Mutawakkil" (who depends upon Allah). You are neither discourteous, harsh nor a noisemaker in the markets And you do not do evil to those Who do evil to you, but you deal With them with forgiveness and kindness. Allah will not let him (the Prophet) die till he makes straight the crooked people by making them say: "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah." (Mektubat: Letters, p. 167)

In the verse above, the Prophet (pbuh) is mentioned by the name "Mutawakkil", he is mentioned as Muhammad in another verse:

"Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Makkah is his place of birth, Madinah is the place of his migration and Damascus belongs to him. His ummah are people who praise Allah." The following is stated in another verse of the Torah: "You are my slave and messenger. I gave you the name Mutawakkil." (Mektubat: Letters, p. 167-168).

The discussions about the reliability and personality of Ka'b reached today. Along with the narrations stating that some great Companions including Hz. Umar benefited from him and his advice, there are also narrations that he was threatened to be dismissed from Madinah if he did not give up reporting things. Ibn Masud criticized Ka'b due to some issues he included in his narrations. On the other hand, Ibn Hibban who reports the view of Abu Darda states that Ka’b was a knowledgeable scholar and that it is agreed that he had a great amount of knowledge. Besides, Dhahabi, who studied his biography, emphasizes his vast knowledge and religious personality; he did not include any information criticizing Ka’b. Some other writers included Ka’b in their works in detail, showing that they gave great value and importance to him. (M. Yaşar Kandemir; "Kâ'b el-Abhâr", TDVİA. Vol. 24. p. 2)

Ka'b's personality necessitated sensitive studies and separate evaluations about the issues like his sincerity in Islam and the evaluation of the information he included in his narrations. It seems that there are no negative evaluations and attitudes toward him that will overshadow his sincerity in accepting Islam since some Companions reported from him. However, it is not fair to accuse him of including Israiliyyat with the intention of destroying the religion. It is known that certain customs and habits remaining from Sons of Israel continued after the adoption of Islam. However, it is not appropriate to think that all of them are malevolent. What matters is to filter them and to remove those that are incompatible with the spirit of Islam.

It is important to keep in mind that Ka'b is regarded among the most reliable narrators of the People of the Book. However, it should be taken into consideration that some reports changed in the course of time, in some cases the texts were mixed with interpretations, sometimes interpretations were combined with the original statement, and that they were not done entirely with malicious intentions.

Ka'bul-Ahbar spent his last years in Homs, where he settled. He participated in the war against the Byzantines. He passed away in 652. His year of death is also stated to be 653. It is also reported that he died in Damascus and that he was buried in the Cemetery of Babussaghir.

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