Abdullah Ibn Salam RA – The Jewish Rabi Who Embraced Islam
Al-Hussain ibn Salam was a Jewish rabbi in Yathrib (Madinah) who was widely respected and honored by the people of the city even by those who were not Jewish. He was known for his piety and goodness, his upright conduct and his truthfulness. Al-Hussain lived a peaceful and gentle life but he was serious, purposeful and organized in the way he spent his time. For a fixed period each day, he would worship, teach and preach in the temple. Then he would spend some time in his orchard, looking after date palms, pruning and pollinating. Thereafter, to increase his understanding and knowledge of his religion, he would devote himself to the study of the Torah.
In 622CE Rasulullah SAW and most of the Muslim community migrated from Makkah to Madinah. At that time Madinah was known as Yathrib. It was not so much a city but a series of fortresses and strongholds where various political factions were united by tenuous alliances. Madinah was ruled by two large Arab tribes, the Khazraj and Aws.
A group of influential leaders invited Rasulullah SAW and his followers to Madinah. When Rasulullah SAW reached there several of the Jewish clans were troubled and disturbed. In these first troublesome years Rasulullah SAW established the first Islamic state. During this time, some individual Madinan Jews accepted Islam, the most famous of which is Abdullah Ibn Salam, a well-respected and liked religious scholar and rabbi.
Husain Ibn Salam, as he was then known was a religious man, dedicated to study and contemplation. He studied the Torah in great detail, although historical records seem to indicate that the study of the Talmud played a very small part in Judaism in the Arabian Peninsula at the time. Never the less because of his study Husain was aware of the verses in the Torah mentioning a prophet who would complete the message of all previous prophets. When he heard the reports of a man in Makkah claiming to be such, the messenger of God, he took an immediate interest.
In authentic traditions and in the translation of Abdullah’s own words we find the following passage.
“When I heard of the appearance of Rasulullah SAW, I began to make enquiries about his name, his genealogy, his characteristics, his time and place and I began to compare this information with what is contained in our books. From these enquiries, I became convinced about the authenticity of his prophet-hood and I affirmed the truth of his mission.”
For some time, possibly years, Husain Ibn Salam continued to study his scripture and listen to news of Rasulullah SAW. Then, in 622 CE, peoples rushed into the streets of Madinah announcing that Rasulullah SAW was in Quba, only a short distance away. The stories relate that Husain was in his date plantation, high up in one of the date palms. When he heard the news he shouted Allahu Akbar – God is great. His elderly aunt could hear the excitement in his voice and remonstrated with him declaring that he could not be more excited if Moses himself was about to enter the town.
Those words were correct for Husain Ibn Salam was of the opinion that Muhammad (Rasulullah SAW) was the brother of Moses, since they were both Prophets. Without hesitation Husain joined the crowds thronging into the streets, waiting to meet and greet Rasulullah SAW. Abdullah Bin Salam RA relates that he pushed in amongst the crowd longing to be close to the man he had been waiting for. The first words he heard from Rasulullah’s lips were, ‘O people! Spread peace…Share food…Pray during the night while others sleep… and you will enter Paradise in peace’
Husain (Abdullah Ibn Salam RA) looked into the eyes of Rasulullah SAW, he scrutinized his face and said with complete certainty, “There is no god worthy of worship but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. Upon hearing the words come so spontaneously from the man’s lips Rasulullah SAW turned to him and asked in a gentle yet strong voice, “What is your name?” Husain replied, “Husain Ibn Salam”. “From this day forward”, Rasulullah SAW said, “you will be known as Abdullah Ibn Salam”.
In the new city of Madinah relations between all political affiliations were tense. The fabric of society was held together by tribal and political alliances and any change threatened to plunge the area into chaos. The advent of Islam was one such change. Rasulullah SAW and his followers were invited to relocate to Yathrib (now known as Madinah), assuming leadership of the immediate area. Rasulullah’s diplomatic skills and trustworthiness were well known and admired, however some groups, particularly some Jewish groups did not want any change to their tenuous yet profitable alliances. Such was the Madinah political landscape; into this mix came Abdullah Ibn Salam.
We learned earlier that Husain Ibn Salam (Abdullah Ibn Salam RA) was a Jewish scholar, well respected and trusted by his community. Because of his study, Ibn Salam was convinced that Muhammad SAW was the prophet predicted in the Torah. When Rasulullah SAW arrived in Madinah, Ibn Salam rushed into his presence and declared his belief in the teachings of Islam and Muhammad’s Prophethood.
Abdullah Ibn Salam RA was excited to be in the company of Rasulullah SAW. He spent as much time as possible with him asking questions, talking about both Islam and Judaism and enjoying the company of the man the Torah had predicted so very long ago. Abdullah Ibn Salam RA wanted very much for his people to accept Islam as their religion and Muhammad as their Prophet however he was afraid of how they would react if he informed them of his conversion. Ibn Salam was known amongst the Jews to be a righteous, well-educated man and he discussed his problem with Rasulullah SAW; they agreed upon a plan.
One day, when he was in the company of the respected Jewish elders of Madinah, Rasulullah SAW asked them their thoughts and opinions about the character of Ibn Salam. They replied that, “he is the best of us, the son of the best of us, the most knowledgeable and the son of the most knowledgeable” Rasulullah SAW continued to question them and asked what their opinion would be if Ibn Salam came to learn about and accept Islam. The Jews reacted with horror. Never would he do such a thing they cried! At that moment Ibn Salam entered the room and declared his conversion to Islam. The Jews reacted angrily, but Ibn Salam knew that the Jewish revealed books had predicted the coming of Rasulullah SAW.
Although alliances were tenuous all political factions in Madinah, at least in the beginning, accepted the leadership of Rasulullah SAW. They even referred matters of religious law to him. On one occasion when a group of Jews requested that Rasulullah SAW pass sentence on an adulterous couple, he immediately asked what the ruling according to the Torah was. They replied, ‘’we make their wrong action known and flog them”.
Ibn Salam knew that the correct punishment was stoning and he insisted that the Torah itself be used to confirm their words. A copy of the Torah was bought before them thus we discover that an incorrect answer was given to deliberately mislead Rasulullah SAW. Abdullah Ibn Salam RA pointed to the correct passages that were deftly hidden under the hand of the Jewish man holding the parchment. The punishment in the Torah was stoning, ibn Salam read the correct passages and Rasulullah SAW ordered that this rule be upheld.
Abdullah Ibn Salam RA loved being in the company of Rasulullah SAW. He spent as much time with him as possible and delighted in their talks and companionship. He was devoted to the Quran and was often in the mosque praying, learning and teaching. He was known amongst the Muslims as an effective and dedicated teacher and his study circles were popular and well attended. Abdullah Ibn Salam was also known amongst the Muslims of Madinah as a man destined for Paradise. Among the authentic traditions of Rasulullah SAW is a story explaining exactly why Abdullah Ibn Salam RA was considered to be among the people of Paradise.
Qays ibn `Abbad said, “I was in the mosque when a man whose face showed signs of humbleness came to pray. The people said, `This is a man from among the people of Paradise. When he left, I followed him and spoke with him. I said to him, `when you entered the mosque the people said you were from the people of Paradise.’ He said, `All praise is due to Allah SWT! No one should say what he has no knowledge of. I will tell you why they said that. I had a dream during the time of Rasulullah SAW and I narrated it to him. I saw that I was in a green garden, ‘and he described the garden’s plants and spaciousness, `and there was an iron pole in the middle of the garden affixed in the earth and its tip reached the sky. On its tip, there was a handle, and I was told to ascend the pole. I said, `I cannot.’ Then a helper came and raised my robe from behind and said to me, `Ascend.’ I ascended until I grasped the handle and he said to me, `Hold on to the handle.’ I awoke from that dream with the handle in my hand. I went to Rasulullah SAW and told him about the dream and he said, “The garden represents Islam, the pole, it represents the pillar of Islam, and the handle represents the most trustworthy handhold. You shall remain Muslim until you die.
From another version as related by Abdullah Ibn Salam RA himself, in this study, it is said. He was particularly struck by some verses of the Torah which dealt with the coming of a Prophet who would complete the message of previous Prophets. Abdullah Ibn Salam RA therefore took an immediate and keen interest when he heard reports of the appearance of a Prophet in Makkah. He said: “When I heard of the appearance of Rasulullah SAW I began to make enquiries about his name, his genealogy, his characteristics, his time and place and I began to compare this information with what is contained m our books. From these enquiries, I became convinced about the authenticity of his Prophethood and I affirmed the truth of his mission.However, I concealed my conclusions from the Jews. I held my tongue…
Then came the day when Rasulullah SAW, left Makkah and headed for Yathrib (Madinah). When he reached Yathrib (Madinah) and stopped at Quba, a man came rushing into the city, calling out to people and announcing the arrival of Rasulullah SAW. At that moment, I was at the top of a palm tree doing some work. My aunt, Khalidah bint al-Harith, was sitting under the tree. On hearing the news, I shouted: ‘Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! (God is great! God is great!’) When my aunt heard my takbir, she remonstrated with me: ‘May God frustrate you…By God, if you had heard that Moses was coming you would not have been more enthusiastic.’
‘Auntie, he is really, by God, the ‘brother’ of Moses and follows his religion. He was sent with the same mission as Moses.’ She was silent for a while and then said: ‘Is he the Prophet about whom you spoke to us who would be sent to confirm the truth preached by previous (Prophets) and completes the message of his Lord?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. Without any delay or hesitation, I went out to meet Rasulullah SAW. I saw crowds of people at his door. I moved about in the crowds until I reached close to him. The first words I heard him say were:
‘O people! Spread peace…Share food…Pray during the night while people (normally) sleep… and you will enter Paradise in peace…’ I looked at him closely. I scrutinized him and was convinced that his face was not that of an imposter. I went closer to him and made the declaration of faith that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Rasulullah SAW turned to me and asked: ‘What is your name?’ ‘Al-Hussain ibn Salam,’ I replied. ‘Instead, it is (now) Abdullah ibn Salam,’ he said (giving me a new name). ‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘Abdullah ibn Salam (it shall be). By Him who has sent you with the Truth, I do not wish to have another name after this day.’ I returned home and introduced Islam to my wife, my children and the rest of my household. They all accepted Islam including my aunt KhaIidah who was then an old lady. However, I advised them then to conceal our acceptance of Islam from the Jews until I gave them permission. They agreed.
Subsequently, I went back to Rasulullah SAW and said:
“O Rasulullah! The Jews are a people (inclined to) slander and falsehood. I want you to invite their most prominent men to meet you. (During the meeting however), you should keep me concealed from them in one of your rooms. Ask them then about my status among them before they find out of my acceptance of Islam. Then invite them to Islam. If they were to know that I have become a Muslim, they would denounce me and accuse me of everything base and slander me.”
Rasulullah SAW kept me in one of his rooms and invited the prominent Jewish personalities to visit him. He introduced Islam to them and urged them to have faith in Allah…They began to dispute and argue with him about the Truth. When he realized that they were not inclined to accept Islam, he put the question to them: ‘What is the status of Al-Hussain ibn Salam among you?’ ‘He is our sayyid (leader) and the son of our sayyid. He is our rabbi and our Alim (scholar), the son of our rabbi and Alim.’ ‘If you come to know that he has accepted Islam, would you accept Islam also?’ asked the Prophet. ‘God forbid! He would not accept Islam. May God protect him from accepting Islam,’ they said (horrified).
At this point I came out in full view of them and announced: ‘O assembly of Jews! Be conscious of Allah and accept what Muhammad has brought. By Allah, you certainly know that he is Rasulullah and you can find prophecies about him and mention of his name and characteristics in your Torah. I for my part declare that he is the Messenger of God. I have faith in him and believe that he is true. I know him.’
‘You are a liar,’ they shouted. ‘By God, you are evil and ignorant, the son of an evil and ignorant person.’ And they continued to heap every conceivable abuse on me…” Abdullah ibn Salam approached Islam with a soul thirsty for knowledge. He was passionately devoted to the Quran and spent much time reciting and studying its beautiful and sublime verses. He was deeply attached to the noble Rasulullah and was constantly in his company.
Much of his time he spent in the masjid, engaged in worship, in learning and in teaching. He was known for his sweet, moving and effective way of teaching study circles of Sahabah who assembled regularly in Rasulullah’s mosque. Abdullah ibn Salam was known among the Sahabah as a man from Ahl-al-Jannah “- the people of Paradise. This was because of his determination on the advice of Rasulullah SAW to hold steadfastly to the “most trustworthy handhold” that is belief in and total submission to Allah SWT.
Selected Hadiths narrated by and attributed to Abdullah Ibn Salam RA.
Found In: Imam Malik’s Muwatta
Chapter No: 5, Jumua
Hadith no: 17
Yahya related to me from Malik from Yazid Ibn Abdullah Ibn al-Had from Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn al-Harith at-Taymi from Abu Salamah Ibn Abd ar-Rahman Ibn Awf that Abu Hurairah said, “I went out to at-Tur (Mount Sinai) and met Kab al Akbar and sat with him. He related to me things from the Torah and I related to him things from the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Among the things I related to him was that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘The best of days on which the sun rises is the day of Jumu’ah. In it Adam was created, and in it he fell from the Garden. In it he was forgiven, and in it he died. In it the Hour occurs, and every moving thing listens from morning till sunset in apprehension of the Hour except jinn and men. In it is a time when Allah gives to a Muslim slave standing in prayer whatever he asks for.’ Kab said, ‘That is one day in every year.’ I said, ‘No, in every Jumu’ah.’ Then Kab recited the Torah and said, ‘The Messenger of Allah has spoken the truth.’ “Abu Hurairah continued, “I met Basrah Ibn Abi Basrah al-Ghiffari and he said, ‘Where have you come from?’ I said, ‘From at-Tur.’ He said, ‘If I had seen you before you left, you would not have gone. I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, “Only make a special journey to three mosques: the mosque of the Haram (Makkah), this mosque (Madinah), and the mosque of Ilya or the Bait al-Maqdis (two names of Jerusalem).” “(He was not sure which expression was used.) Abu Hurairah continued, “Then I met Abdullah Ibn Salam and I told him that I had sat with Kabal-Ahbar, and I mentioned what I had related to him about the day of Jumu’ah, and told him that Kab had said, ‘That is one day in every year.’ Abdullah Ibn Salam said, ‘Kab lied,’ and I added, ‘Kab then recited the Torah and said, “No, it is in every Jumu’ah.” ‘Abdullah Ibn Salam RA said, ‘Kab spoke the truth. ‘Then Abdullah Ibn Salam said, ‘I know what time that is.’ “Abu Hurairah continued, “I said to him, ‘Let me know it – don’t keep it from me.’ Abdullah Ibn Salam said, ‘It is the last period of time in the day of Jumu’ah.’ ” Abu Hurairah continued, “I said, ‘How can it be the last period of time in the day of Jumu’ah, when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “a Muslim slave standing in prayer”, and that is a time when there is no prayer?’ Abdullah Ibn Salam RA replied, ‘Didn’t the Rasulullah’s say, “Whoever sits waiting for the prayer is in prayer until he prays?” “‘ Abu Hurairah added, “I said, ‘Of course.’ He said, ‘Then it is that.’ “
Found In: Imam Malik’s Muwatta
Chapter No: 41, The Mudabbar
Hadith no: 1
Malik related to me from Nafi that Abdullah Ibn Umar RA said, “The Jews came to Rasulullah SAW, and mentioned to him that a man and woman from among them had committed adultery. Rasulullah SAW asked them, ‘What do you find in the Torah about stoning?’ They said, ‘We make their wrong action known and flog them.’ Abdullah Ibn Salam RA said, ‘You have lied! It has stoning for it, so bring the Torah.’ They spread it out and one of them placed his hand over the ayat of stoning. Then he read what was before it and what was after it. Abdullah Ibn Salam RA told him to lift his hand. He lifted his hand and there was the ayat of stoning. They said, ‘He has spoken the truth, Muhammad. The ayat of stoning is in it.’ So Rasulullah SAW gave the order and they were stoned.” Abdullah Ibn Umar RA added, “I saw the man leaning over the woman to protect her from the stones.” Malik commented, “By leaning he meant throwing himself over her so that the stones fell on him.”
Found In: Sunan Ibn Majah
Chapter No: 14, The Chapters on Business Transactions
Hadith no: 2281
Narrated: Muhammad bin Hamzah bin Yusuf bin Abdullah bin Salam
From his father, that his grandfather’s Abdullah bin Salam said: “A man came to the Rasulullah SAW and said, ‘The tribe of Banu so-and- so, who were descended from the Jews, have become Muslim, and they are starving, and I am afraid that they may apostatize.’ Rasulullah SAW said: ‘Who has something with him?’ A Jewish man said: ‘I have such and such, and he named it, and I think he said three hundred Dinar for such and such an amount (of produce) from the garden of the tribe of Banu so-and-so.’ Rasulullah SAW said: ‘For such and such a price at such and such a time, but not from the garden of the tribe of Banu so-and- so.”‘