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Abdallah Ibn Salām


ABDALLAH IBN SALĀM (seventh century c.e.), one of Muhammad's Jewish followers. The name of his father, Salām, was used only among Jews in the Arabia of that time. Abdallah's family is usually regarded as belonging to the Banū *Qaynuqāʿ, one of the Jewish clans of Yathrib (Medina), although some associated it with the typically Arabic clan of the Zayd al-Lāt, which implies that they were under the protection of the latter. Abdallah is said to have been converted by Muhammad soon after the latter's arrival in Medina. When his former coreligionists told Muhammad "He [Abdallah] is our master and the son of our master" Muhammad invited them to follow Abdallah's example. The Jews refused, and only his immediate family, notably his aunt Khālida, embraced Islam. According to other versions, Abdallah's conversion occurred because of the strength of Muhammad's answers to his questions. Another account, which places Abdallah's conversion at a much later date, has more intrinsic plausibility. After Muhammad's death Abdallah was in the entourage of Caliph ʿUthmān and made a vain attempt to prevent his assassination. A year later he warned ʿAli against leaving Medina. If all the obviously legendary and biased accounts about Abdallah are eliminated, not much concrete information remains. His relationship to Ahmad ibn Abdallah ibn Salām, a translator of biblical writings, is unclear. Originally the Jewish scholars of Medina were presented as the questioners of Muhammad, and only later did Abdallah figure. The three questions ascribed to him form the core of the volume entitled Questions of Abdallah ibn Salām, first mentioned in 963, which is known in a number of adaptations as A Thousand Questions. Outside the context of this work Abdallah is repeatedly mentioned as the source for tales from biblical times. Genizah fragments have recently yielded a Jewish version of the Abdallah legend in which he appears as *Absalom.


Ibn Hishām (ʿAbd al-Malik), The Life of Muhammad, tr. by A. Guillaume (1955), 240, 262, 267; Wāqidī, Kitāb al Maghāzī, ed. by J. Wellhausen (Ger., 1882), 164, 215; Ibn Saʿd (Muhammad), Biographien Muhammeds, 2, pt. 2 (1912), 111; (al-) Ṭabarī (Muhammad ibn Jarīr), Annales, 1 (Ar., 1879), index; Balādhurī (Aḥmad ibn Yaḥya), Ansāb al-Ashrāf, 5 (Ar., 1936), 74–76, 90; Goitein, in: Zion, 1 (1936), 77–78; Steinschneider, Arab Lit, 8–9; Chapira, in: rej, 69 (1919), 91; Mann, in: jqr, 12 (1921/22), 127–8; Brockelmann, Arab Lit, 1 (1943), 209; eis2, 1 (1960), 52.

[Josef Horovitz]

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