Al-Kindī, ‘Abd Al-Masiḥ
AL-KINDĪ, ‘ABD AL-MASIḤ
Supposed author of what is now being recognized as a pseudonymous apology in Arabic for the Christian faith. The work purports to be the contemporary record of a controversy held in 819 before the Caliph al-Ma’mūn on the relative worth of Christianity and Islam.
The parties to the controversy are a Muslim, ‘Abdallah ibn Ismā’īl al-Hāshimī, and a Nestorian Christian, al-Kindī. The bulk of the work is al-Kindī's reply to a letter of the former. Al-Hāshimī in this letter, after showing a surprising familiarity with a number of Christian practices and persons and revealing a preference for Nestorians over Jacobites, appeals to his Christian friend to embrace islam. Specifically he urges on him: prayer to the one God after the example of Abraham "the first Muslim," confession of muḤammad's prophetic dignity, observance of ramadan, the pilgrimage to mecca, the holy war, belief in the general resurrection, abandonment of the Trinity and Holy Cross, and the attractiveness of the Moslem moral code and its effective sanctions.
Al-Kindī deals with these items in detail. He denies that Abraham was a Muslim. From being a pagan, he became, through God's intervention, a believer long before Muḥammad. It has been noticed that al-Kindī's treatment of God's unicity draws largely and even verbatim on the Jacobite Abu Ra’ita.
Al-Kindī treats Muḥammad's prophetic dignity with harshness and biting irony. He contrasts unfavorably the holy war and the wars of the Old Testament; Muḥammad's teaching of mercy and his practice of force and immorality. He charges that Muḥammad lacks true prophecy and miracles and that the spread of Islam has the marks of falsehood.
In discussing the qur’Ān he makes bold to distinguish three kinds of law: divine, brought by Christ; natural or rational, brought by Moses; and Satanic, brought by Muḥammad. In this context he develops what has been called the first sketch of a critical history of the Qur’ānic text. He accepts none of the claims made for the book— its miraculous language and probative worth—and is indignant at God's being made responsible for Muḥammad's decisions and practices.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is classed with pagan ceremonies and contrasted with prayer in the Christian holy places. Circumcision is denied a religious character. The holy war is held to be opposed to Christian love. On these and similar grounds al-Kindī rejects al-Hāshimī's appeal and makes his own counterappeal.
The work is probably later than 819. Evidence supporting this includes the use of Abu Ra’ita (third decade of the 9th century); the argument against Muḥammad's name being on the throne of God suggests a controversy in the days of al-Ṭabarī (d. 923); and parallels with a work of Ibn al-Rāwandī (d. 910). It would seem then to belong to the 10th century. The pseudonymous character would explain how it was tolerated. The preference for Nestorians suggests a Nestorian author. Known and used by medieval Europeans, it was first printed in London in 1880.
Bibliography: l. massignon, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. m.t. houtsma et al., 4 v. (Leiden 1913–38) 2:1080. g. graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, 5 v. (Vatican City 1944-53); Studi e Testi 118, 133, 146, 147, 172 2:135–145.
[j. a. devenny]