Bahira Legend

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A tale widely circulated in medieval times concerning a meeting between muammad and a Christian monk or hermit named Bahira (Aramaic baīrā, "the chosen"). The most common Muslim version of the legend is included in the principal biographies of Muammad by Ibn-Sad and Ibn-Isūq, confirmed by Ibn-Hishām and Al-abari and regarded as fact by most later Muslim biographers of Muammad. According to this version Muammad, when 12 years old, accompanied his uncle Abū ālib (some accounts say Abū Bakr, Muammad's father-in-law and the first caliph) on a caravan trip to Syria. When the caravan was near or already in the town of Bosra, a Christian monk or hermit, noting what he regarded as a miraculous movement of a cloud (or branch) shading it, invited the caravan to dine with him. All accounts agree that the monk on that occasion foretold the young man's prophetic destiny. Some of them also assert that Bahira had foreknowledge of Muammad's advent, Muh from certain "unadulterated" (tabdīl ) Christian Scriptures in his possession; some mention an exchange of questions and answers between Bahira and Muammad; most include Bahira's admonition to Abū ālib to preserve the lad against the malice of the Jews and the violence of the Byzantines. The name of the monk, Bahira, is lacking in the oldest versions of the legend, and is given in others as Sergius, Georgius, Nestor, or Nicholas. Within the Muslim tradition this legend supplied Islam with a prediction and guarantee of the prophet's mission, and had a considerable polemical value against Christianity.

On the other hand in its Christian form, the Bahira legend was regarded as confirmation of the falsity of Muammad's prophetic claim. Bahira was portrayed as a renegade heretic, most often a Nestorian, but in some cases a Jacobite (Patrologia Graeca 104:1446) or an Arian (Patrologia Graeca 108:192; 130:1333c), and an accomplice in or even an instigator of items of Islamic doctrine and the production of the qurĀn. Bahira is mentioned quite early in Byzantine historical and polemical literature under the name Sergius, and the two names were ultimately conjoined in that and other later Christian tradition. He is mentioned by Theophanes [ed. C. de Boor, 2 v. (Leipzig 188385) 333, 1209] with this name, but in such a way as to identify him more or less clearly with Waraqah ibn-Nawfal, a cousin of Muammad's wife, Khadījah. After the ninth century the name Bahira, with slight variations in form, was well known to Byzantine apologists such as Bartholomew of Edessa (Patrologia Graeca 104: 1429). The legend is included also in the famous Christian Arabic apology of Abd al-Masi ibn-Isq al kindi. But the chief Christian form taken by the legend is that of the Apocalypse of Bahira, which, it is agreed, combines elements of earlier Christian literature of the same genre with some echoes of specifically Muslim lore and doctrine. In the Christian form of the legend, generally, Bahira is credited with having provided whatever authentic information from Scripture is to be found in the Qurān. A "monastery of Bahira" is still shown as a curiosity to travelers, at Bosra in Syria.

Bibliography: j. bignami-odier and g. levi della vida, "Une Version latine de l'Apocalypse syro-arabe de Serge-Bahira," Mélanges d'Archéologie et d'Histoire (École Française de Rome 1950) 125. r. gottheil, "A Christian Bahira Legend," Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 13 (1898) 189242; 14 (1899) 203268. ibnishÂq, Sîrat Rasûl Allâh (The Life of Muhammad ), tr. a. guillaume (London 1955). a. abel, Encyclopedia of Islam 2 1:922923.

[j. kritzeck]