Menachem Mendel

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The Rambam and the Hitman

In a number of Muslim sources there are descriptions of how the Rambam converted while he was in Spain, and then returned to Judaism when he was in Egypt. According to Islamic law, one who leaves Islam is in big trouble, and the stories about the Rambam describe different ways in which he got out of the trouble that he was in. One of the stories describes a Muslim cleric as saying that since Islam does not believe in religious coercion, the Rambam’s conversion to Islam was not valid. Another has the Rambam getting the date on a contract to buy a house changed in order to prove that he was already in Damascus when he was supposedly converting to Islam in the “West”. In the new issue of Pe’amim (no. 110), Amir Mazor has published a different version of how the Rambam get out of the bind that he was in. According to this version, the Rambam did nothing less than hire a hit man to kill the person who was telling people that he had converted to Islam. The man who informed on the Rambam was found dead in the Nile, apparently from a blunt force trauma to the head. Word has it that CSI: Fustat worked on the case. Mazor doesn’t see much credibility in the story.  Whether it’s true or not, it’s a good one.

For a discussion in English on these stories see David S. Margoliouth, “The Legend of the Apostasy of Maimonides”, JQR 13 (Original series), pp. 539-541.

6 Responses to “The Rambam and the Hitman”

  1. 1
    andy:

    Didn’t they claim that he converted in Morrocco? I will have to check later.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I could be wrong. My assumption was that the “West” was Spain. I’ll correct it.

  3. 3
    Stephen Schwartz:

    The usual story is that forced conversions were practiced in Spain by the fundamentalist Almohads or Muwahiddun, which is verifiable, and that Al-Hakim Ibn Maimun al-Israili al-Qurtubi, as he is known in Arabic, was the son of a forced convert who fled to Egypt. Since Qur’an specifically bars compulsion in religion, the conversions under the Muwahiddun were not seen as valid in the rest of the Muslim world, but it is believed that Ibn Maimun lived for some time as a Muslim in Egypt before reverting to his original faith.

    The Muwahiddun were also extremely severe with Muslims of whom they disapproved and their radical fundamentalism contributed to the decline of Muslim power in Spain.

    Abandonment of Islam by those who had come to it from Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book) was generally not viewed in classical Islam as an apostasy, and the whole apostasy issue has been badly distorted by events in modern times. In classical Islam changing religions was either very rare or ignored (the latter in the Ottoman case), and the charge of apostasy was usually a charge of heresy rather than abandonment of the faith. The situation changed with the rise of aggressive Christian missionization.

  4. 4
    andy:

    One of the sources does claim that it happened in Spain; however, as noted by Davidson, he also seems to say that M moved directly from Spain to Egypt which is incorrect.

  5. 5
    Yaacov Shulman:

    I wrote a juvenile biography of Rambam for CIS Books some years back. As I recall the story in the sources that I came across, in Morocco Rambam hid the fact that he was Jewish (for obvious purposes), and so the assumption was made that he was Moslem. Later in Egypt when he was the chief rabbi, one of his teachers (from medical school) in Morocco claimed that Rambam was a Moslem apostate, and Rambam demonstrated that he had never been a Moslem.

  6. 6
    Maimonides as Innovator or Imitator « Menachem Mendel:

    [...] here for the full article. For more on Maimonides’s conversion see here and [...]

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