The Prophecy and Passion of al-Hārit b. Sa'īd al-Kaddāb: Narrating a Religious Movement from the Caliphate of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwān

In: Arabica
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  • 1 University of Chicago

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Abstract

This study examines the historical reports on the 'false prophet (kaddāb)' known as al-Hāritb. Sa'īd from both a historical and literary perspective. From the historical perspective, I investigate how a Syrian mawlā began a prophetic movement in the Umayyad mosque of Damascus during the caliphate of 'Abd al-Malik, which subsequently spread throughout the caliph's army. My study then follows the second phase of al-Hārit's career in which he flees Damascus to initiate an underground movement in Jerusalem where, once uncovered and captured, the would-be prophet is crucified on a cross. By examining al-Hārit's alleged associations and followers, such as Umm al-Dardā' al-Suġrā and Ġaylān al-Dimašqī, I attempt to gauge the scope and subsequent influence of al-Hārit's brief prophetic career. From the literary perspective, my study argues that one of the principal transmitters of the ahbār on al-Hārit's prophetic career, Abū Bakr b. Abī Haytama (d. 279/892), considerably doctored the early accounts in order to fashion a parodic, expanded narrative largely of his own making. I thus contend that Ibn Abī Haytama, by culling tropes and anecdotes from sīra- and qisas-material on the lives of Muhammad and Jesus, constructed a biography of al-Hārit that cast him as a farcical version of a genuine prophet.

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