Was Rambam's philosophy affected in any way by Islamic culture or religion? If so, could that influence have influenced his interpretation of halacha?

This question is inspired by an ongoing conversation in chat, a representative bit of it beginning here.

  • Did he live in a bubble?
    – Double AA
    May 20, 2013 at 19:34
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    @DoubleAA, That would surprise me but MoriDoweedhYaAgob seems to disagree.
    – Daniel
    May 20, 2013 at 19:36
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    What do you mean by affected? Are you asking if the Rambam's environment provided a context and backdrop for the development of his worldview, or are you asking if he adopted (directly or in modified form) any ideas from Islam? If the former, I echo @DoubleAA 's above rhetorical question: Did he live in a bubble? Even a great person views the world through his own prism (to some degree, even if slight), an אספקלריא שאינה מאירה.
    – Fred
    May 20, 2013 at 22:16
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    It's worth bearing in mind whenever we speak of Rambam being an Aristotelian that Aristotelianism was a major part of Islamic philosophy and cannot be separated from it. Rambam did not read Greek, and everything that he ever encountered of a philosophical nature came to him through the prism of Islamic scholarship.
    – Shimon bM
    May 21, 2013 at 3:49
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    Comments are for clarifying the question, sharing information that can help with answers, etc. This is not the place to discuss specific answers. May 21, 2013 at 12:55

3 Answers 3


When discussing someone of the stature of the Rambam, it is important to recognize that whatever Islamic and Greek sources he studied, they were filtered through one of the greatest Jewish minds of all time. The Rambam attested about himself that he read every book composed on religion available in Arabic; his greatness was that he was able to assimilate those ideas which he felt contributed toward understanding Judaism. R. Kook responded sharply to the (frum) historian Zev Yavetz who criticized the Rambam as unduly influenced by Greek philosophy. In the words of R. Kook (Ma’amarei ha-ra’ayah, vol. 1, p. 105):

חלילה לנו להוציא לעז של חיצוניות וקל וחומר של יוניות וזרות על אלה הדעות אשר קדשתם רוחו הקדוש של רבינו הגדול הרמב"ם ז"ל

The fact that the Rambam held a position, according to R. Kook, means that it cannot be considered "foreign." That said, scholars may overstate the influence of Islam on the Rambam. For a book length treatment on the Rambam in his Islamic milieu, see Sarah Stroumsa, Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker. For an encyclopedia article on the topic see here.

  • See Beiur Hagra 179:13
    – Double AA
    May 31, 2013 at 4:25
  • If I'm not mistaken, many french rishonim, among them Rabbeinu Tam, objected to the Rambam's approach as well. Yavetz's opinion is not a new one.
    – Baby Seal
    Nov 30, 2014 at 16:56

I read this chapter http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/10.1163/ej.9789004173330.i-358.39 and I am not so fond of what he says. He states according to Ibn al-Qifti, from which most scholars quote the alleged apostacy, said that RaMbaM read the Quran and participated in the prescribed prayers during the period in which he acted ostensibly as a Muslim. Ibn Abi Usaybi'a reports taht RaMbaM learned the Quran by heart and engaged in the study of Islamic law. Al-Safadi claims that on a ship in which RaMbaM traveled from Morocco to ArasS Yisroel, he participated in the tarawih prayers for the month of Ramadan. However, the chapter goes on to say that these allegations appear to be fallacious, and contemporary scholarly opinion is divided on the question of RaMbaM's forced apostasy while in Morocco. Ibn al-Qifti recounts how an Andalusian Muslim met RaMbaM in Egypt and saw that he reverted to Judaism. The case was brought before RaMbaM's patron, the qadi al-Fadil al-Baysani, who ruled the conversion to Islam under coercion was invalid and acquitted RaMbaM. Skeptics cite this as proof of the spuriousness of Ibn al-Qifti's account, since one who apostatizes from Islam is liable to death penalty. The author then brings that an Andalusian writer Ibn al-Attar states that if a dhimmi was coerced to accept Islam and later reverted to his former religion, he was not to be penalized, and this rule was repeated by RaMbaM's Andalusian contemporary, al-Yaziri. In Egypt, Christians and presumably Jews, who had been forced to convert to Islam under al-Hakim, were subsequently allowed by him and his son to revert to their former religion. In the Cairo genizah, there is evidence that Yamanite Jews who accepted Islam rather than execution in 1199 were permitted to openly espouse Judaism in 1202. The author then goes on to state the Epistle of Consolation by RaMbaM's father and the Epistle to Yaman by RaMbam himself which both talk about forced conversion of Jews to Islam and that these letters both show that both RaMbaM and his father were against Islam.

I am not a Arabic specialist so I don't know what is really said in those books by the Arab writers which were quoted, however I am sure there is hard evidence against them as well. I listened to a lecture about this topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-Wt2g7D9ks and I forgot what they say about this conversion, however I do remember that it is not really proven and is really unlikely.

  • Good answer , I had read these things but was unable to find the sources, thanks
    – knowit
    May 21, 2013 at 4:56
  • So your answer is...yes he was influenced? May 21, 2013 at 14:24
  • The answer is no he was not influenced by what islam is now. He was influenced by Aristotle. That doesn't mean he actually followed Aristotle in everything for he was an apikorus as rambam himself stated. In many places we went total opposite of Aristotle. Same with islam. May 21, 2013 at 15:12
  • He most likely did read Islamic material but that doesn't mean he was influenced by Islamic theology of methodology or philosophy. He was influenced by islam by using what they propagated bout Jews against them. A huge part of rambams audience was from Yaman and other arab countries where forced conversion was taking place and some were tricked into converting because of the false messiah on Yaman and an apostate in the same time period was propagated jewish texts with a skewed view to the muslims to persuade Jews who were not learned to convert. May 21, 2013 at 15:15
  • Now regarding Islamic philosophers as al farabi, just because his and a few other philosopher's religions were islam doesn't mean he was influenced by islam. For all these philosophers in this time were following Aristotle. Same goes for Christian Arabs. Majority if the translations to Arabic of Aristotle were made by Christians. May 21, 2013 at 15:23

Quoted from here:

A Controversial Subtext to Maimonides Epistle
Maimonides’ liberal attitude toward the Jew who was forciblycitation needed converted to Islam may have an interesting subtext. Some Jewish and Muslim scholars (see the Islamic Encyclopedia for the bibliography) think that Maimonides was forced to convert to Islam as a child. However, at the first opportunity to return to his faith, and returned he did. The source for this claim derives from an accusation a Muslim visitor to Cairo from Fez, who allegedly remembered Maimonides as a Muslim when he lived in Morocco. Thirty years later, the Muslim acquaintance was traveling through Egypt and was surprised to discover that Maimonides had become Egypt’s most distinguished rabbi. Outraged, the Muslim denounced him to the authorities as an apostate.

However philosopher and historian Allan Nadler observes: “Maimonides practiced the time-honored medieval Islamic tradition of Taqiyya, or prudent dissimulation, by dressing and behaving like a Muslim publicly, perhaps occasionally presenting himself at a mosque, while remaining an observant Jew during the darkest period of Almohad persecution, which forced Jews to dress in hideous costumes and resulted in thousands of forced apostasies and deaths. There is simply no credible evidence that Maimonides converted, let alone that he was a “practicing Muslim.” The above was quoted from a Jewish interpretation:

The above quote is clearly biased to prove that Maimonides was forcibly converted to Islam, most probably he liked becoming a Muslim. None of the primary sources explicitly say that he forcibly converted to Islam, as those who reported him as a Muslim viewed him to be an Islamic scholar(As Allan Nadler points out that he may be actually doing Taqqiya which the Jewish law allows to do)

Also, There is enough proof to make it obvious that most of his works were deeply influenced by Islamic theology and doctrines:

e.g: The 13 principles of Judaism never existed until Rambam got inspired from the 6 articles of Muslim faith . Even the Misnah Torah was aimed to parallel the Hadith sciences but failed as he was unable to source the sayings in the misnah . Due to this inability to source his claims in the Misnah Torah,Rambam was severly opposed by Rabbis of his time for trying to introduce the Islamic methods and androgogy.Moreover he used Judeo-Arabic instead of the customary Talmudic idiom for his works.

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    How do you know the 13 principles were inspired by the 6 articles? How do you know Mishneh Torah aimed to parallel Hadith sciences? Your cited link does not support that Rambam was criticized for trying to introduce Islamic methods. Your paragraphs starting "the above" is pure speculation on your part. Hence there is nothing in here that is sourced that answers the question, and it is full of speculation. -1
    – Double AA
    May 21, 2013 at 3:50
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    then get a better source instead of speculation May 21, 2013 at 4:16
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    @Ali If you speculate after he does, that brings us twice as far from the truth.
    – Double AA
    May 21, 2013 at 4:20
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    "most probably he liked becoming a Muslim" Most of your answer is simply ignorable propaganda, but that's just offensive.
    – HodofHod
    May 21, 2013 at 15:42
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    In the Rambam's own words:וכן אלו הישמעאלים היום... טעותם וטפשותם בדברים אחרים היא שאי אפשר לאומרו בכתב מפני פושעי ורשעי ישראל. Doesn't sound like a big fan.
    – Fred
    May 21, 2013 at 19:52

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