Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Rider on the Camel: A Prophecy of Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

In the Name of Allah; the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful

One of the very clear prophecies in the Hebrew Bible concerning the advent of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the following:

וְרָ֣אָה  רֶ֗כֶב  צֶ֚מֶד  פָּֽרָשִׁ֔ים  רֶ֥כֶב  חֲמ֖וֹר  רֶ֣כֶב  גָּמָ֑ל  וְהִקְשִׁ֥יב  קֶ֖שֶׁב  רַב־  קָֽשֶׁב

And should he see chariotry of a pair of riders, one riding an ass, (and) one riding a camel” (Book of Isaiah; ch.21 v.7)

The rider of the ass (donkey) is a clear reference to the Messiah (Zechariah 9:9). It is said that the Messiah of Nazareth fulfilled this prophecy by riding into Jerusalem seated on a colt, the foal of a donkey, as mentioned in the Gospel of Mark (ch. 11).

The Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) also used to ride on a donkey, but he was most well known for riding on the camel, thus the “one riding a camel” aptly describes him. During the Hijrah (exodus), the Prophet (peace be upon him) famously rode into the town of Medina seated upon a camel. Similarly, during the conquest of Mecca, he rode humbly into the city that had persecuted and expelled him upon a camel.

What is quite interesting, however, is that learned Jewish rabbis have acknowledged the fact that this prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) specifically, and the Ishmaelites (Arabs) generally. The mid-8th century Jewish apocalyptic text the Nistarot or Secrets of Rabbi Shimon b. Yohai has been translated by John C. Reeves and can be read here. It is attributed to the great Jewish sage of the 2nd century, Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai. A passage in this Jewish apocalypse states:

R. Šim‘on answered and said: ‘From whence are they (understood as) our deliverance?’  He said to him: ‘Did not Isaiah the prophet speak thusly? “And should he see chariotry of a pair of riders, one riding an ass, (and) one riding a camel” (Isa 21:7).’ Why did he put the ‘rider of an ass’ before the ‘rider of a camel’? Should he not instead have said ‘rider of a camel, rider of an ass’? (No, the textual sequence means that) when the one who rides the camel (Ishmael or Muhammad) emerges, the kingdom ruled by the ‘one mounted upon an ass’ (Zech 9:9) has manifested (lit. ‘sprouted’) by his (i.e., Ishmael’s or Muhammad’s) agency. Another opinion: ‘rider of an ass’ (connotes) at the (same) time when he ‘rides upon an ass’ (Zech 9:9). Consequently they (Ishmael) are a deliverance for Israel like the deliverance (associated with) the ‘one mounted upon an ass’ (Zech 9:9).

Similarly it is stated in the Tefillat or Prayer of Rabbi Shimon b. Yohai (translated here):

I turned to Metatron and said to him, ‘Are the Ishmaelites a deliverance for Israel?’ He said to me, ‘Did not Isaiah the prophet speak thusly? “And should he see chariotry of a pair of riders, one riding an ass, (and) one riding a camel” (Isa 21:7).’ “Chariotry”—this (word) refers to the Achaemenid empire. “Pair”—this (word) refers to the Greek empire(s).  “Riders”—this (word) refers to the Roman empire. “One riding an ass”—this (phrase) refers to the Messiah, as Scripture attests: “humble and mounted upon an ass” (Zech 9:9). “One riding a camel”—this (phrase) refers to the kingdom of Ishmael, during whose rule the Messianic kingdom will sprout. This is why (the phrase) “one riding an ass” precedes (the phrase) “one riding a camel” (in the verse from Isaiah). The “one riding a camel” will rejoice at the advent of the Messiah; nevertheless, the sages perish and the power of the riff-raff grows stronger.’

To summarize, the Jewish apocalypticist who composed this text in the mid-8th century, or if it is indeed originally attributed to the 2nd century Jewish sage Rashbi, believed that the prophecy of the rider on the ass refers to the promised Jewish Messiah and that the rider on the camel is a prophecy of our beloved master Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the emergence of the Ishmaelites (Arabs) after him.

However, one point which has caused difficulty for this apocalyptic Jewish view is that the rider of the ass preceeds the rider of the camel in the text of Isaiah chapter 21. For us Muslims this is no problem as we do believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah and preceded our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them both) by some six centuries. However, the Jews failed to recognize their own Messiah and were thus puzzled as to why the rider of the camel (Prophet Muhammad) is preceded by the rider of the ass, i.e., the Messiah, whom they are still expecting.


  1. *Note: The writer of the Nistarot even considered Muhammad as a Prophet raised up by God: "When he perceived that the kingdom of Ishmael would come (and exercise dominion over Israel), he exclaimed: ‘Is it not sufficient what the wicked kingdom of Edom has done to us that we should also (suffer the dominion of) the kingdom of Ishmael!?’ Immediately Metatron the prince of the Presence answered him and said: ‘Do not be afraid, mortal, for the Holy One, blessed be He, is bringing about the kingdom of Ishmael only for the purpose of delivering you from that wicked one (i.e., Edom). He shall raise up over them a prophet in accordance with His will, and He will subdue the land for them; and they shall come and restore it with grandeur. Great enmity will exist between them and the children of Esau.’"

  2. "There was, as I have already shown, a considerable resurgence of Jewish messianism among the Jews of Arabia just before and after the rise of Islam" (The Isawiyya Revisited, Studia Islamica, no.75 (1992), pp.57-80, Wasserstrom, Steven M.)


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