Apology of al-Kindy

Apology of al-Kindy (also spelled al-Kindi) is a medieval theological polemic. The word "apology" is a translation of the Arabic word risāla, and it is used in the sense of apologetics. The work makes a case for Christianity and draws attention to perceived flaws in Islam. It is attributed to an Arab Christian referred to as Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi. This Al-Kindi is otherwise unknown, and is clearly different from the Muslim philosopher Abu Yûsuf ibn Ishâq al-Kindī.[1]

The significance of the work lies in its availability to Europe's educated elite from as early as the twelfth century as a source of information about Islam.

Publishing history

The date of composition of the Apology is controversial. The earliest surviving manuscripts of the Arabic text are seventeenth century. However, the Arabic manuscripts are predated by a twelfth-century Latin translation made in Spain, where the Arabic text is assumed to have been circulating among Mozarabs.[2]

The translation into Latin was a collaborative work on which a Spaniard Peter of Toledo was the main translator. Professor van Koningsveld has identified various errors in the Latin translation attributable to a limited knowledge of classical Arabic on the part of the translator.[2] While Peter of Toledo's Arabic appears to have been less than perfect, it was better than his Latin, and a French scholar Peter of Poitiers polished the Latin text.[3] Both men were part of a team recruited by Peter the Venerable, who also commissioned translations of other Arabic texts including the Qur'an.[4] Peter the Venerable's aim was to convert Muslims to Christianity, and for that reason it can be argued that his interpretation of Islam was inherently negative, but he did manage to set out “a more reasoned approach to Islam…through using its own sources rather than those produced by the hyperactive imagination of some earlier Western Christian writers.”[5] After circulating in manuscript, the collection was published in print in the sixteenth century with a preface by Martin Luther.

Excerpts from the Apology of al-Kindy became available in English through William Muir's translation[6] of 1882. Like its Latin predecessor, Muir's (partial) translation was intended for missionary purposes, as he states in the preface.


The Apology purports to be a record of a dialogue between a Muslim and a Christian. In fact, the book contains two apologies: The Muslim first invites the Christian to embrace Islam. The Christian declines this and in turn invites the Muslim to embrace Christianity. The Christian's answer comprises some six sevenths of the text.

The two participants are referred to by pseudonyms, according to the text to secure their safety.[7] The Muslim participant, called "Abd-Allah ibn Ismail al-Hashimy" (which translates as "Servant of Allah, son of Ishmael, from the clan Banu Hashim), is described as a cousin of the unnamed Caliph, living in the Caliph's castle and being well versed in Christian theology. He is also described as having a close and trusted Christian friend called "Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi" (which translates as "Servant of the Messiah, son of Isaac, from the tribe Banu Kindah").

Controversy regarding the dating of the Apology

Views of William Muir

Muir acknowledged difficulties in obtaining a reliable version of the Arabic text,[8] but he defended the authenticity of the work, noting that the Apology was quoted by Abu-Rayhan Biruni around the year 1000 as the Epistle of "Abd al Masîh ibn Ishâc, Al Kindy".[9] Both Muir and van Koningsveld favour a ninth-century date for the Apology. Muir is more specific about the date, identifying the Caliph, who remains unnamed in the epistles, as Al-Ma'mun, who reigned from 813 to 833. Muir argues that the epistles were written at his court because of:

Opposing views

Scholars continue to argue as whether the letters derive from actual persons or represent a work of fiction by a single author.[2] The dating proposed by Muir has also been disputed.


  1. The full name is Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi
  2. 1 2 3 P.S. van Koningsveld, The Apology of Al-Kindi, Religious Polemics in Context: papers presented to the Second International Conference of the Leiden Institute for the Study of Religions
  3. Kritzeck, James, Robert of Ketton's translation of the Qur'an
  4. Bishko, Charles, Peter the Venerable's Journey to Spain, originally published in Studia Anselmiana 40 (1956)
  5. Hugh Goddard (2000). A History of Muslim-Christian Relations. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books. p. 95.
  6. Hughes, Thomas Patrick (2001) [1885]. A Dictionary of Islam. J. Jetley for Asian Educational Services.
  7. The Apology of Al-Kindy
  8. The Apology of Al-Kindy
  9. The Apology of Al-Kindy
  10. The Apology of Al-Kindy
  11. 1 2 The Apology of Al-Kindy

External links

See also

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