The Image of Ayyub (Job) in the Qu’ran and Later Islam

 In Mohammed’s view, Job is to be numbered among the best of human beings to receive Allah’s revelation.

By Stephen Vicchio
Professor of Philosophy
College of Notre Dame
Baltimore, Maryland
August 2005

Job in the Qu’ran

At the same time that Gregory the Great (540-604) was preparing his massive commentary on the Book of Job, The Moralia on Job, Mohammed, a young Hashim Bedouin of the Arabian tribe of Quraysh, founded the syncretistic religion of Islam, the Arabic word for "submission." In this brief essay, I make some general observations about the ways that the Moslem tradition has displayed and depicted the Old Testament figure of Job (Ayyub in Arabic.)

The record of Allah’s revelation to Mohammed was recorded in the Qu’ran, which became a written text following the founder’s death sometime in the mid-seventh century. There are four major references to Ayyub in the Qu’ran. Each of the four mentions of Ayyub are relatively brief, so we can quote them in their entirety in order to understand early Islamic attitudes toward Ayyub.

In the first reference, 4: 163, Ayyub is referred to in connection with Old Testament worthies to whom Allah has given his revelation:

We have sent thee inspiration, as we sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him. We sent inspiration to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes of Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David. We gave the psalms.[1]

In Mohammed’s view, Job is to be numbered among the best of human beings to receive Allah’s revelation. The second reference to Ayyub comes in the context of moral goodness being a necessary condition for Allah’s revelation. Again in 6:84, Allah is the speaker:

We gave him Isaac and Jacob, all three we guided. And before him, We guided Noah, and among his Progeny David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron. Those We reward are those who do the good. [2]

Thus, the Qu’ran suggests that Ayyub was picked out for divine revelation and that this revelation only comes to the good. The third mention of Ayyub in the Qu’ran occurs in the context of how proper Moslems are to respond to suffering:

And remember Ayyub who cried to his Lord, "Truly distress has seized me, but Thou art the Most Merciful of those who are merciful. "So listen to him. We removed the distress that was on him, and we restored his people to him, and doubled their number---as a grace for Ourselves, and a thing of commemoration, for all who will serve. [3]

In the Qu’ran, the key to understanding Ayyub is to understand his moral character, and chief among his virtues are fortitude and patience. The final mention of Job in the Qu’ran is the most important reference, for it is here that the image of Job diverts from the earliest Christian images. Again, Allah speaks about the patriarch in the third person:

Commemorate Our Servant Job.
Behold he cried to his Lord:
"The Evil One has afflicted me with
distress and suffering."

The command was given:
"Strike with your foot:
Here is water where to wash, cool and refreshing
Water to drink.

And We gave him back his people, and doubled
their number as a grace to Ourselves, and a thing for
commemoration, for all who have understanding." 

This final reference to Ayyub/Job in the Qu’ran is important for two reasons. First, it is the beginning of a tradition in Islam that suggests that Job’s sores are healed through a sacred stream. Indeed, all depictions of Ayyub in Moslem iconography in the eleventh to sixteenth centuries show the patriarch as a young man, wearing medieval Islamic dress. Ayyub is usually depicted in Islam with the angel Jabrail (Gabriel), who often hands Ayyub a flower. Between the two figures usually runs the sacred healing stream. Unlike medieval Christian depictions of Job that invariably show Job as a suffering saint, accompanied by his wife and friends, Islamic iconography portrays a triumphant Job, a patriarch accompanied by a heavenly messenger and healed by the magic waters of Allah.

Ayyub and Healing Waters

This tradition of Ayyub being visited with healing waters gave rise to two other traditions in Islamic culture. Ayyub is often seen as the patron saint of leprosy, syphilis, and various skin diseases in Moslem culture. Various medieval Islamic exegetes suggest that Ayyub should be prayed to in order to act as an intercessor when one is stricken with leprosy, syphilis, or skin diseases.

This association of Job’s healing powers also gave rise in Islamic popular culture to a tradition of "Job’s well," or "Job’s stream," a kind of fountain of youth which, according to legend, is variously located in the Transjordan and in Hauran, near Damascus. Indeed, from the late nineteenth century to the present, at least a dozen different locations have been suggested in Islamic literature for the location of this sacred stream or well, a feature that does not appear in the Masoretic text of the book of Job.

Early Jewish tradition and subsequently Byzantine and Arabic cultures sought Job’s land of Uz in Hauran. In Islam, the country of Job has been localized around Nawa and Sheikh Miskin, on the high road that cuts across Trachonitis. The name Ausis found in the appendix of the Septuagint’s version of the book of Job (Job 42:17d) caused the land of Job to be identified with Dhuneibeh, between Sheikh Miskin and Ezra.

Etheria, a Christian pilgrim in the fourth and fifth centuries, identifies the land of Job with Carneas and Dennaba (Dhuneibeh.), a city south of Nawa. Thus, a series of Islamic and early Christian sources center the land of Uz firmly in Trachonitis. [5]

Conflict over the Land of Uz in Islam

In the Trachonitis region can be found the deir Ayyub (the monastery of Job).

At the end of the nineteenth century, German biblical scholar and linguist J.G. Weitzstein(1815-1905) traveled to this monastery near Damascus where he found Job’s tomb, his well, and the stone on which he sat on his dung heap. He also found several petrified rocks about which he tells us this:

While these people were offering up their Aur [afternoon prayers] in this place, Sa’d brought me a handful of small, round stones, which tradition declares to be the worms that fell to the ground from Job’s sores, petrified. "Take them with you," said he, "as a memento of this place. Let them teach you not to forget God in prosperity, and in misfortune not to contend with him." [6]

At the close of the nineteenth century, Charles Clermont-Ganneau showed that the area around Edh-Dhueibeh (Dennaba) is full of associations with the life of Job, including stories about the patriarch’s petrified worms. [7] Weitzstein quotes a poem authored by a Medieval Haurian Christian, which makes specific reference to Job’s sacred worms:

Min’ azma nari jom el-qijama
Tugana Nuha dmu a eni anuh zod
Ja quba min hozni hizanuh qisama
Min belweti Ejuba jerta bihe d-dud.

The fire of Hell at the last day will kindle itself from the glow of my pain.
And stronger than the flood of Noah are the tear streams of my eyes.
The grief of Jacob for his son was but a small part of grief.
And visited with my misery, Job was once prey to worms. 

A stele of Ramses II, uncovered at Sheikh Sa’ad, a place also to the south of Nawa, is known as the "pillar of Ayyub" in Arabic. Less than a mile from the spring and monastery visited by Weitzstein is a group of fields called "Job’s pastures." Weitzstein also claims that a large building in the town of Kanawat was pointed out to him as "Job’s summer home." Near the same area, a nineteenth-century British traveler named W.H. Buckingham was shown the village of Gherbi where he found "the birthplace and long time residence of Job." [9]

The Islamic historian, Mugir ed-din Hambeli, in a chapter on the prophets of the Hebrew Bible describes Job as coming from the same general area near Damascus. Hambeli tells us, "Job came from ei-es and the Damascan province of Batanaea (Bethenije), which was his property." [10]

During the Middle Ages, a number of Christian writers also attest to this northern view of Job’s origins. Eugippus, a sixth-century abbot at a monastery near Naples, William of Tyre, a twelfth-century historian and bishop of Tyre, and Marino Sanuto, a medieval biblical exegete, all refer to various spots in the Hauran district as the birthplace, home, and tomb of Job. [11]

Eugesippus tells us in his On Distant Sacred Lands that

One part of the country of Hauran is the land of Hus,
out of which Job came. It is also called Sueta, after
which Bildad the Shuite was named. 

These materials locating Job’s land of Uz north of Palestine, near Damascus, are contradicted by a southern theory that argues that Job was a Rumi, an Edomite, who lived during the time of the Hebrew patriarchs. As early as Ibn Ishaag, an eighth-century commentator on the Qu’ran, we find this Moslem view that Job hails from Edom, south of the Dead Sea. [13] Ibn Asaker, a twelfth-century exegete from Damascus, also held this southern theory. [14]

By the thirteenth century, Islamic thinkers held that Job was a descendant of Essau, as does the Babylonian Talmud still further support of the southern theory. By the eighteenth century, this southern view became the standard one in Christian and Islamic scholarship. Among modern scholars, most agree with Robert Gordis when he says:

It is most probable, however, that Uz is to be identified with Edom,
since most of the proper names in Job are drawn from the geneaology
of Essau in Genesis. 

Job’s Wife in Islamic Sources

Most medieval Islamic traditions refer to Job’s wife as Rahma, the daughter of Ephraim. Some Moslem exegetes give Job’s wife the name Dinah, Leah, or Mahkir. Still others claim that Job’s wife was Dina (probably a variation of Dinah) and that she was the patriarch’s second wife, who bore him twenty-six new sons. Other Moslem thinkers hold that Job was given fourteen new sons, double the seven he had before his troubles.

Throughout most of Islamic history, Job’s wife is seen with a good deal of ambivalence. G. Sale points to this ambivalence:

His wife (whom some call Rahma, the daughter of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, and others Mahkir, the daughter of Mannasses) attended him with great patience, supporting him by what she earned with her labor; but the Devil appeared to her one day, after having reminded her of her passed prosperity, promised that if she would worship him, he would restore all that they had lost; whereupon, she asked her husband’s consent, who was so angry at the proposal, that he swore, if he recovers he will give her 100 lashes. [16]

In late medieval Moslem accounts, Job replies to his wife, knowing that Shaytan or Iblis is attempting to form an alliance with his wife, "Iblis must have whispered to you and made you dissatisfied. Tell me how long I enjoyed good health and riches?" She replied, "Eighty years." Then Job asked, "How long have I been suffering like this?" "Seven years," she said. Then Job replied:

In that case, I am ashamed to call on my Lord to remove my hardships, for I have not suffered longer than the years of good health and plenty. It seems your faith has weakened, and you are dissatisfied with your faith in Allah. If I ever recover from this, I will punish you with 100 strokes. [17]

In another modern Islamic account of Job’s wife, we are told with no food in the house, the wife sought a loaf of bread for her husband. A man attracted by her lovely hair agreed to give her food in exchange for a lock of the hair. She gave the man the hair and received the food in return. In this account, the man the wife bartered with Iblis. When Ayyub sees his wife without her hair, he swears to punish her with one hundred lashes. Following this tradition, Sale talks about the end of Job’s woes:

God sent Gabriel, who, taking him by the hand raised him up; and at the same time, a fountain sprung up at his feet. When Job drank, the worms fell off and after washing, he recovered his health. Then God restored him double. His wife also became young and beautiful again, and bore him 26 sons; and Job, to satisfy his oath, was directed by God to strike her one blow with a palm branch having 100 leaves. [18]

Unlike Christian medieval depictions of Job’s wife extending food on the end of a stick to her husband lest she have defiling contact with him, in Islamic iconography, the patriarch is usually shown as a patient man, accompanied by the angel Gabriel. Beneath Job’s feet appear the healing waters.

One of the most beautiful of medieval Islamic images of Job is an illustrated manuscript (ms. 414, fol. 82) owned by the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The healed Job is accompanied by Gabriel, who presents the patriarch with a rose. The legend in Arabic reads: "Job was healed with the aid of waters, and he died at the age of 93." [19]

This view of Job as a patient saint and a healer of diseases continues in Islam until the Renaissance. The "Legends of the Prophets," a sixteenth-century illuminatedmanuscript by Quisas al-Anbya, is owned by the New York Public Library (ms. 456, fol 109). A healed Job is shown standing in a spring that flows around his feet, the angel Gabriel by his side. [20]

Ayyub and Iblis

In all Islamic sources, Shaytan or Iblis is responsible for bringing about Job’s suffering. Islamic sources suggest various ways the Evil One infected the patriarch. As early as Abu Huraira, a seventh-century convert to Islam, we see accounts of Job’s illness. Huraira tells us:

While Job was naked, taking a bath, a swarm of locusts fell on him, and he Started collecting them in his garment. His Lord called to him, "Oh Job, Have I not made you rich to need what you see?" He said, "Yes, oh Lord, But I cannot shun your blessings." [21]

Abu Jafar Al-Tabari, an early nineth-century Qu’ranic interpreter, gives this account of Job’s troubles:

Satan rushes back and forth from heaven to earth. He resorts to various ruses and disguises. He causes female breasts to grow on Job’s chest, and warts the size of sheep’s buttocks. [22]

Other Islamic sources go to great lengths to describe the series of calamities that befell Job’s body. What all this material has in common is that Iblis is responsible for inflicting the prophet with various symptoms.

Some Islamic accounts suggest that Allah gives Iblis full power over Ayyub, except his tongue. Others say it is his tongue and his heart that stay free of the Evil One. A number of Moslem exegetes have it that Iblis blew in Ayyub’s nostrils, causing an inflammation of the body and filling it with worms. His body became so defiled, Ayyub was forced to leave and find refuge atop a dung heap. Some say this is a sign of his patience, while others say it was a signal of repentance. [23]

Job and Islamic Holidays

Among the major holidays in Islam is a day of fasting called Ashura, which celebrates a number of things including the day Noah started his new life and the day the prophet Ayyub was released from his suffering.

The figure of Ayyub is also identified with the B’hai feast of Rivdan, the holiest of festivals. Rivdan occurs in the spring and lasts for twelve days, and commemorates the birth of the Bab, the movement’s founder. Associated with Rivdan is the Lawh i Ayyub, "the tablet of Job," which resides in Suriya i Sabr, "the city of Patience," the heavenly residence of Ayyub. An earthly version of the tablet of Job which is written in Arabic celebrates the life of the prophet, particularly his exemplary patience during the festival.

Some Conclusions

In conclusion, most Islamic accounts of Ayyub suggest the following points. First, Ayyub is a prophet from Allah, known for his humility and patience. Second, Shaytan, with Allah’s permission, is the agent of the dissolution of Ayyub’s property and family. Third, Shaytan may have acted through Ayyub’s wife, usually called Rahma. Fourth, Ayyub’s sores are healed in Islamic sources through the appearance of a sacred stream, which appears when Allah instructs the prophet to strike the ground with his foot. Finally, all Islamic accounts of Job are about the patient patriarch of the poetry, the prologue and epilogue of the biblical book. In Moslem accounts of Ayyub, there is no evidence of the angry, iconoclastic Job of the poetry.

The Islamic traditions on Ayyub have borrowed heavily from the Hebrew text of Job, the Testament of Job, a Jewish apocryphal work, the Babylonian Talmud, the Qu’ran, and early Christian interpreters of Job as a patient, humble saint. Indeed, In Islam, Ayyub is numbered among the greatest of Allah’s prophets.


[1] The Qu’ran, 4: 163. All Arabic translations are the author’s.

[2] Ibid. 6: 84.

[3] Ibid. 21:84.

[4] Ibid. 38: 41-44.

[5] The Pilgrimage of Etheria edited by M.L. Mc Lure (New York: Macmillan, 1919) pp. 24-25.

[6] Franz Delitzsch and J.G. Weitzstein, Das Buch Hiob (1902) pp. 46-47.

[7] Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Research in Palestine (Paris, 1874) pp.191.

[8] Delitzsch and Weitzstein, p. 48.

[9] Ibid. p. 49.

[10] Hanna Kassis, A Concordance to the Quran (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) p. 264.

[11] Eugippus, Life of St. Severin translated by Ludwig Butler (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1965); William of Tyre, The History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea translated by Emily Babcock (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943); Marino Sanuto, Diary 58 vols. Nicole Barozzi, editor (Venice, 1879- 1903).

[12] Butler, p. 199.

[13] Kassis, p, 265.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965) p. 66.

[16] George Sale, A Translation of the Quran London: William Tegg, 1857)

[17] Kassis, p. 266.

[18] Sale, p. 256.

[19] Chester Beatty Library, (ms. 414, fol. 82).

[20] New York Public Library, (ms. 456, fol. 109).

[21] Kassis, p. 266.

[22] Kassis, p. 267.

[23] See Falzan Rahman, Major Themes of the Qu’ran (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

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