Thursday, June 23, 2005

Muslim Fallacies about the Torah and Judaism

In Muslim religious tradition, there are several arguments that try to prove that Jews corrupted the Torah, rendering Judaism an invalid religion. Before examining some of these, consider that the significance of a premise, or a reason to believe something, takes precedence over the idea itself in some cases. For example, when someone tells you something, you must consider two things; the content of what they are saying, and the reason for their saying it. Even if the content is trustworthy, if the premise is arguable, then the information might have to be discarded. For example, if I say that Baskin Robbins ice cream tastes bad, and that my home-made ice cream is the best, my premise is that my ice cream is the best. Even if Baskin Robbin’s ice cream does taste bad, I am only saying that because I want people to buy my ice cream.

The Torah is corrupt.

The first “allegation” is that the Torah is corrupt. What would be the reason for this argument? Islam was trying to gain followers, and since Judaism (and Christianity) was a religion with many followers, Islam attempted to discredit it. This is reason enough to cast doubt on the argument that the Torah was corrupt. In other words, it had to be said to be corrupt if people were to come to Islam.

The basis of this allegation has to do with Avraham and his children; Yitzchak (from Sarah) and Yishmael (from Haggar). Yishmael was the first-born son, and the Muslims are correct in stating that in that time and culture, the first-born son would receive a blessing from his father. However, the Torah says that Yitzchak, the younger son, received his father’s blessing. Since Yitzchak was the second-born, Muslims say that they do not believe that Yitzchak really received the blessing, but that at some point in time Jews altered the text to write Yishmael out of the blessing that was rightly his. Since Muslims claim the genealogy of Yishmael, they say that Islam is the product of his lineage, the correct religion, and that none of the Torah can really be trusted due to this alleged corruption. Therefore, Muslims believe that the entire Jewish Bible is a product of falsehood.

However, a slightly deeper look into the text will reveal an overlooked fact; Avraham was younger than his brother Nachor. As the text says, Hashem chose Avraham for His covenant, not the first-born Nachor, but the second-born, Avraham. To be consistent with their allegation, Muslims must also argue that the Jews corrupted the text to write Nachor out of his blessing, but since Muslims also tie their heritage to Avraham, to do so would be saying that Islam is also an invalid religion. Furthermore, Ya’akov, Yitzchak’s son, was Esav’s younger brother and he received the blessing; would not the argument apply here too? And what about Yoseph, he was the younger of ten brothers, and Moshe, who was Aharon’s (Aaron’s) younger brother? Did the Jews write all of these people out of their blessings, or was Hashem consistently choosing the second-born for His covenant?

Since not all Jews are from the Tribe of Judah – Judaism is not a real religion

I once heard an opinion that Judaism doesn’t really exist; the basis for this opinion is the word “Jew,” which is connected to the tribe of Judah. This is discussed in the section titled “History of the Word ‘Jew.’”

Jews are white, but Avraham was dark-skinned

This is a funny argument because not all Jews are white. I would imagine that Arabs from countries in the Middle East would have known this, but perhaps those countries have been Jew-desolate for so many years that many of these Arabs have never seen a Middle Eastern Jew. Judaism is a religious identity, which cannot be bound by skin color. Indeed, this was one of the teachings of Muhammad; it is a wonder that it is not extended to Jews. We cannot really expect his followers to apply his teachings to European Jews when he himself had a problem with the Jews of Mecca and Medina, who were probably dark-skinned.

The Semites of Semantics

The world “Islam” means “submission” (to G-d) and the word “Muslim” means “submitter.” In Arabic, unlike English, there are no capital letters. Therefore the word is “muslim,” pronounced “musleem.” The English word “Muslim” means “a member of the religion of Islam,” but in Arabic, it is simply an adjective that defines one who submits to Allah. The Hebrew word is "meshalem," meaning "to make complete," "to make perfect," or "to make peaceful," but does not contain religious meaning. This issue of semantics has allowed Muslims to traditionally refer to Jews and Christians as “muslims,” with the lower case “m,” based on the notion that they were submitting to Hashem. However, since the religions of Judaism and Christianity were deemed corrupted, Jews and Christians were no longer considered muslims (lower case “m”), but could be rectified by their becoming Muslims (capital letter “m”). Some Muslims will try to tell you that there is no difference between “muslim” and “Muslim,” and linguistically that is true, but conceptually, there is a member of the religion of Islam, and there is a submitter. Jews and Christians are not muslims, so they must become Muslims. When talking to Muslims, it is hard to observe that this is indeed the linguistic thought process behing the usage of the word "Muslim." A Jew or Christian that genuinely believe in G-d cannot be called “muslims” because they practice a corrupted faith; they are not to blame, but they must convert.

The Semantics of Semites

The word “Jew” has no such conceptual definition; the linguistics of the word “Jew” does not imply faith or submission because it is derived from a tribal affiliation, as explained in the section “History of the Word ‘Jew’”). Rationally, it is possible to say that there were Jews that did not follow their religion, they did not cease to become Jews. If a Christian does not believe in Jesus, he or she is not a Christian. If a Muslim does not believe in Allah and Muhammad as His final prophet, he or she is not a Muslim. But semantics-wise, if a Jew does not believe in Hashem and in the Torah, he or she is still a Jew. It can be said that he or she is not an observant Jew, but they are still a part of the people that makes up Jewry, they are still a part of the family.

What's my Shem?!

A Jew will tell you that they are Jewish whether or not they believe in Hashem. If a person comes from a Christian family but they do not believe in Jesus, they will not say that they are Christian. A person cannot really be deemed a Muslim if he or she does not believe in Allah and Muhammad as His final prophet. Out of all three, only Judaism incorporates a bond between Jews that transcends faith and observance, although faith and observance are essential to Judaism.

Judaism Advocates Slavery

The basis of this point is based in Muhammad’s teaching that slavery should be completely outlawed. The argument brings up that in the Torah is a commandment explaining the rules of treatment of an “'oved,”('abd in Arabic) a worker, or slave, which casts doubt on its origin from Hashem. This is based on a misunderstanding, for the person was more like an indentured servant who would volunteer to work as payment for theft or the destruction of property, and when the Year of Jubilee came, he or she would be freed. The Torah instructs how to properly care for and treat the worker, and that he was to be treated in accordance with many of the same rules that applied to non-workers.

If Judaism advocates slavery, then Islam advocates polygamy. The Q’uran allows for polygamy, but similarly, an educated reading yields an explanation. A man was allowed to take up to four wives, but the reasoning behind this was not to create a harem, but to provide for a woman that did not have a husband. After officially marrying her, she was totally independent from him; the marriage was purely technical, not sexual. When she was able to, she could “divorce” him. Again, the logic has to be applied consistently.

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