Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pro-Islam -

Religiously speaking, with regards to religious concepts, practices, and theology, Judaism and Islam are quite similar. One can benefit from many of the same, or at least similar, things in Islam as he can in Judaism. Having said that, the religion of Islam brings nothing new to the table as far as these are concerned. That they are found in Judaism is something that Islam recognizes. In this light, Judaism can be seen as the father religion of Islam.

Historically speaking, Islam’s historical narrative, a selective edition of Judaism’s narrative organized in a new direction, and some of its own inputs, serves the function of setting Islam as a religion. The religion of Islam assigned itself the task of reinforcing the religious ideals set down by Judaism and not the presentation of new ones. Its casting itself as “the true religion” served largely the function of self-perpetuation and not necessarily the attempt at introducing the world to those values, although to re-introduce them was the stated task of Islam. Suffice it to say that Islam itself recognizes the eternality of the commandments of Judaism, if at least in theory. Even if tikkun (repair; in Torah, the Jews are charged with ‘tikkun ‘olam,’ repair of the world) is near to the heart of Islam, its primary concern was with finding the best way to ensure its own survival against the backdrop of Judaism and Christianity, and one could make the case that it still is.

As a system, Islam, which means “submission” (to G-d’s Will) could have achieved better success with its neighboring Jews by working itself into the world-view of the Torah. The way it could have begun to achieve this was by filling the position of righteous monotheistic Gentile Arabs with the goal of spreading monotheism. The Jewish religion, regardless of Islam's critical view of Judaism, saw itself as a light to the nations; theoretically, considering the stubbornness of the nations in accepting monotheism, another monotheistic partner would have been welcome. The finite imperfection of human beings, including Muhammad, colors history in a different way. This same finite imperfection is shown through his attempt at making a strained alliance with the Jews of Medina and Mecca. Neither he nor they were able to fully devote themselves to this ideal alliance because the pact Muhammad suggested placed his concerns over theirs. In other words, the stipulations of the pact did not perfectly reflect the spirit of the ideal alliance between Jews and Muslims and expected the Jews to compromise beyond their ability. In the end, the Jews of Mecca and Medina basically walked out on the pact in a time when Muhammad relied on them most. The result was that the Muslim tradition viewed the Jews as dishonest and weakly devoted to fighting anti-monotheistic forces (since Muhammad wanted the Jews to help him fight Meccan pagans). This negative record of Islam’s experience with the Jews of Mecca and Medina serves largely as Islam’s point of reference to the whole of the Jewish People, having "broken the camel's back" and, in the mind of the Muslim tradition, making another alliance with them forever impossible. (This might shed some light on the nature of modern skirmishes between Jews and Muslims today)

As a side note, there was an interesting corollary to this pact in today's modern political mythology. When Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel in 1999, made moves to settle the conflict with the Palestinians, he offered Yaser Arafat some 87-95% of the land in the West Bank in which to create a Palestinian state. Arafat rejected this proposal and later, people seeking to justify his rejection, explained that Barak's terms were not fully in alignment with Arafat's wishes for the Palestinian people. In a true case of irony, in public speeches to the Palestinians, Arafat referred back to this particular pact made by Muhammad. Only here, he presented himself as Muhammad and the Jews as the Jews of Mecca and Medina, unwilling to keep their word. However, if the "Palestinian reason" was right, then it was Barak who was Muhammad and Arafat and the Palestinians who were the Jews, for according to the record, at least as recorded by those critical of Israel, Barak was too forceful with the Palestinians and pushed upon them stipulations that they could never dream of accepting. Arafat likely picked up on the historicity of this moment and tried to "Islamicize" it by assigning roles - however, in reality, a better reflection of the scenario would place the Palestinians in the role of the Jews, thus left with a new (and alternately different) viewpoint of the cherished record of the pact with the Jews in the 7th Century. Considering Arafat's historical usage of the Jewish (and Zionist) narrative to reinforce the aspirations of Palestinian nationalism, it is not too difficult to imagine him utilizing the story in this way; on the cover it seemed to confer Muslim tradition, but on the inside it bore resemblance to Israeli and Jewish nationalism.

Back to history, one can definitely find plentiful reason to see Islam as a tikkun to the Arab peoples, whom probably shortly after descending from Ishmael descended into polytheism, yet to see Islam as a universal tikkun for the entire world is only a view that Islam holds in order to justify its existence. This particular characteristic of Islam, its deliberate linking of self-justification to an absolute universal norm, is less of a theological and social revolution than it is the only practical way for Islam to become established in light of the existence of Judaism (and Christianity). Considering the universalist claims of Judaism and Christianity, it becomes necessary for Islam to try to find a way to “tighten the screws” on universality, as it were, or to find a way to present itself as “more universal” than them. This is a tough thing to achieve if the previous religions are monotheistic and already stand for eternal truths. In order for such a thing to work, the next religion, whatever it is, must find internal weaknesses, even if they are perceived or even created, in order to provide itself as the remedy.

From a monotheistic perspective, Christianity’s polytheistic Trinity is easy enough to reject, but Judaism’s system of living, which is basically mirrored in Islam, is much harder to replace with something that is virtually the same. Therefore, the only functioning way for Islam to replace Judaism is by taking a different stance on the historical narratives that G-d set down as truth and tradition. The rejection of Judaism’s Oral Tradition allows Islam to make almost whatever it wants (within a set of limitations) of the Torah’s text. However, Islam is forced to stay with the confines of a very basic schema, for if it were to under mind the whole thing, there would not even be a basis for Islam. Despite these "minor" differences in the narrative, Islam then is forced to recognize the most basic pattern of the Torah record; G-d created the world and humanity, spoke to the prophets, and even that He created a covenant with the Jewish People.

The major point of convergence is with their treatment of Ishmael as the prime inheritor of Abraham's legacy versus Isaac. Simply put, how the Jews view Isaac the Muslims view Ishmael. In its oral law, Islam maintains that Isaac still inherited a portion of his father's legacy, even though it doesn't specify the nature of this legacy or what it entails. The indication of the Muslim oral tradition is that Isaac's descendants inherited a loosely formed monotheistic system - Isaac's descendants, the Jews. All of this meets a certain criterion of logic until we reach the revelation at Sinai, which Islam also accepts occurred and is spoken about in the Qur'an. At Mount Sinai, after the Egyptians enslaved Isaac’s descendants for four hundred years, Moses, also a descendant of Isaac, took them out of Egypt by a command of G-d. During a trek through the desert, G-d revealed Himself to them in a way that is unparalleled anywhere else in the Torah or in the Qur'an. There, each and everyone of Isaac's descendants was heightened to a level of prophecy - the Torah says that they "saw thunder and heard lightning," and that they begged Moses not to make them near the base of the mountain lest they die. Islam recognizes that this event occurred and confers that G-d in deed gave the Torah to the descendants of Isaac.

That G-d gave to the descendants of Isaac, not long after he died, the Torah, presents a serious challenge to Islam’s view that Isaac received a smaller portion of Abraham’s legacy, i.e. in that the first-born receives the larger portion. In fact, the culmination of Isaac’s portion of Abraham’s legacy was indeed the Torah, and according to the Muslim tradition, Ishmael’s descendants, did actually receive a similar revelation later through Muhammad. Yet, if Ishmael was the first-born, it would have made more sense if he received his revelation chronologically earlier than did the descendants of his younger brother. What we see here is that the descendants of the younger brother received a revelation thousands of years before the descendants of the older brother, who, according to Muslim tradition, received the proper birthright. We would assume that Ishmael’s descendants should have received their revelation, the Q’uran, at some time before Isaac’s descendants received the Torah; this would have fully harmonized, in the Muslim tradition, the relationship between Ishmael and Isaac. Yet history attests to something else. Not only that, the revelation of the descendants of the younger brother was public and the revelation of the descendants of the older brother was private and involved one man, as respected as he was and is to the Muslim tradition.

We should note that the Qur'an underplays this event (the giving of the Torah) and places less emphasis on it than does the Jewish tradition. This is because the Muslim tradition runs into problems when it tries to reconcile Ishmael's larger part of the portion of Abraham's legacy with Isaac's reception of the Torah - G-d gave it to Isaac's descendants and not Ishmael's. Consequently, the Qur'an has not produced a record of the descendants of Ishmael receiving any such massive and public revelation. Can Islam logically validate the giving of the Torah to the descendants of Isaac if it wishes to confer the primary blessings on Ishmael? The Muslim tradition tries to straighten out these wrinkles by explaining that Isaac's descendants eventually (or right away by worshipping the golden calf) corrupted the Word of G-d as they received it. This sin, among others, necessitated the religion of Islam, which as the tradition explains was the fulfillment of Ishmael's portion of his father's legacy. However, why did this fulfillment take so long to come to fruition? Islam began some 4,ooo years later. We know that during the time of the revelation at Sinai, the descendants of Ishmael were, as is shown by history, steeped in polytheism. The evidence for this is that poetry in Arabic dated to thousands of years ago speaks no mention of the One G-d. When Muhammad, thousands of years after Sinai spoke of his experience to the Arabs, Ishmael's descendants, he had to convince them of the One G-d. The Q'aba itself is testimony to this in that Muhammad wiped away the god-worship occurring there and dedicated it to the One G-d; and he was not met without resistance. That Muhammad brought his message to Arab pagans is recorded as fact in the Muslim tradition.

*Interestingly, Muslim tradition explains that the Q’aba was the true site of the Akeidah (“binding” in Hebrew, and in Arabic the word describing the doctrinal belief of the Muslim religion – Aqeedah), where the Torah says that Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed. Based on the stance that the Akeidah actually took place in Mecca with Ishmael, Muhammad dedicated the Q’aba to the belief in the One G-d. However, Torah tradition explains that the site of the Akeidah was actually Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. Based on this tradition, King David began the erection of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Holy of Holies, the most central section of the Temple, was built directly over the site where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. Further, it was the exact site on which sacrifices were brought. The Torah tradition explains that Isaac was nearly sacrificed on Mt. Moriah as a foreshadowing that atonement sacrifices were later to take place on that same exact site. The Akeidah-Ishmael connection is logical, but no such sacrifices later took place in the Q’aba, as Islam is not a religion that sacrifices animals in order to atone for sin. Not only that, but empire upon empire and power upon power have historically tried to rule over Jerusalem and the Temple, and no such power struggle has historically occurred in Mecca. This is a strong indication that Mecca did not gain historical significance as early as the Muslim tradition says it did. Rather, it did not gain historical significance until the advent of Islam, relatively late, in the 7th century, and therefore does not date back to Abraham.

So the question remains; what became of Ishmael's descendants? When the Qur'an speaks about the prophets living before Muhammad, it refers to them as "Muslims," (submitters to G-d), but every single prophet was a descendant of Isaac, and not one was a descendant of Ishmael. How can we say that Ishmael's descendants received the primary portion of Abraham's legacy when all of the prophets of the Tanakh, whom Muslims recognize, were Hebrews, "Isaacites," (a term I once heard a Muslim use), Israelites (descendants of Jacob), and Jews (all of the major and minor prophets)? There was only one non-Jewish prophet, Balaak, who was a Midianite. The way Islam dealt with these matters was by creating its own oral tradition, which Islam believes is the true oral tradition as handed down by G-d, yet which has no pre-Islam tradition of its own. G-d forbid, none of what I say is meant to defame Islam, but rather to shed some light on these matters.

I have a friend, also an observant Jew, whom suggested that Islam is exactly the way the nations should be living. His point was to say that the theology, beliefs, behaviors, and concepts of Islam are basically completely in tune with the Noachide Laws, the religious system that the Torah requires for the nations of the world. From that vantage point I would argue that he is right. However, from the vantage point that this religious system has built itself upon the notion that it is to fulfill the obligations of the nations through replacing Judaism, calls Islam into question as a unit. The nations are already not obligated to the religion of Judaism, but for the new religion to hold that the Jews themselves, along with the rest of the world, are to practice the new religion is anathema to order and truth. G-d delivered the pillars of the world through the Torah and told the Jews to keep it for the sake of the world, so for another religion’s attempt to subsume those pillars into its own version of reality is to create a war of metaphysical spiritual proportions. If we were to take out the last three words of the sentence, “through replacing Judaism,” Islam would be a shining example to the Gentiles. However, the reality of the last words as a fundamental precept in Islam is empirical evidence that Islam, by its own choices, has set itself in religious opposition to Judaism as its replacement and therefore creates a war on truth and even G-d. If this is true about Islam, then it is a religion close to the way the nations should be living, but not exactly as they should be living, for the Gentiles’ version of monotheism does not replace the Jews’ version but lives along side it.

If we were to view the Muslim religion as the perfect Noachide religion for the nations of the world, our stumbling block would be its desire to replace Judaism; the Noachide Laws never replace the Mosaic Laws. Suffice it to say that the opposite is also true; even though the Mosaic Laws came after the Noachide Laws, they did not replace the Noachide Laws, i.e., for the Gentile nations but only for the Hebrew nation. Such is not the case when it comes to Islam's belief, which is that the Qur'anic Laws replace the Mosaic Laws, not just for the Arab nation but for the entire world. It is not in accordance with Noachide Law that their religious system replace the Mosaic system. If we strip Islam away from the historical narrative it claims for itself, it is a just monotheistic system. But if we link it with Ishmael, regardless of its internal beliefs, as true as they may be, it is at odds with Judaism. It seems that the Torah's prophecies about Ishmael (his descendants) becoming wild, aggressive, and contemptuous, is best understood as being manifested in their vigor and religious agitation with the Jews and the Jewish tradition, and not to mention other nations, since the Torah says "he will have his hand on everybody and everybody will have their hand on him." In that, the Torah's prophecies about Ishmael, through Islam, have come true. The only way for their to be a reconciliation between Judaism and Islam is for there to be a reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael, and the Jewish sources and midrashim say that Ishmael did teshuva ("repentance"), and the Torah records his death in the same manner as it records all other tzadikim (brilliantly righteous people), explaining that he was restored to his nation. Not only that, the Torah text itself says that Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father, after all their turmoil and tribulations. Since Abraham, in a sense, is the father of all nations, Isaac's and Ishmael's reconciliation in the name of their father will bring peace to the entire world. It seems that time has now come for Muslims to realize their place in the tradition, for Ishmael to do teshuva, and for them to be restored to their nation.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

yaniv,

i think you are a very creative thinker. it was nice to follow your mind through the whole process as you tried to piece all the concepts together. you are also a very good writer.

Abu Abbas said...

Hi yaniv. I'm a Muslim and I stumpled upon your blog. I have to say that I'm impressed by what you wrote here. I think it's fairly well written. Having said that, you do seem to have misunderstood a few things. First of all, there didn't really exist a real Jewish community in Mecka. It did, however, exist in Medina. Secondly, it wasn't Muhammad only(peace be upon him) who expected the Jews to fight the pagans, it was mutual. When Muhammad (peace be upon him) came to Medina, he signed a treaty with the Jews and both the Muslims and the Jews vowed to defend their mutual city if an outside force attacked it. So it was expected that if the Jews were attacked the Muslims would join them and help them. This was the mutual agreement. Secondly, if I've been informed correctly, a Rabbi did actually fight against the pagans together with the Muslims so (if this is true) it can't be said that all of the Jews failed to fulfill the agreement. And even if that was the case, that doesn't mean that another alliance with the Jews would be impossible. I don't have a lot of knowledge when it comes to this, so I want to avoid speaking about something I'm ignorant of, but I just read a fatwa by the former Mufti of Saudi Arabia and here's a quote: "So if it sees that it is beneficial for the Muslims in its land to have peace with the Jews and to exchange ambassadors and to engage in trade and other dealings which are considered lawful by the pure Sharee'ah of Allaah, then this is alright." As for the claim that it was Ishmael and Isac who was the prime inheritor of Abraham's legacy, then this is something I haven't heard about. The Jews were indeed favoured by God. I haven't heard that the descendants of Ishmael (before the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him)recieved the primary portion of Abraham's legacy and you have a point when you note that they were pagans. However, what is meant is maybe that Muhammad (peace be upon him) did come from the Arabs and he was the last and best messenger so if that is what is meant by saying that Ishmael's decendants received a larger portion of Abraham's legacy, then this is true. However, I think you are refering to the belief that we, as Muslims, are the true followers of Abraham (of course this is our belief which others don't share, I'm just pointing out what we believe). The Jews were favoured in the past, but the true followers of the Monotheistic message of the Prophets are the followers of the last Prophet.

jjew said...

Thank you very much for writing; I think it’s great when Muslims write on here and I hope more do it.

Regarding the agreement between Muhammad and the Jews. Okay, I’ve thought about this a bit. It is relatively easy for me to imagine a group of Medinan (sorry, not Meccan) Jews having a vested interest, or at least a desire, to fight against pagans. However, there are few important things I think are important to realize. 1) In Jewish history, many times Jews became accustomed to live alongside pagans, and it was not an essential practice (different from belief) in fighting and trying to convert them to monotheism (although this has occurred throughout times in Jewish history and I can tell you about those instances). Islam having just started, was full of energy and resolve, which is normal for a new religion and tends to neutralize a bit as a religion gets older and more mature – this is an apparent pattern. The Jews and the Muslims were in very different psychological places; the Muslims were very eager to fight the pagans, and the Jews, of whom there might have been eager people, didn’t seem as eager on the whole to fight the pagans as were the Muslims. I reason, they probably reasoned that when the Meshiach (Messiah) came that the pagans would see the truth of G-d, which is a fundamental belief in the Torah and is repeated, for example, several times by the prophet Isaiah and other prophets. This brings me to the second point: 2) even though some Jews might have been interested in fighting the pagans, Muhammad was MORE interested in fighting them, seeing that the establishment of his new religion was reliant on a victory against the pagans of Medina. If that is true, which it seems, and considering his position of relative power over the Jews of Medina, even if the agreement was officially mutual, it does not mean that the Jews of Medina were exceptionally excited or eager to join in the fighting. It is likely that had they an opportunity not to fight, that they would have taken it. Therefore, even if the technicality of the pact was mutual, it was probably done somewhat against the will of the Jews of Medina.

The fatwa you mentioned in interesting and I’ll have to look into it soon.

“However, what is meant is maybe that Muhammad (peace be upon him) did come from the Arabs and he was the last and best messenger so if that is what is meant by saying that Ishmael's decendants received a larger portion of Abraham's legacy, then this is true.”

Well, I respect the Muslim view that Muhammad was the (last) best messenger as a Muslim belief. By “larger portion of Abraham’s legacy” I am referring to the Muslim belief that Islam is the true tradition of G-d, and that Judaism, which is somewhat undefined by Islam, is not. If there were two sons that each received a portion of Abraham’s legacy, it would seem true to say that the one whom received the “larger portion” is another way of saying that he received the tradition of truth. This gets a bit complicated now, because “best messenger” means that his message was the “best,” and that would imply that we would have to compare and contrast the messages of both Judaism and Islam. First, I don’t think that the word “best” applies here, because it would imply “bad, good, better, best, etc…” Rather, I think what we have here is a matter of truth, not of “good or bad,” and if G-d gave the message of Judaism at one point in time, it is worthy of being given. Since G-d makes no mistakes, and if He indeed gave the message of Judaism to the Jews (descendants of Isaac), then that was the perfect decision. It would also follow that the Torah which G-d gave to the Jews was also perfect, so it would be hard to say that anything else, for example, a different message, was “better” or “more true” than what G-d already gave. Having said that, there can be no “better” prophet that Moses and therefore no “better” message than the message that he had, which was straight from G-d. Ishmael’s portion of Abraham’s legacy is at most equal to Isaac’s, which does not necessarily indicate that either Isaac or Ishmael is superior or inferior. The tradition of the younger son receiving a “larger portion” occurs several times in the Torah (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ya’akov, Yosef, Efraim, and Moses, and King David were all younger sons). The “younger religion,” Islam, cannot come from the older son, Ishmael.

…but the true followers of the Monotheistic message of the Prophets are the followers of the last Prophet.”

If this were true, then the message of Muhammad would have to be identical, not similar, to the message of Moses. Of course, Judaism and Islam do not have an identical message and therefore are not the same religion, for example, we Jews and Muslims have different dietary restrictions, just to name one difference, so the messages are not identical. Jews may not eat camel (among many other animals), and Muslims can – that’s just one example.

Abu Abbas said...

It wasn't really a matter of who is interested in fighting with the pagans, it was more of a matter of who is going to defend this city that both groups live in. You see, on one instance the various pagan tribes made a con-federataion and made a joint attack on Medina and at that point it was a matter of fighting for survival or perishing. It wasn't a matter of Muhammad (peace be upon him) trying to make the Jews join him in an attack on the pagans, it was a matter of defending the city. Some Jews even decided to join the con-federation of pagans in this particular attack which of course is even more serious.
The pagans of Medina started to convert to Islam, so they weren't really the problem and the people Muhammad (peace be upon him) had to fight. The surrounding pagan tribes, which posed a threat to the existence of the Muslims, were the threat and Medina needed to be defended if and when they attacked.

What I mean by saying that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the best prophet, is that he is the greatest of them. There are several reasons for that, one of them is that the results of his mission have brought more people into monotheism than any other prophet.
I don't mean that his message is better than that of other prophets. All of the prophets had the same message which was monotheism and submission to the will of God. And we as Muslims do believe that Muhammad and Moses (peace be upon them) had the same message. The differences you've pointed out aren't related to belief. All of the prophets taught the same strict monotheism and the same belief, however all of the prophets were sent to their particular nation/people/community except Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was for all people. And the Shari'ah (which means the same thing as Halacha I think) of the Prophets may have been different when it comes to details. For instance, every Prophet taught that the believers should pray, but the finer details of when and how to pray may be different. And you also pointed out the differences in the dietary law. Another difference is that in the beginning of mankind, brothers and sisters (children of Adam and Eve) were allowed to procreate. This was allowed in their Shari'ah, but it isn't today. So these differences exist, but the message is still the same in the sense that they all preached strict monotheism and monotheism is the most important teaching of Islam.

jjew said...

Ah, some very juicy comments here. One thing you said got my attention, “The surrounding pagan tribes, which posed a threat to the existence of the Muslims, were the threat and Medina needed to be defended if and when they attacked.” The emphasis here in my opinion is “which posed a threat to the existence of the Muslims,” which explains that the essential point of the pact was to protect Muslim interests. Now, you can say that at least some of the Muslim interests were also Jewish interests, but you would have to realize that this is truer from a Muslim record of history than it is from a Jewish record of history. What I mean is, the Qur’an is not written from a Jewish perspective, and even though in the Muslim tradition it is considered from G-d’s perspective, we can never ignore the author of a text. This applies to the Torah too.

The attack wasn’t on Medina per se, it was an attack on Islam, and Medina was one of the centers of Islam at that point in time. So even if Jews were living in Medina at that point in time, it might not have been in their specific interests to fight against the pagans. Of course, from a practical point of view you can say that, hey, wait a minute, aren’t Jews monotheists also and therefore shouldn’t they naturally want to ally with other monotheists? This is where we realize that life doesn’t always occur how we think it should or would occur – sometimes unpredictable things happen. Obliviously for some reason the Jews of Medina were more comfortable not fighting the pagans; from what I’ve read they were at a relative peace with them and saw no real reason to change everything and to make the relationships sour. Muhammad and the new Muslims had a different point of view because they were filled with the energy of a new religion. The record in the Qur’an seems to show that things were desperate, and this might be true from a Muslim perspective, but it might not have been, or maybe even probably wasn’t true, from a Jewish perspective. Some Jews might have joined in, and I would tend to say that this was wrong from my perspective of monotheism and the ideals of Judaism, and perhaps those Jews weren’t doing the right thing, i.e. were not committed to Judaism, but I have to realize that the record is still a Muslim record of things and therefore I can’t place full trust in it. I am nevertheless not above saying that if the record is accurate that those Jews who joined in the fighting were in the wrong.

The prophets in the Tanakh and the prophet were different. First of all, there are several stages in the Tanakh and the general intentions of the prophets belonging to the different stages are different. The main difference between Muhammad and the prophets in the Tanakh is that the prophets in the Tanakh weren’t necessarily trying to spread monotheism to the entire world or to the Gentile pagans. Rather, they were trying to get Jews to come back to the Torah, and were giving advice (revealed by G-d) on how to interact with the kings of the other nations; for example, should or should they not make an alliance? You can make an association between King David and Muhammad, both of which tried to spread monotheism and established an empire through political power. King David is known as a prophet in the Torah tradition as well as a political ruler; you can make a better association between him and Muhammad than you can with Isaiah and Muhammad, because Isaiah didn’t take his message to the Gentiles (although he actually did here and there). You can use many of the examples of the Jewish prophets, many of whom were not trying to spread monotheism, also because they were not in the position to do so. For example, many of the prophets tried to get the Jews to stay with and come back to the Torah in times when they were being invaded and exiled by foreign powers – they were not in the position to try to spread monotheism to other nations at those points in time. The Torah tradition has several, several prophets while Islam only has one, it might be useful to you read up on the varying realities of the Jewish prophets and how those things affected the nature of their messages. Basically, the only prophet of Islam was a powerful prophet, while many of the prophets of Judaism lived in a time of power and others lived in a time when the Jews were being beaten; that’s the difference. Being “best” cannot (necessarily) be measured by success in spreading monotheism because that wasn’t the intent of all of the prophets in the Tanakh. Jeremiah, for example, wanted Jews to come back to the Torah; if he succeeded in this then he was the “best” prophet in his time, and that is actually how the Torah tradition “measures” the prophets. Judaism is based on the messages of many prophets and so the message of Judaism is a compilation of all of the prophets, while Islam is based primarily on one prophet; that’s another big difference.

What you said about the message of all the prophets being the same is not true, i.e., that they were all simply trying to teach a message of true monotheism. First of all, if you read the different books of the prophets in the Tanakh, you will see the variation between just the Jewish prophets and their messages – even though they were trying to teach monotheism. For example, many of the prophets focus on a particular problem in that point in time and try to get the Jews (and sometimes the nations) to do repentance for their sins and to recommit themselves to observance of the Torah. In whatever area the Jews were messing up, that is on what the prophet based his message. The result is that monotheism is the background message of each prophet, especially since one of the problems was that Jews were worshipping other gods, but in times when this was not the issue, and even when it was, the prophets pointed out certain things for improvement, such as treating the poor, the widow, and the orphan well, not drinking too much, not inter-marrying, etc… All of these things are different commandments in the Torah, and there are 613 commandments total. The prophets focused on the areas in which Jews were failing and told the Jews to improve in those. The Muslim tradition is interesting because it tries to view the Jewish tradition through the eyes of Islam. Please try to imagine this for a second; the intent of Islam was to establish monotheism, and since it sees the Torah tradition as its background (since it has to), it re-interprets everybody in the Tanakh to conform to the ideals of Islam. Basically, the Muslim interpretation of the figures in the Tanakh is not exactly or necessarily the same as what they were actually like or what they were trying to do. But this didn’t matter to Islam since it had a particular goal in mind and reinterpreting the prophets as Muslims, most of which were Jews, served that goal. For Islam, monotheism was the only, or at least the primary, goal, but for Jews, for whom the truth of the One G-d had already been established as the core of their way of life and religion, there were other goals than just establishing true monotheism, such as ethics, but there were many others.

First of all, the prophets were largely sent to the Jews, who are a nation, that is true. However, the Halacha, our Oral tradition, says that the prophets also brought a message of monotheism to the Gentile nations, expressed as seven laws called the “Noachide Laws,” the set of laws that G-d gave to Noah and his family after the flood. That family repopulated the whole world and so the nations of the world are expected to keep the Noachide Laws, including the Arabs, who are Gentile nations. The Mosaic Law, which is the 613 commandments and the Oral Law (Talmud) is intended for the Jews, and the Noachide Law is intended for the nations; they are each to keep their own law. The Mosaic Law came after the Noachide Law, but it didn’t replace it. Now, the Muslim tradition believes that Muhammad introduced a new law to the whole world, for the Jews as well, and that’s why it’s not true. The Jews are obligated to keep the Mosaic Law forever. You might be able to make the case, I’m not sure, that the Noachide Laws can be paralleled to Muslim Law, but if this is true, Jews do not need to keep Muslim Law because it is intended only for the Gentiles. I have heard Muslims make the case that Muslim Law is close enough to Noachide Law that it’s the same thing, but Torah Law says that the Gentiles keep the Noachide Law and that Jews keep the Mosaic Law, so the whole world should convert to Islam except the Jews.

The difference in the details is fundamental, and I just used the dietary laws as an example. G-d gave the Jews 613 commandments, or laws, at Mt. Sinai; those laws are the stipulations of the Covenant between G-d and the Jews. The dietary laws make up about fifteen of the commandments (prohibiting about fifteen different animals for consumption), and the Talmud explains in more detail what those animals are. For example, the Torah prohibits consumption of camel flesh, while the Qur’an permits it. Just this one difference is enough to demonstrate that the Torah and the Qur’an are not the same message, for all of the commandments contained therein must be identical if the Torah and Qur’an are in fact the same message. This is just simple logic. The message of the Torah IS pure and true monotheism, but that’s just the first and second commandment; there are 611 more commandments that describe in detail what the Jews have to do. G-d is unchanging, I know Islam believes this, so anything that claims to be from G-d and is different from what the Torah says, is prohibited to the Jews by the command of G-d. Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah, details this and I can show you the verses.

It might be fine from a Torah perspective that the details are different, and I think confidently that it is. However, the Talmud explains where in the entire Tanakh Judaism gets its particular practices. For example, we pray three times a day one for each of our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the first prayer of the day represents Abraham, the second Isaac, and the third Jacob. The tone and intent of the prayer is related to a prayer that the respective forefathers said and also to the particular character of that forefather. That Islam has five prayers a day is fine with Judaism, why shouldn’t it be, unless it violates the Noachide Laws? I don’t know if the Noachide Laws address how many times a day a Gentile should pray, and I venture to say, although I could be wrong so don’t quote me, that some things are left relatively open-ended for the Gentiles. I will find out.

Thanks and peace, look forward to your response.

Abu Abbas said...

"The attack wasn’t on Medina per se, it was an attack on Islam, and Medina was one of the centers of Islam at that point in time. So even if Jews were living in Medina at that point in time, it might not have been in their specific interests to fight against the pagans."

But you have to remember that when Muhammad (peace be upon him) came to Medina, he wrote a treaty with the people of the city (including the Jews) and they agreed to defend it if anyone attacked. This meant that even if the Jews were attacked by a third party, the Muslims would come to their aid. If they were attacked and the Muslims didn't come to their defence, it could be argued that it wasn't in the interest of the Muslims. But it would still be a violation of the agreement.

However, I don't think the issue was with the ones that remained neutral when the pagans attacked Medina, the issue is with the ones that sided with the pagans.

"and perhaps those Jews weren’t doing the right thing, i.e. were not committed to Judaism"

You have point there. The Jews of Medina weren't religious to being with, generally.

"but I have to realize that the record is still a Muslim record of things and therefore I can’t place full trust in it"

I understand that. But maybe you should know that the narrations about the Muslim-Jewish conflict was recorded by a person (ibn Ishaq) who went directly to the descendants of the Jews of Madinah to hear what had been handed down to them from their forefathers. In other words, he made a point of getting their version of the story. And I know that he was in fact harshly criticized by a Muslim scholar (Imam Malik) for it. I doubt this will convince you, but I think it's worth mentioning.

"What you said about the message of all the prophets being the same is not true, i.e., that they were all simply trying to teach a message of true monotheism"

I was talking generally about it. The point was that they all preached the same in terms of belief. They were all monotheists and had the same belief whilst finer details in their Shari'ah might've been different.

"The Muslim tradition is interesting because it tries to view the Jewish tradition through the eyes of Islam. Please try to imagine this for a second; the intent of Islam was to establish monotheism, and since it sees the Torah tradition as its background (since it has to), it re-interprets everybody in the Tanakh to conform to the ideals of Islam."

I understand that this is your perspective, but consider the following: Tawhid (montheism) isn't only about leaving the worshipping of stones etc. (as was practised by the Arabs before Islam). One aspect of tawhid is that God is the only one who has the right to set down rules. So the society as a whole has to be ruled according to God's law. That is one aspect of tawhid. Another one is that when it comes to ethics, moral behaviour etc. all of this has to be done with the intent to please God, and only Him. So the Prophets did of course teach the people about ethics, repentance etc. but all of this is connected to monotheism since everything a believer does should be to please only God, and this is an aspect of Islamic monotheism.

As for the Jews and Gentiles. I don't know the details when it comes to the Jews, their laws and their relation to the Gentiles. I do know however that the Jews were favoured by God and the Torah was revealed to them and no Prophet had been sent to the Arabs, for instance (the Arabs followed the religion of Abraham but started innovating new matters into the religion and developed polytheism, mimicing other polytheistic they came in contact with). From the Qur'an:

O Children of Israel! Remember My favour which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill (your obligations to) My Covenant (with you) so that I fulfill (My Obligations to) your covenant (with Me), and fear none but Me. (Al-Baqarah 2:40)

O Children of Israel! Remember My favour which I bestowed upon you and that I preferred you to the 'Alamîn (mankind and jinns)(Al-Baqarah 2:47)

The messengers and laws sent to the Jews were for that time period and those particular people. Now, in this era, a universal messenger is to be followed along with the laws revealed to him. And God's favour isn't acquired by belonging to a certian ethnicity, it's acquired by obeying God and sticking to His commands and laws. As for the Torah, again, it was for that certian period. And the Torah as revealed to Moses (peace be upon him) doesn't exist today since it's been modified over time by men. This is our perspective.