Saturday, December 02, 2006

Response to Muslim Gentleman on Youtube -

I found a ten-or-so minute clip on Youtube of a Muslim gentleman speaking about the comparisons between Islam and Judaism. This gentleman seems very cool-headed, educated, intelligent, compassionate, insightful, and I venture to say well-meaning, but this was a slight contradiction on his part. Nevertheless, it was one of the most collected and relaxed messages I've seen yet comparing Islam and Judaism, and you can find it here.

I couldn't help responding because many of the facts were skewed or only touched on a part of the bigger picture relating to the topic he was talking about. For example, he mentions that the way Jews and Muslims slaughter animals is exactly the same, done in the Name of G-d. Kosher slaughter requires all of the blood of the animal to be drained and a number of other requirements have to be filled, which is why a trained Jewish supervisor (mashgiach) has to be present (or visit the place continuously). The aforementioned process is considered "in the Name of G-d" in Judaism, and I think, from what I've heard, that slaughtering the animal "in the Name of G-d" in Islam simply means reciting a blessing. This means that Halal and Kosher meat are not synonymous; Jews cannot eat Halal meat but Muslims may eat Kosher food (according to him and most Muslims I know). To add, the Torah’s dietary code restricts about thirty animals, such as camel, which Islam allows. It would not be enough for Judaism and Islam to be similar; if Islam is to replace Judaism it must be identical to it, yet if it was identical then Muslims should be keeping Judaism and not vice-versa!

Near the beginning of the film he said something that rung very true, that Muslims are fulfilling the mandate for Gentiles as set down by Judaism. I would be interested to know if, from a Halakhic perspective, Islam is a fulfillment of the Noachide Laws, and it's pretty cool that he even knew that Judaism has requirements for Gentiles. However, a bit later in the video he contradicted himself by saying that, since Judaism and Islam are so similar, Islam is the fulfillment of Judaism. This doesn't make too much sense, first, but second, if Islam is the fulfillment for Gentiles, then it would not make sense that Jews fulfill their duty by following the rules that the Torah prescribes for Gentiles because gives them their own requirements.

The gentleman makes mention of the similarity between the Name of G-d in Hebrew and Arabic, but the Name that he used is one that I have not heard being used for G-d. I don't know, it might be a variation of “Elokim.”

Also, it was very subtle but he wouldn't say the word "Jew." From what I've learned from speaking to Muslims, "Judaism" is not a real religion because it is derived from the word "Jew," which is derived from "Judah," which is the English for "Yehuda." Therefore, since the name of our religion is derived from a tribe of Israel, the Muslim tradition explains that "Judaism" is the left-over remnant of the practice of the tribe of Judah, the "Yehudim," which literally means "Judites," those from Judah. If this were true, then "Judaism" would not really be a religion. However, the Muslim tradition uses the fact of the name of Judaism to say that the real religion of Judaism has disappeared and that "Jews" don't keep it today. Nothing could be more false because "Judaism" is just a word (that the Jews did not choose) and we still keep the Torah. Back when I first started this blog I wrote a post about the development of the word "Judah" and you can read it there. Just to give a summary of that here, the Israelites took on the name of "Judah" because it was the only tribe to remain intact after the Babylonian and Assyrian exile, and while many of the Israelites became "swallowed" up in other lands, those who were not clung to the name "Judah." The reason for this was to retain their religious identity, and so "Torah" and "Judaism" are synonymous. I'm a Levi (from the tribe of Levi) but I am a Jew.

* A really fascinating video about this topic is called "Quest for the Lost Tribes" and A&E directed it. I recommend this film like crazy!

Here is where I learned something. In Arabic, the word "Aqeedah" is the word describing the central doctrinal belief of Islam, referring to the belief that Abraham went to sacrifice Ishmael in Mecca on the future site of the Q'aba, and not Isaac. In Hebrew, “Akeidah” means “binding” referring to the binding of Isaac on the altar to be sacrificed. Islam believes the Torah's account of this to be an alteration of the original text (some "proto-Torah?") in which Ishmael was sacrificed (I have yet to see any museum come forth with fragments of this original text, or the Arabs themselves, but I would love to see it). “Akeidah” in Hebrew is not a word for the central doctrine of Judaism but it's rational to see how such a word is used to define the central beliefs of Islam when we take into account what Islam believes.

He also said that Hebrew needed Arabic to reconstruct itself by looking into Arabic texts to find the meanings of Hebrew words. The main point he used to illustrate this is that Hebrew scholars didn't know the meaning of the word "echad," a word repeated in one of Judaism's central daily prayers. It is basic knowledge in the first monotheistic religion that "echad" means "one" both in quantity and quality, two descriptions of G-d's essential character. I don't know where he got that particular piece of information but it's false. On the other hand, the word “selah” is said to be a word about which the Jewish tradition is confused, but Arabic does not provide Judaism with a meaning for it.

Considering the previous example of Islam's usage of the word "Akeidah," which is Hebrew, it would make more sense to say that the opposite is true, that Arabic made sense of certain words through Hebrew. In cases when words from the Hebrew language were difficult to decipher, Jewish Sages have traditionally looked into the Oral Law, which in Islam’s terms could be understood as the "Jewish Hadith," although not per se coming from the mouth of Moses (Hadith are said to be quoted from Muhammad). If Hebrew needed Arabic, it would mean that by using the Arabic understanding of words, which is inseparable from Muslim theology, Judaism became infused with a Muslim theology. The clear point of his argument here is to further correlate Islam and Judaism by saying that Judaism itself is infused with Islam, i.e., more reason for anybody who believes in the "Old Testament" to convert to Islam. The Oral Law is as old as the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai – Islam came about in the 6th Century of the Common Era.

The gentleman uses the term “Isaacite Jews" versus all other Jews as if only the Jews whom descended from Isaac are valid. This is a very clever term that I haven't heard until now. However, it's passive propaganda, especially since all Muslims are considered valid (such as converts, etc...) even though only a handful of Muslims are actually descendants of Ishmael. The 23% (and growing) percentage of the world that is Muslim could not have only come from Ishmael's descendants, and Muslims are of all different "races," like Jews. If only the "Isaacite" Jews are valid then only the "Ishmaelite" Muslims are valid, otherwise all converts to either religion count or none of them do.

To sum up, as someone that suggested who commented on my comment, the video started off in a way that seemed like he was trying to bridge Judaism and Islam, but a while in it becomes clear that he's using the similarities (and creating others) to give a reason to become Muslim. The conclusion has to be that it would not be enough for Judaism and Islam to be similar; if Islam is to replace Judaism it must be identical to it. But if they were identical, then Muslims might as well become Jews! No?

Would love to hear some comments, especially if the gentleman who made the film reads this.

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