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.