|Is Peace Possible Between Jews and Muslims ?|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
In the name of God, most Kind most Merciful
I thank Rabbi Bienstock for inviting me to be with you on Shabath. I can feel the presence of God in this spiritual gathering. I also echo the call “Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonnai Elohecha”. Return O’ Israel, return to the Lord, your God. Today is Friday which is Islamic congregational prayer day. We are in the month of Shaban which is the holy month to prepare us for Ramadan which starts on November 27th.
It is a Muslim tradition to start our speech with the prayer of Prophet Moses mentioned in Quran. In translation it says: “ Oh, my Lord, expand my heart. Make my task easy for me. Untie the knot from my tongue so that they can understand what I say”. Amen.
The Muslims are also thankful to the Prophet Moses, (peace be upon him) whom we also consider as our own Prophet, for many reasons. Just to mention one here, it is because of his suggestion that we pray only 5 times a day. Although, the original order given to us by God through the Prophet Mohammad,( peace be upon him)who had ascended to heaven was to pray 50 times a day. On his way down after meeting his Lord, he met Prophet Moses at a certain level of heaven, who asked Mohammad “What gifts are you taking for your people”? Mohammad ( p) replied “I am taking the gift of 50 daily prayers” and Moses said “this is too much. I know humans better than you and they will not be able to do 50 prayers daily. Therefore, go back and request God to reduce it”.
So Mohammad went up and this time it was reduced to 40 prayers and the same reasoning was given again the next time by Moses that even this was too much. So Mohammad made several trips going up and down. Finally, God reduced it to 5 prayers and then said “if they pray 5 times, they will still get the reward of 50 prayers a day”. We are also thankful to American Jewish people who are trying to understand Islalm and Muslims. They have paved the way for us in this country fighting discrimination and stereotyping.
I’m here to talk to you as an American Muslim.I do not even represent any Muslim organization here or abroad. I am not a preacher, but a searcher of truth, peace and justice.
Let me begin by telling you that Islam and not Christianity is the most Jewish religion in the world, for the following reasons: 1. Both Islam and Judaism are monotheistic faiths. They both reject Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. 2. Islam is the only non-Jewish faith which makes it mandatory to believe in Moses, David and Joseph as messangers of God. 3. Both Islam and Judaism trace back to Prophet Abraham. Jews and Arabs being descendants of his two sons Ishmael and Isaac are cousins to each other. 4. Muslims believe in the original scriptures such as Torah and Psalms of David given to Moses and David and Gospel of Jesus. 5. Both Islam and Judaism are a way of life, not just a way of worship. 6. The Jewish dietary law, i.e. prohibition of pork and specific slaughtering procedures, the Kosher diet is acceptable to Muslims. 7. Both Islam and Judaism require that every male should be circumcized. 8. We bless him and his descendants including Moses, Jesus and Mohammad 5 times a day.
Jews have flourished with Muslims together i.e. in Muslim Spain, a period Rabbi Minkin called “Golden Era” in their history. They also suffered with Muslims as in Crusades and Spanish inquisition.
Islam, a Way of Peace.
Islam, the word itself means peace and submission. One of the attributes of God is As-Salaam, the peace giver. The path of Islam is called the path of peace. The ideal society in Islam is called Darus-Salaam. That is the city of peace. It is for this reason that Jerusalem was originally named as Salem, city of peace, by Canaanite Righteous King Melchisedeck, a contemporary of Prophet Abraham and was changed later to Urousalem and then to Jerusalem. I will not go into the details of that history. The mission of Islam as given to Prophet Mohammad was “to be merciful to mankind”the Quran.
God abhors the disturbance of peace and encourages a most peaceful reconciliation between disputing parties. Mohammad said “Shall I not tell you what is better than prayers and fasting and giving charity to the poor. It is making peace between one another as enmity and malice destroy all virtues”. The Islamic peace is not peace through war or through the means of war or the peace which reigns in the graveyard full of soldiers who died, but the peace in hearts and the peace in neighborhoods and peace in all surroundings including the nation and the world. In fact, the universe itself is at peace and is in peaceful coexistance with all of the components of the universe submitting to the will of God.
As Confucius said, “If we have harmony in our beliefs and actions, there will be love in our homes and if there is love in our homes, there will be order in the nation and if there is order in the nation, there will be peace on earth.”
However, standing up to tyranny is a form of Jihad. As the Prophet said, one of the highest levels of Jihad is to speak a word of truth to a tyrant ruler. Therefore, we see here a dicotomy between desire of peace, keeping the status quo and allowing oppresion to continue vesus a peaceful struggle to end the tyranny. In Islam, peace is the rule and war is an exception. That is, when attacked, Muslims have the right to defend themselves. Even then, if the defensive war can be avoided to achieve a peaceful result, it should be persued. In the battle of Ahzab, in the beginning of Islam, which was a clear aggression on the part of the unbelievers in Mecca, who traveled 300 miles from Mecca to Medina to attack Muslims. The Prophet ordered a trench be dug in order to avoid armed confrontation instead of going to war with them. The word Jihad has been misunderstood in the West and it is translated as holy war. If you translate the words holy war to Arabic, the translation would be Harb Maqdas. So, if Jihad is not a holy war, what is it? Jihad literally comes from the root word Jahd which means striving in the cause of God. Quran says “Strive in the cause of God with your person and your wealth”. It also says “Do Jihad with the help of Quran”. But Quran is not a weapon to be used in a physical war. It means do Jihad with an idealogical power of the Quran. Thus, Jihad is a name for peaceful activism. One form of Jihad is to take up arms in defence of Islam and Muslims when attacked.
In Islam, peace is not a slogan but a committment. Prayer service for peace is not going to lead to peace unless it is followed by peaceful actions. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “peace is not the absence of tension but presence of justice”. Hebrew tradition, Talmud correctly says “more justice, more peace”. Talmud also teaches us “Great is peace at the hour that Messiah reveals himself to Israel, at hour, the first word he speaks will be peace”. “Peace is great because peace to the earth is what yeast is to bread. If the Holy One, blessed is He has not given peace to the earth, swords and men, like the beasts in the field would destroy the world”. Which actions are not peaceful? Neither throwing stones at others nor maltov cocktail nor dragging a soldier after killing him are acts of peace. Neither responding to rocks with rubber coated steel bullets, machine guns, helicopter gunships, tanks, missiles nor bulldozing houses nor killing worshipers while they are praying as it happened in Hebron are acts of peace. Injustices bring out a hostile response and therefore injustices should stop before hostile responses cease. Quran says “wrong not and you will not be wronged”. The corollary of “ More Justice-More Peace” is “No Justice-No Peace”. During a Pro-Palestinian rally in Washington, DC on October 28, Rabbi Weiss condemned Israel’s use of force in Palestine. “For 52 years the world has ignored the just claims and rights of the Palestinian people. We condemn the actions (of Israel) in these past weeks. The justice of the current situation lies entirely with the Palestinian people. They have been dispossessed. Political control over the land belongs to them.” In your congregation, you have certain etiquette rules that were faxed to me.
I liked them very much because they are very similar to the etiquette of conservative Muslims to include covering of the head, not taking photographs and not disturbing the peace during presentations. However, our holy sites in Palestine such as Al-Aqsa Mosque are being violated every day. I was in Jerusalem 2 days before the Hebron massacare and was very much pained to see Israeli soldiers with their boots and weapons roaming around in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. You would not allow such desecration of your synagogue by a Muslim soldier in boots so why do you not treat us the way that you wish to be treated yourselves? Saying of the Prophet Mohammad “Desire for your brother what you desire for yourself” is no different from the golden rule “That which is hateful unto thee do not unto thy neighbor”.
My remark in reference to Holocaust, is not to question it or to prove anything but to remind everyone of the suffering and oppression of Jewish people many times in there 5000 year old history. Jews being the victims in the past should and do understand the plight of the oppressed people. It is for this reason, the Israeli army in my opinion, should be humble and self restraining.
Otherwise, they are giving a bad name to peace loving Jewish people. You can take my remarks and turn them around and say the same thing for Islam and Muslims and I will agree with you. You can say that if Islam is a religion of peace and submission, why are some Muslims doing acting violently and disturbing the peace? Actions of few in a religion should not reflect on all of the religion. We have Christians, like Tim McVeigh or Adolph Hitler who have done terrorism and genecide respectively. We should not judge Christianity because of them. If I am a victim of a crime like robbery or burglary or whatever, then I should hate the crime and the criminal and never come close to doing the same crime myself. Genecide of Jewish people during the Holocaust by the Nazis and Gestapo is well known. Those who suffered of Nazi tyranny should do their best to denounce it by their own actions of peace and reconciliation. Your passion for the Promised land is justified, but not your support of the Israeli army and their brutal suppression of Palestinian resistance. Palestinian resistance is not different than French resistance during the Nazi occupation. Remember, there is a common God and He sees what is being done by the Israeli army. He is “just” and quick in taking account”.
In the same context, I also condemn all of the violent acts by the Palestinians, Muslims or Christians as wrong. Both parties must resort to respect each other and live in peace and not in constant pain and fear of each other, and not of God. Feel the pain of mothers who have lost their children and of those who lost their eyesight because of rubber coated steel bullets of of those whose houses have been bulldozed.
The disturbance in the Middle East affects us emotionally but this should increase our resolve to maintain peace in our town, our state and our nation.
I invite you to extend your hand of love and peace and friendship to me and to all of those leaders who are working for peace. I would like to end this talk with a prayer of peace as taught by Prophet Mohammad. You can join me if you wish. “Our Lord, You are the original source of peace. From You is all the peace and to You returns all peace, so make us live in peace and let us enter into paradise, the house of peace. Blessed be You our Lord, to whom belongs all Majesty and Honor.”
Blessed are the peace makers. Shalom---Salaam---Peace.