In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
I am almost certain you have looked at the title of this blog post with unfathomable incredulity (how’s that for big words, eh?). The atmosphere of suspicion and hostility between Muslims and Jews has never been so toxic, and unfortunately, it has spilled over to the shores of the United States and poisoned Muslim-Jewish relations here in America. And it all has to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The unending cycle of violence and reprisal, attack and counter-attack, military operation and suicide bombing continues to widen the rift between two faith communities that really have much more in common than in distinction. The deaths of innocent Palestinians under Israeli military occupation – alongside the deaths of innocent Israelis at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers – is an enormous obstacle to a harmonious Muslim-Jewish co-existence, and both communities suffer as a consequence.
Each side is suspicious of the other, and small elements in both communities actively preach hatred and intolerance toward the other. In fact, I remember giving a Friday prayer sermon during which I spoke of the tribe of Bani Qurayza, a tribe in Medina which broke their covenant with the Muslims and joined the pagan attack on Medina during the Battle of the Trench. The Prophet attacked the tribe after the battle was over, since they declared open war against him and almost led to the destruction of the Muslims in Medina. Here comes the sensitive part: Bani Qurayza was a Jewish tribe. After mentioning this, I made sure to tell the congregation, “This is not an indictment against all Jews,” lest I be misunderstood by anyone.
After the sermon, one worshipper came up to me and said, “Brother Hesham, I understand you were trying to be politically correct. But, it is quite clear, the Jews are a ‘cursed’ people in the Qur’an.” I completely disagreed, but I did not want to get into an argument with him right then and there in the mosque. (He was totally mistaken; the Qur’an does not condemn or curse all Jews…but that is for another blog post!) The fact that only one person came up to me after the sermon – he was an Arab, by the way – told me that this view, thank God, is not widespread among Muslims. Nevertheless, I blame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for causing this view to be accepted by many Muslims today.
Yet, it has not always been this way. In fact, at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Jews were included as part of the Muslim community…they were part of the “ummah,” so to speak. The Constitution of Medina read:
“(25) The Jews of the B. Auf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.
(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Thalaba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.”
This is truly amazing. The Prophet (pbuh) made the Jews of Medina one “ummah,” or community with the believers. This even though the Jews immediately, almost as soon as he arrived in the city, rejected him as Messenger of God (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) did not force them to become Muslim; he did not expel the Jews from Medina after they rejected him; he did not relegate them to a “second-class citizen” status. No. They were equal members of the city, one “community with the believers,” with the freedom to practice their religion. At one time in history, Muslims and Jews were one nation under God.
I lament the tension between Muslims and Jews both in America and around the world. It make so much sense for the two faith communities to be very close to each other: we both worship the same God, the God of Abraham; we both honor and revere both Abraham and Moses; Moses and Abraham are both highly honored in the Qur’an, and they are mentioned by name in the Qur’an more than the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself; there are many stories of the Hebrew Prophets in the Qur’an; in fact, the story of Joseph as mentioned in the Bible and the Qur’an are strikingly similar. Like I said before, Muslims and Jews have so much more in common than in distinction, and it pains me to see so much tension between the two faith communities.
For far too long, the Holy Land has been poisoned by the blood of the senseless loss of innocent lives. For far too long, Palestinians and Israelis have lost their lives in a vicious and senseless circle of violence. For far too long, the Holy Land has cried out from the pain and death she has to endure day after day after day. It should not be so. Lord God, the Most Holy Lord God on High! Please bring peace to the Holy Land. Please let the choking smoke of guns and bombs lift off the place we Muslims, Christians, and Jews hold sacred. Lord God, this is the Land You have blessed, please let it shine in the light of Your Glory, rather than be smothered in the blood of the innocent. My Most Precious Lord, please bring peace to the Holy Land, so that the constant glorification of Your Most Holy Name is no longer drowned out by the deafening sound of guns, missiles, and bombs exploding. In Your Most Holy Name, O Lord, I do ask these things. Amen.