Dr. Hassaballa in the Chicago Tribune

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Thanks be to the Lord God, an article on Moses in Islam was published in the April 24 edition of the Chicago Tribune’s Perspective Section. I have reproduced it here:

A Muslim for Moses

By Hesham A. Hassaballa
a Chicago doctor and freelance writer

Published April 24, 2005

My absolute favorite movie is “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston. Usually around this time, the time of the Passover, this movie plays on television, and I try not to miss it.

Throughout the film, I root for the Hebrews and look at their Egyptian taskmasters with angry disdain. When God calls Moses at the burning bush, my heart jumps for joy, for I know that Pharaoh will meet his match in Moses and Aaron.

My absolute favorite part of the film, however, is the parting of the Red Sea. If I were not afraid of frightening those around me, I would scream “You go, God!” at the television screen.

All this despite the fact that I am an American Muslim of Egyptian descent. This really should come as no surprise, because Moses figures prominently in Islamic belief. Along with Jesus, Noah, Abraham and Muhammad, Moses is counted among the five mightiest prophets in Islam.

The Koran says that God bestowed his grace upon Moses and Aaron (37:114), that he was “specially chosen” by God (19:51), and that God gave Moses “wisdom and knowledge” (28:14) as a reward for doing good.

In addition, the Book of Moses is described by the Koran as a “Light and Guide” (6:91). At least 73 Koranic passages–many of them encompassing several verses–refer to Moses. In fact, more verses mention Moses by name than Muhammad.

The Koran tells of two miracles–Moses’ staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing when he places it under his arm–that God permitted as proof of Moses’ prophethood. It also describes the plagues unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and refusal to set the Hebrews free (7:133). It also relates the story of the golden calf and Moses’ anger with his people at their worshiping it as a god besides the Lord (20:85-97).

My favorite part of the story, the splitting of the Red Sea, is mentioned at least twice (2:50, 26:52-68). Furthermore, the Koran tells a story about Moses that I do not think is in the Bible: his encounter with the “Servant of God” in the desert of Sinai, who taught Moses an important lesson about the knowledge of God (18:60-82).

Yet, Moses’ importance extends beyond his pervasive presence in the sacred scripture. During the Prophet Muhammad’s famous night journey to Jerusalem and the Heavens, God ordained upon him and his followers 50 daily prayers.

The Prophet Muhammad readily obliged, but it was Moses, according to the traditions relating the event, who repeatedly told the prophet to ask God to decrease the number until it was reduced to five.

A Muslim Passover

Moreover, Muslims have their own Passover of sorts. Feb. 10 was the 10th day of the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar, and it is called Ashura. On this day, the Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast to commemorate the Exodus of the children of Israel out of the shackles of bitter Egyptian bondage.

Incidentally, this is also a very important day for Shiite Muslims, when they commemorate the murder of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson in the Iraqi city of Karbala 14 centuries ago. I was deeply angered by insurgent attacks on Shiite worshipers on Ashura, a holy day that is supposed to be spent in sincere devotion to God, rather than in acts of terror and murder.

One cannot be a true Muslim without having a deep love, respect and admiration for Moses. Fasting outside the month of Ramadan is always a difficult task for me psychologically, and even though the fast of Ashura is voluntary, it was something I felt I had to do.

The entire Exodus story is a happy one for me; it is a tale of bitter bondage and hardship and the glory of God’s deliverance from that hardship. Thus, fasting to remember this day is a great thing, even though I have to forgo one of my dearest loves: coffee in the morning.

It is truly an amazing phenomenon that the faithful of Islam voluntarily eschew what is normally allowed to them–food and drink–to celebrate a major event in the sacred history of Judaism. Many, if not most, Jews do not know how much Muslims honor and respect Moses and Abraham; many, if not most, Christians do not know how much Muslims honor and respect Jesus. Yet, these facts are not so we can sing “Kumbaya” around a campfire together.

Rather, it allows each of us to see the humanity of the other.

There have been many in America who have filled the shoes of the “other” throughout our country’s history. First it was the Native American, then the African slave and then a host of immigrant groups from Europe and elsewhere.

Now, especially after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims are increasingly being seen as “the other.” Yet, once non-Muslim Americans see the humanity of their Muslim neighbors, and once American Muslims also see the humanity of their non-Muslim neighbors, the once-towering barriers of misunderstanding between the respective communities of faith will break down, and they can live together in peace and harmony.

Humanity binds us all

More people around the world, Muslims included, need to do the same thing: see the humanity of the “other.” When one group sees the humanity of the “other,” they will not throw a bomb into a house of worship; they will not blow themselves up in a pizza parlor; they will not malign “the other’s” religious figures and condemn all their adherents as infidels destined for hell. Our humanity is what binds all of us together, allowing us to see through our differences in skin color, dinner recipes and sacred creeds.

Let us, here in America, show the rest of the world how such a task is accomplished.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune


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