Dr. Hassaballa in The Jewish Week

In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

Thanks be to the Almighty, my article was published on May 1, 2008 in the Jewish Week, one of the most prominent Jewish publications in America. It is reproduced below.

Web Exclusive: Where Jews And Muslims Could Cooperate

by Hesham Hassaballa
Special to the Jewish Week

The images of the Holy Land are not supposed to horrify; they are supposed to heal and inspire. Yet, the images that have been coming out of the Holy Land as of late have been nothing short of horrific. Attack and counter-attack continue seemingly without end, and when the flashes of red and orange disappear and the smoke and dust settles, all you can see and hear is the pain, agony, and screams of innocent people maimed and killed by rockets, bombs, bullets, and missiles. Why can’t both sides see the madness of the conflict and the fact that road of violence is a road that leads only to misery and despair?

I am repulsed by any violence against the innocent, no matter who commits said violence. On my blog, I have issued a blanket condemnation of all violence against the innocent, and I derive that condemnation from the sacred sources of Islam that guide my personal conduct in my life. Those who kill and maim in the name of Islam enrage me to the core, because they violate everything for which Islam stands. The Quran is quite clear in its categorical prohibition against the taking of innocent life: And do not take a life that God has made sacred, except for just cause. (17:33)

In no way, shape, or form, can the deliberate murder of innocent men, women, or children – wherever they may be on earth – ever be considered “just cause.” Furthermore, I subscribe to this timeless Quranic principle: If anyone slays a human being-unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth-it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind. (5:32)

The Jewish tradition also has these same principles, enshrined in the Ten Commandments of Moses as well as elsewhere in sacred Scripture and rabbinical writings. This is something around which we, American Muslims and Jews, can rally together. Here in the United States, Muslims and Jews live and work together in peace, and some of the dearest colleagues with whom I have worked and trained have been Jews. We can show our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land that it indeed can be done.

Another thing around which Jews and Muslims can come together are the Jewish prophets, chief among them Abraham and Moses (peace be upon them both). Moses is one of the five mightiest messengers of God according to the Islamic tradition. The Quran says: “Peace and salutation to Moses and Aaron! Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For they were two of our believing Servants.” (37:120-122).

Moses is mentioned many more times in the Quran than the Prophet Muhammad himself, and the majority of the stories of the Quran, in fact, are about Moses and his people. The story of the Exodus is one of the most powerful stories of faith, victory, and survival, and it is one of my absolute favorites. (My absolute favorite film is “The Ten Commandments,” and although I am of Egyptian ancestry, I root for Moses and his people.)

Because of that deep affection I have for Moses, I was shocked to read that an Israeli researcher, Benny Shanon, claimed that Moses’ experiences may have been the result of a hallucinogen. Shanon’s entire premise is that many of the experiences described in the Bible are similar to those caused by consumption of a hallucinogenic brew called Ayahausca, which is still used for Amazonian religious rituals today and which Shanon experienced personally. While he admits, “I have no direct proof of this interpretation,” he concludes that Moses must have consumed hallucinogens, such as the harmal plant and the acacia tree.

I truly took offense to his claim that Moses’ encounter with the Divine was a drug-induced hallucination. That means that Moses’ decision to go back to Egypt, face the most powerful ruler on the planet, and demand that he release thousands of people who have been enslaved for centuries was all the result of a drug stupor. Yet, Moses was successful: he came back from Egypt with all of the Children of Israel. Was that a hallucination, too? How can this stand up to scientific rigor?

Frankly, I am surprised by the muted response of both the Jewish and Muslim community. While I completely disagree with any sort of violent outcry, like that in response to the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad, I cannot simply sit by and watch a beloved Prophet of mine, Moses, be accused of being a “druggie.” Standing up for our beloved Master Moses is just one of the many things that Muslims and Jews can do together, and it can be the starting point for more interaction and collaboration between our faith communities.

In the wake of the horrific attack on the yeshiva in Jerusalem in March, relations between us may have taken a turn for the worse, and this saddens me deeply. It is my sincere hope that one day peace will shower the Holy Land so that our communities can once again come together and be what we were intended to be: children of Abraham and defenders of Moses.

Hesham Hassaballa, a medical doctor in Chicago, writes often about Islam, including on his personal blog, “God, Faith and a Pen.”


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