Finding Peace During the Holy Days

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This article was published on September 5 on the website Middle East Online.

Finding Peace During the Holy Days

It is the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims abstain from food and drink throughout the daylight hours. As these days have progressed, I have been reading through the Qur’an, which Muslims are encouraged to do. Among the powerful images and poignant lessons were the numerous stories of the Biblical Prophets, among them David, Solomon, Job, Jacob, Abraham. There are many ways Judaism is honored in the Qur’an.

What I have discovered in my reading during this Ramadan — despite having read through the Qur’an many times — are all the passages in which the Prophet Moses is mentioned. I found there are at least 73 passages in the Qur’an — many of them encompassing several verses at a time — speaking of Moses. In fact, the Prophet Moses is mentioned far more often by name in the Qur’an than is the Prophet Muhammad himself.

The Qur’an tells of two miracles — Moses’ staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing brightly after placing it under his arm — that God gave Moses as proof of his prophethood. It details the plagues that were unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and the Pharoah’s refusal to set the Hebrews free: “We (God) then sent upon them the flood, and locusts, and lice, and frogs, and blood as manifest signs; [as a result] they became arrogant and were a people steeped in crime” (7:133). My favorite part of the story, the splitting of the Red Sea, is mentioned at least twice in the Qur’an as well.

One cannot be a Muslim if he or she does not believe in, honor, and revere Moses. He is one of the five mightiest Messengers of God — along with Noah, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad. The Qur’an says that God bestowed His grace upon Moses and Aaron (37:114), that he was “specially chosen” by God (19:51) and that God bestowed on Moses “wisdom and knowledge” (28:14) as a reward for doing good. In addition, the Book of Moses in the Jewish Bible is described by the Qur’an as a “Light and Guide” (6:91).

It is rarely publicized and so not well known that every year Muslims are encouraged to fast two days in commemoration of the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt.

I find it profoundly important that Moses, one of the most prominent figures in Judaism, holds such an important place in the theology and belief of Muslims. It has made me notice how allied my faith is to Judaism. Both faith communities worship and revere the same God; both faith communities share many religious figures and Prophets, including Moses; both faith communities trace their spiritual origins to the Patriarch Abraham. These enormous commonalities should make Muslims and Jews natural allies, and there have been times throughout history when this has been the case. Sadly, however, the conflict in the Middle East has strained relations between Muslims and Jews, and this has wounded and alienated our faith communities tragically.

This week in Washington, once again, leaders from Israel and Palestine are coming together to negotiate a peace settlement, and, once again, there is tremendous skepticism that anything good will result. We know that they must succeed. Too much blood has been shed in the Holy Land; too many lives have been shattered by hatred and violence for far too long. The holy soil upon which the Prophets have tread has been desecrated by the blood of innocents. Peace must win out, and it must do so now.

In this time when Muslims are in the midst of their holy days, and Jews around the world prepare for their Days of Awe — Rosh Hashanah — I am hoping and praying that this time the peace talks will be different, and provide a remarkable breakthrough to peace. I hope and pray that these Middle East political leaders hear the cries of the innocents in their lands, rather than just the whispers of political advisers.

I hope and pray that the shared seasons of holiness — the last ten days of Ramadan and the beginning of Rosh Hashanah — will inspire the leaders of Israel and Palestine to make the hard choices in the name of peace, and that these concurrent holy days of Islam and Judaism will give these leaders strength to face down the extremists in their camps, and have the courage to embrace peace together.

In these high holy days of Islam and Judaism, peace must win out. These allied religions call out for peace. Failure cannot be an option.


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