A Letter to Our Muslim Cousins

Dear Cousins, Shalom and Salaam.

You surely must remember that we are related by blood and by common ancestry. Our first father was Avraham/Ibrahim who left Ur of the Chaldeans, settled in Haran, Syria and continued on to the land which our God had promised him. He settled in Beersheba with his two wives, Sarah and the Egyptian handmaid Hagar. She bore him a son, Ishmael/Ismail and Sarah bore him a son Yitzchak/Ishak.

They lived in harmony and worshipped the One and Only God, ruler of the heavens and the earth.

Avraham’s descendants were called Hebrews. Ishmael’s descendants were called Arabs. There was at that time no Judaism and no Islam. Islam was born two thousand years after the Jewish people’s religion had developed. It was a faith revealed to the prophet Mohammed of Arabia, peace unto him.

Prophet Mohammed, in his holy Quran, recognized the right of the Jews to live in the land of Israel and although he failed in his efforts to convert them to the new faith of Islam, he respected them and incorporated many of the teachings of the Jewish Torah into the Muslim Quran.

With the expulsion of the Jews by the Roman conquerors in the year 70 of the Common Era, Jewish exiles were forced to seek asylum in foreign lands. Many of them settled in Spain under the rule of Catholic monarchs.

Muslim Arabs also lived in Spain, many who crossed over from neighboring Morocco, and Jews and Arabs had harmonious relations.

In the year 976, after the death of Al-Hakam II ibn Abd-ar-Rahman, the Muslim Caliphate in Al-Andalus came to an end. Jews were dispersed into smaller fiefdoms and kingdoms of the land, some under Catholic rulers and some under Muslim rulers who accorded them the status of “dhimmi”… protection for a tax.

Nevertheless, Jews flourished and prospered in Muslim Spain from the 10th century until the Edict of Expulsion in 1492. This was the Golden Era of Jewish culture in Spain.

Some of the greatest Jewish rabbis, scholars, poets, philosophers, astronomers, and physicians lived and created great works while under Muslim rule. Most of their writings were in Arabic except for the poetry which was written in Hebrew.

Dear Muslim cousins, I would like to cite only a few of the hundreds of names of our Jewish scholars, names which you may recognize since they wrote under Arabic names.

Amram ibn Isaac ibn Shalbib was a diplomat in the court of the Muslim vizier.
Bahya ibn Paquda was one of our earliest philosophers whose books are still read today by pious Jews.
Dunash ibn Labrat was a poet.
Isaac ibn Albalia was an astronomer and a rabbi in Granada.
Joseph ibn Hasdai was a poet.
Moses ibn Maimon (Maimonides/ Rambam) was a physician to the Sultan, first in Spain and later in Egypt, and a renowned rabbi, theologian and philosopher.
Moses ibn Nachman (Nachmanides/Ramban), like Maimonides, was a physician, poet, philosopher and the greatest halachic scholar of Jewish law of his age.
Solomon ibn Gabirol was a brilliant Hebrew poet.
Yehuda Halevi was one of the greatest Hebrew poets and the first to write of the longings for Jerusalem and Zion.
Avraham ibn Ezra was a rabbi and poet.
Moses ibn Ezra was a philosopher and a renowned poet.
Benjamin of Tudela was a traveler and explorer. Much of what we know of life in foreign countries in the 14th and 15th centuries are found in the diaries he kept of his travels.
Samuel Ha-Nagid ibn Nagrala was a minister to the king.
Hasdai Ibn Shaprut was the king’s personal physician.

Dear Cousins , I could continue writing several pages of names of great Jewish scholars, men of science and philosophy…. Names without end. And they lived, wrote and worked with dignity, respect and harmony with their Muslim neighbors. We have a long history, Jews and Muslims, of living together in peace.

What went wrong? In 1882, young Jews with a dream of resettling and rebuilding the former Jewish homeland in Palestine became halutzim..pioneers. They drained the swamps to end malaria, they removed the millions of rocks which had covered the soil for centuries and they plowed, tilled and sowed to make the barren earth fertile once again.

Over the years they were joined by other young Jews from Rumania and Russia who built villages and collective settlements. Students and scholars now became farmers and builders and over the years Palestine prospered.

The new Zionists had revived the desert and made it bloom. They created industry and factories which attracted many thousands of Arabs from neighboring Syria to settle in Palestine. The Jewish economic growth was an incentive for Arabs to live in Palestine. Most became farmers and shepherds and lived in relative harmony with the Zionist Jews.

Troubles began in the 1920s when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, spread false rumors that the Jews wanted to rebuild their temple on the site of the Muslim mosque of Al-Aksa.

Riots broke out in every town in Palestine and hundreds of Jews were murdered by ravaging Arabs. The British Mandatory Authorities who favored the Arabs did little or nothing to quell the riots or to end the pogroms against the Jews.

The Arab riots continued into the 1930s while the Jews, who did no harm to the Arabs, now began to form defense units to protect distant kibbutzim and settlements, in particular in northern Galilee.

The riots only stopped when Britain entered the war against the Nazis. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem fled to Berlin where he remained during the war years as an aide to Hitler. He organized thousands of Bosnian Muslims to join the Nazi SS to find and to kill Jews wherever they could be found.

At the end of the war, the United Nations in 1947 recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Jews accepted the partition plan. The Arabs rejected it.

And in May 1948 when the Jews declared independence from British rule and re-created the ancient homeland to be called the State of Israel, after two thousand years, the armies of six Arab countries attacked the small Jewish state.

By the grace of Almighty God, we won the War of Independence, which you Arabs called the Nakba.

Over the years, 1956, 1967, 1973, our Muslim Arab neighbors declared war on us and attacked mercilessly.

Once again, they lost the wars and as is the case when a victor wins, he may take territories from the conquered nations, to be returned only once peace is firmly established.

In 1967, we re-united holy Jerusalem (Al-Quds) after 19 years in Jordanian control.

Jerusalem, our capitol, is beautiful. Jews and Arabs live there, perhaps not as dear friends, but as tolerant neighbors.

Peace treaties were signed with Egypt and with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There are diplomatic relations between our countries.

Peace was obtained because both sides sat together face-to-face and made compromises. Unfortunately, our Palestinian neighbors under the PA government of Abu Mazan refuse to meet with us, to talk with us and to help find mutual ways of agreement.

Until they do, there cannot be peace between us.

So, dear Muslim cousins, I urge you to petition your leaders to realize the pragmatism of the situation. You cannot have everything you hope for but with goodwill on both sides, we may yet soon see the sunshine of peace shining over us.

I wish you shalom and salaam.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
Related Topics
Related Posts