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How the Abrahamic religions should avoid conflict

Recently, the three and a half billion people who identify with one of the three Abrahamic religions observed the month of Ramadan, the week of Passover and Easter Sunday all on the same day of April 17, 2022; so now is a good time to learn how to avoid religious conflicts.

Christian missionary battles against Judaism and Islam reached new heights of hostility starting in Spain in the tenth century; that led Muslims like Ibn Hazm to respond extremely fiercely in kind. Religious truth in Europe, and then in the Middle East, had already became a zero sum game in polemics and would soon become a military crusade; so anything positive said about another religion was seen as a weakening of your own side.

The goal was not to modestly try to harmonize various religious perspectives of the one and only God; but to self-righteously exaggerate religious differences, well beyond any reasonable understanding of the two sides.

In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own. This view was the result of the specific influence of Aristotle, and Greek philosophy’s general emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradicted one another, one or both of them must be false. They cannot both be true.

If one believes that there is only one God who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture.

But in the Middle Ages almost all readers thought of revelation as a zero sum sport like tennis; rather than a multiple-win, co-operative sport like mountain climbing. This would mean that if my religion is true, yours must be false. In modern terms, light could not be both a particle and a wave. Yet we now know that light is indeed both a particle and a wave, and at the same time.

This medieval situation did not improved much in modern times. In the last two centuries university academics have written many studies of comparative religion which they claim are objective and not distorted by their religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, academics who treat other religions academically usually do not believe that other scriptures are actually Divinely inspired. Indeed, many academics do not believe that even their own sacred scriptures are Divinely inspired.

As a Reform Rabbi I follow a different model.

For example, the Mishnah (an early third century compilation of the oral Torah), states, “Adam was created as an individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as if he destroyed the whole world.” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)

And the Quran states, “One who kills a human being, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (Quran, 5:32)

Academics explain the similarity of the two statements by assuming that since the Jewish statement is four centuries earlier than the Qur’an’s, Muhammad must have heard it from a Rabbi or other educated Jew in Medina.

But I believe Muhammad was a prophet of God who confirms the Torah of Prophet Moses. Muhammad has no need to learn this statement from another human being. Academics might reply that the statement is not found in the written Torah; it appears in the oral Torah written by the Rabbis in the Mishnah more than 1,000 years after Moses.

But the Rabbis maintain that the Mishnah is part of the oral Torah that was passed down from Moses through many generations just as hadiths were passed down orally through the generations. Indeed, the Quran itself introduces this statement as follows, “It is because of this that We ordained for the Children of Israel “one who kills a human being … [Quran, 5:32]

No prophet of God needs to be informed by another human what should be written in Holy Scripture. God is the source of all Divine inspiration. There are several verses in the Qur’an that mention things from the oral Torah. My perspective is that prophets and Holy Scriptures cannot in reality oppose one another because they all come from one source. Prophets are all brothers with the same “father” (God) and different “mothers” (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras).

All of these factors produce different rituals and legal systems, but their monotheistic theology can differ only in small and unessential details. Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; they only cast additional light on each other. A Medieval fable shows that even in the past some people could see that truth was pluralistic.

Through acts of generosity and the costs of waging wars, Sultan Saladin depleted his treasury. Needing money, he thought of a wealthy Jew, Melchizedek by name, who lived in Alexandria. Knowing that the Jew would never voluntarily surrender the vast sum needed by Saladin, Saladin devised a plan to embarrass the wealthy Jew, who would then redeem himself with money.

Accordingly, Saladin summoned Melchizedek to his palace, then stated, “Men speak highly of your wisdom. What conclusion have you reached concerning the ways of God? Which of the three great religions is the truly authentic one? Judaism, Christianity, or Islam?”

Sensing that with this question Saladin was seeking to lead him into an un-winnable debate and thus gain advantage over him, Melchizedek answered, “That is an excellent question, my lord. I can best explain my views on the subject with the following story:”

There was once a wealthy man whose most prized possession was a precious ring. He bequeathed this ring to one of his sons, and by this sign, the latter was known as the head of family. Succeeding generations followed this tradition, with the principal heir always inheriting the cherished ring from his father.

But, to make a long story short, the ring finally came into the possession of a man who had three sons, each the equal of the others in obedience, virtue, and worthiness. Unwilling to favor one son over the others, the father had a master artisan make two copies of the valued ring, and he bequeathed a ring to each son.

Following the father’s death, each son laid claim to the deceased man’s title and estate, showing the inherited ring as proof. However, a careful inspection of the three rings could not reveal which of them was the authentic one, so the three sons’ claims remain unresolved.

The same is true with the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The adherents of each religion consider themselves to be the legitimate heirs of God’s truth. But as was the case with the rings, their claims too remain unresolved.

Saladin, recognizing that Melchizedek the Jew had escaped his trap, decided to ask him directly for a loan. Melchizedek generously provided him with the sum he needed. The Sultan later repaid the debt in full, and Sultan Saladin and Melchizedek the Jew remained friends as long as they lived.

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist (hanif), not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah; then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided. And prior to the 20th century Arabs and Jews never did make war with each other.

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

The ‘Ring Parable’ comes from a medieval tale that first appeared in German as ‘Saladin’s Table’ in a World History by Jans der Enikel (Vienna 1271-1302) It was then used in Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, day 1, tale 3. which was written between 1350 and 1355. Saladin (1137-1193) Sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Liberator of Jerusalem from the Christian Crusaders, was the greatest Muslim hero of the middle ages. Sultan Saladin’s personal physician was Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), the head of the Jewish community in Egypt, who may have related this event to the Rabbis of North Italy and Germany. The name Melchizedek comes from Genesis 14:18 and means Righteous is my King, an indication that Melchizedek the Priest, was one of Prophet Abraham the Hebrew’s (Genesis 14:13) converts to Hebrew monotheism.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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