Islam and Judaism [3]: religious pluralism is God’s will

According to the both the Bible and the Qur’an, since the days of Adam and Eve, certain select humans in the distant past have heard the One God speaking to them. These people are usually titled as Prophets in the Abrahamic religions .

And the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek New Testament, and the Arabic Qur’an all agree that in the future, at the End of Days Judgement Day; there will be a few humans who will be chosen to relate God’s words to all humanity. These future Messengers usually have a special name or title like: Messiah son of Joseph, Messiah son of David, or Prophet Elijah in Judaism, Jesus’ second coming in Christianity, or the Mahdi in Islam.

Since these future End of Days Messengers were forecast almost two to three millenniums ago; their details will only become clear to us when they arrive. All we need to know is that they will indeed come as a fulfillment of God’s goal of justice and peace for all humanity.

Just as the followers of Jesus son of Mary were disappointed that most Jews did not accept Jesus as their Messiah; the followers of Muhammad were disappointed that most Jews and Christians did not accept Muhammad as the last authentic Prophet. As the Qur’an states: “Those to whom We gave the Scripture (Jews and Christians) recognize him (Mohammad) as they recognize their sons (in a crowd). But verily, a part (some) of them conceal the truth while they know it (2:146).

It is clear that Christians did not accept Muhammad as a legitimate prophet because they believed Jesus was a part of a Holy Trinity while the Qur’an explicitly states: “The Messiah (Jesus) the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary, a soul from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say Three: desist! – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son.” (4:171)

But why did the Jews of Medina not support Prophet Muhammad? I think most of them were afraid that after the death of Prophet Muhammad, his ex-pagan polytheist followers would turn him into a son of God and worship him, just as the followers of Jesus turned him into a Son of God; and not only worshipped him, but persecuted Jews who would not worship Jesus.

Another basic reason for Jews to withhold support for Prophet Muhammad was the Rabbinic belief that Jews would receive no more Jewish prophets until the Messianic Age. Just as Muslims believe that there will be no more prophets after Muhammad, and Christians believe that there will be no more ‘sons of God’ after Jesus, Jews believed that they would receive no more Jewish prophets until the Messianic Age.

Yet Rabbi Mukhayriq, who according to Prophet Muhammed was: مُخَيْرِيقُ سَابِقُ يَهُودَ Mukhayriq the foremost among the Jews. (Ibn Shabbah, Ta’reekh Al-Madinah 467) or in another narration, said: مُخَيْرِيقٌ خَيْرُ يَهُودَ Mukhayriq was the best of the Jews. (Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat Al-Kubra 1535); died in the battle of Uhud in support of Prophet Muhammad.

Many Muslims think that Rabbi Mukhayriq must have converted to Islam if he was willing to risk his life to protect Prophet Muhammad, but Ibn Ishaq, the earliest biographer of Prophet Muhammad, specifically says about Rabbi Mukhayriq: “He recognized the Apostle of Allah by his description, and by what he found in his scholarship. However, he was accustomed to his own religion, and this held him back (from converting), until he died in the battle of Uhud.”

Some Muslims deny that Rabbi Mukhayriq died fighting alongside Prophet Muhammad because they misunderstand a comment of Prophet Muhammad about another group of Jewish fighters who came to the same battle of Uhud from a tribe who were allies of the Al-Khazraj Arab tribe.

The Prophet did not want Jews to transgress their Sabbath just because of a political alliance. He thought the people of the book should be faithful to their religion just as the Muslims should be faithful to Islam. According to a chapter on the Battle of Uhad in a book written in the 1970’s (The Sealed Nector by Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Page 157-158),

“The Prophet divided his army into three battalions. The third was a combined force of Al-Ansari and Khazraj fighters. Passing along the Al-Wada‘ mountain trail Muhammad saw a well-armed battalion along side the main body of the army. The Prophet inquired who they were and was told they were (a clan of) Jewish allies of the Al-Khazraj.

“They told him that they wanted to contribute to the fight against the idolaters”. ‘Have they embraced Islam?’ the Prophet asked. “No,” they said. So he refused admitting them into the army saying that he would not seek the assistance of disbeliever Jews (for transgressing the Sabbath for political reasons) even against idolaters.”

If indeed, their help was rejected simply because they were uninterested in abandoning their own religious loyalty to the covenant made with the One God at Mount Sinai, then they did the right thing in withdrawing before the battle. As the Qur’an states: “Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

The Jewish battalion simply believed in the Qur’anic religious principle lana dinuna walaka dinuka, for us is our religion and for you is your religion (Qur’an 109:6)

Over the millennia since Sinai, the Jewish people have cultivated a loving covenantal partnership relationship with God through many deeds of ritual and moral holiness, acts of loving-kindness, and the ongoing study of Torah, the accumulated record of our relationship with God.

Israel is not the (only) chosen people. While Israel can’t adore any other God, God can and does redeem other nations. “Are not Israelites like Ethiopians to me? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Crete and the Aramaeans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7)

Israel is a chosen people because at Mount Sinai the Jewish people chose to be chosen, thus becoming the first to be a chosen people and a holy community. Other people who have individually chosen to be part of a kind and loving religious community also have the Divine dwelling in the midst of their community.

But in the Jewish case, the covenant at Sinai involved not individuals but an entire people. The principle that God made a covenant with a whole people, and not just with those who are good and faithful believers, helps us understand an important verse in the Qur’an.

Most Jews would be very surprised to learn that there is a verse in the Qur’an which says that at Sinai, before Allah give the Torah to the Children of Israel, Allah made a covenant with all of the Children of Israel, raising the mountain (Sinai) above the whole Jewish people and saying: “We took a covenant from you when We lifted the Mount (Sinai) over your heads saying, ‘Hold firmly to what We have given you (the Torah) and remember what is in it.’” (2:63).

According to this Qur’an verse the Jewish nation’s future fate stood under the shadow of Mount Sinai: accept this covenant or this mountain top will be your tombstone. This explains the miracle of all of Israel choosing to agree to the covenant with the One God of Abraham.

This Jewish experience at Sinai is also referred to in the Oral Torah. When God offered all the newly freed slaves the Torah, a party of them hesitated. Most of our rabbis could not conceive that the Jewish people could hesitate when offered the opportunity to commit themselves to God.

But the Torah itself faithfully records the frequent mood swings and ambivalences felt by both small and large parts of the Jewish people. God’s proposal of a covenant partnership was the most awesome offer the recently freed slaves had ever received.

If many people in the Western World today have a problem making a long term marriage commitment, what about people who had been slaves in Egypt only three months earlier.

Some of the Jewish People said yes right away. Others thought about it for many hours and then decided to make a commitment. but a few remained undecided. A small minority were afraid to commit. So, would the fear of making a commitment by an ambivalent few, keep everyone else from accepting God’s proposal of an endless commitment and partnership?

Fortunately, according to Rabbi Avdimi, God came to the rescue: “The Holy One, blessed be He, lowered the [uprooted] mountain over them like a bucket, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; but if not, there will be your grave.” (Talmud Shabbat 88a)

Sometimes, the ardor of the proposal makes all the difference in the other person’s answer and this explains the miracle of all Israel agreeing to the covenant at Sinai; probably the only time in more than 3,500 years of Jewish history, that all Jews agreed on something. Yet, as a good parent loves all his or her children, Allah loves all mankind.

And as the Qur’an states, and then repeats: “Verily, those who believe, and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does righteous deeds; shall have their reward with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 2:62 & 5:69)

And the Qur’an goes even further, proclaiming that religious pluralism is the will of Allah. “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God’s plan is) to test (each group of) you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on judgment day the truth of the matters which you dispute.” (Qur’an 5:48)

And: “O mankind, We created you from male and female, and made you peoples and tribes, that you may know (respect) one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and (well) Acquainted.” (Quran 49:13)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 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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