Islam and Judaism: From Darkness to Light

Following the 15 March 2019 mass murder of 51 Muslims in two Christchurch NZ mosques, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised over $900,000 for the Christchurch Foundation, to establish the Abrahamic fund for Christchurch Muslims.

The act of generosity was inspired after Muslims rallied around the Jewish community when an armed shooter opened fire in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people in October 2018.

For members of the Muslim and Jewish faith, the ceremony was much more than a transfer of money from one faith to another. It was an opportunity to explore the other’s religion, as Jewish and Muslim leaders took a tour of each religion’s respective places of worship. The reciprocal visits saw Muslims and Jews realize how many similarities they shared.

After their respective visits, both groups joined Christchurch’s mayor who said, ”The world will remember this response long after they remember the person who committed this atrocity.”

This 21st century interaction of two geographicly far distant Jewish and Muslim communities, is an re-enactment of an ongoing spiritual commitment of both Muslims and Jews to the ideal: Light can even come out of Darkness. As the Passover Haggadah states: a journey “from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption”.

And as the Qur’an states: “And We certainly sent Moses with Our signs, [saying], “Bring out your people from darknesses into the light, and remind them of the days of Allah.” Indeed in that are signs for everyone patient and grateful.” (14:5)

The Light that comes out of Darkness is also embodied in a song by Lenard Cohen and in the following ancient narrative, that was transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew throughout many centuries, and finally written down in several versions in the mid 19th century.

Two brothers who had inherited land from their father, divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. One brother’s land was mostly on an upper hillside; the other brother’s land was mostly in a valley on the other side of the hill.

Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married. One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term draught that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where grain did not grow and all the springs dried up.

The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought. “My brother has a wife and four children to feed and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”

So that night the younger brother went to his silo, gathered a large bundle of wheat, and climbed the hill that separated the two farms and over to his brother’s farm. He left his wheat in his brother’s silo, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought. “In my old age my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother will probably have no children. He should at least sell more grain from the fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.”

So that night, the older brother also gathered a large bundle of wheat, climbed the hill, left it in his brother’s silo, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

The next morning, the younger brother was surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged. “I must not have taken as much wheat as I thought,” he said. “Tonight I’ll be sure to take more.”

That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts. So after night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.

The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake – I’ll take two large sacks.”

The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart through the fields and up the hill to his brother’s barn.

At the top of the hill, with only a little light from a new moon, each brother noticed a figure in the distance. When the two brothers recognized the form of the other brother and the load he was pulling behind, they both realized what had happened.

Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.

Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca.

I believe they are both right and God willing, someday everyone will see both cities and their sanctuaries as a pair of lungs; that are central to humanity’s spiritual inspiration by, and connection to, the One God of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

As the Qur’an states: “’Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearest to being God-fearing.” (5:8)

May the inspiration of this ancient tale, transmitted orally for so many centuries in both Arabic and Hebrew, help Christians, Jews and Muslims overcome the many dark, hate filled actions occurring in today’s world.

For the Qur’an states: Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend…” (41:34)

And as the Bible states: “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 earth. 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 great Canadian Jewish folksinger Lenard Cohen wrote a song based on a 13th century Zohar dialogue between 2 rabbis who are both idealists; but one sees the oil lamp half empty, and the other sees it half full.

It does not make any difference to the lamp if it is half full or half empty; but it makes all the difference in the world to what a human can see.

Quantum physics has taught us that we change what we look at simply by looking at it.

Think carefully and decide which way you want to see life’s light in the coming new year.

Rabbi Isaac said, “The primordial light created by God was hidden away until the world will be fragrant, and in total harmony. Until that world arrives, God’s light is stored and hidden away.”

Rabbi Judah responded: “If the light were completely hidden, the world would not exist for even a moment! Rather, it is hidden and sown like a seed that sprouts seeds and fruits. Thereby the world is sustained. Every single day, a ray of that light shines into the world, keeping everything alive. With that ray [of light and hope] God feeds the whole world. (Zohar 1: 31b– 32a)

The birds they sing, at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say.
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.

Yes, the wars, they will be fought again
The holy dove she will be caught again
Bought, and sold, and bought again
The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs.
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed.
The marriage spent
Yeah, the widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more,
with that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned,
they’ve summoned up a thundercloud
They’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts;
you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. (Lenard Cohen)

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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