Learning flexibility from Muhammad

This week’s Torah portion states: “Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all their property, and the souls they had made in Haran; and they left to go to the land of Canaan.” Genesis 12:5

Since no human can make a soul, this verse must refer to the people that Abram and Sarai influenced to join them in their religious quest. (Rashi and Genesis Rabbah 39:14)

The Zohar says that all these converts formed a large caravan whose merits protected Abram and Sarai as they traveled from city to city.

Ever since that time, the merits of converts to Judaism have added to the strength of the Jewish people and thus helped protect us on our long journey.

Unlike Buddhism, Christianity and Islam; Judaism, (like Zoroastrianism) does not have much of a missionary impulse.

That is why there are so few Jews and Zoroastrians in the world. Mormons, who very actively seek converts, already outnumber Jews and Zoroastrians combined, even though Mormons have been in existence for less than 200 years, compared to more than 3,000 years for Jews and Zoroastrians

Judaism lacks a strong missionary impulse because Judaism is a pluralistic religion. Judaism teaches that the Jewish way is right for Jews and those non-Jews who want to join the Jewish community. However, becoming or being Jewish does not automatically get anyone into heaven.

Sadly, in the centuries following the Crusades, the majority of Orthodox rabbis felt forced to turn away from the tradition of Abraham and Sarah to encourage non-Jews to become Jewish.

Some rabbis even began to discourage converts by making rigid demands on potential converts. They should learn something from Muhammad and the Muslim tradition which takes a flexible approach to people who want to join the Islamic community.

The tribe of Thaqeef from the town of Taif, remained hostile to Islam for many years. When they finally decided to become Muslims they requested of Muhammad that they should not be made to destroy their idols with their own hands, and further requested that they should be exempted from prayer.

Prophet Muhammad said to them: “As for destroying your idols with your hands, we will not ask you to do that.”

Obviously, the people would see that those idols were useless, as they could not prevent their own destruction, regardless of who did the destruction. If the Thaqeef tribe felt it hard for them to destroy objects they used to worship, the task could be carried out by others.

The Thaqeef tribe also wanted to place other conditions on their conversion including that “they should not be required to fight in jihad, pay one tenth of their money in zakah (Tzdakah), or be required to offer prayers.”

The Prophet was very flexible and accepted the first two conditions, but as for prayers he said: “A religion that does not require its followers to pray is of little benefit.”

Muhammad told his companions: “If these people accept Islam, they will in time fight for it, and they will pay their required charity.”

It should be noted that Zakah (Tzadakah) is one of the five pillars of Islam, yet Muhammad was so flexible that he did not require it of them in order to facilitate their conversion to Islam.

This policy of very flexible standards for conversion is one reason why Muslims outnumber Jews by 200 to 1.

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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