Muslim Jewish Dialogue and joint study

On a Muslim website (Islambrowser) I came across a short article about a verse with the name of Muhammad in Prophet Solomon’s Song of Songs (chapter 5, verse 16) one of the 39 books in the Hebrew Bible. The writer, whose native language is not English, writes as follows:

“If this word does not meaning Muhammad, what is the real meaning of the words in one or two words in English translation…I think only Jews Rabbi who expert in language have the true skill of understanding on this bible words (hopefully he will speak the truth) because the bible it self was an English translation instead of written in the Prophet Jesus mother tongue (some said Hebrew some said native Aramaic ) but for sure not English.”

I accept his invitation to explain the meaning of the word delightful in Song of Songs 5:16 חִכּוֹ מַמְתַקִּים וְכֻלּוֹ מַחֲמַדִּים זֶה דוֹדִי וְזֶה רֵעִי בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָ͏ִם׃ His mouth is delicious and all of him is delightful (precious). Such is my beloved. Such is my darling, O maidens of Jerusalem!

I am a retired Reform Rabbi who became interested in Islam when I studied it at a university (UCLA) 60+ years ago. I have continued my study of Islam off and on since that time. The largest denomination of non-Orthodox Jews in the US and Canada where 6 million Jews live, is the Reform movement.

Reform Judaism began in Germany 200 years ago as a “back to the basics” modernizing movement. I think of myself as a Reform Rabbi who submits (Islam) to the covenant and its commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. As a Reform Rabbi I believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we Jews received at Mount Sinai.

This is an important lesson that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century.

Now to the word מַחֲמַדִּים in the verse in Song of Songs (5:16) that contains Muhammad’s name. First, the writer is correct in thinking that the word is a noun, but the word is also plural. In the singular the word means precious, delightful or desirable one: and that is a description that every Muslim would agree describes Prophet Muhammad; as well as other Prophet Messengers sent by Allah.

So the meaning of Song of Songs verse 5:16 is: “Precious Prophets are beloved friends of God.” Since the word used includes the name of Prophet Muhammad it is reasonable to conclude that Prophet Muhammad is in the line of God’s Precious Prophet Messengers like Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

The Song of Songs, like much of Rumi’s poetry, is all about our love of God, and God’s love for those who love God: “ For Love the earthly body soared to heaven, the mountain took to dancing and to skipping. When Love approached Mount Sinai’s soul, O lover; Sinai was drunk and “Moses fell-swoon.” (From “Rumi: Spiritual Verses, The First Book of the Masnavi-ye Ma’navi,” London: Penguin, 2006).

And in the commentary midrash Aggadat Shir ha-Shirim we find a statement, attributed to the great Rabbi Akiva: “Had Torah not been given (at Mount Sinai), the world could have been conducted (directed) by the Song of Songs (Divine Love)”

But there are other verbs and nouns in Hebrew that have a similar meaning to the one in this verse, so why did Prophet Solomon use this word? Perhaps it was to draw Jews, Christians and Muslims closer to each other by encouraging them all to study the Song of Songs together and learn that love is more important than ultimate truth (which is only known by God who only reveals it on Judgement Day)

As it is written in the Qur’an 3;84 “Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and what was given to Musa and Isa and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.”

We do not even need to limit our joint study to the Song of Songs. After all the Qur’an 17:55 also states, “And your Lord best knows those who are in the heavens and the earth; and certainly We have made some of the prophets to excel others, and to David We gave a scripture”. The Zabur/Psalms would also be a good book for joint study by Imans, Ministers, Priests and Rabbis. And we do not need to limit joint study of Song of Songs and Psalms to the three Abrahamic religions.

The Qur’an 2:62 also states, “Those who believe (Muslims), those who profess Judaism, Christians and Sabaeans: whoever believes in God and the last day (of Judgment) and does good, righteous deeds, surely their reward is with their Lord, and they shall have no fear, nor will they grieve”.

Islamic traditional commentaries (Tafsir) have suggested that the Sabaeans could be many different religious groups among them Zoroastrians and Hindus. Only God knows.

And when we study together we always need to abide by Muhammad’s teaching, “Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion is, however, one.” (Muslim, book #030, Hadith #5836) All prophets have the same father, who is the One God whose inspiration gives birth to their prophethood. However, each prophet has a different mother i.e. the nation and people as well as the period and age that the prophet speaks to.

Thus, prophets are brothers in faithfulness to the One God, but each Divinely inspired message differs because it must be appropriate for their motherland, their mother tongue, their own people and the historical circumstances of the prophet’s lifetime. If we all can live up to the ideal that religious pluralism as the will of God. we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah:

“In that (Messianic Age) 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)

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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