Most Jews think of Jesus as a Rabbi/Teacher who was a mixture of a “believe in the power of prayer” Hassidic like Rabbi, and a “don’t make religion to hard” Reform like Rabbi. Some Jews also think of Jesus as an authentic prophet, and a few Jews even think of Jesus as a pre-Messianic or Mahdi figure, who tried to liberate and redeem the Jewish People, but unfortunately was unsuccessful.
Prophet Muhammad was a messenger for all nations and not just for Arabs or Muslims: “We have not sent you but as an unequalled mercy for all the worlds” (Anbiya 21:107). I think of myself as a Reform Rabbi who is an Islamic Jew. Actually I am an Islamic Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi.
As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Hanif Jew, and I submit to the covenant and its commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish law and tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop.
I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we received at Mount Sinai.
These are lessons that Prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. Although most Jews today are no longer Orthodox Jews, if the Jews of Prophet Muhammad’s time, had followed these teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Reform Judaism would have started 1,400 years ago. (In the U.K. Reform Jews are called Liberal Jews. Reform Jews in the U.K.are what we in North America call Conservative Jews.)
I believe that Muhammad was a Prophet of Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Jews of his day; although he was 1,200 years ahead of his time. During the six centuries between the birth of Prophet Jesus and the arrival of Prophet Muhammad in Yathrib (Medina), almost all Jews became Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Rabbis added many extra prohibitions to Jewish law and everyone became increasingly strict in the observance of the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut (dietary laws).
Orthodox Rabbis did not follow the example of Prophet Muhammad as narrated by his wife ‘Aisha: Whenever Allah’s Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was sinful to do so, he would not approach it. ‘Aisha also said: Whenever Allah’s Apostle ordered the Muslims to do something, he used to order them to do deeds which were easy for them to do.
Although the Torah of Moses prohibits adding to the commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1) over the centuries Orthodox Rabbis added many restrictions to the laws of prohibited activities under the theory of building a protective fence around the Torah’s laws. Also, whenever Orthodox Rabbis were in doubt if an animal had been slaughtered correctly according to Jewish law, or if one could eat a new species of bird, it was ruled prohibited.
They were not guided by Prophet Muhammad’s principle as narrated by Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas: The Prophet said, “The most sinful person among the Muslims is the one who asked about something which had not been prohibited, but was prohibited because of his asking.”
The Torah also teaches:”When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, do not come near her for seven days; she is taboo for her menstrual period ” (Leviticus 15:19). Orthodox Rabbis extended the period of no intimate contact by several extra days and demanded no physical contact at all during that period (again making a fence around the Torah’s laws). Prophet Muhammad supported the Torah’s ban on sex during a woman’s period, but opposed the additional restrictions enacted by Orthodox Rabbi. As Thabit narrated it from Anas: “Among the Jews, when a woman menstruated, they did not dine with her, nor did they live with them in their houses (they slept in separate beds).
The Companions asked the Apostle, and Allah, the Exalted revealed: ‘They ask you about menstruation; say it is a pollution, so keep away from woman during menstruation and do not approach until they are clean again.’ (Qur’an 2: 222). The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do everything except intercourse’. Jews heard that and said: This man does not want to leave anything we do without opposing us in it.” Reform Rabbis advise to a Jewish couple today would be much closer to that of Muhammad than what an Orthodox Rabbi today would say.
Unlike Orthodox Rabbis, Reform Rabbis accept the doctrine of nullification, which teaches that one verse in scripture can nullify another, and that rulings can be changed due to changed circumstances. Muhammad provides an excellent example of this principle in the following account. The Prophet originally told women not to visit graveyards, but toward the end of his life, he said to them: “I had told you not to visit graves; now I am telling you to visit them.” The reason was that Arabian women used to wail at graves. The Prophet wanted this practice to be stopped. Therefore, he banned women from visiting graves to start with. After sometime, when Muslim women were better aware of how Islam wants them to behave in different situations, he allowed them such visits.
In fact, the Prophet encourages visiting graveyards because such a visit reminds the visitor of his or her own death and the fact that they would have to stand in front of God when their actions are reckoned to determine their reward or punishment. Scholars like Ibn Qudamah, of the Hanbali school of law, make it clear that since this is the purpose of visiting graveyards, both men and women need such visits.
Another important teaching of the Qur’an for people all over the world today is that God chose not to create human beings as one nation and bestowed upon them free will to believe or not to believe.
As it is written in the Qur’an [5.48] “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If God had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to God, so He will let you know (after Judgment Day) that in which you differed.”
This is a wonderful further development of the teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah (4:5) that in the end of days—the Messianic Age—“All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever.”
A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God and believes that God has sent thousands of different prophets to the many peoples of the world. As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Muhammad was a Prophet. I believe the Qur’an is as true for Muslims as the Torah is true for Jews.
Indeed, I love the Hadith also narrated by Abu Huraira that says, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. God’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in God, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever was revealed to you.’ ”
Following Prophet Muhammad’s teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur’an. I do respect the Qur’an very much as a kindred revelation, first given to a kindred people, in a kindred language. In fact, the Arab people, the Arabic language and the Qur’an’s theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth.
Of course, more than 80% of Muslims in the world today are not of Arab decent. But Arabic is the sacred language of all Muslims, as Hebrew is the sacred language of all Jews, and the tradition that Arabs and Jews are cousins is widely accepted.
This makes the present conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis especially tragic. It is very important to realize that the conflict is a political one and not a religious one. There can be no religious conflict between religions like Judaism and Islam because neither of them declare that their scriptures are the only ones from God.
The strong support that the Qur’an gives to religious pluralism is a lesson that is sorely needed by religious fundamentalists of all religions in the world today. It should also be a decisive guide to political and political-religious leaders to avoid maximum claims of righteousness and instead seek to find ways to share with, and care for, other nations, peoples and religions.
Then the Messianic prediction of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-25)