There are positive Jewish views of the Qur’an

Born 150 years ago, Ignác/Ignaz [Yitzhaq Yehuda] Goldziher (June 22, 1850 – November 13, 1921), was a Hungarian scholar of Islam who is considered to be one of the three founders of modern Islamic studies in Europe. Goldziher was educated at the universities of Budapest, Berlin, Leipzig and Leiden and became a privatdozent at Budapest in 1872. In the next year, under the auspices of the Hungarian government, he began a journey through Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

In the personal journal he kept, he wrote: “In those weeks, I truly entered into the spirit of Islam to such an extent that ultimately I became inwardly convinced that I myself was a Muslim, and judiciously discovered that this was the only religion which, even in its doctrinal and official formulation, can satisfy philosophic minds. My ideal was to elevate [Orthodox] Judaism to a similar rational level.”

His admiration for Islam did not prevent Goldziher from remaining a devout Jew all his life. Indeed, Goldziher was appointed secretary of the Jewish community in Budapest. This bond to Judaism and the Jewish people was unusual for a man seeking an academic career in Europe in the 19th century. Goldziher saw Islam through the eyes of someone who refused to assimilate into contemporary Christian European culture. He had little admiration for European Christianity.

Goldziher was denied a teaching post at Budapest University until he was 44. As a Christian convert he would easily have received a university appointment as a full professor — but he always refused to convert.

In his book Orientalism, Edward Said attacks western academic scholars of Islam for failing to pay sufficient attention to scholars like Goldziher. Of five major German-speaking orientalists, Said remarked that four of them, despite their profound erudition, were hostile to Islam. Goldziher’s work was the one exception for he appreciated “Islam’s tolerance towards other religions.”

Dr. Yitzhaq Yehuda Goldziher was a 19th century example of a Jew like Rabbi Mukhayriq, who was one of many Jews who supported Prophet Muhammad when he first arrived in Medina. Rabbi Mukhayriq, was a learned leader of the Tha’labah, a tribe made up of Jews from the land of Israel who had settled in Medina several centuries earlier, plus a large number of local Arabs who had converted to Judaism over the ensuing generations.

According to Ibn Ishaq, the first major biographer of Prophet Muhammad, Rabbi Mukhayriq: “,,,announced to his congregation that he would fight to protect Prophet Muhammad from his many enemies among the pagan Arabs of Makkah; stating that if he died in the battle [as he did] he wanted his estate to go to Prophet Muhammed to be distributed as charity.”

When Prophet Muhammed, who was himself seriously injured in that battle, was informed about the death of Rabbi Mukhayriq, he said about the Rabbi:

مُخَيْرِيقُ سَابِقُ يَهُودَ

“Mukhayriq is foremost among the Jews.” (Ibn Shabbah, Ta’rîkh Al-Madinah 467)

In another narration, Prophet Muhammad said:

مُخَيْرِيقٌ خَيْرُ يَهُودَ

“Mukhayriq was the best of the Jews.” (Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat Al-Kubra 1535)

Ibn Ishaq also wrote that Rabbi Mukhayriq: “Recognized the Apostle of Allah by his description, and by what he found in his scholarship. However, [since] he was accustomed to his own religion, this held him back [from converting to Islam].”

But why did most Jews of Medina not support Prophet Muhammad who was just as unitarian as Moses? I think they 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 had turned him into a Son of God; and not only worshipped him but persecuted Jews who would not worship Jesus. Thank God that did not happen.

Also, the biblical Prophet Micah asserts that even in the peace time of the Messianic Age: “All peoples will walk, each in the [special] name of its God.” (Micah 4:5)

So the coming period of worldwide peace and religious harmony will not be the result of conformity to one universal religion adhered to by all, but will result from the harmony of many different monotheistic religions, each following its own view of the one God, respecting other monotheistic religions’ views— even while disagreeing with them.

As the Qur’an says: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had wanted, He could 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 do virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah (for judgement), so He will let you know [about] that in which you differed.” (5:48)

The real problem was that Greek philosophy had so influenced early Christianity that the tribal pluralism of Prophet Micah was lost and replaced by a zero-sum game concept. The resulting goal became not to modestly try to harmonize various religious perspectives regarding the one and only God, but to self-righteously exaggerate religious differences, well beyond any reasonable understanding of the two sides.

This Greek influence even entered into Jewish thinking; and when the Qur’an revealed different perspectives of Biblical events, some Jews denied and disbelieved, refusing to accommodate the Qur’an verses, although they knew that the rabbis also offered different glosses of Biblical texts.

In a zero-sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradicted one another, one or both of them must be false. They cannot both be true.

Yet if one believes that there is only one God, who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture.

One of the most wonderful aspects of the Qur’an is that it is the only book of revelation that states within itself, a theory of prophethood which includes the validity of other religions and other prophets. “Say: we believe in God and in what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob and The [12] Tribes, and in [the Books] given to Moses, Jesus and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to [the One] God do we [monotheists] bend our will.” (Qur’an 3:84)

Thus the Qur’an states that there have always been (since the days of Adam) people inspired by Allah who urged their community to avoid destruction by turning away from their corrupt and unjust ways and turning to the One God who created all humans.

But of the 25 prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an, only four (Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad) revealed books of sacred scripture that are the bases for three major religions that still flourish today, more than 1.000 years after their revelation. This combination of creating a very long lasting religious community plus validating previous messengers and their sacred scriptures; is unique to Prophet Muhammad as the Khatam an-Nabiyyin, the Seal of the Prophets.

“Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good [deeds] will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

And “Indeed, the believers, Jews, Sabians and Christians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good [deeds], there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 5:69)

They all will have their reward with their Lord because: “Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but righteousness is [within] one who believes in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, the prophets; and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah [charity]; fulfilling their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Quran 2:177)

Most of this article appeared June 1, 2020 in the Islamic publication Al-Jumuah.

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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