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Comparing conceptions of religions

BS”D

 

It has been some time – as usual – and I am as always terrible sorry for it.

 

The war is on break for now, people are back to normal, or at least as close you can come to normal here.

The studies are going on as usual as well, stressing me and leaving me with a lot of pressure, as well as a son soon to be born, BE”H. But I am grateful, very grateful.

I have been thinking about the comparative study, and how we teach about religions. One thing that has struck me is that we often teach about the religions for themselves, that is, instead of comparing some interrelated fields, we study them unrelated to each other. Take for example philosophy in religion (or religious philosophy). When we study Jewish philosophy, most often it is only rarely related to Islamic or Christian philosophy, but in order to get a good understanding of Jewish philosophy we need to relate it to other players in the field. Maimonides, for example, is influenced by a number of Islamic philosophers (as well as Greek), and has himself influenced both Christian and Muslim philosophers.

Another example is the role of central figures and how to understand them. Often we are told that Muhammad is to Islam what Moses is to Judaism, but is that really so? I have more and more thought about this issue, that we need to have the comparative element integrated into the general study and teaching of religions, in order both to understand the religions in and of themselves, as well as in their relation to other religions. I will try to give a small example on how this can be done in the following:

 

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three religions based on one or more central figures. In all of them one person stands out of centrality compared to other central figures. In Judaism Moses is of great central importance, in Christianity Jesus has the same centrality, and in Islam it is Muhammad. What is interesting in this respect, is not so much how these characters are viewed and understand in the other respective religions – though that certainly also is of importance – but how they are central in comparison of other central figures in the respective religions, as well as how they are understood in comparison to how the central characters are understood in the other religions.

Moses, for example, is far from the only central character in Judaism, we can easily mention both Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, David, and Salomon as examples on other very central characters. And that is just in the Bible itself, would we expand our focus to other Jewish materials, then we would find Hillel and Shamai, Yehudah haNasi, Maimonides, and so on. And furthermore, though I believe that Moses is the most central character in Judaism (except God Himself, of course), I am not sure of how strong his centrality is compared to the centrality of the other characters. For example, where Moses is very central and of crucial importance when it comes to the implementation of law in Judaism, he doesn’t hold the same level of importance when it comes to the establishment of Israel as a people. There Abraham might be of greater centrality. Or Moses compared to David in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. And so on. Yet, I still believe that Moses overall is of greater central importance than other characters are.

We see the same with Christianity, where Jesus is far from the only central figure. Take characters like Paul, Peter, and John. Or the various church fathers. Or even Luther. In both these cases, though there would be no Judaism without Moses, and no Christianity without Jesus, their central importance is to some degree matched by other characters, though the two religions might have existed in some form or another without them.

It seems to me that Muhammad enjoys a much greater centrality and importance when it comes to Islam. Though references are abundant to other characters in the Qur’ân, Muhammad is still the receiver of the Qur’ân, and in the early times he was the leading figure when spreading Islam, at least till his death. In this context we don’t see Moses or Jesus spreading their respective religions, which can be part of the reason that Muhammad is more central in Islam than the two in their respective religions. Of course there are other important characters, the four righteous caliphs, the founders of the legal schools, the philosophers, and so on, but put notice on how Muhammad is in focus, both when it comes to the role as the receiver of the Qur’ân as well as when it comes to the Hadith-literature. In comparison, the Mishnah is not ascribed to Moses, and the letters in the New Testament is not ascribed to Jesus. Where Moses mostly is of crucial central importance to the written Torah in Judaism, and Jesus plays somewhat the same role in Christianity, neither of them are ascribed to the “oral tradition” (the Mishnah/Tosefta in Judaism, and the letters in Christianity), while this is the case for Muhammad in Islam.

 

This is one aspect. Another aspect is how we view them, how we describe them. This can teach us a lot about how the followers of the respective religions understand their religion and their role as followers of the religion in question. I am not going to too much into how followers are relating to them, just use the most used examples.

Moses is – by Jews – described as “teacher”, Moshe Rabenu. This is very crucial for the Jewish conception. He teaches us and we learn from him. He has a role not unlike the rabbis, as the chief rabbi, and this – I believe – has left its mark on Jews, who generally have been very occupied by the focus on study.

Jesus, on the other hand, is described as savior. This is something we often see in how Christians describe themselves, as being saved.

Again we see Islam somewhat differ here. Muslims see themselves as submitted to God, not so much describing Muhammad as God’s submitter, but rather in describing themselves as such. Where Jews today are named after a tribe, Yehudah – earlier named as a people, Israel – Christians are named as followers of Jesus, the Christ, and Muslims are named after their relation to God, as people submitted to God. But Muslims are neither taking their name after a role perceived in relation to Muhammad, nor after a role described him. Nevertheless, in one incident we do see Muslim self-perceiving based on Muhammad, namely as the final group of believers. Muhammad is the final prophet, therefore those who are following him are the right group of believers. In Judaism as such Moses wasn’t the last prophet to come, and it wasn’t unperceivable that other religions would form, though they wouldn’t have importance for Israel as such, and in Christianity we also see the spokesman, the holy spirit, would come after Jesus.

 

All this more or less describes an idea I’m working on, which could be interesting to follow in the future. I don’t know if anything will come of this or what it will end with, but if any of you out there have any suggestions, then please share with me, I would be very interested in hearing about what you have on mind.

I also know that there are many conceptions and thoughts, which could have been explained better, for example when I talk about strength of centrality and the like, but again, this is mostly sharing thoughts.

 

Looking forward to hear from you.

 

All the best and Hanukkah Sameah!

Studying Shari’a and Shari’a Courts in light of Legal Pluralism

BS”D

 

Time for a new article. This time I’m relating to Ido Shahar’s “Legal Pluralism and the Study of Shari’a Courts”, brought in Islamic Law and Society, 15, 2008. But before that I feel the need to define what is meant by “Legal Pluralism”, as this might seem as an unfamiliar term for many.

In general a state is supposed to be run by legal monism, that is, one single law. A state alone should be able to decide on and govern laws and rules, in order that the state might “be able to penetrate society, regulate social relationships, extract resources and appropriate or use these resources in determined ways”.[1] This is rarely the case though, even in states which we believe to be governed by one law alone. Often various legal practices, custom, or other legal bodies, influence and decides, and this is legal pluralism, that is, when law in a state is decided by more than one legal body or principle.

As is clear, Israel is one such case. We don’t only have one law, the secular Israeli law (whether influenced by Jewish religious law or not, that is, Mishpat Ivrit, Hebrew law), but several bodies of law, Israeli law, Jewish religious law, Islamic law, and so on. So when I am talking about legal pluralism, I am talking about a plurality of laws within one state.

So far so good.

Mainly the scope in the use of Legal Pluralism as a theoretical tool, has been from the legal institution, that is, we relate to how the legal bodies, various courts and so on, relate to each other and litigants, but Shahar chooses to approach it from the litigant rather than the legal bodies. That is, he attempts to relate to what makes the litigants choose one court instead of another, what their needs and motives are, in order to discover the relations between the legal bodies.

In his article, “Legal Pluralism and the Study of Shari’a Courts”, he attempts to point out these relations by focusing on how Shari’a courts relate to other non-state courts under Islamic rule, the mazalim courts, and other legal functionaries, the hajibs, as well as civil courts. Besides that he also describes the relations between qadis of the various four Sunni schools of law (madhahib).

Let us look on the three examples:

The Mazalim courts existed from the time of the later Umayyad until the Ottoman abolished them, and covered many of the same cases as the Shari’a courts, which and to what extent depending on the changing power balance between the two courts, having the proponents of the mazalim courts fully aware that they encroached on cases covered by the Shari’a courts, even going so far as to establish that in cases of “Rights of Man” (criminal cases, huquq adami) litigants were allowed to attend Shari’a courts, but in cases involving violations of “the Rights of God” (huquq Allah) only mazalim courts were allowed. We even hear about examples where people stopped using the Shari’a court totally, as related by al-Kindi in Egypt, and only attended the mazalim courts.

The hajibs were based on Mongol Yasa code of law, and though it was described in less positive terms than the mazalim, it still witness of a power struggle between two legal bodies. In case of the hajibs people were forcibly moved from Shari’a courts and taken to the hajibs, rather than going to the hajibs freely and of own initiative.

In case of the civil courts Shahar explains how the Ottomans gradually removed more and more jurisdictions, until only cases of personal status were left for them, showing a transition from tradition religious courts to modernity, not happening at once and thus leaving periods where the courts overlapped each other jurisdictions.

Based on this we see that religious authority was not always the deciding factor, leaving cases of legal pluralism encouraging to competition over prestige and litigants, both by being attentive to the needs of the litigants, as well as forcing them to choose the legal body of preference, which again forced the Shari’a courts to relate to this and thus forcing them to make certain changes in practice.

In case of the relation between the four Sunni schools of law, we see another interesting example, namely that of cooperation between the qadis, so that the leniency of one school would be followed rather than the stringency of another school, such as the annulment of marriages when the husband did not provide for his wife, which is not allowed according to the Shafi’i school, then directing the Shafi’i qadi to rule according to the Hanafi or Hanbali schools, which do allow this, such as was the example in 17th and 18th century Syria and Palestine.

 

I find this interesting, the relation between legal bodies and within legal bodies, and how this changes practices and conceptions. I don’t think it has changed much today, the needs of the litigants being the most important part, and in cases where one legal body is too inflexible, and alternative bodies can be found, litigants will find these alternatives, whether these bodies are acknowledged by the state or not.

Here I can relate to the practice of ṣulḥa in Israel (and other places), which is private settlements between two groups in conflict, brokered by a neutral third group chosen by the two groups for exactly this. This is a non-state body, which is used by Arabs in Israel to solve conflicts, but the interesting thing is that the Israeli criminal courts are relating to these agreements, either in their rulings or in consideration whether a person should be in custody or not. More about that later.


[1] Yüksel Sezgin, ”A Political Account for Legal Confrontation Between State and Society: The Case of Israeli Legal Pluralism”. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, volume 32, p. 198, 2004.

Shari’a in Israel

BS”D

First, let me send thoughts to all the victims from Sandy, whether in the States or elsewhere. If any of you readers felt the impact, then let me express my relief that you are able to read this post by now. I sincerely hope that you weren’t affected too much of the storm.

 

Back to the title.

Yes, you read correct.

Israel is – or at least claims to be – a secular Jewish democracy, but yet is religious law part of Israeli law. One might not be so surprised that Jewish religious law, Halachah, is influencial on Israeli secular law, Mishpat Ivrit, but some might wonder why and how Shari’a can be influential on Israeli law.

There’s a good explanation. Israeli law is to a certain extent based on the model of Ottoman law, which was taken over by the British during the mandate period, and now in Israeli law. To be more precisely, based on Ottoman law Israel recognize a number of religious groups, which are governing themselves according to their respective religious law, in matters related to family law and privacy law. It is clearest expressed in matters of marriage and divorce, but also guardianship is falling under the religious courts, but whereas Israeli secular law rarely relates to the two first, the latter is more a focus of controversy, as well as cases involving the question of equality (as is the case for most conflicts between Israeli secular law and religious law in Israel). More about that in another post.

Israel has eight regional Shari’a courts, in Bir al-Sabi’, Jerusalem, Yaffo, Taybe, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Hayfa, Nazareth, and Acco, as well as the Shari’a court of Appeals, sitting in Jerusalem, which works as the court of appeals (hence the name). The Shari’a Court of Appeals plays a crucial role in the development of Shari’ah in Israel, since it is this institution which takes the most confrontations with the Israeli legal system, as well as being able to overrule rulings from the regional courts. It is headed by Qadi Ahmad Natour, and besides him has Qadi Farouk Zoebi and Qadi Zachi Madlaj, all elected in 1994 on permanent status (first time that happened).

The Shari’a Court of Appeal is challenged from three sides; the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice, on matters where Israeli secular law and the rulings of the Shari’ah Court of Appeals conflict, from the Islamic Movement(s), which questions and challenges the authority of the Court, and from feminist groups, challenging the lack of sensibility to the status of women and human rights.

 

There are a number of scholars dealing with the subject, mostly Israelis (Jewish and Palestinians), but three of them stand out in particular, Aharon Layish, who have written indepth on a number of subject connected to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) within Israel (both in case of the Shari’a courts and conflicts between the courts and the litigants) and historically. Moussa Abu Ramadan, who has written very indepth on the rulings and practices of the Shari’ah courts, particularly the Shari’ah Court of Appeals. And Alisa Rubin Peled, who has written about the debates and attitudes to the Shari’ah courts.

It is these three that I will base most of my study of Israeli Shari’ah upon, but still relate to others as well.

 

This post is a little introduction to my study of Shari’ah in Israel, and I hope there will come many more posts. From what I have read so far it really seems like an interesting subject, not only because it’s about Isreal and Shari’ah (in context of each other), but also because it raises some interesting thoughts on the relation between religion and a/the secular society it exists within. What is the role of religion in a modern society? Where should the borders go, if there should be any at all? Is it possible to implement religious law into secular law? And so on.

 

Enough for this time. Take care out there.

The Chosen People

BS”D

Michael Kay, at “Thinking through my fingers” (visit his blog, he is seriously an amazing writer and brilliant thinker), wrote a post where he reflected on the Jews as a “Chosen people.” I found it highly inspiring and felt the need to let it out on him, so I wrote the following as a response (which I also posted there):

Hi Michael

And thank you for a wonderful and inspiring post:o)

I have some reflections to share, I hope it is okay with you. Unfortunately I’m not at home, so I can’t give precise sources every time I will be using them, but I will get back to it, bli neder.

I really do love R. Sacks and his attempts to connect our modern way of thinking and Judaism. In that sense I believe that he follows the tradition of many other historical Jewish thinkers, though whether he is on the same level always can be discussed (I don’t believe that he is on the level of a thinker like haRaMBaM, Z”L, nor do I expect him or any other today to be).

I believe though that the answer is found in each of the three categories, though mostly in the two latter ones. But we do find examples on the Jewish nation being something exemplar to the other nations in some Jewish traditions, one place is the Babylonian Talmud, tractate ‘Avodah Zarah, where God more or less makes a fool out of the nations, leveling Israel above them. That is one of the few examples on this though, the more dominant approach being the Biblical approach in Deuteronomy 7:7-8, quoted by you, expressing that Israel “were the fewest of all peoples.” If number or greatness of a people would be the deciding factor, then Ishma’el would be more likely, as we see that God will bless him “and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 17:20). In this respect is it also interesting to consider the midrash on the giving of the Torah, how God had to hold the mountain over the Israelites, threatening them by destruction, since the sole reason for their existence is Torah (something also repeated in the Quran).

The Jews are chosen, not to be superior, at least not in might, that one seemed to go more to Ishma’el and ‘Esaw, but to be a light to the nations, and as a student of the Torah. You mention that “there is the problem of the Jew who abandons their responsibility and assimilates into the surrounding culture,” and that is – I believe – also reflected in the Torah, in the story of Dathan and Aviram, refusing to “go up” to Moses, and instead were swallowed by the earth. I read in this the consequence of assimilating, refusing to “go up to Moses,” that is, staying “loyal to the Torah.”

Our role as a “light unto the nations,” is not fulfilled by being perfect observant, but by spreading (Jewish) values to the world, not by hiding in a ghetto, but by taking part in the world, while still staying true to the Torah. By relating to our brit with God do we show God’s intentions for all of us, that is, not necessarily by not eating milk and meat together, nor by not mixing materials in our clothes, wearing tzitzit (that us more for our own sake) and so on, that is mostly in order that the world may realize that we are Jews, and by that seeing our – hopefully – examples as related to God. And then there are some of our commandments which carry in them a deep ethical understanding, where the sole fulfilling of the commandment is giving a light, such as the already mentioned not eating meat and milk together. Think on Rashbam’s commentary to the verses dealing with not cooking the kid in its mother’s milk, and how he points out that it is deeply unethical to kill something and then enjoying it with its life source. The giving of tzedaqah, as contrasted to charity, is showing that caring for those in worse situations than ours is a plight, a duty, not something we are doing to feel good about ourselves. And so on. And the more we interfere with the world and get out there, the stronger this will stand. It is obvious that by hiding in the ghetto we, first and foremost, won’t experience much challenge (just doing what everybody else is doing), and, secondly, we are actually being “lights for the world,” not merely “lights.”

And it certainly speaks miles about God, that He would want to choose the Jews as His people. History have shown again and again that we have failed. Even today we find it hard to show our gratitude to finally having a country of our own (as well as others also, we shouldn’t forget that), but yet He stayed loyal through it all, even when we – in general – did not. Sure, He punishes, but more than that does He forgive, care, and love.

I think that we should have a double understanding of the choseness, not only talking about a chosen people, but also of chosen individuals. Abraham, more than anyone, allowed him to act in pure trust, going against the ways of his people. Abraham, though bringing a household with him, acted as an individual, for that he was rewarded, but he also became the example for each and every one of us.

Finally, I think that much of the bad reactions we get from Christians and Muslims, when they react to us being “chosen,” is projections. Both Christianity and Islam work with an understanding of choseness themselves, such as only having Christians being saved, as well as the Islamic Ummah being the perfect Ummah. They transfer understandings of these concept to how they believe Jews view the idea of being “chosen.” And maybe, probably, many Jews actually are viewing the notion of being Jewish and “chosen” the same way. But all in all that is something that is far from the Jewish thought (and not the thoughts of Jews).

Again, thanks for an inspiring post:o)

All the best

The Internet: The Tool of the Devil (?)

BS”D

 

Believe it or not, but I often hear that the internet is only for the bad, that it’s from the devil, that it doesn’t create any good things, both from Christians, Muslims and Jews alike.

I’m not of that believe, I believe – surprisingly, I know – that the internet is the tool of humans, something created by and for humans. How we use it define us as sentient beings, either for something good, something constructive, for waste, for bad purpose or something else.

I mainly see the good in the internet. Yes, many hateful people out there use the internet to spread their hatred, sadly. But the internet can also establish connections, which would never have been established otherwise. The internet is the tool of communication and networking, and without it I don’t believe we quite would be where we are. Many thing has happened during the last twenty years, some of it because of the internet.

This Israeli commercial shows how I view the internet, how I prefer to use the internet, establishing connection that I otherwise would never have established. For me the internet is of the good:

The Hebrew text in the end states:

In actual life this is not yet possible

But on the internet relations like this is created every day

 

A third way(?)

BS”D

I know that I’ve said earlier that I’m not going to focus much on politics, and I’m intending to keep those words, though only to a certain extent.

The thing is, I live in Israel, in what is popular known as a “settlement”. If you wonder why I’m putting settlement in quotation-marks, then it’s because that the “settlement” I’m living in is basically a city (Ma’aleh Adumim), with more than 35,000 citizens, among them some few Palestinians (yes, you read correctly).

Anyway, I don’t live here based on any kind of ideological motives, especially not that the Palestinians don’t have any rights to live here. I simply live here, because that’s where I’m ended up (more or less, my wife lived here when we got married, and our budget is not to finding an apartment big enough for four people and a dog in Jerusalem or anywhere near Jerusalem – not that I would’ve moved would we have the money, maybe, maybe not).

That said, what bothers me to a certain extent is how Jews and Palestinians in general are being portrayed in relation to each other. Either Jews as evil imperial or colonial settlers, harassing and beating up innocent Palestinians, or Palestinians as fanatic religious extremist with the sole purpose in life being to blow themselves up in the middle of Jewish civilians. Or simply that we hate each other and want each other dead.

There is some truth in the above description, but it is far from the general picture you’ll get when living here. Sure, there are people who want to do everything they can in order to make you believe that, but they are not telling the whole truth, namely that most people here just live, and live together. It has to be added though that it’s not always harmonious or that we hang out together, but it’s not the opposite either.

Anyway, in order to challenge the stereotype presentation of Israel/Palestine, I will once in a while write posts on incidents, groups, organisations, something else, which shows that Jews and Palestinians actually can and in some extent also do live and share lives together. Not only in Tel Aviv or Haifa, but also on the West Bank (or as it is known in Hebrew, Shomron and Yehudah). As far as possible these representations will be nonpolitical, in that sense that it will deal more with the general lives than political discussions. And, if possible, I will invite friends to write posts about their lives here, Jews as well as Palestinians.

The first two incidents I will present is dealing with the Gush Etzion bloc, which is just south-west of Jerusalem, next to Bethlehem. The first is a video presenting the initiative for dialog between Palestinians and settlers in the area (the settlers belonging to R. Froman’s, shelita, group, a group of religious settlers struggling for promoting mutual understanding, acceptance and coexistence.

The other a recent happening, in connection to Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, just being celebrated, where Jews and Palestinians planted trees together.

But before we get to it then a short word to all of you guys out there only focusing on the negative in the other, and being pessimistic. Yes, Jews can be evil, Palestinians as well, no group of humans has patent on that one. And maybe we don’t see Jews and Palestinians flocking on the street to jump into each other’s arms, wanting peace, but we won’t get peace, if we don’t believe in it.

Enough talk, here you are:

Settlers for Peace on Youtube

Jews, Palestinians Plant Trees Together in West Bank

Note: All opinions expressed in the material is not necessarily the same as my opinions. Nor am I attempting to promote any political opinion, or saying who is right or wrong.

Why Comparative Religion?

BS”D

 

I have recently been asked by various people why I chose to study something called “Comparative Religion,” what it is good for, and what it really means? All good questions, which I haven’t spend all that much time to consider as I probably should, at least not all of them.

Actually I had the discussion on why studying this with one of my professors not so long ago, but I think the what should be answered before the why.

What it is, is actually answered by the term itself, religion(s) compared to itself or other religions. It can for example be what I did with the comparison of textual differences in the Mishnah in Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi respectively, the comparison of practices, accounts of various themes, rules or lack of them, between various religions (or maybe within a certain religion itself, for example, are we talking about one or two Creation accounts in Judaism? And how do it/they come out when analysed?). It can be done in many ways, by textual analysis, focus on the phenomenological meaning of various actions, or a third way. What have so far been favored by me, is analyzing texts on the same theme, finding elements they have in common or where they are differing, and then attempting to figure out what the focus and purpose are with the accounts, as I for example did in the comparison of the Midrashic and Talmudic account of Bar Kamza and Bar Kamzora (or Kamza and Bar Kamza), where we both had a common theme, but two different focuses in the accounts (the reaction of the king vs. the discussion of the Rabbis).

 

That leads to the question “why?” Well, personal interests most of all. I am a religious being, and I am interested both in my own and other similar religions. And even though I have reactions from people, who are bend on telling me that I’m stupid in finding and/or even sympathizing with a religion like Islam, well, it doesn’t change my interest in what I consider the closest “brother” of religions to my own. And here’s both the issue of being a religious Jews, as well as being an academic student of Comparative Religion. And yes, I am aware that there are anti-Jewish elements in Islam, though not as much as easily can be found in Christianity, and that there are Muslims who would love it no more than dancing in my blood, so are there Christians who would love just that (not only because I am a Jew, I can be rather annoying at times). But there are also Muslims who are standing up for me, calling me brother, considering me part of their own, though differing in how we understand our religions, because they are Muslims, because they let the best in their religion define their way of understanding themselves, the world they are living in, and their role and responsibility in living in this world. And so are there Christians.

But there is more to it than that. I’m curious. I love people, I love how we are living, I love cultures, I love conceptions, and studying these are also part of my study. Actually that might be the biggest part of my study, understanding why we believe what we do, and how we implement it in our lives. For example, when we enter a synagogue today, we would expect that the daily prayer always has been part of the synagogue, but looking back we find out that that wasn’t always so, though always being a place of gathering of learning, the prayer wasn’t always part of it. That knowledge is given by comparing synagogues and accounts on their use between times, for example taking the excavations of synagogues from before Common Era, the first centuries after, and later findings, as well as contemporary accounts, and compare them to each other. Or it can be the comparison of the lives of women in Islam and Judaism in Israel, in Europe, in America or somewhere else. Or just women in Judaism in Israel and the States, and see what they have of similarities and differences in how they understand their religion, their lives, what they focus on and so on, that is, take a more sociological approach, but it is still comparing religions, just not so much what they are saying, but how they are lived and how they influence us.

 

Okay, fine, that all sounds wonderful and amazing, at least for geeks (or nerds, I’m not sure whether I’m the one or the other), but what can it all be used for?

Well, I think I have at least pointed at the answer. Let’s face it, whether we are religious or not, religion plays a HUGE part of our lives, no matter when in history or where in the world. Even in Denmark, where I am born and raised, and which are considered one of the least religious countries in the world, religion plays a huge role. True, not in the same manner as in for example Israel, but it takes a big impact in people’s thoughts, when we discuss issues connected to society and how we manage our society. Just take the Muhammad-drawings, the role of the Muslim in the Danish society and other related issues. Religion does play a role.

In studying religions, whether it is – as I do – comparing them, their practices, what they are saying, how they are influencing us, or study sociology of religion, anthropology of religion, history of religion, or whatever, we are getting a better understanding of our world, how it is understood, and how people are relating to each other. My goal, at least for now, is to get a better understanding of which role law plays in Judaism and Islam, both on its own in the two religions, as well as in comparison, how this influence their followers relation to the societies they are living in, and how it influences the secular law of the society and the other way around. Of course, I have to be focused, so my focus will be on the role of the women in Israel, which – true – haven’t been very evident yet, but it is only my first semester, and I have to get the basis first of, but already in the next semester will I be writing a comparative study of the woman’s role in learning according to two Islamic schools of law (probably either al-Maliki or al-Hanafi and ash-Shafi’i, or ash-Shafi’i and Jafari, to see the differences of approach in Sunni and Shi’a-Islam). It is my hope that I can move the focus to more recent studies in my two last semesters, but let’s see. Another part of my focus will help me to satisfy another curious thoughts of mine, namely Islam in Israel, which is studies way too little, compared to the number of Muslims living here, and the whole fuss of religion here. So – in case I continue after my Graduate studies – this might be something I will focus on later on.

 

Anyway, for those of you who asked, and who I couldn’t answer so clear right away, here’s my answer. Or my answers. Hope that gave some more clarity on what I’m doing and why.

 

All the best

What is greater?

This is for both the Muslims and Jews, who coincidentally should read my blog.. Something I’ve been wondering and – admittedly – a bit frustrated about, is our apparent need to focus on the differences between us, instead of focusing on what we have in common.. During my education, I’ve been study some Islam studies, mostly Fiqh and comparative religion, and – as I see it – there’s too much we have in common, that we should have this dissociation to each other.. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily talking about that we should sit down and sing songs of brotherhood together:o), but at least put the hostilities away, at least sometimes..

Sure, we know that we don’t agree when it comes to Israel and Palestine.. Jews feel that Israel is the victim, and Muslims that Palestinians are the victims, and we can have that discussion until the end of days, and we might even find some agreements, but we’ll probably never be agreeing totally.. And this is politics, and though I know that politics takes a great share in both our religions, that isn’t all there is.. Let’s take our rules and laws, as an example.. Maybe they show our agreements and similitude the most.. If we look at what we call our system of religious law, we already find the first similarity: Halachah and Shari’âh.. Both mean the “walking” or “direction”.. Halachah from the root “HaLaCh”, to walk, and Shari’âh which means “way” or “path”, originally the path to the waterhole.. Both implying that this is the “walk” that G-D wants the believers to follow.. And so both Halachah and Shari’âh is seen as the “way to walk”.. And we could even continue by finding examples on how we understand our laws and teachings, and how we extract rules and deeper understanding, but that’s not what I want to focus on, though it actually is a very interesting phenomenon, but maybe another time..

No, I really want to focus on hate, forgiveness and Avraham Avinu (A”S), our father Avraham (or Ibrâhîm, as the Arabic version of his name is).. Both in the Jewish and Islamic tradition (even in Arabic pre-Islamic traditions) Avraham is seen as the common forefather of both the Jews and the Arabs, The Jews via Yitzḥaq (Arabic: Isḥâq) and Ya’aqov (Arabic: Ya’qûb), A”S, and the Arabs via Ismâ’îl (Hebrew: Yishma’el) and Qeturah.. So, as most of us probably are aware of, we’re distant cousins, but both origin from this great forefather, who – if any – was, and still is, an exponent of true hosting, and is such portrayed both in the Jewish and the Islamic tradition..

This was a man, for who for all human played a great factor.. And among Jews, he is seen as the first Jew, which many Muslims have reacted to, since Jews come from Ya’aqov, and so we have yet another discussions;o).. But nevertheless, Avraham Avinu (A”S) is understood as the first Jews, the reason being, that he was the first that dared discuss with G-D.. Not because he wanted to elevate himself against G-D, but out of love for humankind.. The example I’m thinking about, is when G-D send His three angels to S’dom and G’morah, to raze the two cities because of the sin of the people in the cities.. The scene takes place in Bereshit (Genesis) 18,20-33:

And HaShem said, “Since the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and since their sin has become very grave, I will descend now and see, whether according to her cry, which has come to Me, they have done; [I will wreak] destruction [upon them]; and if not, I will know.” And the men turned from there and went to Sodom, and Abraham was still standing before HaShem. And Abraham approached and said, “Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city; will You even destroy and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous men who are in its midst? Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?” And HaShem said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous men within the city, I will forgive the entire place for their sake.” And Abraham answered and said, “Behold now I have commenced to speak to HaShem, although I am dust and ashes. Perhaps the fifty righteous men will be missing five. Will You destroy the entire city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy if I find there forty-five.” And he continued further to speak to Him, and he said, “Perhaps forty will be found there.” And He said, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.” And he said, “Please, let HaShem’s wrath not be kindled, and I will speak. Perhaps thirty will be found there.” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” And he said, “Behold now I have desired to speak to HaShem, perhaps twenty will be found there.” And He said, “I will not destroy for the sake of the twenty.” And he said, “Please, let HaShem’s wrath not be kindled, and I will speak yet this time, perhaps ten will be found there.” And He said, “I will not destroy for the sake of the ten.” And HaShem departed when He finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

This is very interesting.. Why did Avraham Avinu (A”S) begin this discussion with G-D? Surely, G-D would know whether there were 50, 40, 30 or even ten righteous among the people of S’dom and G’morrah, so how dared Avraham Avinu (A”S) discuss with G-D, shouldn’t he just think, that G-D knows better than him, and accept whatever faith would befall the people of the two cities? That would be one conclusion, but not to Avraham Avinu (A”S) who loved the creation of G-D, and asked that mercy for the few, would be weighed higher than punishment on the many.. Love above wrath.. And such he risked the Wrath of HaShem, to plead for love for the few to be stronger than anything else.. And G-D accepted this, though the citizens of the two cities, later on showed that not even that did they want, but that’s another (though related) story..

Being a “ben Avraham”, I try to let my father be the guiding example for me.. And when he pleaded even with G-D, to let the few righteous be the focus among the many that you might feel hostility to, then shouldn’t I do the same? Shouldn’t all of us do that? Instead of focusing on those, among the other, who we hate and view as wicked, shouldn’t we instead follow the example of our common forefather, who truly was righteous, and instead focus on the righteous among each other? I think that if we do this, the number of wicked people among us, will surely fall, and – BE”H – even disappear..

May we all see peace in our days, BE”H