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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!

The Quran and the Biblical Texts

BS”D

Warning: This post might be somewhat offending to some Muslims, since it deals in part with the Quran outside the Islamic traditional understanding of it and its message.

As I explained in my last post I did four assignments, and one of them was about how the Quran views and understands the Biblical scriptures. I am not going into detail or post the whole assignments here, that would be a little too much, but there were some aspects which I found rather interesting.

First off, I based the assignments on the findings of Gabriel Said Reynolds (which can be found in his “The Qur’ân and its Biblical Subtext”), who argues that the Quran, as far is it being studied by academics and on its own, should be studied in light of the Biblical texts, which – for him – gives more sense than reading it in light of tafsirs (Islamic commentaries), since that would mean that one would study the Quran through an afterthought, rather than relating to what might be the basis for the Quranic thought, which according to Reynolds are the Biblical texts, and I understand why he thinks so.

Though Reynolds’ book in itself is very interesting I won’t deal so much with its details here – though I might in another post – but more relate to his overall concept.

The second scholar I related to is Mondher Sfar and his “In Search of the Original Koran: The True Story of the Revealed Text” (translated by Emilia Lanier). This book is most likely to offend quite a lot of Muslim minds, since it basically attempts to challenge the Islamic traditional understanding of the Quran as revealed text and how it is revealed. Nevertheless I found it being somewhat in line with Reynolds’ book, and since I did want to challenge the normal understanding of how the Quran viewed the Biblical texts, I related to these two books.

Besides that I related to a etymological inquiry into certain terms, which normally are considered to be related to the Biblical texts, such as Tawrat (Torah, the Five Books of Moses), Zabur (the Psalms of David), and the Injil (the Gospel, relating more to the revelation Jesus got according to the Quran, rather than the four gospels and the New Testament as a whole). I also delved into the usage of suhuf, meaning scrolls or parchment, as well as kitab, meaning book. The two last terms seemed to be rather general, so I did not spend so much time on them. Here I related heavily on Jastrow’s dictionary, as well as the six translations of Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Sahih International, Muhsin Khan, and Dr. Ghali (all as found at Quran.com – I can highly recommend the website).

What is interesting is not so much that the Quran views itself as being from the same source (God), or that carries the same significance – that it is sent in order to guide in the right direction, as a law from God. What is interesting is that it hints several places that the details of this divine law is not the same as it is presented in the Tawrat, Injil and in the Quran itself. It does hint at the Tawrat being specifically for the Jews, the Injil specifically for the Christians, and the Quran specifically for the Arabs/Muslims. We see it particularly in the fifth Surah (chapter), where Muhammad deals with the question of law and judgment.

What I was especially surprised about was the zabur, which traditionally has been interpreted and understood as being the Psalms of David. This is understandable, considering that David is connected with a revelation called “zabur,” but the term is also used in other contexts. In the following I will quote what I wrote in the assignment:

Zabûr (زَبُور )

Zabur, which root (ز ب ر ) appears 11 times in the Quran, in the forms zubar (زُبَر – 18:96), zubur (زُبُر – 3:184, 16:44, 23:53, 26:196, 35:25, 54:43, 54:52), and zabur (زَبُور – 4:163, 17:55, 21:105), is normally understood as the Psalms given to David, though it is not clear whether it is the collections of psalms as they appear in the Bible (תהילים ).

In Lane’s dictionary he relates to Ibn Barî saying that the ”zibur” (الزبر ) means ”the Book of the Law revealed to Moses and the Gospel and the Kur-an [together]” (Lane, ”Arabic-English Lexicon”, on زبر, pp. 1211). I do not see the sense in relating this root to any other than the one hinted at by Ibn Barî, though he does not mention David in this relation, which is related to the zabûr in the Quran.

21:105 vs. 54:52 – 21:105 speaks of it being told that the righteous will inherit the land, while 54:52 speaks about recording deeds of the criminals. It could be understood from this, that the Zabur is something holding records of people deeds (?). But is it all people, and if so, all in the same “zabur”, or is it only the criminals as it might appear from 54:52 (in this case relate to Pickthall’s translation of zubur to “books of dark prophecies”).

When we relate to the use of the term, we see that it is used with different though related meanings. From a number of verses do we learn that zabur is something sent to more messengers (Quran 3:184, 16:44, 26:196, 35:25 – all expressed in the plural). There does seem to be a contrast between zabur, used in singular, and other messages sent to prophets, where the messages in general is sent to a number of messengers, but the zabur, with the definite article, is related to David only (Quran 4:163, 17:55). These are two of the only times zabur in singular definite form is mentioned in the Quran, the third being in relation to a statement about the righteous and their destiny as being the inheritants of “the land” (Quran 21:105), a statement which reflects Isaiah 60:21 – a possible connection – which could tell of an understanding which covers more than only the Psalms of the Bible. This could hint at the real understanding subscribed to the term, zabûr, to cover those part of the Bible (the TaNaCh part), which includes the Prophetical books as well as the Scriptures (the “NaCh” part, if not all, then at least in the overall meaning). This would also seem to confirm Reynolds’ approach, confirming the link and connection to the Biblical texts. If we relate to the Jewish traditional organization of the Bible, the prophets are gathered under one, “Nevi’im”, and it would seem that this could be the relation between the zabûr and the Biblical texts, except though in the case of the linking of the zabûr to David. Why zabûr is connected, if at all, to the Psalms though these are not normally considered prophetical by the Jewish tradition, can be related to how the Christian tradition views them, indeed as being prophetical, and considering how often the Psalms are connected to being prophecies about Jesus, in some way or another, it is no wonder if the Quran would view the Psalms as being part of the Divine revelations.

Based on this I believe that it would be correct to only understand zabûr as the Book of Psalms in the two cases when it is prescribed to David, if we should understand it in this relation at all, while in any other case, when the Quran talks about az-zubur and az-zabûr (in 21:105) as covering the Bible, except the Torah. It would also seem weird that the Quran did not have any concept of the rest of the books in the Bible, if we only understand zabûr either in context of the Book of Psalms or as covering all Scriptures in general, an understanding I believe we rather should find in the usage of kitâb.”

And with that I will stop here. Please comment and ask if there should be any questions.

All the best

Samaw’el and his arguments for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad

BS”D

Time for the next part of Samaw’el’s arguments against the Jews. In the last part we saw how he attempted to argue for the existence of abrogation both in the Jewish Bible and in the Jewish tradition, leaving it possible that the whole Bible itself has been abrogated for the Qur’ân.

In this post we will see how he attempts to argue for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad, and how the transmission of the two is stronger than that of Moses.

The next premise is that as far a person is reasonable he will not refuse to believe a prophet, whose teachings is generally acknowledges, and then believe in another, so far that he hasn’t seen either of them.

 

If a Jew would be asked, Samaw’el argues, about whether he has seen Moses and witnessed the miracles performed by him, the Jew has to admit that that is not the case. The question to follow will be how the Jew then know about the prophet hood of Moses something the Jew most likely will explain is known from the transmission from father to son and so on. This transmission in Arabic is called ‘tawâtur.

 

Samaw’el then points out that such transmission also goes for Jesus and Muḥammad, so if the question is only about transmission, then one might believe in Jesus and Muḥammad as well, and not only Moses.

To this the Jew can answer that “the testimony of my father about the prophethood of Moses is reason for my affirmation of his prophethood.” But why would the father of the Jew be right in this and without criticism, Samaw’el asks. As well as the Jew can point to his father, who is teaching their traditions and transmissions, so can the gentiles, infidels as they are described by Samaw’el, who are teaching what is considered false belief by the Jews, and this – he continues – is not necessarily based on truth, but rather out of loyalty to ones community and traditions, and the resistance to leave the community and one’s people. If the Jew really holds his fathers to be correct and the unbelievers in error, then he needs to prove his claim, since the focus now changes from being following a religion or faith out of mere tradition, to be a matter of claim of truth.

Maybe the Jew will claim that his fathers are on a higher level that the fathers of other peoples in matter of knowledge and reliability, but that would oblige the Jews to prove that. And if he would claim this, Samaw’el maintains, he would be in error since it is obvious that other peoples have produced  more than the Jews could even dream about, not to talk about that the Jews are not even mentioned among the other people. Especially compared with the Muslims the Jews fade away, considering all the numerous works, which the Muslims have produced in any one science thinkable.

So far as the Jews admit that their fathers are on level with the fathers of other people, then they are only left with the transmission about Moses, and if that is the case they also have to accept the transmission of Jesus and Muḥammad.

 

Samaw’el’s next attempt is then to convince the Jews about Jesus’ prophethood. He does so by relating to a messianic verse in the Bible, Bereshit 49:10, which states that the “scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes…” It is agreed and understood among Jews, that this verse indeed relates to the Messiah. Samaw’el attempts to coin this verse with Jesus, by pointing out – he believes – that the Jews had a kingdom until the advent of Jesus, after which the Romans ruled the Jews and Jerusalem, leading to the dispersal of the Jews. Based on this the Jews should acknowledge that Jesus was the one they were waiting for.

He then introduces the next part, staying focused on Jesus, asking what the Jews are saying about him. The response is in the negative, he explains that Jesus was the son of Joseph by fornication, that he learned the Name of God and with its help forced his will on many things. Samaw’el then asks if it isn’t the case that Moses was taught the Divine Name by God, which was composed by 42 letters, and by this Name Moses parted the sea and performed miracles. This, he claims, they can’t deny, and since that is so, since both Moses and Jesus performed miracles by the use of God’s Names, why do the Jews reject Jesus while accepting Moses? Of course the Jews have an answer to that, namely that whereas Moses learned the Name by divination, receiving it through prophecy, Jesus learned the Names from the walls in the Temple. Samaw’el retaliates by asking that since one who is not selected by God can take advantage of His Names in order to make miracles, why then do the Jews trust that Moses indeed was selected by God, to which the Jews, again, will answer that he received the Names from God Himself. And Samaw’el wanted to get to here, since then he could ask how they knew that that was so, the answer being that it was by chain of transmission to their ancestors.

He doesn’t stop there, asking the question why they accept the prophethood of Moses. The answer, according to Samaw’el, will be based on the miracles Moses performed. The question is then whether they have seen those miracles, to which they of course have to answer in the negative, which isn’t neither a way to authenticate the prophets, Samaw’el explains, since if we should establish the verification of a prophet’s prophethood on miracles, then they would have to be maintained even after the death of the prophet, for each generation to see. So the miracles themselves are not a proof, rather the transmission – again – is what establish the authority, and both Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are equals in this respect. The conclusion from this, he explains, is that the transmission of evidence for Moses is weaker than that of Jesus and Muhammad, since in case of Muhammad and Jesus, both have a chain of transmission, while their followers’ believe in Moses is only based on the texts they believe in, not in his chain of transmission, which is only found among the Jews.

Then he puts a short note on the Quran, stating that its miraculous character is evident for all with “a taste of eloquence.” It is interesting to see here, how he uses a non-rational argument, while attempting to prove his points by reason.

He does feel though, that he needs to reflect a little more on the chain of transmission. What if the Jews should state that since all the nations, or at least both Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are attesting to the prophethood of Moses, then this would show a strong chain of transmission, stronger than that of Jesus and Muhammad? To this does he would need to ask whether the Jews would say that the consensus of the nations on this matter is correct, and as far as the Jews would say yes, he would ask them how they would respond, when he points out that the nations also has a consensus on the Jews being in error. If they then would deny the consensus of the nations, then he would say that they also have to do that in the former case, and only being left with the weak transmission of their own small community, being the smallest in number, and therefore the weakest of the transmissions.

Based on this, he argues, Jews have to accept that the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad is true.

 

No News are Good News

BS”H

Or something like that. Okay, sorry, I have been terrible quiet lately. The excuses are many, but it doesn’t chance the quiet from my side, something I hope to change within the next coming days. Maybe it’s because I’ve been too busy, maybe I haven’t felt that I had things to share, or maybe I just didn’t feel like writing much. I think it’s a combination, but I’m really not sure.

Anyway, some news. I got my first assignment back, on Ibrahim as an Early Monotheist, which gave me an A (yeah!), and recommendations for improvements, such as explaining why the differences I found are there. I might attempt to incorporate that, but I still wanted to share the done assignment with you, which you can find on the right side on the main page, in the Box-widget. Yes, that’s another new thing, where you from now on will be able to find the various articles I might write, as well as my done assignments, as soon as they are available.

What else is new? Well, I found out what I’m going to focus on in the polemics-class (Battle over the Bible), namely Modern Jewish-Muslim polemics over the Bible. At least that’s the idea. I hope that that will give me the chance for some insights in a world, which normally isn’t being introduced to many, both in a historic and more recent context. For example am I planning on writing a review on an article about the mufassir (Muslim interpreter of the Quran), Ibn Biqâ’î, who used the Bible in his tafsir (interpretation of the Quran), and reactions to that, as well as the four Muslim approaches to the Bible. Hope that will interest some of you.

That’s it for now I think. Hope to get back soon, BE”H.

Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms

BS”D

 

Considering finding the comparison of the evolution of the Jewish maḍhab, I think there are some things that need to be in place, before we can begin the comparison. First off, one of the reasons the various maḍâhib appeared was the internal split as well as the geographical distance between the centers. People became more focused on their local center than on the overall center. When do we see the same in Judaism? Another thing which needs to be in place, is the acknowledgment of the same basic sources. When talking about Islam the split in the legal sources is the Sunnah and the Imams, where the Shi’as don’t acknowledge the Sunni compilations of Hadith, so the Sunnis don’t acknowledge the Shi’a ditto as well as the status of the Imams. Within the Sunni maḍâhib the basic sources where agreed upon, as they were, I believe, in the case of the Shi’a maḍâhib.

So we have two levels of comparison here. One is in the schism of disagreement on basic sources, that is, the sources considered holy and thus basic for further understanding of Allah’s will, the other the schisms within the major movements, where it is a question more about different principles in the interpretation of these sources, than the sources themselves.

When I think of examples on the first schism in Judaism, I find many and from various periods of time. During the Biblical times the obvious example is that of the Samarians and the Judeans. During the time of the Second Temple there are the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes and the other Jewish groups (in regards to the status of the Temple as well as the priesthood of the Essenes), and later on between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites. Today we might even talk about the schism between the Orthodox on the one hand and the Reform on the other (with the Conservative movement somewhere in between). What is worthwhile to notice here is that we are talking about schisms, which emphasis the struggle on who are the right ones to define what “true Judaism” is, that is, where do we put the limits. That is also the case in the Islamic schism between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. Of course, which I dare say is obvious, it doesn’t mean that the two parts in each schism, whether Jewish or Muslim, denies the other side’s right to leave an imprint on the religion, as well as the case can be that sometimes the one part denies the other side’s right, while the other side acknowledge the right of the first side.

The schisms which I believe cannot be placed within this category of schisms, let’s call it the Schism of Who is Right, are those of the Ashkenazim and Sfaradim, and that of the Talmuds Yerushalmi and Bavli, simply because we have two sides, in both cases, agreeing on the basic sources.

This leaves me though with maybe even more work. First off, which groups should I focus on? It is clear that I need to decide on whether I focus on the Rabbinical Jews, the Sadducees, the Reform, the Sunni, or the Shi’as, for the sake of focus. Second off, I also need to establish whether we can find examples on the maḍâhib in all cases. Maybe I find it among the, let’s say, Karaites, but it doesn’t mean that it exists in the case of the Sadducees. I need to define my approach, my focus, and be able to explain why I chose that focus.

 

Some recommended reading:

 

“Studies in Usul al-Fiqh,” Iyad Hilal, can be found at www.islamic-truth.fsnet.co.uk

“Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,” M. H. Kamali, can easily be found by search on Google.

“Hadith : Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World,” Jonathan A. C. Brown. Oneworld Publication, 2009.

“The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid,” edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,” Ignaz Goldziher (translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori). Princeton University Press, 1981.

“Halakha in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis,” Aharon Shemesh. University of California Press, 2009.

“The Talmud: A Selection,” Edited by Norman Solomon. Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.

“Who Owns Judaism? Public Religion and Private Faith in America and Israel,” edited by Eli Lederhendler. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy on Jewish Law,” Elliot N. Dorff. The Jewish Publication Society, 2007.

“An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law,” edited by N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, and A. M. Rabello. Oxford University Press, 1996.

“The Sages,” R. Ephraim Urbach. The Magnes Press, 1987.

“The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development,” R. Ephraim Urbach. Modan Ltd, 1996.

The Five Pillars of Judaism

BS”D

 

Amani over at “americanmuslimconvert” are writing on the five pillars of Islam, introducing us for the first of them, the Shahâdah, the confirmation of believe in Allah and His messenger, Muhammad, being expressed in the statement “Lâ ilâha ilâllâh, w’Muhammadan Rasûlullah” – “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah!”

I found it interesting, and I’m thinking that I’m going to follow his posts on the subject, but doing it with a twist, which I hope he can forgive me for. I am going to read and reflect on his posts, but at the same time I will try to find a Jewish answer to the pillars, that is, find how and where the same things are being expressed in Judaism, if at all. I think that it could be pretty interesting to see how my studies of Islam can be reflected in my studies of my own religion, and as such learn about them both, as well as doing a comparative study at the same time as well.

 

Anyway, the first pillar of Islam is, as stated already, the Shahâdah, the declaration of faith, and the most obvious answer in Judaism is the Shma’ or Qriat Shma’, which is so called by the first name in the declaration, which goes “Shma’ Yisrael, A-onay Eloqenu, A-onay Ehad!”[1] It is found in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4, introducing the first part of the actual Shma’, which consists of three parts, found in Devarim 6:4-9, commanding the Jew to love God of all his heart, his soul, and his heart, as well as keep the commandments in mind, teach them to his children, always talk and ponder on them, whether sitting at home or walking on the street, when he lays down in the evening and gets up in the morning, that he shall bind them as signs on his arm and between his eyes, write them on his doorposts and the city gates (the visitor in Jerusalem will see that there are cylinders at the entrances to the old city, those are what we call ‘Mezuzot,’ the words of the Torah, fulfilling this commandment).

The second part, which can be found in Devarim 11:13-21, talks about the rewards and consequences of keeping or not keeping the commandments, which is solely connected to the Land of Israel, making sure of good seasons and good times, so far as the Jews stays observant, or bad times, or even being expelled from the land, as far as they don’t.

The third and last part, found in BaMidbar (Numbers) 15:37-41, commands the Jews to wear the Tzitzit, the fringes, which is a sign for reminding the Jews about the commandments, as well as commanding the Jews to remember the exodus from Egypt.

 

The first part of the Shahâdah is called “Tawhîd,” the Unity of Allah, and that is found expressed in the first part of the Shma’ as well, in stating that God is One (Ehad). We see this expressed other places as well, for example in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so I would say that Muslims and Jews at least share the first part of the Shahâdah. The second part though is more tricky. On two levels even. First off, Jews don’t recognize Muhammad as their prophet. Most Jews probably don’t even acknowledge him as a prophet, while some would say that he most likely could have been a prophet, though only sent to the Arabs, not to the Jews, acknowledging the praiseworthy mission of spreading the Tawhîd. But it isn’t only in regard to the “lack” of acceptance of Muhammad, there isn’t an equal for Moshe Rabenu, A”S, to be found in the Torah, at least not expressed in statements like with the unity of God. There are many incidents though where his prophethood is stated and emphasized, making it rather clear that his prophethood is to be accepted. Only later does it become part of a list of clear doctrines to be accepted as part of Jewish faith, namely in Maimonides thirteen principles of faith, all being introduced with the statement “I believe with perfect faith that…” It is the seventh declaration, after declaring that all the words of the prophets were true, stating that the prophecy of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is true and that he is the “father” of the prophets, meaning the greatest of all the prophets, both those before and after.

So in conclusion I would believe that it’s possible to say that Muslims and Jews share some foundational similar expressions on God’s Unity, as well as reverence for those they consider the greatest prophet respectively, though there are some difference, the Jews not have a single expression, as is the case with the Muslims. On the other hand the Jews have a – I would dare to say – much longer and more detailed expression of faith than that of the Muslims.


[1] Please forgive me for not spelling these two expressions of His Name, but I am, after all, still a religious Jew, respecting my God. I am sure that if you really do need to see the two expressions spelled out, then there are lots of places to see that, just make a search on “Shma.”

Study Talmud in its Home!

BS”D

 

I began thinking about converting around eight years ago, reading all material that I could put my hands on, but of the central scriptures I only read the TaNaCh with commentaries. At least in the beginning. The Talmud was read through books about it, more than studying it itself, something I only began when I took the decision to go through with my conversion. Nevertheless, the Talmud, or Talmuds, have been part of my focus since, and it is a very interesting piece of literature, whether you’re religious or not (or even Jewish or not). It demands attention, awareness, background knowledge, reflection, and – interestingly – disagreement.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that you should disagree with or go against what is written in the Talmud, but you shouldn’t be satisfied with what you think is the conclusion either. The Talmud is studied and understood in a dialogue with it, something that is the hole basis for its coming into existence. The Talmud is, in fact, one long discussion, sometimes staying in focus, but for the most not, dealing with all kinds of things, suddenly popping up in the middle of the discussion, for then to return to the subject when the digression has been solved, if at all, for then to find a solution to whatever problem has been found, and not always was that possible.

I find it amusing and challenging to deal with these discussions. But something that always challenged me, at least till I moved to Israel, was the discussions that involved the authors surroundings. For a person living in Denmark, far to the north (at least compared to the ME), it doesn’t make much sense when the Sages talked about the “round of the rising sun” or when the moon is opposite to the sun, in order to establish times for when the night ends and the day begins, or the other way around. But that is what was relevant for them, something I only realized and really notices after I moved here. From where I live I can look east towards Jordan, so when the sun rise in the morning, I can literally see a ball of light on the sky growing and become more light, until the sun rises over the horizon, and at that special time of month, where the moon and the sun will stand opposite of each other, just before the sun sets and the moon begins to rise, I can actually see what the Rabbis saw, and get that better understanding of what they talked about. For me moving here, means that what was theoretic knowledge became real knowledge, what was another person’s experience suddenly became my own.

The same goes for the Bible, it is amazing to sit in places described in the Bible when reading about them, knowing that this is not just some weird story in a book from far away, but that I’m sitting right where it happened. The story becomes alive.

 

I guess this is the case for many scriptures, the Qur’ân as well, reading them where they were created. I can imagine that for the Muslims reading the Qur’ân on the Arabic Peninsula it will give much more sense and meaning to read about themes connected to that area, than it does for a Muslim reading about the same themes in the States. I would even go so far as to say that the serious student should study texts in the area where they were written, in order to get a better understanding and appreciation of them. Of course, I know, not all are able to do that, unfortunately, but should you get the chance and opportunity then do it. For me, to study the Bible and the Talmud here does all the difference, being in their home.

Written Scripture and Oral Tradition in Judaism and Islam – The Written Scriptures

BS”D

Some of the most obvious differences between the Chumash and the Quran is the language, style and organization. Where the Chumash is written in Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew more correct, the Quran is written in Arabic. Where the Chumash is more or less told as long story, presented chronically, with Deuteronomy somehow standing out from the four other books, the Quran seems to be a mix of random revelations, dealing with various themes. Where the Chumash is beginning from one end, with the creation of the world, and ending at the other, with the death of moses, the Quran is organized after the length of the chapters, the suwar, with the longest first and the shortest last, except the opening surah, surat al-Fatihah. We are not told which suwar are from Mecca or which are from Medina, though the general notion is that the short suwar are Meccan, while the longest are Medinian.

The Chumash seems to want to tell a story, where the Quran is more focused on explaining various conditions appearing during the life of Muhammad. True, there are parts which relates to earlier prophets, but the appearance of these parts seem to be provoked by either incidents needing them or questions about them. See for example when Muhammad reminds the Children of Israel of Allah’s former favors bestowed upon them (2:40 and 2:47), or relating to Abraham (2:124 and 6:161). The Quran is a constant dialogue involving its readers and reciters. The Chumash on the other hand relates a story, telling about what happened to the pre-Israelite world (in Genesis) and the Israelites themselves (Exodus and onwards). Of course, when the religious Jew is studying the Chumash, he – as much as the Israelites being told about – takes part in the incidents. He is not outside, but inside the Biblical account. He too was present when the Israelite received the Torah at Mount Sinai. But this is the traditional way of relation to and studying the Chumash, based on interpretations of it.

The relation to the languages of the two Scriptures is only explained in the case of the Quran. According to 12:2 the Quran was revealed in Arabic, in order that “you,” the Arab tribes, would understand it, and this is being expanded all through the Quran. The awareness that the Quran is being revealed in Arabic is very central, which can be seen from the many places this is being mentioned, whether when it is outright stated that the Quran is in a “clear Arabic language” in order to make it “easy” to understand(16:103, 19:97, 26:195, and 43:3). But that is not the whole purpose of the Quran being in Arabic, it is also in Arabic in order to be a warning ( That there are non-Arabs is also considered by the Quran (20:113 and 42:7) whether it is to warn the individual or the “Mother of Cities” (Mecca). There are other verses dealing with Arabic as the language of the Quran, but this is enough to show how central the awareness of the Quran being an Arabic revelation is. We don’t see the same focus on language in the Chumash, only relating the language in relation to the tower of Babylon, where it states that “all the nations were of one language,” and how God changes this in order to confuse them. The Hebrew language of the Chumash is not explained, except – maybe – in relation to Abraham and his descendants being descendants of a Hebrew, themselves Hebrews, and in that regard simply taking it for granted that their Holy Scripture is in Hebrew as well. But still, if we relate to the wider context of the whole Jewish Bible, we don’t see anything of the same awareness of the language, even having some books in another language, e.g. the Book of Daniel and the Book of Ester, both being in Aramaic. It seems that Aramaic in later times was as much the language of the Hebrews as Hebrew was.

 

Though the two bodies of writings might seem very different in their structure, where they have things in common is their followers reverence for them. Both the Chumash and the Quran take the central focus par excellence in Judaism and Islam. Both are found as the basis for any legal decision or any discussion on metaphysic matters. Both takes the focus as the main object of study, whether it being the Jewish tradition of reading the whole Chumash during a year or the Islamic ditto with the Quran during the holy month of Ramadan. We see it as well in the discussions in the Talmud, which mostly are related to and centered on Biblical verses, such as the discussion of the three daily prayers, which are related to the practice of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

If we relate to the various sectary strives in both Islam and Judaism, we see the same centrality and acceptance of the Quran and the Chumash, whether it be the Sunni-Shi’a conflict, or the various Jewish groups either accepting or refusing the Oral Tradition, all Muslim groups accept the central status of the Quran, as well as all Jewish groups to our days have accepted the status of the Chumash. This is so central, that it might even be possible to deem a sectarian group either outside the Islamic sphere or the Jewish sphere, religious speaking, in their relation to the Quran and Chumash respectively.

So while we do find many differences between the Quran and the Chumash, that is when we relate to the two Scriptures as pure texts, not as holy religious scriptures. In that matter the reverence shown them by their followers, shows a very similar attitude.

Written Scripture and Oral Tradition in Judaism and Islam: Similarities and Differences – Part I

BS”D

 

The relation between Judaism and Islam is mostly known in our days for the clash in Israel/Palestine, but there are people who treat it more serious, attempting to understand where they differ and, more important, where they find common ground.

Interestingly enough I don’t know of many scholars who deals with this in the comparative study of religion, most either focusing on the schism between “Western” and “Asian” religions, Christianity and Judaism, or Christianity and Islam. There has been made some serious and noteworthy works, such as F. E. Peters’ three works, “The Children of Abraham,” and “The Monotheists, Vol. I + II,” as well as Jacob Neusner’s and Tamara Sonn’s “Comparing Religion through Law: Judaism and Islam,” and “Judaism and Islam in Practice,” the latter in corporation with Jonathan E. Brockopp. Besides these we can find a smaller number of books, as well as a number of articles – see for example Sanaz Alasti’s comparative study on stoning – not to mention the books dealing with the historic status of the Jew under Islamic rule, though I view that more as a theme in historic and social studies, though it can be helpful for my own studies as well. If we look outside the academic world, we will find some more people, thinkers, religious figures, and others, such as Karen Armstrong, and Rabbi Benyamin Abrahamson. But within the academic world the number of names is limited, and only Peters really stand out, attempting (with success I would say) to make a comparative study and a system of this involving both Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Where is a student, studying comparative studies in religion, to turn, if he/she wants to learn about this subject? Well, besides the mentioned scholars and works, there are not many places to turn, which is also somewhat underlined by my own range of choices, when I think about the courses I can choose among, either being from the program in Jewish studies or Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and – sometimes – Archeological studies. Besides that one has to turn to the two religions, and –more or less, and of course guided – do his/her own studies. And that’s what I will attempt to here, at least partly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself to be a scholar or some new revolutionist theorist on the subject, but rather a student on the subject, who wishes to get a better insight in what I’m studying, and while doing this, sharing it with my readers.

 

I thought that the subject of the title could be an interesting and good approach. Both Judaism and Islam have a body of writing, which they consider holy, as well as an oral tradition, used in order to clarify points in these bodies of writings. Before I begin I need to clarify some points of confusion. What do I mean when I say “body of writings,” “oral tradition,” and “Judaism” and “Islam”? Also, since this will be of some length, it will be presented in several parts, so don’t be confused if it seems like I’m suddenly stop in the middle of the “study.”

By “body of writing” I merely think of the collection of books, chapters, verses, and what have you, which makes out the central scripture, for Judaism it is the Chumash – or as it is also known, Torah or the Five Books of Moses, being Genesis (Bereshit), Exodus (Sh’mot), Leviticus (VaYiqra), Numbers (BaMidbar) and Deuteronomy (Devarim). Indeed, the Jewish Bible consists of a wider expansion of books, being the books of the Prophets and Writings, but – as I will point out – they don’t draw the same attention as the Chumash does. I have chosen to use the term “Chumash,” based on the Hebrew word for five, “Chemesh,” since that is the normal use for this body of writings among Jews, and it helps to differ between the more abstract use of the term “Torah”[1] and the Five Books of Moses. When it comes to Islam it is simpler. The Quran was revealed to Muhammad by Gabriel (Quran 75:17-18) and was recited when revealed, hence the name Quran, which comes from the word qara’a, meaning “he recited” or “he read,” most likely putting the emphasis on the former meaning. The whole Quran was revealed to Muhammad during a period of 23 years, and consists of 114 chapters, Suwar (Surah in singular), beginning with the shortest Surah, al-Fatiha, the Opening, but from there being organized with the longest first and the shortest last. Though it is known by other names as well, e.g. al-Furqan (the criterion) or al-Hudah (the Guide)[2], I have chosen to use the version Quran, since that is the most used name.

By “Oral Tradition” I’m thinking about the traditions which follows the Chumash and the Quran, being the Mishnah, and the Sunnah – or Ahadith (the collection of sayings connected to Muhammad and/or his followers) – respectively. For both of them goes that they were passed on orally but eventually ended in written form, though that wasn’t necessarily meant to be so. The Mishnah, which means “repetition” from the word “shanah” (which appears in many forms in Hebrew, the word for year, Shanah, being the most obvious) was originally only transferred in oral form, from teacher to disciple, and complimented the Chumash. Around 200-225 CE Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi found it necessary to write the mishniyot (the plural form of mishnah) down, so they wouldn’t be lost, cause by the widespread killing of Jews who practiced their religion. R. HaNasi’s collection wasn’t the first though, others having being written earlier, most known being R. Akiva’s collection, on which R. HaNasi’s collection also is based on, though we don’t have any examples on earlier versions. The Mishnah is then further expanded by the Gemarrah, the comments being added later, found in a Palestinian version (the Yerushalmi) and a Babylonian (the Bavli), the latter being the authoritative when the two disagree. In the case of Islam Muslims found some parts of the Quran confusing, and therefore turned to Muhammad for clarification. After his dead in 632 CE people attempted to explain by relating to what he had said or how he had acted in certain situation, to find out how he related to the questions about interpretations and understandings of the Quran. The practice of writing down the sayings of Muhammad did begin relatively early, some even wrote them down during his life, but the collections of Ahadith (plural of Hadith) didn’t begin before after his death, the science of Hadith, Ulum al-Hadith, being utilized around 200 years after his death by Ali ibn al-Madini. The science of Hadith focused on establishing links of narrators, isnad (sanad in singular), finding the most credible isnad going back to Muhammad or his followers. These Ahadith, wich consist of isnad and matn (the content of the Hadith) was then collected in various collections, having six collections for the Sunnis (of which two are “sahih,” trustworthy) and four for the Shi’as.

By “Judaism” and “Islam” I mean the traditional understanding of these terms, being the religious stream followed by the majority. Hence in the case of Judaism, it will be rabbinical Judaism, based on the teachings of the Pharisees and later the rabbis, as we find them in the Mishnah, in various Midrashim, and in the Talmud, and in the case of Islam I will primarily focus on Sunna-Islam, but also relate to Shi’a-Islam. Hence I will not be relating to various sects or groups within the two religions, who question the validity of the oral traditions.


[1] See my post Torah vs. Halachah for an explanation of the term “Torah.”

[2] The understanding of this term mirroring one of the meanings of the Torah, which also means guide.

Ibrahim, A”S, and the Idolaters, the Quranic account

BS”D

As stated earlier I have to be focused in my attempt to get to a closer understanding of Ibrahim as a (early) monotheist, so I have – besides my focus on Ibrahim being a Hanif and what that means – chosen to focus on a certain part, namely his meeting/conflict with the idolaters, the Mushrîkin, in his homeland, which also includes his father.

I have found the account being mentioned six times in the Quran, namely in the suwar An-Nabiya (21), Ash-Shuara (26), Al-Ankabût (29), As-Saafat (37), Az-Zukhruf (43), and Al-Mumtahina (60). They don’t all deal equally extensive with the matter, An-Nabiya being the one covering the most, but all of them deal with parts of the account.

I have found seven parts in the account, all of them only being dealt with in An-Nabiya, which can be named as “Discussion with the idolaters,” “Confronting the idols,” “In the court,” “Thrown into the fire,” “Saved by Allah,” “Further Scheeming,” and “Leaving the country.” All the Suwar deals with the discussion, while only Surat An-Nabiya deals with all the parts. I have attached a PDF, Comparative Analysis of the Account in the Quran, where I have systemized the account and the Suwar. The translation used is Yusufali.

The Discussion with the idolaters.

As said, all the Suwar deals with this part. Ash-Shuara is the longest with eight verses (âyât, âyah in singular), followed by An-Nabiya and As-Saafat with six âyât each, then Al-Ankabût (three âyât), Az-Zukhruf (two âyât), and Al-Mumtahina (one ayah). The three longest of the Suwar present an actual discussion with a dialogue between Ibrahim and the idolaters, while the three shortest let Ibrahim be the only one speaking, more stating an opposition to idol worship than entering a discussion. Among the three shortest there is another difference, one of them (Al-Ankabût) having Ibrahim encouraging the idolaters to give up their idol worship, whereas the two others (Az-Zukhruf and Al-Mumtahina) shows a more hostile Ibrahim, declaring himself to be “clear” of them, that is, he distance himself totally from their idol worship.

If we take a look on the three longest Suwar, An-Nabiya, Ash-Shuara and As-Saafat, we can find even more parts in the discussion, though they differ in them. I have tried to organize it in order to see which parts are present, as well as which parts they have in common.  It can be organized like this:

An-Nabiya (21)
Ash-Shuara (26)
As-Saafat (37)
Ibrahim inquires
52: Behold! he said to his father and his people, “What are these images, to which ye are (so assiduously) devoted?”
Ibrahim inquires
70: Behold, he said to his father and his people: “What worship ye?”
Ibrahim inquires
85: Behold! he said to his father and to his people, “What is that which ye worship?
86: “Is it a falsehood- gods other than Allah- that ye desire?
Idolaters answer
53: They said, “We found our fathers worshipping them.”
Idolaters answer
71: They said: “We worship idols, and we remain constantly in attendance on them.”
Idolaters questions him
87: “Then what is your idea about the Lord of the worlds?”
He corrects them
54: He said, “Indeed ye have been in manifest error – ye and your fathers.”
Ibrahim questions the idols
72: He said: “Do they listen to you when ye call (on them)?”
73: “Or do you good or harm?”
Ibrahim wonders
88: Then did he cast a glance at the Stars.
89: And he said, “I am indeed sick (at heart)!”
They question him
55: They said, “Have you brought us the Truth, or are you one of those who jest?”
They confirm him
74: They said: “Nay, but we found our fathers doing thus (what we do).”
The idolaters leave him
90: So they turned away from him, and departed.
He points to Allah
56: He said, “Nay, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He Who created them (from nothing): and I am a witness to this (Truth).
He corrects them
75: He said: “Do ye then see whom ye have been worshipping,-
76: “Ye and your fathers before you?-
He focuses on the idols
57: “And by Allah, I have a plan for your idols – after ye go away and turn your backs”..
He focuses on the idols
77: “For they[1] are enemies to me….

There are differences when we put these three Suwar next to each other, one of them having less parts than the other two, while the other two don’t have the same parts. But I don’t think that they are contradicting each other, rather they supplement each other. One fills holes found in the others, and so on.

In all three of these Suwar it ends with the idolaters leaving Ibrahim, and him turning his attention to the idols.

Confronting the Idols.

Only two Suwar deals with Ibrahim confronting the idols, namely An-Nabiya and As-Saafat. Âyah 58 in An-Nabiya, being the only âyah dealing with this part, only tells of him smashing all the idols except the biggest of them, in order for him to put a trap for the idolaters, while As-Saafat have three âyât dealing with this incident. In As-Saafat we see Ibrahim mocking the idols, asking why they don’t eat their sacrifices and not answering, knowing fully what he is standing with here, before he smashes the idols. Unlike An-Nabiya we don’t see him leaving the biggest idol here.

The Court.

We also only have two Suwar dealing with this incident, again An-Nabiya and As-Saafat, though only An-Nabiya – which deals extensively with this incident – actually has a court presented.

In An-Nabiya the idolators find the smashed idols, and wonder who could have done this. They soon put their minds on Ibrahim, who are brought in front of “the eyes of the people.” When questioned on whether he did this, smashing the idols, he denies, pointing at the idol still standing and claim that that must have been the one doing it, proposing them to question it, leaving the idolaters in confusion, but soon – shamefully – regain their wits, answering him that he fully well know that the idols cannot talk. Ibrahim answers this by asking why they worship the idols, when they know that they cannot do them neither good nor harm, rebuking them for doing so, something that they – apparently – don’t take so well.

As-Saafat is more concise, only letting the idolaters face him, while he asks them why they worship that which they have created themselves, instead of worshipping Him Who created them.

The Punishment.

Both An-Nabiya, Al-Ankabût, and As-Saafat have the punishment, all of them only mentioning it with one âyah. There are not much of a difference, all three âyât mentioning that they want to burn him, only that An-Nabiya mentions that they should burn him in order to protect their gods (if doing anything at all), while Al-Ankabût gives the option to slay him, besides burning him.

Salvation.

Again only two Suwar mention this, namely An-Nabiya (one âyah) and Al-Ankabût(two âyât). An-Nabiya informs that Allah saved Ibrahim by making the fire cold, in order that it would not burn him, while Al-Ankabût only mentions that Allah saved him, but then informing that this should be a sign for the believers, and that those who do not believe themselves would end in the fire on the Day of Judgment.

The Idolaters Planning against Ibrahim.

Also here only mentioned by two Suwar, An-Nabiya and As-Saafat, we see that the idolaters didn’t become discouraged by seeing Ibrahim surviving the furnace, since they kept on their plotting against him, though Allah again played the upper hand, making the idolaters the “losers.” Exactly what they were planning and how Allah prevented it.

Ibrahim leaving the Country.

Only An-Nabiya has this part, shortly mentioning that Allah made Ibrahim, and Lut with him, leave his home and for the land which Allah had “blessed for the nations.”


[1] I’m fairly sure that ”they” are the idols, since he relates the idolaters towards what they have been worshipping and then – in that respect – mention this as his enemy.