• Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Islam and Judaism



Like Christianity, Islam and Judaism are what are called ‘Semitic religions’. But despite this, due to some reasons there is a widespread negative feeling among Muslims about Jewish people. This kind of negative thinking is not Islamic thinking, however. It is due to some political reasons.

Islam is a positive ideology. Islam believes in positive thinking. The most important teaching in Islam is to live with positive feelings even in negative situations.

Now, why is this the most important Islamic teaching? This is because the most important goal or target in Islam is to establish a close link between man and God, and you cannot establish this kind of contact if you are filled with negativity, with negative feelings and thoughts. So, every sincere Muslim who wants to live in the neighborhood of God, who wants to live in the neighborhood of angels, who wants to live in spirituality, who wants to establish a close bond with God Almighty must adopt positive thinking or ‘positive culture’.

‘Positive culture’ means following positive principles even in seemingly negative situations. When you apply this to Muslims, it means that Muslims should live with positivity in every situation and with everyone, and this includes with Jewish people, too.

There is a well-known story, which I often relate, about the Prophet Muhammad, when he was in Medina. One day, the funeral procession of a Jew passed by. At that time, the Prophet was seated. On seeing the procession, he stood up, in respect. Taken aback by this, one of his Companions told him that it was the funeral procession was that of a Jew (and not a Muslim). And the Prophet replied: “Was he not a human being?”

This incident has great significance for our understanding of the Islamic approach to interfaith and inter-community relations, including relations between Muslims and Jews. It means that yes, that man was a Jew that he was a member of a Jewish tribe, but at the same time he was a human being, just as you and I are. So, as far as his religion is concerned, it is different from yours and mine, but as far as his status as a human being is concerned, he is a fellow human being, just like you and me.

Now, this is a very important Islamic teaching. Why? Because God Almighty created us humans as social beings. And society is an interdependent phenomenon. Interdependence is an essential part of social living. Through social living, we can learn many good things from others. Social living means mutual learning. So, in this incident from the Prophet’s life we get a wonderful formula for social living, of living together with harmony and respect for people who may be different from us in some ways, including in terms of religion.

‘Was he not a human being?’—these words of the Prophet Muhammad summarize this formula. It means that even if a person is a Jew, even if he is a Hindu, even if he is a Parsi, or a Buddhist or a Sikh or a Christian, or whatever, at the same time he is also a human being, just as you are. And it is here that we can discover a great point of commonality that unites us all.

This formula for harmonious social living based on awareness of our common humanity provides us with the opportunity to learn from others, to learn from everyone, in fact.

Umar was the second Caliph of the Muslims. About him it is written that he used to learn from everyone. Learning was Umar’s culture, his habit. Now, how can you learn from others? If you live with the ‘we’ versus ‘they’ mentality—the notion that ‘we’ are ‘Muslims’ and ‘they’ are ‘non-Muslims’, that ‘we’ are ‘Muslims’ and they are ‘Christians’, or ‘Hindus’ or whatever—this kind of thinking is a big obstacle to mutual learning.

So, the best formula is to avoid or overlook the differences that you may have with someone—be it in terms of culture, or religion and so on—and not make them an reason to hate or fight them, and instead to focus on our commonalities, the biggest of them being our common humanity. There may be differences between people in terms of culture and religion, but there’s no difference at all in terms of our common humanness. Here we can discover our fundamental commonality. And this commonality is the basis for mutual learning.

But the Muslims of the present-day have forgotten this spirit. And so, they are living in ghettos.

Once, I read a book written by a well-known Muslim, Amir Shakib Arslan, whose title translates in English as ‘Why Muslims became backward while others went forward’. According to Amir Shakib Arslan, the answer to the question that he raised in the very title of his book is that Muslims had forgotten the spirit of jihad. In other words, he thought that the Jihadi spirit is the central-most thing for the Muslims’ progress.

But this is totally wrong! The fact is that what present-day Muslims have forgotten is the spirit of mutual learning. For example, in many places, Muslims don’t want to send their children to government schools, to Christian schools, to Hindu schools. They want to set up their own Muslim schools. Because of this kind of tendency, they build up their own ghettos and choose to live in self-imposed ghettoisation. This is the main reason for their backwardness.

There are some very sad aspects of this phenomenon. For example, with regard to the first chapter of the Quran, al-Fatiha, many Muslims believe that in this verse, the phrase that refers to those who have incurred God’s wrath refers to Jews and the following phrase, about those who have gone astray, refers to Christians. But this is totally wrong!

No teaching of Islam is based on any particular community or race. No! By the two phrases referred to above the Quran refers to some qualities, some features, of some individuals and not to any particular community. The phrase about those who have incurred God’s wrath refers to those who have received a Divine curse. But this is not based on any race. It is based on individuals, on their character. God’s reward and God’s punishment both are based on individuals’ character, and not race or community. In God’s sight, no race or community in this world is superior or inferior. No race is a blessed race; no race is a cursed race. Such notions are totally wrong. Blessedness or its opposite depend only on individuals, and that depends only on their quality, their character.

So, this kind of distorted interpretation of the Quran is wrong. It’s a fundamental reason why many Muslims became negative towards Jewish people—and not just against Jews, but also against Christians, against Hindus, against Buddhists, against Parsis, against Americans, against the British. Muslims became negative. This kind of feeling is what is called ‘communal feeling’, exclusivist and supremacist feeling. It is not a genuine Islamic feeling. It has no justification in Islamic teachings.

There is no ‘we’ and ‘they’ concept in Islam, if Islam is understood in its true spirit. Such a concept is quite alien to Islam. Islam focuses on the commonalities that unite human beings. All human beings are one and the same as humans. When the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation, in 610 CE—at that time he was in Mecca. It was a new experience for him. He experienced a kind of, you could say, bewilderment or some kind of uneasiness. At that time, he was in a cave on Mt. Hira, and he returned to his home. He explained what had happened to his wife Khadijah. And do you know what happened after that? On Khadijah’s suggestion, they met a Christian, Waraqah ibn Nawfal. Khadijah and the Prophet went to meet this Christian man, who was living in Mecca at this time. He was an old man then. The Prophet narrated to him the story of what had happened with him. So, the very first person (after Khadijah) whom the Prophet spoke to about this great experience he had had was a Christian!

Here, in this example, we can see that there is no ‘we’ versus ‘they’ concept, which shows that there is no such concept in Islam, if Islam is understood properly. So, Waraqah was a Christian, but then he was also a fellow human being and a religious scholar.

Then, after preaching in Mecca for 13 years, when the Prophet decided to migrate to Medina, he required a guide for the journey. There were no proper roads to Medina in those days as you have now. It was a very dangerous journey and there were great risks involved. But do you know who the Prophet chose as his guide for this journey? Abdullah ibn Urayqit. And do you know who Abdullah ibn Urayqit was? He was a Mushrik, a member of a community of idol-worshippers, a community that was opposed to the Prophet, a community that was hostile to the Prophet. Yet, the Prophet chose Abdullah ibn Urayqit as his guide for this journey!

Now, this is the true Islamic spirit. The ‘we’ versus ‘they’ concept is not there in Islam, if you understand Islam properly, this narrow thinking that ‘I am a Muslim, and he is a Hindu’ or ‘I am a Muslim, and he is a Jew’ or ‘I am a Muslim, and she is a Christian’. This kind of separatist thinking is not there in Islam. Islam believes in our common humanity, that every human being, no matter what his or her religion may be, is our brother or our sister.

Later, after the Prophet, Muslims established educational institutions in many lands, in places such as Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Spain, which emerged as great centres of learning. And in these centres, Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars worked together. There was no narrow communal feeling there. This is the true Islamic spirit. It means that if you find that the religion of your neighbour is different from yours, you shouldn’t take that as an excuse to despise him because at the same time, he is also a human being, just as you are. He is as human as you.

There was a Muslim businessman I knew in Mumbai. He lived there for more than half a century. Once, he said to me, “I’ve lived in this city for so many years and have interacted with many other Muslims—as partners, as dealers, as customers. But the best person I met happened to be a Jew—Mr. Kalati.” He told me that this Jewish man later migrated to Israel, but when he was in Mumbai, he had been his partner. He said that the Jewish man had been his best partner, that he was a very honest man, and that he never created any problem at all.

So, every person, no matter what her or his religion may be, is at the same time a fellow human being—and that is the commonality that we have to discover, respect and cherish. Without this spirit, you cannot progress in this world. Every kind of progress requires joint efforts. So, if you are living in a ghetto, if you are living in the spirit of ‘we’ versus ‘they’, you cannot develop, because this is against the Law of Nature. God created man on this principle—the principle of interdependence. And human society is based on this principle. That is why we have to enter into dialogue with others, into exchange, into interaction, so that through mutual efforts, through joint efforts, we can together prosper. If you are deprived of this mutual effort you just can’t progress in this world.

So, I think this antagonistic thinking, that ‘We are Muslims and they are Jews’, which is based on a ‘we’ versus ‘they’ mentality, is very wrong. We have to see everyone as a fellow human being. I am a human being, and every other person is also a human being—this is the best kind of thinking. This kind of thinking engenders all kinds of good qualities, like positive thinking, acceptance, love, compassion and peace. All these qualities are produced through this spirit that is based on awareness of our common humanness. If you see everyone as your brother, as your sister, if you inculcate positivity in your heart, you will inculcate the spirit of love, the spirit of acceptance. But if, on the other hand, you cultivate the spirit of antagonism, if you see other people as enemies, as rivals, as ‘non-Muslims’ as ‘Kafirs’, you will be compelled to live in a ghetto.

Take the case of Palestine. Muslims there adopted the wrong path. When they found that there were Jews in Palestine along with Muslims, they should have recognized that this was good for them too, because it was an opportunity to learn these Jews. The Arabs should have taken this as an opportunity, rather than as a problem. Why? Because these Jewish people were ahead of them in education, in science, and in many other fields—and the Arabs were backward. But the Arabs adopted a wrong attitude. They turned hostile towards the Jewish people. They turned violent against them, branding them as ‘enemies’.

Go to Palestine/Israel and see the tragic results of this attitude. The Jewish people have performed great things there in terms of education, in terms of agriculture, in terms of science, and so on. In Israel/Palestine, there are two areas: Jewish areas and Arab areas. Arab areas are dirty and crowded. There’s hardly any development there. And it isn’t because of any conspiracy of the Jewish people. It is due to the lack of the right spirit among the Arabs. But if you go to the Jewish areas, you’ll find broad, clean streets, beautiful spaces, all kinds of progress.

As the Arabs adopted hostility, they became violent, and so they were unable to avail of all the many opportunities that they could otherwise have. This is not because of any “Jewish conspiracy”. It is due to the failure of the Arabs. I know Arabs always blame Jewish people. They blame all the atrocities in Palestine on the Jewish people, and they say it’s all because of the enmity, conspiracies and violence of Jews that the Arabs have become backward. But I think this is wrong. All the blame goes to Arabs, because they failed to understand the reality; they failed to understand the true spirit of Islam. Hence, the present situation in Palestine/Israel is that one part of it is highly developed, and the other part is very backward.

Differences are part of Nature. There are differences among people of different religions, and there are differences among Muslims also—between different communities among Muslims and between different groups of Muslim scholars. You just cannot eliminate such differences from human life. But at the same time, in every situation there are opportunities. So, although there were differences between Muslims and Jews, at the same time there were many opportunities that they could have availed of for mutual benefit. Many centuries ago, in places like Granada and Cordoba, in Spain, in Baghdad, in Cairo, Muslims availed of these opportunities and worked together with others, with Christians, with Jews. And it is a fact that many of the developments that occurred in this period were due to such joint efforts. But in the modern period, Muslims have failed to understand this aspect of life. This is really very sad. Present-day Muslims have failed to understand this spirit.

So, I repeat, do not make the differences, including in terms of religion, that you may have with others an excuse to despise them. Don’t make enmity an excuse, or conspiracy an excuse. This is the greatest wisdom. The Prophet Jesus taught that we should love our enemy. It means: do not make enmity an excuse to hate someone or to fight with him. There is a very apt saying: “If you have a very good excuse, don’t use it!” This is the greatest wisdom. In this world, only those people who adopt this formula can progress. There is no exception to this rule.

We have to abandon this kind of thinking—thinking that this or that community is our enemy that they are conspiring against us. All this is negative thinking. And negative thinking is the greatest killer. Positive thinking gives life, while negative thinking gives death. If you want to progress, you have no option other than to adopt this formula of abandoning negative thinking and adopting positive thinking.

This kind of thinking among many Muslims, that “We are Muslims and you are Jews and you are cursed by God” is completely wrong. No one is cursed by birth. Every human being is born with some or the other special quality. It is God’s blessing that He has created every male and female with some special quality. We need to discover that quality in everyone—whether in a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist—and learn from it. But if your thinking is based on this ‘we’ versus ‘they’ concept, you simply cannot benefit from this learning. We need to go beyond this sort of thinking so that we may discover in every person, no matter what his or her religion or ethnicity, that special quality that God has blessed him or her with and learn and benefit from it. This kind of spirit is important in every sphere of activity—in academics or science or business or whatever. If you inculcate this spirit, you can learn from every human being. And in this way you can become a truly universal person. In one case, if you think in terms of ‘we’ versus them, you are compelled to live as a bigot, in a ghetto. In the other case, you can live as a universal person, a person of the whole universe. So, there are these two options that you can choose from.

Again I say this kind of thinking, that ‘I’m a Muslim, and those people are kafirs, that those people are this and that’ is absolutely wrong. With that kind of thinking, Muslims cannot progress at all. If you read the literature produced by Muslims—Muslim papers and magazines—you will find many Muslim writers who claim to be engaged in disclosing what they call the conspiracies of other communities. This kind of thinking is wrong.

I do not deny that there may be conspiracies. Conspiracies are a result of the misuse of the freewill that God has granted human beings, and you cannot abolish that freedom. So, conspiracies are also a part of life. We have to live with this fact, but the good tiding for us is that the world was created on this formula:“With every hardship there is ease” (Quran 94:5). It means that with every problem there is a solution. No conspiracy, no enmity can abolish all opportunities. It is impossible.

So, I admit that there may be conspiracies, that there may be enmity, but that is part of life. We have to live with these things. I am not saying that Jewish people are very good friends of Muslims. No, I’m just saying that they are human beings. And as they are human beings, they are just like ourselves.

So, if we want to build a better society, if we want to progress in this world, we have to abandon negative thinking. Negative thinking is a great killer as far as human progress is concerned.

Please remember that we have to accept the laws of this universe as they are. We cannot create a new world, a new universe. It is beyond our capacity to do that—to create a world where there is no enemy, no conspirator. We simply have to live in this world as it is, including all the challenges that we may face, with a positive attitude. We have to try to discover the opportunities that exist in every situation, rather than constantly complaining against so-called conspiracies or enmities.

I am not saying that there is no difference between Islam and Judaism. I am not saying that there are no differences between Muslims and Jewish people. I am saying that although there are differences, although there are enmities, although there are conspiracies, at the same time it is a fact that Jews are also human beings just as much as Muslims are. As human beings, we can learn many things from them. This is really the only option for us.

The greatest fact that we have to keep in mind is that we are not the creators of this world. This world has been created by God. So, as we are not the creators of this world, we have to adjust with this world. And the world has been created with so many people, who have so many differences. It is part of God’s creation that in this world there are Muslims, there are Jews, there are Hindus, there are Parsis, there are Christians, there are Americans, there are Britishers. All these people are God’s creation. Jewish people and all other people have also been created by God, just as Muslims have been. So, how can we hate and complain and protest? Muslims must abandon these negative things. They must inculcate the spirit of acceptance of others. Acceptance is a very important element of human life. Without it, you cannot progress in this world.

The Quran talks about Eraaz, or avoidance. It also talks about Sabr (patience). These are two very important concepts in the Quran. Eraaz means tolerance and avoidance, while Sabr means patience. So, the Quran enjoins patience and avoidance. These two are very important in the Islamic scheme of life. Without tolerance, there is no Islam. Without patience, there is no Islam. So, we have to know that patience and tolerance are just like Ibadat (worship), just like Namaz (the obligatory prayers), just like Haj. Patience and tolerance, that is Eraaz and Sabr, are an integral part of Islamic life.

Without adjustment, there is no Islam. Without mutual learning, there is no Islam. So, we have to adopt Eraaz and Sabr and friendship towards others, towards all. Islam teaches a human-friendly culture. The formula of Islam is a human-friendly formula.


Islam and Judaism, By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam03 August 2017


Source: New Age Islam

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