This Muslim says, give me that ol’ time Judaism

By Hesham A. Hassaballa, Fredericksburg.com

It was not until recently that I learned the full story behind the annual festival that is Hanukkah, and the story fascinates me. I learned that its overarching theme was one of “traditional” vs. “progressive” Jews in ancient Palestine. I then got to thinking: Had I been alive at the time, would I have joined the Maccabee revolt? Probably yes, at least in spirit. In fact, I most probably would have been a Jew.

This stems from my deep devotion to Islam. I believe the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the very same message of Moses, although the particulars may be different. Since Moses was a prophet of God, and his Law was sent by God for me to follow, I would have been bound to follow it. Therefore, I would have strenuously opposed the Greeks who believed that all the gods should be worshipped at the Jerusalem Temple.

Those gods, I believe, were inventions of man, and their presence defiled the Temple erected for the worship of the One True God of Abraham, just as the various deities of the Arabs defiled the Holy Temple in Mecca.

I would have also stood against those Jews who, seeking to advance themselves in Hellenistic society, wanted to make nudity acceptable, wanted to burn the books of the Torah, made circumcision–the mark designated by God to be the symbol of His Covenant with Abraham and his descendants–a capital offense, and wanted to sacrifice a pig on the Temple altar. At that time, these actions would have seemed to me–just as for the other followers of the Maccabees–direct contraventions of the Law of Moses.

This is what the Law of Moses says: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God [is] one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 5:4-5). And, further, the Law says: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3).

In the particulars, the Law forbade being naked, and it forbade the consuming of the flesh of swine. So these actions by the Jewish “reformers” would have seemed to me an attempt not to not reinterpret the Law for modern times, but to discard it completely.

So it seems obvious that in my constant struggle to be a devout servant of the God of Abraham, I would have been in the Maccabees’ camp–although I do not know if I personally could have taken up arms against my fellow Jews.

These reflections should come as a surprise to no one: As a Muslim, I worship the God of Abraham, the very same God who was worshiped and honored in the Temple in Jerusalem. As a Muslim, I honor and revere the prophet Moses, Aaron, and all the other Hebrew prophets.

Also, my holy scripture speaks with honor and reverence about King David and Solomon. The Quran says: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus; and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.” (2:136)

As Jews wind down their annual commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, I would remind them that American Muslims honor and revere the very same holy figures they do. In their hearts, as they navigate their daily lives in America, Muslims carry the love for God and all His prophets. In their houses of worship (which, recently, some Americans have attacked in misplaced “revenge” for the acts of extremists) verses of the Quran that honor Moses, Jesus, Mary, and Abraham are sung out each and every day in ritual prayer.

Yet these are the people who are attacked by some as “terrorists.” These millions of faithful Muslims have nothing to do with the criminals who act in the name of their faith.

We have much more in common than in distinction, and if more people knew that, we would go a long way toward fighting those forces who seek to divide us by hatred and fear. Those who divide us by hatred and fear must not be allowed to win.

Hesham Hassaballa is a doctor and writer. His latest book is “Noble Brother,” the story of the Prophet Muhammad told in poetry. © 2010 The Nation–distributed by Agence Global

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