By Rebecca Abrahamson
Islam as Defender – يُدَافِعُ – dafi – of Holy Places for the Children of Abraham – in Scripture and in History
The rectified relationship between Ishmael and Isaac as recorded in Genesis is the key to peace between the children of Ishmael and the children of Israel. Ishmael and Isaac have different roles to play in rectifying the world. Recognizing and celebrating our differences is essential in order to work in harmony. Musical harmony only happens when different notes are played, so too as humanity works towards perfection, as we "strive as if in a race", we must play out our different roles to perfection.
Discussed herein is Ishmael as big brother to Isaac, the concept of protection of holy sites in the Qur’an and ahadith, , King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem as a cornerstone of belief in Islam, Herod’s expansion of the Temple courtyard to include non-Jewish believers, Caliph Umar’s restoration of the Temple Mount to Jewish and Christian use, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan’s construction of the Dome of the Rock based upon Ezekiel’s prophecy, the Qibla, Sultan Suleiman’s restoration of the Temple Mount, the role of Islam today as dafi or defender of holy sites.
Ishmael as big brother to Isaac
In the book of Genesis, chapter 25, we read that Ishmael and Isaac buried their father Abraham together. Herein, Ishmael deferred to Isaac and let Isaac lead, though Isaac was the younger. In this dignified act of allowing Isaac to lead, Ishmael publicly showed appreciation for Isaac’s role as Torah learner. This was a respectful and protective gesture.
Ishmael’s role is to protect his younger brother Isaac. Ishmael is out fixing the world, “his hand on everything”, while Isaac is essentially a studious tent-dweller.
Rashi, 11th century Torah commentator, tells us that Ishmael became completely righteous before Abraham passed away. (Genesis 15:15. 25:9) Indeed, the expression “vayigveh” (he breathed his last) used to describe the death of Ishmael, is only used in regard to tzaddikim (completely righteous people). (Genesis 25:17) Some commentaries explain that through his teshuvah he transformed all his past doings into virtues, thus his entire life was ultimately redeemed.(Maskil l’Dovid on Chayei Sarah)
The Torah says that God made a covenant with Ishmael (pbuh):
"I will multiply thy [Hagar's] seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude" (Genesis 16:10) and "And he will be an unrestricted man; his hand will be opposite every man, and every man's hand opposite him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." (Genesis 16:12) which reflects a character trait that goes beyond boundaries. When the Children of Ishmael submit to God, they challenge the whole world to come to repentance, if his descendants are righteous, it will be to make the whole world return to God.
God approved of Abraham's (pbuh) request that the descendants of Ishmael (pbuh) should submit to God (Genesis 17:18) and his peoples’ covenant with God should be everlasting (Genesis 17:19).
The Children of Israel were chosen to keep the revelation of Torah because they were suited to the purpose of Torah. The shari'ah of Torah required setting up a Temple, a priesthood, and many detailed laws intended to teach in a physical way how God deals with the world. God revealed to Sarah that the Torah required someone who "sat in the tents [and learned]". In other words it would be a complex revelation, which required study and preserving. For this, God needed a nation of "dwellers of Tents" that had a tendency towards study, allegory and perhaps a bit of legalism.When these character traits are used in submission to God and for the performance of His will, the result is very beautiful. If some of the Children of Israel reject God, then these character traits fall into legalism, and hypocrisy results. The religious among us strive very hard to humbly submit to God with all of our being.
In the Talmud, Rome was said to have a mission to bring Godly hygiene, heath, and commerce to the world, Persia was to bring Godly culture, government, to the world, Greece was to bring Godly philosophy, etc. Some of these nations listen to the Prophets (pbu them) that were sent to them, most did not. In the end of days there will come a rightly guided one, who will bring justice, peace and knowledge of God to all the nations. At this time, believers will recognize, encourage and support each other.
In the Qur'an Allah SWT says: وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِسْمَاعِيلَ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صَادِقَ الْوَعْدِ وَكَانَ رَسُولًا نَّبِيًّا
"He was (strictly) true to what he promised, and he was a messenger (and) a prophet." (Surat Maryam 19:54_
وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنَ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
"And remember Ibrahim/Abraham/Abram(AS) and Isma'il/Ishmael(AS) raised the foundations of the House (With this prayer): "Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing." (Surat al Baqara 2:127)
Protecting Holy Sites
Islam, as the extension of Ishmael, has already shown itself to be protective of Jews and Christians in their worship. Here are some examples from history which will be elaborated upon below:
Caliph Umar cleaned the Temple Mount with his own hands after conquering it from the Roman Byzantines. Saladin found the Kotel and told the local Jerusalem residents to clean the waste that had been dumped there under Byzantine rule. He employed Christians and Jews in running the worship services there. Abd Malik built the Dome of the Rock according to the dimensions of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Sources in the Qur’an
Islam guarantees the protection of Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims who reside in Muslim lands. Their houses of worship should be defended from attack and their right to worship according to their choice respected. The right to self-defense was granted in Islam in order to protect freedom of religion.
Were Allah not to check people by means of others, there would have been demolished the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is often mentioned.
Surat Al-Hajj 22:40
Hasan Al-Basri comments on this verse, saying:يُدْفَعُ عهThe houses of worship for non-Muslim citizens are defended by the believers.
Source: Ahkam Al-Quran Al-Jassas 5/83
Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:
Ibn Khuwaiz said: Included in this verse is the prohibition of demolishing the churches of non-Muslim citizens, their temples, and their houses of worship.
Source: Tafseer Al-Qurtubi 22:40
This legal requirement is part of the tolerance, compassion, and good will that Islam teaches concerning other religious groups. The Prophet defined Islam as safety and security for people in general.
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: A man asked, “O Messenger of Allah, whose Islam is best?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Those from whose tongue and hand people are safe.
Source: Musnad Ahmad 6714
حماية المواقع المقدسة في القرآن
يضمن الإسلام حماية اليهود والمسيحيين وغيرهم من غير المسلمين المقيمين في الأراضي الإسلامية. ينبغي الدفاع عن منازل العبادة الخاصة بهم من الهجوم وحقهم في العبادة وفقا للاختيار الذي يحترمونه. منح الحق في الدفاع عن النفس في الإسلام من أجل حماية حرية الدين.
سورة الحج 22:40
And that He might make evident those who are hypocrites. For it was said to them, "Come, fight in the way of Allah or [at least] defend." They said, "If we had known [there would be] fighting, we would have followed you." They were nearer to disbelief that day than to faith, saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. And Allah is most Knowing of what they conceal
Defending a holy site is second to jihad in Islam
Sources in History of Protecting Holy Sites
First of all, the Temple courtyard –
There were three courts: for the Priests, for the Israelites and for the Bnei Noah – the nations of the world. These Bnei Noah respected the Temple, and were known as “Kenites”, this term was translated by Onkelos in the first century as“Muslamai” and “Salamai”.
In the terms Muslamai and Salami, we see that the concept of righteous monotheist was already known as a “Muslim” in the second Temple era. This shows that Islam is actually an ancient religion.
When Herod became king of Judea, first century BCE, he enlarged the area of the Temple Mount to allow for over a million Jewish and non-Jewish pilgrims during the course of the Tabernacles (Sukkot) holiday (see illustrations, and Jewish Antiquities, Book 15, Chapter 11, 382-387)
During the holiday, Jews and non-Jewish “Bnei Noah” would circle the Altar seven times, outside of the soreg (fence) that separated the court of the Israelites from the court of the nations.Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Ka'bah.
كانت هناك ثلاث محاكم: للكهنة وللإسرائيليين وللأمم. كانت محاكم الدول كبيرة جدا. يجب أن يأتي هؤلاء المتشددون من جميع أنحاء العالم بما في ذلك الجزيرة العربية ، بارثيا ، بلاد فارس ، سوريا. جميعهم يجب أن يجتمعوا مع اليهود أثناء عطلة سوكوت / المعابد ويصلون معاً وفي ما نسميه بالعربية تشاغ أو باللغة العربية يطلق عليه "الحج". كانوا جميعا نصلي معا ونعبد معا في الجمال والقداسة.
عندما أصبح هيرودس ملكًا لليهودية ، في القرن الأول قبل الميلاد ، قام بتوسيع منطقة جبل الهيكل للسماح بأكثر من مليون حاج يهودي وغير يهودي خلال عطلة عيد المظال (انظر الرسوم التوضيحية ، والآثار اليهودية ، الكتاب 15 ، الفصل 11 ، 382-387)
Solomon’s Temple was in Jerusalem
كان معبد سليمان في القدس
In the Quran, Surah Bani Isra’il (the Chapter of the Children of Israel), verses 1-7, we find a description of Solomon’s Temple and of how it was destroyed twice by the enemies of the Jewish people:
“Glory to Him Who caused His servant [Muhammad] to travel by night from Masjid al-Haram [in Mecca] to Masjid al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem] whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth everything. We gave Moses the Book [Torah], and made it a Guide to the Children of Israel, commanding: ‘Take not other than Me as Disposer of your affairs.’ O ye that are the offspring of those whom We carried [in the Ark] with Noah, verily he was a devotee most grateful. And We warned the Children of Israel in the Book, that twice would they do mischief on the earth and twice be elated with mighty arrogance. When the first of the warnings came to pass, We sent against you Our creatures [Babylonians], given to terrible warfare: they entered the very inmost parts of your homes, and thus the first warning was fulfilled. Then We did grant you the return as against them; We gave you increase in resources and sons and made you abundant in human power. If ye did well, ye did well for yourselves; if ye did evil, [ye did it] against yourselves. So when the second of the warnings came to pass, [We permitted your enemies] to disfigure your faces, and to enter your Temple as they entered it once before, and to bring to destruction all that fell into their power.”
Imam Abu Abdullah al-Qurtubi, who lived from 1214 to 1273 and was one of the most authoritative medieval Qur’anic annotators, in his Al-Jami’ li Ahkam il-Qur’an, or Encyclopedia of Qur’anic Rules, explains the context (asbab) of the verses by mentioning among other sources the authentic Prophetic tradition (hadith). He wrote:
Hudhayfah Ibn al-Yaman asked the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him:
‘I travelled more than once to Jerusalem, but saw no Temple standing there. What is the reason?’
The Prophet Muhammad replied:
‘Verily Solomon son of David raised Bayt al-Maqdis [i.e., Beth ha-Mikdash, the First Temple] with gold and silver, with rubies and emeralds, and Allah caused human beings and spirits to work under his command, until the raising of the House was completed. Afterwards a Babylonian King destroyed Bayt al-Maqdis and brought its treasures to the land of Babylonia, until a King of Persia defeated him and ransomed the Children of Israel. They rebuilt Bayt al-Maqdis for the second time [the Second Temple], until it was destroyed for the second time by an army led by a Roman Emperor.’
Jewish and Muslim traditional sources are confirming each other: The Temple was built by Solomon and destroyed by a Babylonian king. A Persian king later defeated the Babylonians and ransomed the Jews, permitting them to return to the Land of Israel. The Temple was rebuilt but afterward was destroyed by the Romans. This Temple stood in the area referred to as Beth haMikdash in Hebrew and Bayt al-Maqdis in Arabic.
In 1932, during the British Mandate period, the Supreme Muslim Council of Jerusalem published a Brief Guide to Haram as-Sharif for Muslim pilgrims, written in English. “This site is one of the oldest in the world,” it says. “Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”
Reverence for the Dome of the Rock in the book of Isaiah and in Islam:
9th century Islamic scholar Ibn Qutayba said: "And with reference to the stone that is kissed, Isaiah says: 'Thus spoke the Lord God: Verily, I am setting up in Zion — which is the house of God — a stone in a venerated corner (zawiya mukarrama)' (Isaiah 28:16). This stone is now in the corner of the House and to touch or kiss it is a mark of respect." (Ibn Qutayba's Dala'h Al-Nubuwwa quoted by Ibn al-Jawzi)
Under the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius
The historian Sebeos in his "A History of Heraclius", explains that in 614 CE the Persians invaded Jerusalem. The city surrendered without a fight and the Persians appointed a son of the Exilarch as Jewish governor of the city. This governor was lynched by a mob, and in retaliation the Persians invaded the city and burned the churches.
Byzantine Emperor Heraclius then persecuted the Jews. He ordered that the Temple mount be used as a latrine. When the Muslims conquered the city in 638 CE, the Islamic histories record that Caliph 'Umar himself helped to clear the Temple mount of filth. Sebeos says that the Jews tried to build a "House of Prayer" on the rock, however the Christians revolted. The Caliph ordered the Jews removed from that place and ordered that the Jews and Muslims should pray together in the area that became the Al-Aqsa mosque.
The Muslims built the Dome of the Rock. It is not a mosque because it has no qibla. It was decorated with inscriptions directed at Christians, by declaring that G-d has not partners. The Jews and Muslims prayed together at Al-Aqsa until shortly before the rise of the Umayyad Caliphate.
The Dome of the rock was built with no prayer niche, thus it did not face Mecca, it had four doors, and covered with inscriptions directed at Christians, for example, telling anyone within not to believe in the trinity.
623 CE, when the Qibla was changed, was the same year that the Byzantine Emperor turned the Temple Mount in Jerusalem into a latrine to punish the Jews for supporting Persia. All the waste of Jerusalem was routed to flow onto the Temple Mount. By 638CE, the Temple Mount had accumulated so much filth that Muslims called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre "kanisat al-qiyamah", the Church of the Dungheap "kanisat al-qumamah" in retaliation. (Mujir al-Din.)
To the Rabbinic Jews, this was an insult. To the Sadducean Jews of Arabia this was a crisis. The Jews of Arabia were particular in cleanliness, equating cleanliness with the biblical concepts of Taharah, purity. The ahadith said that the Children of Israel would cut off their skin, should any waste fall on it. They would not pray in the direction of a bathroom, nor go the bathroom while facing the holy places of Jerusalem or Mecca. The Rabbinic Jews however continued to pray towards Jerusalem. This troubled the Prophet (pbuh). In the end he was answered by Allah SWT that Muslims should not pray towards Jerusalem, only towards Mecca. Further, this would be the mark of distinction between his followers and others.
Allah SWT sent down this ayah, that this would be a defining characteristic of the Ummah that keeps the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh):
“From whencesoever Thou startest forth, turn Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque; that is indeed the truth from the Lord. And Allah is not unmindful of what ye do. So from whencesoever Thou startest forth, turn Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque; and wheresoever ye are, Turn your face thither: that there be no ground of dispute against you among the people, except those of them that are bent on wickedness; so fear them not, but fear Me; and that I may complete My favours on you, and ye May (consent to) be guided”; (Al-Baqara 2, 149-150)
When the Temple Mount was finally cleared of filth, then the question would arise among these Jews which Qibla to use. These questions seem to be preserved in a conversation between Kab Al-Ahbar (ra) and Caliph 'Umar (ra).
Ezekiel’s prophecy and Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan
Dome of the Chain
The Dome of the Chain (قبة السلسلة, Qubbat al-Silsilah) is a free-standing dome located adjacently east of the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. One of the oldest structures on the Haram ash-Sharif (Temple Mount), it is not a mosque or shrine, but is used as a prayer house. It was built by the Umayyads,7th – 8th century, and became a Christian chapel under the Crusaders, restored as an Islamic prayer house by the Ayyubids and has been renovated by the Mamluks, Ottomans and the Palestinian-based waqf.
The Dome of the Chain owes its name to a tradition dating back to King Solomon's (pbuh) rule. According to Mujir ad-Din: "Among the wonders of the Holy House is the chain, which Solomon, son of David, suspended between Heaven and Earth, to the east of the Rock, where the Dome of the Chain now stands. The chain had one characteristic. If two men approached it to solve a point of litigation, only the honest and upright man could take hold of it; the unjust man saw it move out of his reach" The Dome of the Chain is said to be on the site where David judged the Children of Israel by means of a chain of light suspended between heaven and earth. The chain, which could distinguish those who were speaking the truth in legal disputes from those who were lying, was withdrawn to heaven when a disputant attempted to trick it
This seems to have a direct relationship to the Choshen Mishpat (Priestly breastplate of Judgement) which was kept in the sanctuary of the Temple of Solomon (pbuh):
"And you shall make the breastplate of judgment, the work of an artist; after the manner of the ephod shall you make it: of gold, sky-blue, dark-red, and crimson dyed wool, and of twisted linen shall you make it" (Ex. 28:6,15).
According to Exodus 28:15-19, the breastplate was attached to the ephod (priestly garment) by gold chains tied to the gold rings on the ephod's shoulder straps, and by blue ribbon tied to the gold rings at the belt of the ephod. Twelve jewels were attached to the breastplate, one for each of the tribes. The Name of God was written on a piece of parchment and inserted into a flap of the breastplate, such that Lights would appear on the breastplate. Priestly breastplate could be used as a response to prayer to assist determining the truth in a legal matter, and in this use it was called the Urim and Thummim. 1 Samuel 14:41 explains how it helped indicate the guilty party. This use of the Priestly breastplate ceased around the time of David (pbuh)
"When the priests enter therein, then shall they not go out of the holy place into the utter court, but there they shall lay their garments wherein they minister; for they are holy; and shall put on other garments, and shall approach to those things which are for the people." (Ezekiel 42:14)
This means in Ezekiel's (pbuh) vision of the future temple the Priestly breastplate, its chains and ribbons, would be kept in the Sanctuary, just outside and to the East of the Holy of Holies. This is indeed where the Dome of the Chain is located.
This, together with other findings, seems to indicate that when Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan constructed or improved upon the various structures on the Temple Mount, he was in agreement with Ezekiel 40.
'Abd al-Malik opened the Dome of the Rock to Jews and Christians:
Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the 7th century based the building of the Dome of the Rock upon Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Ritual ceremonies in Jerusalem in the Umayyad Period (and in later periods, too) were mainly concentrated on the Haram. There are a number of early testimonies of these services, and they certainly confirm the trend developed and encouraged by the first Umayyad caliphs. Many of these rituals were performed in and around the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra).
During the time of 'Abd al-Malik, the Dome of the Rock was opened to the public solely on Mondays and Thursdays; on the other days only the attendants (Levite in Hebrew means attendant) entered. These attendants immersed in a bath and purified themselves, changed their clothing, burnt incense and anointed the Rock with all kinds of perfumes. Prayers were held after incense was burnt. Ten gatekeepers were responsible for each gate. During 'Abd ai-Malik's reign, the Dome was coated with gold, and the Rock was surrounded by an ebony balustrade, behind which-between the pillars-hung curtains woven with gold. Jews and Christians were employed in different services on the Haram: they cleaned the Haram, made glass for the lamps and for goblets, and prepared wicks for the Menorah. They were exempted from the Jizya and passed on these tasks as inheritance… (see AI-Wisiti, pp. 43-44, the tradition of the Jerusalem family of 'Abd al-Rahaman. from Raja' and Yazid)
They used to stand by the Rock and circumambulate it as they used to circumambulate the Ka'ba, and slaughter beasts on the day of the feast [i.e., 'Id al-Adha]. (Sibt b. al-Jawzi's Mir'at al-Zaman)
Coins printed by the Ummayds ( 7 – 8 century) reflecting "menorah”
More on Ezekiel’s prophecy
Govah – height – Dome
Another hint that عبد الملك بن مروان Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan referenced Ezekiel 40-41 during his massive building enterprise on the Al-Haram ash-Sharif (Temple Mount):
Ezekiel (pbuh) looked the temple and saw its height "And I saw that the House had a height (גֹּבַהּ) round about" (Ezekiel 41:8). The wording of this verse is someone unusual. Nowhere else does he give height. Also even here he doesn't give any number.
It is perhaps significant that the word for height is GoBah, which is comes from the same root as "back" and "arch", linguistically related to Arabic قبة QoBah, or dome. In this sense the verse would be read "And I saw that the House had a Dome, round about"
Sultan Suleiman – 16th Century
When Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had the wall built around Jerusalem, he had the following inscription engraved on a stone on one of the entrance gates; "La ilaha illa Allah, Ibrahim habibullah." Instead of "La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad ar-Rasul Allah (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of God)," seeing that Jerusalem is the center of all religions and they all come from the religion of the Prophet Abraham, he used a statement that embraces all three religions that we know to be the Abrahamic religions, divine religions equally by saying "La ilaha illa Allah, Ibrahim Habibullah (There is no god but Allah, Abraham is beloved of Allah)", by saying Abraham is a very much loved servant of Allah.
A Midrash, legend, in the Jewish tradition states, “If the nations knew how important the Temple is, instead of destroying it, they would have rushed to defend it.”
Genesis 48:22, Abraham states, “Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.”
"וַאֲנִי נָתַתִּי לְךָ שְׁכֶם אַחַד עַל אַחֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתִּי מִיַּד הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי".
Kashti means bow. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, 18th century Ukraine, interprets b’kashti as referring to prayer. Who inherited the bow? Ishmael! Here we have a defender image again.
Muslims always defended the religious sites for Jews and Christians. Muslims should use their current sovereignty to administer the Temple Mount, making it useful to the children of Abraham. It should in no way be used as a political or nationalist pawn by either side.
Islam does not command Muslims to be sovereign, but to be dafi – defender. From a religious point of view, sovereignty is not the crucial issue concerning the Temple Mount. What is crucial is that all children of Abraham have access, and deportment at holy places must be according to scripture and tradition.
Brit mila – circumcision – Chitan
Both Islam and Judaism command circumcision, and we discussed this vital mitzva at the estate of the Abu Awad brothers, Gush Etzion, December 2018.
Sheikh Khalid offered that in Islam, it is performed at the age of thirteen, the age at which a boy is able to procreate. “Tahara” in Arabic means to purify, to take out, to clean and make healthy. He added that reading the Qur’an cleans the heart, bringing any commandment back to its original purpose – perfecting the human being.
Mecca is not mentioned in the Qur’an, this is a divine hint that no matter how important any place is, even the holiness of Mecca pales in comparison to the holiness and importance of the human being.
With this in mind, any commandment that God bequeaths to humanity, any teaching He gives to the chain of prophets to relate to us, is only for our good. He knows what is good for us more than anyone.
An idea was offered from a Jewish member – in Arabic, circumcision is called “Chitan”. In Jewish tradition, when Tzippora circumcised her son, she referred to is as “dam chatani” – the blood of betrothal. This is the first time the word “chatan” is used regarding circumcision.
The children of Israel did not circumcise when they were in the desert. Before they entered the Holy Land, they performed brit mila. The Zohar, a book of mysticism, states that both the children of Israel and Ishmael perform circumcision, but the children of Israel do so according to legal stringencies, whereas the children of Ishmael do not have the same legalism involved. Brit mila-Chitan are connected to the Holy Land, its performance is a requirement in dwelling in and holding sovereignty here. The Zohar foretold that the children of Ishmael would rule the Holy Land for four hundred years, then the children of Israel would take sovereignty, and that would be contingent on brit mila – chitan.
In Islam, Chitan is recorded not in the Qur’an, but in the Hadith. In Judaism, it is recorded in the Torah itself. My take on that personally is not that this means that Chitan is less important in Islam, but that Islam and Judaism are supposed to have an organic relationship, an ongoing interaction – it does not have to be written in the Qur’an, precisely because it is written in the Torah. This holds with the importance of Jerusalem in Islam. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Qur’an – it does not have to be; it is mentioned in the Torah, and since we are supposed to have a relationship, no need to be redundant!
Sheikh Khalid gave over a hadith that Muhammad(pbuh) approached a town and sensed that the Muslims were living on a high level of purity. He asked them what their secret was, they said they copy a practice of the local Jews, who wash themselves after relieving themselves. Thus we see an actual example of the Prophet(pbuh) reaching out to learn from Jewish practices. It is not – Islam over here, Judaism over there, by no means. We are meant to have and must return to an organic relationship. This does not mean mixing of commandments or customs, each Ummah must be true to its covenant. But we do help enrich and strengthen each other in the cleaving to our differing commandments.
Does the concept of Chitan in Islam hold the concept of covenant, as it does in Judaism? Since the Muslims present were emphasizing the connotation of cleanliness, we were unsure if their Chitan also connoted covenant. This shows some of the challenges of interfaith dialogue, when you have a set of assumptions that differ from the other’s, you may not see a common ground in their emphasizing an aspect of the commandment that we do not. Sheikh Yusuf listed Chitan along with the other requirements for male cleanliness, involving taking care of other body hair, fingernails, and the importance of cleanliness before reading the Qur’an, before prayer, etc, so the concept of covenant was getting a bit lost.
Members of the Jewish group asked again about the connotations of “Chitan”, whether it connotes covenant, and then sheikh Khalid saw our emphasis and said that this word connotes a ring that also has a seal upon it in order to make a “chotemet”, an impression. The foreskin itself looks like a ring, plus, the ring of king Solomon(pbuh) also functioned as a seal.
I contributed that the Jewish male is circumcised on the eighth day, and that the Muslim boy at thirteen years old. This is in parallel to the different roles of Isaac and Ishmael – Isaac is a tent dweller, sheltered, “tamim” in Hebrew, meaning innocent, unaware of worldly affairs. Isaac never knew what it meant to be out in the world, then to undergo a change. The Muslim is expected to proselytize, to bring the word of God to the whole world, to be global, “his hand on everything – yad b’kol”. So it makes sense that the Muslim has a sense of being uncircumcised, then making a change to a higher ground, for that is what he needs to bring to the world, a knowledge of how to uplift it. The role of the children of Israel is to dwell in tents, jealously preserving the integrity of Torah. If Isaac and Ishmael work in harmony, Isaac would not have to try to be mighty, he would be able to concentrate on Torah learning. Ishmael would draw from that learning and bring it into the world, in a global fashion.
There will be more authentic Torah learning, and the authentic spreading of the word of God. When Isaac and Ishmael work in true harmony.
The message went over well.
The very discussion of the history of Islam in protecting the holy sites of other faiths assumes that Islam is a tolerant religion. This begs the question – how can a religion that espouses absolute truths be tolerant of the other? What is tolerance in the context of Abrahamic religions? Thus we must begin with contrasting western, relativist tolerance with Abrahamic, perennial tolerance.
Tolerance that has been packaged in the west is “laissez-faire” and relativist, looking the other way as everyone carries on in his or her separate path, followed by their own inclinations, with the conviction that there are no absolute truths. In this scenario, since truth is relative to one’s own perception, then truth on a grand scale must be defined as what the majority of people believe.
Moral relativism was a response to the devastation wrought by the European Wars of Religion fought from the 16th through late 17th centuries. If having a strong opinion about religion led to bloodbaths, better to have no opinion at all, or to regard any opinion concerning religion as relative to one’s own set of circumstances.
The impulse to avoid war is indeed a noble one, however, moral relativism has led to intolerance against religion and religious people, and an imposing media and interpersonal culture which must promote the latest politically correct view. Dialectic (debate for the sake of conflict and not for resolution) replaces intellectually honest debate, provocation replaces real attempts at understanding. The imposition of moral relativism has become another vehicle for intolerance, exactly what its proponents hoped to eschew.
Perennialism states that all major religions spring from common truths, expressed differently. This is the kind of tolerance that is in line with Abrahamic religions, and will shed light on what intellectual framework inspires Islam to defend Jewish and Christian holy sites.
Tolerance in Islam
The Qur’an states:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَى وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ (62:2)
Surely, those who believe [the Muslims] and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians, whoever [from among them] believes in God and the last day and does good deeds, shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)
But what of the non-believer? In both Arabic and Hebrew, the word tolerance literally means “to bear”. Both Islam and Judaism recognize that human beings have free will and that allowances must be made for those who do not believe in God and for those who do not follow a monotheistic faith – in the Qur’an, there are copious verses calling for courtesy to non-believers:
“Good and evil deeds are not alike, requite evil with good, and he, between whom and you is enmity, will become your dearest friend. (Ha-Mim al-Sijdah-41:34)
“The true servants of the Merciful are those who walk humbly on the earth, and when the ignorant address them they say: ‘peace’!” (Al-Furqan-25:63)
لرَّحْمَٰنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا – 25:63
“Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation. Reason with them in the most courteous manner”. (Al-Nahl-6:125)
By revisiting the rectified relationship between Ishmael and Isaac, we will have the key to lasting peace.