ISLAM AND JUDAISM, SOME SURPRISING SIMILARITIES
By Harrell Rhome, M.Div., Ph.D.
Our state, church and media “authorities” most often tell us that Christianity, Judaism and Islam all worship the same God and thus share a connection. Indeed, they are dubbed the "three great monotheistic faiths" as if there is a true kinship or compatibility. While there are similarities and likenesses, it is the opinion of this writer that this must never be mistaken for true harmony. While many Christians seem to imagine that there is harmony, or at least the possibility thereof, this is not the case. Neither the Judaic Talmud nor the Koran allow for such a relationship. On the present-day scene with the Palestinian conflict, readers see the greatest animosity between Judaism and Islam. But as ironic as it may sound, there are surprising likenesses between the two religions. All three Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – trace themselves back to Abraham. While the Judaic and Muslim Abrahamic traditions vary a bit (for instance, Abraham built the Kaaba in Mecca), little is really known about Abram/Abraham of ancient times. Did he actually exist or was this merely a personified archetype? In his Anacalypsis, Godfrey Higgins says that Abram/Abraham is merely a transliteration of the Indian Brahma. Whatever the case, as in other things I will show you, there is much more in common between the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Islam than one might think.
WAS MUHAMMAD DESCENDED FROM JUDAIZED ARABS?
In his pre-prophet days, Muhammad was probably a "Hanif", a member of a sect claiming spiritual descent from Abraham. Moreover, several Arab tribes had adopted Judaism of some form. One (like the later Central Asian Khazars) became a Judaic kingdom for a time. The exact origin of the Jewish tribes of the Arabian Peninsula is debatable. Some say the ancient inhabitants of the Meccan district were descended from the Amalekites, Sabaens, Nabathaeans and other former Canaanite tribes peripheral to the Judeans, but who had adopted the Judaic religion. Some writers say that modern Jews, if not descended from the Turko-Mongol Khazar coverts of the 8th century, are largely the scions of Judaized Canaanites, part of the folk later called Sephardim, and related tribes. If we accept these claims, then the Arabized “Jews” would have been just as “Jewish” as most of the ones from Palestine who were, like the Herodian Idumean kings, interbred with Palestinians and Canaanites. At all settled spots in the Hejaz (Yathrib, Taima, Khaibar, Mecca and Taif) were colonies of Arabized Jews. While they maintained some elements of the faith of old Palestine, they spoke Arabic and some had adopted Arabic names. Many migrated into Spain and Portugal with the Islamic invasion in 711 A.D., where they were called Sephardim, which means “of Spain”. When the Muslims were defeated in the Reconquista of the late 15th century, they and the Jews were forced to leave the country or convert. Most Muslims went back to their north African homelands, many Sephardic Jews, well settled and prosperous, often converted, taking Hispanic names. But, our focus is on an earlier time, when there was a close multicultural interaction between the Arabized Jews and the pagan, later Islamicized Arabs.
Among several scholars who addressed the matter was British Arabist, D. G. Hogarth. “In the middle of the fifth century there were enough Jews even in Yemen to impose rule on the Himyar Highlands; and thence some of those found later in Hejaz may have come back with the Arab migrants. Others hailed from the Euphratean country and had been Arabized before leaving their homes. Among these it is worth remembering, were ancestors of the Meccan Kuraish (Muhammad’s tribe) if a later Arab belief was well founded. The Caliph Ali, from whom we have it, was but a loose talker; and it is not inconsistent with the Prophet’s claim to be an Arab of Arabs ‘of the stock of Kuraish and the speech of Beni Saad’, or with the general creed of Moslems ever since. But a grain of truth in it would help to explain the remarkable commercial instinct and enterprise of the Kuraish, the outstanding capacity for (business and commercial) affairs shown by some of its families… whose true origins had been forgotten by the Prophet’s time.” (Hogarth, D. G., Arabia (Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1922, pp. 6-7).) Presence of these Arabized Judaists would also account for the tradition of monotheism in an area of intense polytheism, and for its preference by Muhammad and those of the Kuraish tribe. Some say the monotheistic traditions were from Christian influences, but they are much older.
In 1878, a Turkish Army Major, Osman Bey, penned a book, Jewish World Conquest, in which he addressed the origin of the Jews. “The Jews were, at one time, an Arab tribe, living like the other Arab tribes upon plunder and the productions of their herds. The Old Testament makes no statements from which we might gather the descent of the Jews from the Arabs. Arabic tradition, however, and especially the Koran, fixes the fact that Abraham (Ibraham-Allehi-Selam), an Arab patriarch, lived with his tribe and his herds in Arabia (Hiddjaz) and laid the foundation of the holy Raaba (Kiabeh) [Kaaba], the temple in Mecca, which has, at all times been the seat of monotheistic worship, and where, to this day, prayers are offered up to the God of Abraham, Ismael and Mohammed. We do not know the circumstances which induced Abraham to leave Arabia with his tribe but it was, doubtless, a desire to improve their condition which led the to emigrate. This assumption is all the more justified, as the same desire has, at all times, impelled the nomadic populations to invade the lands adjoining the Arabian peninsula. … [Moreover, a similar religious heritage is clearly found] in the doctrines of the Talmud as well as the Koran – two books that are a rich mine of Semitic ideas and traditions. … Upon their departure from Arabia, Abraham and his people turned towards Mesopotamia. But their stay there was of short duration, the proverbial fruitfulness of the land of Canaan having attracted them. … After their return from Egypt [presented by Osman as a stop along the way] the Jews fell with renewed rage upon the rich lands of Canaan, where they became wealthy and powerful at the expense of the native-born inhabitants.”
The very latest DNA genetic studies indicate a close relationship between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews – so close that it is quite difficult to distinguish one from the other. My unpublished paper, “Of Genes, Jews And Jumps To Judgment: Has Genetic Testing Closed The Question Of Jewish Origins?” deals more extensively with the genetic testing results. See also articles posted on www.khazaria.com, which detail the very latest scientific research. While there is no room to do it justice in this essay, it is my position that the common genetic vector was interbreeding with the Turks. The Khazars converts of c.740A.D. were a Turkic-Mongol tribe, and the Arabs, Arabized Jews (or Judaized Arabs, whichever you prefer) and Jews of Palestine interbred with Turks during the long centuries of Ottoman rule. Hence, all of them share a genetic heritage in spite of the fact that the Ashkenazi Khazar convert Jews never set foot in Palestine until relatively modern times.
CHRISTIAN INFLUENCES ON MUHAMMAD
The old Israelite traditions and the later Talmudism were not the only influence on the founder of Islam. Some writers say that Muhammad was a Christian before creating his own strange religious blend, but there is no way to conclusively determine this. There was a Christian community that existed in Yemen when it was under Abyssinian rulers in the fourth century, with the exception of intervals of Jewish predominance. A Christian Bishop is said to have preached with great eloquence in Mecca, and was heard by Muhammad. Even the great pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses in the pre-Islamic Kaaba was influenced by Judaic and Christian monotheistic beliefs. Hogarth tells us: “The story that an icon of the Byzantine Virgin was associated in the Kaaba with the female idols of the Arabs, Uzza and Allat, should not be lightly dismissed; and there is some reason to suspect that Allah himself was not older at Mecca than the advent of the (Judaized) Kuraish.” Once again, the commercial acumen of the tribe is important to remember. “The Meccans were in the exceptional position of being able to make more out of polytheistic paganism than any of them expected to make by monotheism.” They introduced the traditions that the Zemzem well and the Kaaba were established by Abraham, father of the Semites. “But one suspects that the well had known a goddess before it knew a god. Even in the local legend, Abraham finds an old woman in possession. If the Kuraish imported Allah, who some think was the particular god of their tribe, they may well have imported Abraham too.” And this was very profitable. “The lodgement and supply of Pilgrims seem to have been regulated on a fixed system; and their annual resort was an active cause of commercial and political relations with other communities.” While Taif and Yathrib were rivals, they lacked the organization of Mecca. Petra was no longer a rival either as it lay well outside the peninsula or was already in decay. (See Hogarth.)
THE KORAN SPEAKS ON AND JEWS CHRISTIANS
As most readers are probably unfamiliar with the Koran, the following section is presented for your enlightenment. Essentially and fundamentally, the Koran allows for no other religions. Pagans are particularly despised, as the present-day animists of southern Sudan know, as well as the equally despised Christians of that sad region. The destruction of the centuries-old Buddha statues by the Afghan Taliban represents how a Muslim, strictly speaking, should handle such pre-Islamic barbarism. “The People of the Book,” that is, Jews and Christians, are to be tolerated (barely) – but taxed. As are critics of any religion, I will be inevitably accused of taking all of this out of context. Yet that conclusion begs the basic question of why the verses are there in the first place. For hundreds of millions of Muslims, they are the irrevocable words of Allah, and for the Islamist extremists and jihadis, they are of crucial importance. With that said, please consider the following texts. (Suras, Chapters and Ayahs, verses taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation on the Radio Islam website.)
2:62. Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
2:113. The Jews say: "The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught (To stand) upon." Yet they (Profess to) study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but God will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment.
2:120. Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion. Say: "The Guidance of God,-that is the (only) Guidance." Wert thou to follow their desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither Protector nor helper against God.
2:135. They say: "Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (To salvation)." Say thou: "Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with God."
2.140. Or do ye say that Abraham, Isma'il Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than God? Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from God? but God is not unmindful of what ye do!
4:46. Of the Jews there are those who displace words from their (right) places, and say: "We hear and we disobey"; and "Hear what is not Heard"; and "Ra'ina"; with a twist of their tongues and a slander to Faith. If only they had said: "What hear and we obey"; and "Do hear"; and "Do look at us"; it would have been better for them, and more proper; but God hath cursed them for their Unbelief; and but few of them will believe.
4:160. For the iniquity of the Jews We made unlawful for them certain (foods) good and wholesome which had been lawful for them;- in that they hindered many from God's Way;-
5:15. From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did take a covenant, but they forgot a good part of the message that was sent them: so we estranged them, with enmity and hatred between the one and the other, to the day of judgment. And soon will God show them what it is they have done.
5:20. (Both) the Jews and the Christians say: "We are sons of God, and his beloved." Say: "Why then doth He punish you for your sins? Nay, ye are but men,- of the men he hath created: He forgiveth whom He pleaseth, and He punisheth whom He pleaseth: and to God belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between: and unto Him is the final goal (of all)"
5:44. O Apostle! let not those grieve thee, who race each other into unbelief: (whether it be) among those who say "We believe" with their lips but whose hearts have no faith; or it be among the Jews,- men who will listen to any lie,- will listen even to others who have never so much as come to thee. They change the words from their (right) times and places: they say, "If ye are given this, take it, but if not, beware!" If any one's trial is intended by God, thou hast no authority in the least for him against God. For such - it is not God's will to purify their hearts. For them there is disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter a heavy punishment.
5:47. It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to God's will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God's book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers.
5.54. O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust.
5:72. Those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
5:85. Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, "We are Christians": because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.
WHEN CONVERSION FAILS, JIHAD IS THE NEXT STEP
Because of his Christo-Gnostic-Judaic-quasi-Abrahamic influences, Muhammad naturally expected Christians and Jews, and more especially, those of the Arab-Jewish tribes, to see the light and convert to his new revelation. Surely, thought Muhammad, they will follow me and recognize Allah, but of course, they did not. Then as now, Jews of any kind are most averse to conversion. When these conversion efforts miserably failed, jihad became the chosen strategy. As well as ridding the newly conquered Islamic lands of the idolater-Christians, Muhammad later annihilated the Jewish-Arab tribes of North Africa in one of the first bloody Islamic Jihads. This is a characteristic of Islam. The Ones In Submission to Allah (Muslims) must tolerate the infidels only for so long. Infidels must be given a chance to convert, but if they refuse, then conversion by conquest through holy war (jihad) is seen as not only legitimate, but demanded by the Koran.
Even so, this should be judged in context. As exemplified amply in the Old Testament, and foreshadowing the Christian Crusaders yet to come, early Islam follows an ancient [Abrahamic and later Mosaic] tradition of holy war and murder in the name of a god. Sir Richard Burton said, "And did Moses disdain to place carnal weapons in the hands of his people? The great Lawgiver of Israel sanctioned the murder in cold blood of women and child captives. Even kings were hewed in pieces before the Lord." (The Jew, The Gypsy And El Islam, 1898.) This is a fascinating line of inquiry to follow as it leads to the conclusion that what we today know as jihad has both Mosaic and Talmudic-Jewish roots. One of many famous stories about Muhammad concerns an attempted poisoning by a Jewess. After this, not to mention the consistently unrelenting and often bitter rejections by the Jews, he finally gave up on converting them. Muslims were then told to face Mecca for prayer, where previously, they faced Jerusalem.
OTHER RITUAL SIMILARITIES
To some degree, both early Islam and early Christianity may be seen as efforts to reform, purify and unify Judaic and pre-Judaic Hebrew-Israelitish beliefs. But while the church gave up most Mosaic and later Talmudic/Pharisaic law codes, circumcision, ritual foods, and the like, Islam did not. As a matter of fact, ritual food preparations are almost identical. Muslim Halal food may be substituted when a Talmudic Kosher meal is not available, and vice versa. Both the Orthodox Jew and the devoutly observant Muslim prefer the unshaved beard, though the Islamists omit the Hasidic forelocks. Most mosques, like Orthodox synagogues, separate male and female worshippers. Women are not really regarded very highly in either faith. The Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening. Islam has no real Sabbath but Friday, often in the evening, became the day when a Mullah or Imam preaches a sermon and reads from the Koran. Islam, like Judaism, has no liturgical music or dance (except in Sufi mystical sects). A mosque (masjid in Arabic) and a synagogue have no statues or images. They are plain and unadorned so that worshippers are not distracted. If there is any central element other than the pulpit, it is a copy of the respective scriptures.
The scriptures of Islam and Judaism have a similar place in both religions. We have the Koran, which has ample texts refuting or abrogating (“abridging” say the Muslims) others, and the Talmud, which is notorious for splitting legalistic hairs. Since the Koranic chapters are arranged by length, there is no way to tell which text might have come first. And then we have the Hadith (“Traditions”), which function something like the Talmud, as a guide or secondary scriptures, to interpret, perhaps to get around, avoid and evade, what is found in the Koran. Looking at clergy of all religions, a Mullah is more akin to the rabbinical model, as he is, above all, a judge, an interpreter of the Sharia of Allah just as the Rabbi interprets the Torah and Talmud. Sharia Law operates like Rabbinical Talmudic Law. One submits disputes to a court of Mullahs (the word means judge) and Koranic scholars who decide the case. This is essentially the same as a Judaic beit din court in which Rabbis and scholars determine the results. Both Judaism and Islam might be best described as legal systems as much as religions.
In another interesting parallel, one most often changes his or her name after converting to either Islam or Orthodox Talmudism. Practically every convert to Islam changes their name, and some Jews do the same. Proper immigrants to Israel have the right to adopt a Jewish name when moving there. There are other similarities as well, but lately on TV, some of them are uncannily mirrored in rituals and educational practices. Koranic study, like Talmudic study, is intense. If he (like Jews, women are not encouraged to study scripture) learns to recite the Koran from memory, a Muslim then bears the honorific, Hafiz. Watch the young Islamic boys at Madrassah schools in their skullcaps swaying back and forth reciting the Koran just as Jewish boys in yarmulkes recite Judaic scriptures at the Yeshiva. The Jewish swaying and nodding is often seen at the "Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem. Burial practices are similar as well. The actual rites are simple -- what we see on TV at Muslim martyr-funerals are the public parts, heavily politicized, especially the parade with the ubiquitous martyr photo (posing for this is a big deal accompanied by a celebration) plastered on big posters carried by the mourning crowd, always accompanied by a cacophony of ululating Muslim women. Muslims, as do the Orthodox Talmudist Jews, inter the body very quickly after the death.
Formerly, all three religions forbade usury. Christianity gave this up in the 1500s, and Talmudic Jews can practice all the usury they want with non-Jews, but Islamic banking still holds to the non-usurious model. Naturally, the international banking and trade cartel would like to suppress and destroy this rival system, but seem to be content with merely co-opting it. Whether Interest is charged or not, every culture must have money, and money comes through the international banking cartel. Again, this is a topic worth further exploration as the Islamic banking system could provide a useful non-usurious paradigm.
In another likeness, both Jews and Muslims are quite exclusive, essentially regarding those who do not practice their true religion as heathens at best and cattle/goyim sub-humans at worst. One who has submitted to the purity of Islam does not make friends or confidants of such types. Strongly echoing the Talmud, the Koran says: "O ye who believe! Take not Jews and Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily, Allah guideth not a people unjust." (Sura 5:51) Think of this verse, then think of all the trouble Islamic countries have with U.S. military and cultural presence in Muslim lands. No wonder Osama bin Laden and many others think that the Saudi royals apostatized and betrayed the Koran by allowing American military protectors on holy soil. And perhaps the highlighted part of the verse is not so far off base when one thinks of the "Judeo-Christian" pro-Zionist U.S.A. and its backing of Israeli state terrorism against Palestinians.
There are other ironic and incongruous similarities between the two religions as well, but this short survey will have to suffice for now. As said in the beginning, readers should in no way mistake the likenesses for harmony and tolerance. However, we must note that before the Palestinian conflict, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in relative peace with one another all over the Middle East, especially in Palestine and other areas of the old Ottoman Empire. While they were never truly equals, there was, more or less, an atmosphere of tolerance. All of this changed radically and perhaps irrevocably with the establishment of the artificially contrived Zionist ministate mistakenly called Israel. The Nuterei Karta Orthodox Jewish movement proposes to seek peace by dismantling the ministate, saying it is the greatest danger to Jews all over the world. But even if this most unlikely scenario should occur, the present-day severe hatreds and animosities would, at best, take generations to heal.