A Description of what seems similar to Judaism and what seems different in the presentation of Islam

Jews and Muslims

One of my esteemed teachers once stated that the closest religion to Islam in this day and age is Judaism. This statement has been at the back of my mind for a long time, probing me to research its accuracy. Finally, I got the chance to do a bit of research in this regard and here are my findings. In no way does this essay try to prove that Judaism is a religion that must be followed or is tantamount to following Islam, as will be apparent from the essay. I still bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the final messenger and servant of Allah. I still insist that Islam is the religion that should be followed and following its teachings will lead one to the straight path, the path of ultimate salvation and success.

 

Introduction

Islam and Judaism are two religions that share similar values; hence there is a special relationship between them. Furthermore, Islam includes Jewish history as part of its own. This is clear from the fact that the Children of Israel are regarded as a central religious concept in Islam. That is why there are many references to Israelites in the Qur’ān and Prophetic narrations. Moreover, Moses عليه السلام, the Prophet specifically sent to the Israelites has been mentioned in the Qur’ān more than any other prophet. In Judaism, Muslims are seen as righteous people of God. This is because Jews perceive Muslims as monotheists (Williams 2015). The following essay will describe the similarities and differences to Judaism in the presentation of Islam.

 

Islamic sources suggest that in Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s time a Jewish community was living in Medina and not Muhammad ﷺ’s birth town of Makkah. Muhammad ﷺ’s own tribe forced him out of Makkah and he subsequently sought refuge in Medina. This is when Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came into contact with the Jewish community. From this point onwards, Islamic images of Jews were first established. The Qur’ān first instructed Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to visit the Jews and learn from them:

 

“And if you (Muhammad) are uncertain about what We have sent down to you, ask those who read the Book [that was] before you. The truth has come to you from your Lord, so never be one of those who doubt” (Qur’ān, 10:94).

 

At the same time the Qur’ān condemns Jews due to their rejecting the prophetic status of Muhammad ﷺ. (Jewish-Muslim relations 2004:1-3)

 

Judaism and Islam are both monotheistic religions that worship the God of Adam عليه السلام, Abraham عليه السلام, and Moses عليه السلام. They share the common belief of oneness of God, angels, divine revelation, prophets, Judgment Day, moral responsibility and accountability and eternal reward and punishment.

 

Both faiths emphasize their special covenant with God, for Judaism through Moses عليه السلام and Islam through Muhammad ﷺ. Islam and Muslims identify Judaism, their biblical prophets (among them Adam عليه السلام, Abraham عليه السلام, Moses عليه السلام,) and their revelation (the Torah). Muslim respect for all the prophets is apparent in their tradition of saying “Peace and blessings be upon him” after naming them.

 

Though, Muslims believe that Islam surpasses Judaism because the Qur’ān is the ultimate and complete word of God and that Muhammad ﷺ is the last of the prophets.

 

Islam is similar to Judaism in its stress on practice of law. The key religious discipline in both Judaism and Islam has been religious law. In Judaism and Islam the major debates and disagreements that have occurred in history have been amongst the scholars of religious law regarding matters of religious practice.

 

How do Muslims view Judaism?

Jews hold a special status within Islam due to the Muslim belief that God revealed His will through His prophets, including Moses عليه السلام, a Prophet sent to the Jews:

 

“Say, we believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what has been sent down to Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring, and what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus and to all the prophets of our Lord. We make no distinction between them and we submit to Him and obey.”(Qur’ān, 3:84)

 

Islam regards Jews as children of Abraham عليه السلام and refers to them as “People of the Book”. This is because they are from a monotheistic faith and are descendants from the same lineage of Abraham عليه السلام. Jews trace themselves back to Abraham عليه السلام and his wife Sarah; Muslims, to Abraham عليه السلام and his servant Hagar. Muslims believe that God sent his revelation (Torah) to the Jews through the Prophet Moses عليه السلام. Muslims believe that as time passed the original revelations to Moses عليه السلام became corrupted. (Esposito 2002)

 

The Law

Qur’ān

Its compilation process was only spread over a span of a few years and not centuries. A historical fact admitted by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike is the authenticity, transparency and universality of its text. Although many objections and questions regarding several aspects of the Qur’ān have been raised by non-Muslim scholars over the centuries, there currently seems to be a degree of consensus of the unity, universality and purity of the Qur’ānic text, among those who are actively involved in the field of Qura’nic studies. Furthermore, even though exhaustive efforts have been made to meet the Qur’ānic challenge of producing a rival verse like that of the Qur’ān, it stands unmet even after fourteen centuries. Moreover, there has been no violation of its claim of divine protection, preservation and purity of text, a claim that was also made fourteen centuries ago. The agreement, reliability, textual purity, and universality of its text over these extended centuries is sufficient proof to the fact of its divine status as the word of God. (Shah 2012:68,69)

 

Hebrew Bible

It is clear that the God Paradigm presented by the data of the Hebrew Bible is not consistent. This is because polar tendencies are somewhat noticeable. Despite the transcendental monotheism being there, it has not been presented in a systematic way. One has to go through many contradictory statements and declarations and go through an excessive volume of information, just to derive a concept of the absolute transcendence of God from the text of the Hebrew Bible. This has to be done with external help so it can be done satisfactorily. (Shah 2012:64)

 

Logically proving the Hebrew bible to be the precise word of God and substantiating the traditional claims has become virtually impossible. Contemporary critical scholarship sees it as the word of man or at the least an indirect inspiration with a mixture of both God’s and man’s words. The existence of these problems admitted by most biblical scholars proves that the Hebrew Bible in its present state cannot be taken as the word of God. (Shah 2012:66)

 

Since its existence, Judaism has primarily been a religion of laws, emphasising to live in accordance with the instructions of God.

 

Islam followed the Jewish approach to God by stressing works over faith. The Jewish laws known as the Halakha and Islamic laws known as the Sharia, share much in common. Both discuss various matters such as social behaviour, personal habits, family relations and political attitudes. Devoted Jews and Muslims lives revolve around their respective laws and seldom do they discard them. The codes of both respective laws encompass guidance for every possible situation such as how to bathe, what to eat, how to pray, who inherits etc. For both Jews and Muslims, the text of the law counts as much as its spirit. Hence, the key means of reaffirming God’s covenant with Abraham عليه السلام for Jews is to live according to the Halakha. Likewise, for Muslims, to fulfil the sharia they live as Muhammad ﷺ and his companions did.

 

Theology presents the great intellectual challenge to Jews and Muslims who have always been most preoccupied with the religious code of laws. Scholars of both communities have dedicated a huge amount of time and effort in elaborating a comprehensive system of guidelines from the divine books and their oral commentaries (Talmud, Ĥadīth), juridical pieces, and legal references.

 

The Halakha and sharia were developed in similar forms. Their methodologies were developed by devout and pious men without any influence from others. In the two codes some terms of analysis are alike. Ultimately both derived much from shared sources of Middle Eastern thought and Greek logic. Furthermore, both were expounded mainly in Iraq where the compilation of the Talmud came to an end in the 6th century, whereas collections of the Ĥadīth initiated not long thereafter, making direct influence probable.

 

Unique circumstances were dealt with by decisions of prominent, expert religious authorities. In principle, the main rules became fixed over time and scholars’ main point of focus was minor matters. However, the laws remained flexible to an extent. Both Jews and Muslims, consider learning about legal matters as a form of worship.

 

The scholars in religions, Rabbis and Ulamā share much in common. An individual believer can worship God directly without their assistance. However, he needs assistance from them for carrying out God’s mandates accurately. Furthermore, Rabbis and Ulamā explain the law. Their proficiency in the laws was the gateway to other roles such as judges, community leaders and educators.

 

Ways of Life

Similar codes of law led to many parallels in the way of life of traditional Jewish and Muslim communities. Examples of resemblances are as follows.

 

Prayers

Mosque and synagogue services are both informal, with regular visits from devotees. Women do not have to go to the services, though if they choose to go then they normally have a separate section where they are separate from men. Jewish and Muslim discussions are filled with references to God and to blessings etc. However, Muslims tend to invoke God frequently in every few sentences, whereas devout Jews don’t mention His name. Both religions oblige ritual purity, such as after sexual relations, sleeping, urination, excretion etc. Before commencing prayers, Jews pour water over their hands, whereas Muslims pour it over other parts of the body too.

 

Food

Jews and Muslims are required to uphold strict codes about eating meat and other foods. For this, they tend to normally stay together and live in systematised communities.

 

Traditional education

There resemblances in traditional educational systems are remarkable. The children of both devoted Jews and Muslims start to memorise their holy book from the tender age of approximately five. Students sway back and forth to assist in this process of memorisation. The classroom has a voice projection as students recite, with a teacher attentively watching and listening. The teachers in such establishments often live off fees brought by students to class from their parents.

 

Thereafter, some students go on to learn the meaning of the holy book. As the children grow older, the concern of their study turns to the general intellectual concern of Jews and Muslims and the divine law.

 

Intermingling of the sexes

Traditional Jewish and Muslim laws function on the notion that the unnecessary intermingling of the sexes will abolish the social order. Both Jews and Muslims arrange daily life to avoid unnecessarily intermingling of sexes. This is by rigorous regulations of work, travel, family relations and even amusement. Both traditions oblige men not to unnecessarily gaze at women. The two sexes can rarely freely deal with each other.

 

Modern Life

In recent times, the traditional way of life for both Jews and Muslims has not progressed well. Very few Jews still live strictly according to the Halakha. Whereas, many Muslims still observe the Sharia. That is clearly apparent because there are more Muslims, although observance is steadily decreasing due to the effect of modern life. As more Muslims and Jews are neglecting their laws, consequently there is an increasing stress of faith over action. While, this is causing them to forsake their own heritages in adopting the Christian approach to God.

 

There are all types of Jews in this day and age; some devote ones that observe major portions of their law such as kosher laws and sex restrictions. There are those who act upon some of the laws such as prohibition of pork and fasting. Then there are those who totally ignore.

 

Muslims are the same and also face the challenges and lures of the West and Western culture, especially after European established their dominance over the Muslim lands in nineteenth century. However, the battle over the Sharia still rages.

 

For many centuries, Judaism and Islam were very much alike due to their adherence to divine law. However, now most Jews happily accept modern life whilst Muslims challenge it. Consequently, in this day and age, Judaism in many aspects appears more similar to Christianity than to Islam; and in many ways it is. (Pipes 1981)

 

The idea of personal God has been developed by Judaism and Islam, though in Islam to a lesser degree. This notion has assisted those that adhere to monotheism, value the sacred and undeniable rights of the individual and to nurture an appreciation of human personality. (Armstrong 1993:94)

 

Some noticeable differences

If one looks in to Judaism then it becomes apparent that it is uniquely tied to the Hebrew ethnicity, hence no religious missionary work seems to be apparent from them. On the other hand, Islam encourages spreading its faith to others.

 

Jews do not believe in the scriptures of the other faiths.  However, Muslims believe in the legitimacy of both the Old and the New Testaments.  Though, Muslims believe that both scriptures have been tampered with and have hence become corrupted.

 

With regards to Jesus عليه السلام , the Jews believe he was a false prophet, while Muslims believe that he was a true prophet. Furthermore, the Jews do not believe that Muhammad ﷺ was divinely inspired. Muslims believe the contrary, whereas they believe that Muhammad ﷺ was the last prophet of God.

 

Conclusion

Upon conclusion, it will not be far-fetched to say that despite the differences, Judaism is arguably the closest religion to Islam with similarities such as they both share a common origin through Abraham عليه السلام. Hence, they are considered Abrahamic religions. Islam is akin to Judaism in its essential religious outlook, jurisprudence, structure and practice. There has been a significant and continuous, theological, physical and political overlap between the two religions in the past fourteen hundred years. This is because of the similarities between both faiths, along with the influence of Muslim culture and philosophy on practitioners of Judaism within the Islamic world.

 

Bibliography

  • Esposito, J.L., (2002). What Everyone Needs To Know About Islam. USA: Oxford University Press.
  • Firestone, Reuven, Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims (NY: Schocken, 2001)
  • Kenney, J., (1990). Enemies Near and Far: The Image of the Jews in Islamist Discourse in Egypt. Religion 24.
  • Peters, F. E., (2003). The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Volume I: The Peoples of God. Princeton University Press.Shah, Z. A., (2012). Anthropomorphic depictions of God, the concept of God in Judaic, Christian & Islamic traditions, USA: International institute of Islamic thought.
  • Torrey, C. C., (1933). The Jewish foundation of Islam. New York: Jewish institute of religion press.
  • Williams, I., (2015) Unpublished lecture notes taken from lecture on Interaction with the Abrahamic Faiths held on 09/02/2015 at MIHE.
  • (2007/2008). Children of Jews and Muslims in Conversation Abraham, a dialogue curriculum prepared in partnership by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Islamic Society of North America. California, America.

 

Internet sources

Share Button
Print Print
Join Our Mailing List
Get updates and latest articles in your inbox!

Tayyib HMC FInder

Munadil Islaam

Comments...

Rabbi Allen S. Maller on

Islamic and Jewish Views of Jesus’ Teachings
Rabbi Allen S. Maller

It was revealed by the tongue of Jesus: “A land is cursed if its rulers are young boys.” (Muhammad ibn Sa’d) But this is not written anywhere in the Gospels.

Perhaps Jesus was simply repeating Ecclesiastes 10:16 “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a young boy.” Or perhaps it is a sacred oral teaching that was not written down, what Muslims call a Hadith qudsi and Jews call an Oral Torah teaching.

Hadith and Oral Torah are important expansions of the written revelation. For example: God revealed to Jesus: “O Jesus, admonish yourself. Once admonished, admonish other people. Otherwise, be modest in my sight.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal) in another Hadith qudsi. Judaism is in full agreement with this teaching.

Jesus met a man and asked him, “What are you doing?” “I am devoting myself to God,” the man answered. Jesus asked, “Who takes care of you?” “My brother,” replied the man. Jesus said, “Your brother is more devoted to God that you are.” (Abdallah ibn Qutayba) and I say “Amen”.

A disciple of Jesus the son of Mary, who was in charge of collecting and distributing charity complained to Jesus that, “these activities ‘steal’ lots of valuable time from me that I would prefer to devote to prayer and meditation.”

Rabbi Jesus replied, “It is not true that acts of generosity and kindness ‘steal’ your time. If anything, these Mitsvot give you more time!”

The disciple continued his charitable activities and the prophecy of Jesus that; “acts of generosity and kindness do not steal one’s time, but rather give one more time” was fulfilled. He lived an additional seven good years after becoming very ill and then passed away quickly.

“Yet there are many people who are very charitable and do not have their lives extended,” said his disciples. Jesus replied, “This is true for sometimes the extra years are received in this world and sometimes in the next world. No one except God knows why this occurs. Blessed are those who are able to accept this Torah.

Finally I add my Oral Torah teaching of Jesus, the son of Mary, that represents his wisdom for today’s pluralistic world: Jesus taught his disciples, “ There are many rooms in my father’s house.” (John 14:2)

One disciple asked, “Do you mean that even in the end of days, in the Messianic Age, each nation will follow its own God, while we Jews will continue to follow the God of Israel?”(Bible: Micah 4:5)

“Yes” said Jesus.

“Or do you mean that the righteous of all nations and religions will have a place in Heaven?” (Talmud: Sanhedrin 105a)

“Yes” said Jesus.

“Or do you mean there will never be total agreement among human beings either in this world or in the next world.”

“Yes” said Jesus, “if God had so desired he could have made you all the same, but he made each person an individual, and divided you into many languages and religions, so that God (and other humans) might measure your faith, by seeing how many of you, compared to others, live up to the teachings of your own religion.” (Qur’an 5:48)

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: http://www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.



Leave a Reply