Saturday, January 20, 2007

The futility of Muslim anti-Semitism

The young woman approached her husband as he was sitting with his companions. She was most distressed.

"Oh Messenger of God! Your other wife teases me for being the daughter of a Jew."

Her husband then turned to the other wife and exclaimed: "Have fear of God!"

He then turned to the young upset woman and said: "People have no reason to be scornful toward you. After all, you are the descendant of Prophets and you are now married to a Prophet."

The young woman subjected to the slight concerning her heritage was Safiyya, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. His response to a jibe at her Jewish heritage was disgust at the other wife making the jibe. He also honoured Safiyya’s heritage, praising her as the descendant of Prophets of God.

Believers in the Prophet Muhammad are expected to honour all his wives. When mentioning them by name, Muslims are meant to use the prefix Umm al-Mu’mineen (literally “Mother of the Believers”). Safiyya’s Jewish heritage does not exempt her from this honour.

And why should it? Let’s face facts. It’s hard to find a pair of faiths with so much in common as Islam and Judaism. Both emerged from the Middle East. Both have scriptures revealed in Semitic languages. Both contain a sacred law and a rich tradition of jurisprudence. Both also have a rich mystical and spiritual tradition (known in Judaism as kabbalah and in Islam as tasawwuf or irfan).

Believers of both faiths are encouraged to learn to read their scriptures in their original language. Both have strict dietary laws. Both have special feast days as well as weekly congregational services.

Jewish traditions date back millennia before Islam, which appeared on the scene in the 7th century. At times, followers of the two faiths have clashed. However, such clashes have been the exception and not the rule.

It disgusts and disturbs me when Muslims use offensive language toward persons of Jewish faith and/or heritage. Often such prejudice is triggered by understandable concern for the welfare of the Palestinians and disgust at Israeli military assaults on neighbouring countries.

To support Lebanese territorial sovereignty and Palestinian human rights is one thing. To despise Jewish cultures and peoples is something else. Anti-Semitism goes against our faith and our heritage. By hating Jews, we are essentially hating ourselves.

The anti-Semitism of certain leaders of Muslim countries is often hard to fathom. What is the point of organising a cartoon contest or an international conference dedicated to questioning the Holocaust?

In November 2005, I wrote in the New Zealand Herald about Iranian President Ahmedinejad and his calls to "wipe Israel off the map". I’ll continue writing on this topic later, and will end off at this stage with some paragraphs from that article.

Many Muslim voices seeking the destruction of Israel use historical figures such as the Kurdish general Salahuddin Ayyubi (known in Europe as Saladdin) who defeated the Crusaders and liberated Jerusalem.

Yet even Saladdin recognised the Crusader kingdoms and sent emissaries and ambassadors to them. Perhaps if Saladdin were alive today, he would have recognised Israel even if engaged in military conflict with the Jewish state.

The brilliance of Saladdin’s campaign against the Crusaders lay not just in his military tactics. Saladdin was an excellent negotiator with moderate views who sought to avoid war at all costs.

Saladdin made regular overtures to his enemies, and insisted his troops obey the rules as outlined in the customary international law of the region at that time …

Before attacking the Crusader kingdoms, Saladdin single-handedly destroyed the Fatimid Empire in Egypt.

The Fatimids were the most powerful Shia empire of the time, and were accused by Saladdin of providing assistance and intelligence to the Crusader kingdoms.

Saladdin did not see the task of liberating Jerusalem in purely Muslim terms. It was not a battle against all Jews or all Christians. Indeed, Saladdin appointed the prominent Spanish Jewish physician and rabbinical scholar Shaykh Musa bin Maymun al-Qurtubi (Moses Maimonides) as the chief medical officer of his army.

Saladdin’s good sense and moderation yielded results. He was able to liberate Jerusalem within his lifetime, and showed magnanimity to his defeated opponents.

Christian and Muslim historians have recorded that when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they entered the main Mosque and Synagogue with civilian blood up to their knees. When Saladdin achieved victory, there were few civilian casualties.

The Iranian President’s comments are more reminiscent of Crusader barbarism and ignorance than the moderation and tolerance of the great Saladdin.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007