Thursday, February 12, 2015

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (15): Offer to the Jews of Khaybar


As the interaction with the Jews in Medina continues, Muhammad writes a letter to the Jews of Khaybar, saying: “O scripture folk, and you will find it in your scripture[,] ‘Muhammad is the apostle of [Allah].” He then gives some statements as to why this is the case, and concludes, “If you do not find that in your scripture then there is no compulsion upon you. ‘The right path has become plainly distinguished from error’ so I call you to [Allah] and His prophet.”

In these words, a remarkable challenge is posed. Yet Ibn Ishaq gives no follow through of any discussion of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) itself (which neither Muhammad nor Ibn Ishaq ever quote), and whether Muhammad’s assertions are confirmed or not. Ibn Ishaq does continue here and say: “Among the people concerning whom the Quran came down, especially the rabbis and unbelieving Jews who used to ask him questions[,] and annoying him in confusing truth with falsehood … the apostle as he was reciting the opening words of The Cow: ‘Alif, Lam, Mim, That is the book about which there is no doubt.’ ”

So the Qur’an is used again to silence questions and discussion, and Muhammad is also challenging the very basis of the treaty he just made with the Jews of Medina – to respect their religion and property. He calls them to submit to Islam, but also, at this juncture, leaves open their freedom, at least in that one moment, to say no if they do not see Muhammad in the Tanakh.

Jesus: In his dialogues with his enemies, Jesus invites them to prove him wrong relative to fulfilling the scriptures. His patience in this regard is never exhausted, and he does not cut off debate.

Monday, January 26, 2015

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (14): Questions by Rabbis


A number of “Jewish rabbis came to the apostle and asked him to answer four questions, saying that if he did so[,] they would follow him and testify to his truth and believe in him. He got them to swear a solemn oath that if he gave them the right answers they would acknowledge his truth and they began …”

The four questions address various details, including matters of superstition and post-biblical concerns. Muhammad is unable to answer their questions to their satisfaction, and again resorts to a recitation of the Qur’an that “comes down” at the moment from Allah, and the discussion ends.

Jesus: In the face of his enemies, Jesus allows them to prove him wrong if possible: “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (13): Pattern Establishes Itself


At this point in Ibn Ishaq’s narrative, a building pattern is in place – a) Islam intrinsically mocks pagan gods from the outset, b) pagans and Jews mock Islam in response, c) Muhammad gives directives for violent responses, and d) military war follows.

Ibn Ishaq attributes the first hundred verses of Sura 2 in the Qur’an to “rabbis and hypocrites,” a Sura that covers language in invitation to Islam, a statement of freedom from religious compulsion (2:256), but also an initial call to jihad or holy war in 2:190: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you.”

Jesus: The pattern of the Gospel is to bless those who curse us, and to turn the other cheek to mockery, thus cutting off cycles of revenge, violence and warfare. Its definition of freedom is proactive, and not contradicted by a “holy war” for temporal political power.

Monday, December 22, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (12): Hatred of the Jews


The Arab peoples of Muhammad’s day love poetic verse, and compete in it often. In the ratcheting conflicts with non-Muslims that Muhammad catalyzes, one poet is “suspected of hypocrisy and love of the Jews.” A lead Muslim poet, Hassan, says of him:

Who will tell al-Dahhak that his veins
Were unable to be glorified in Islam?
Do you love the Jews of al-Hijaz and their religion,
You liver-hearted ass, and not love Muhammad?
Their religion will never march with ours
As long as men roam the open desert.

Some rabbis also assemble at the mosque and laugh and scoff at Islam among themselves. Muhammad orders them to be ejected, and this happens with violence, where a Muslim grabs a rabbi “by his robe, slapped his face, and dragged him forcibly out of the mosque, saying, ‘Faugh! You dirty hypocrite! Keep out of the apostle’s mosque, you hypocrite!’ ” Another Muslim seizes a rabbi by his long beard “and dragged him violently out of the mosque. Then clenching his fists he punched him in the chest and knocked him down, Zayd crying the meanwhile, ‘You have torn my skin off!’ ‘[Allah] rid of you, you hypocrite,’ he answered, ‘[Allah] has a worse punishment than that in store for you, so don’t come near the apostle’s mosque again!’ ”

Jesus: The cursing and mocking of others is foreign to the Gospel. When Jesus pronounces seven woes against his enemies, it is only after they silence themselves in public debate, unable to rationalize their plans to kill him. In the opposite of ejecting scoffers, Jesus welcomes them, fulfilling the Hebrew Bible’s vision of Mount Zion as a “light to the Gentiles,” and as the “Court of the Gentiles” in the temple of his day evidences. And then on the cross he submits to the humiliation of those who mock him there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (11): The Question of Hypocrisy and Annoying Questions


Following Muhammad's one-way treaty with the Jews, opposition arises. As well, the polytheists “obstinately clung to their heathen religion.” They are “compelled to pretend to accept [Islam] to save their lives. But in secret ways they were hypocrites whose inclination was towards the Jews because they considered the apostle a liar and strove [jihad] against Islam.”

Commenting on Ibn Ishaq here, the translator Alfred Guillaume notes that “Muslims look with a tolerant eye on a man who conceals his belief [in Islam] through force majeure, but to pretend to be a Muslim is a crime.” This antecedes the doctrine of taqiyya, where deceit is permissible, if necessary, in the advance of Islam.

Hypocrisy is thus permitted for Muslims, but is a crime for non-Muslims. Ibn Ishaq then notes that “it was the Jewish rabbis who use to annoy the apostle with questions and introduce confusion, so as to confound the truth with falsity. The Quran used to come down in reference to these questions of theirs.”

Jesus: Concealing faith in Jesus is not an option for his disciples – no hypocrisy or strategic deception is possible. As he says: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” And as well: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (10): Muhammad's One-Way Treaty with the Jews in Medina


When Muhammad and his companions, numbering at this point about 900, flee to the largely Jewish towns in Medina, they receive him and give him religious, political and economic liberty as refugees. He then makes a treaty with them that is designed to protect Islam, but not to protect non-Muslims. It is essentially dictated by, and in service to Muhammad’s military presence.

There are eleven factors that sum up this treaty: 1) Muhammad is the one who writes the treaty – no input from others; 2) he establishes the Jews “in their religion and property,” but this is true only insofar as the Jews accept Muhammad’s unilateral terms; 3) this means that the Jews are required to “submit,” which is to say, from the outset, Islam is declared superior to Judaism, and thus, this is not truly a compact between equals; 4) there are “reciprocal” obligations, but they are not defined reciprocally; 5) the definition of the umma (community or brotherhood) excludes unbelievers and polytheists (even those polytheists living in Medina alongside the Jews before Muhammad arrives); 6) Muhammad defines who is included and who is excluded from this umma, with Jews listed both as “believers” in obligation, but separately as Jews, able to obey the treaty, but not be fully included as equals; 7) this exclusiveness means war against all outsiders, a “fighting [jihad] in the way of Allah,” and where Jews too must avenge their own sons who might break treaty; 8) the treaty is in sole service to the military advance of Islam; 9) it thus requires of the Jews, and any of their allies, obedience to Muhammad as the sole interpreter of religion and arbiter in any and all disputes; 10) the Jews may make no treaties or associations with those outside this umma; and 11) it requires a tacit profession that Muhammad is the true prophet, “the apostle of Allah.”

Jesus: As the mediator of the new covenant, Jesus never gives one-way dicta, but fulfills all covenantal law back to creation, where he lives the laws he expects of others. He always puts others ahead of himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (9): Muhammad Co-Opts Religious Liberty


In four significant phases, Muhammad is de facto protected in his early and vulnerable Meccan years by the religious, political and economic liberty given him by non-Muslims.

First, his uncle and polytheist Abu į¹¬alib, protects him over and over from his enemies. Second, as already noted, ‘Umar is protected by a Qurayshi polytheist and shaykh, Al-‘As b. Wa’il Sahmi, at the outset in the Meccan sanctuary. This is strategic for Muhammad’s confidence in moving forward, as it is his lifelong goal to bring the Ka’ba and Mecca under Islamic dominance. Third, under the duress of initial opposition, many of the early Muslims flee to Abyssinia, where the Christian Negus (king) gives them protection. And fourth, as we will note momentarily, the Jews in Medina give him protection from his enemies as he flees Mecca.

But, as we will also see, Muhammad never reciprocates any of the liberties he is given.

Jesus: The freedom to choose yes or no to Jesus fulfills the biblical order of creation and the Law of Moses, and is never manipulated. In the Golden Rule taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the equanimity and justice of Jesus can be seen as he says, “Treat others as you would have them treat you” (my translation) and as well, “Give, and it will be given to you.”