It is said that every seventh person in the world is a Muslim or a follower of Islam. As in the case of Christianity, the story of Islam is deeply and inextricably interwoven with that of Judaism. Indeed, Islam might never have developed as it did were it not for the Jews and Christians living in Yathrib (Medina) and other parts of the Arabian peninsula, whose tradition and teachings had an influence on the founder of the new faith.
MUHAMMAD AND THE JEWISH FAITH
Muhammad (570-632) growing up in Mecca in the Arabian desert lived among Jews as well as Christians. Jews had been living in Arabia for many centuries, and the Bible contains a number of references to the close relationship between Arabs and Jews. He attended synagogue services where he heard readings from the Scriptures, and was thoroughly familiar with the Jewish religion, on which he later leaned heavily in formulating the new faith. At home with Jewish customs and traditions as they were then practiced, he incorporated a considerable number of them into Islam. Through his Jewish teachers he was able to borrow extensively from the Bible, the Apocrypha, and other Jewish sources.
In the early stages, Muhammad never intended to establish Islam as a new religion. Considering himself the Messenger of God, his wish was to be included as the last of the Hebrew prophets or what he called "the Seal of all the Prophets." It was his contention that God could not possibly have omitted the Arabs from His revelations, and that therefore the Jews must have deleted from the Bible predictions of Muhammad's advent. In the beginning he saw no difference between Judaism and Christianity and believed that both Jews and Christians would welcome him. It was only later in 622, after failing to gain their support, that he made his famous flight (Hijra) from Mecca to Medina, and proclaimed Islam as a new faith. It was based on Judaism and Christianity but was adapted wherever necessary to fit his own views.
THE KORAN: "TORAH" OF ISLAM
According to the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, Muhammad alone possessed a true understanding of God. He had not come to deny the Old and New Testaments but rather to fulfill their spirit. Tracing his genealogy to Abraham through his son Ishmael, Muhammad claimed to be the rightful heir to Abraham, who, he maintained, was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but the true expounder of ethical monotheism. The Koran, as revealed to Muhammad by Allah through the angel Gabriel, embodied the true revelation which the Jews and the Christians had failed to follow.
The Koran is a book of sayings which Muhammad uttered during his lifetime and which were later collected and edited by Othman, the Third Caliph, in the mid-seventh century, about 19 years after the prophet's death. Written in rhymed prose, it is acclaimed as one of the great literary masterpieces of world literature.
Like the TORAH in Judaism the Koran is considered the fountainhead of all knowledge dealing with human life. The term "Koran" is probably derived from the Hebrew word "to read" and like the Bible is known as "The Book."
The division of the Koran into 114 SURAS or chapters follows a structure similar to the arrangement of the SIDROT in the Hebrew Scriptures. The veneration of the Koran by the Muslims and their practice of reading it at Friday assemblies and other religious holidays follow the Hebrew patterns. The Koran, like the TORAH, represents the written law. As in Judaism with Talmud, Islam also has an oral law called HADITH, based on remembrances of people about how Muhammad practiced the new faith.
BASIC BELIEFS OF ISLAM
Islam includes a series of beliefs and practices, many of which have their counterpart in Judaism. The SHAHADAH or affirmation that "there is no God but Allah" is the Islamic counterpart of the Jewish SHEMA ISRAEL. Actually it is a replica of Samuel II (22:32): "For who is God save the Lord" or "There is no God but the Lord."
Like the Jews, from whom they borrowed the concept of monotheism, the followers of Islam affirm that God is one, eternal, merciful, beneficent, compassionate, almighty, all-knowing, just, loving, and forgiving. "God the Eternal! He is God alone! He begets not and is not begotten! Nor is there like unto Him any one!" Like Judaism, Islam does not recognize saints serving as mediators between the individual and his Creator; in both religions any learned man of good character may conduct the prayer service.
Like the Jew, the Muslim believes in the immortality of the soul and in personal accountability for his actions on earth; he negates the doctrines of original sin and redemption. And like the Jew too, he believes that each individual must follow a righteous path and secure atonement by improving his conduct and through sincere repentance.
CONCEPT OF PRAYER
Every Muslim is obligated to pray five times daily-at sunrise, mid-day, mid-afternoon, sunset, and at night before retiring. Here too it would appear that, as in so many other Muslim practices, Islam followed an early Jewish pattern. The late Louis Ginzberg, the eminent authority on Talmus, claimed that the Arabian Jews actually prayed five times daily; but this number was reduced to three by combining two prayers in the morning and two in the evening, in order not to make the burden too onerous.
The purpose of prayer for Muslims, as for Jews, is self-examination, training to be humble, exalting the Almighty, offering thanksgiving and receiving God's mercy and guidance. Every prayer begins with the recitation of the first SURA of the Koran: "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, King of the Judgment Day. Thee only do we worship; to Thee we cry for help. Guide us on the straight path, The path of those to whom Thou has been gracious, Not of those with whom Thou art angry nor of those Who go astray."
Though Muslims turn toward Mecca and Medina in their prayers, as the two holiest cities, Jerusalem is the third most holy city. One prayer in Jerusalem outweighs a thousand prayers elsewhere, according to Islamic tradition. The hours of prayer are announced by a crier (Mu'adhdhin or muezzin) from the tower of the mosque, a practice traceable to an ancient custom followed in the Temple of Jerusalem. According to a Talmudic passage, an appointed crier used to announce: "Arise, ye priests to your service, ye Levites, to your platforms, and ye Israelites to your stands." The crier's voice could be heard at a distance of three miles.
Instead of the Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Sunday, Muhammad chose Friday as "a day of assembly," undoubtedly following a practice once used by the Jews in Arabia, who began their observance of the Sabbath early on Friday. Since Muhammad regarded the concept of the day of rest as a burden imposed upon Jews and Christians, he did not take over this aspect of the Sabbath, although he did follow the Jewish practice of making Friday a day of special congregational services. Work is permitted, however.
THE GIVING OF ALMS
The Koran is studded with passages extolling the importance of giving SADAQAH (alms) to the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned-an unmistakably Jewish doctrine. "The likeness of those who expend their wealth in God's way is as grain that grows to seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains; for God will multiply unto whom He pleases."
Both the Bible and Talmud regard the giving of charity (ZEDAKAH) as an act of righteousness, not merely of generosity or philanthropy. All wealth is the Creator's, and man is merely the custodian who must share it with the less fortunate among God's children. The attitude of Judaism toward charity is mirrored in all Koranic utterances and in the HADITH. According to Islam, the practical realization of the belief in the unity of God, in Divine revelation, and in the hereafter is through prayer and the service of humanity through charity. "But if they repent and are steadfast in prayer and give alms, then they are your brethren in religion." This concept echoes the prayer of the Jew in the synagogue on the Holy Days: "Repentance, prayer and charity (righteousness) avert the (Divine) harsh decree."
PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA( HAJJ)
It is incumbent upon every Muslim to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime unless he is physically and financially to do so. A pilgrim adds 'Haj" to his name. The Bible prescribes that the Israelites make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. After the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., when the Jews were no longer able to travel to Jerusalem, the synagogue was instituted, out of which the church and the mosque developed. Like the synagogue, the mosque is a house of worship without any images or figures.
THE RAMADAN FAST
Muhammad at first accepted the Day of Atonement as a day of fast, calling it ASHURA, "the fast of the tenth." Only later, after turning his back on Judaism, Muhammad instituted the fast of RAMADAN, which lasts forty days and occurs during the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year. Though RAMADAN has been held by scholars to be a Muslim counterpart of the Christian Lent, it also resembles the Jewish observance of the month of ELUL, a period of TESHUBAH or penitence. To this day, pious Jews still keep the forty days from the beginning of ELUL until YOM KIPPUR as a season for fasting and prayer.
OTHER JEWISH ELEMENTS IN ISLAM
In general, it can be said that Muhammad found guidance for his legislation in Hebraic tradition and in rabbinic lore. Cleanliness plays a tremendous role in Jewish life; it is part of godliness, and the individual, made in the image of God, must always be pure in mind as well as in body. He must always be charitable, love mercy, be kind, and walk humbly with his God and fellow men. Similar concepts are found in Islam, which affirms: "The key to paradise is prayer and the key to prayer is purification."
The Koran is filled with Biblical stories dressed up and embellished in Talmudic legends. Reading like a jumbled version of the Bible, it contains stories of life in paradise, the question as to whether earth or heavens came first, the objection of the angels to the creation of man, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, all of which stem from Biblical and MIDRASHIC elements. Adam, Noah, Abraham are mentioned 70 times each; Ishmael, Lot, Joseph, Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah, Job and Jonah figure prominently. Moses' name occurs in 34 Suras.
The story of the Creation and the Fall of Adam is cited five times and the Flood and Sodom eight times. The stories about Israel's covenant with God, Joseph, the travails in Egypt, the miracles at the Red Sea, the making of the golden calf after Moses went up the mountain, the Israelites' request to see God manifestly in order to believe in Him, the restoration of the stricken dead to life, the pillar of cloud, the manna and the quails. Moses' smiting of the rock, the giving of the TORAH by "raising the mountain"-all these stories in the Koran are traceable to Jewish sources.
Likewise, antecedents in Jewish tradition can be found for the concepts of reverence for parents, fasting, penitence, the status of women.
WHERE ISLAM PARTS COMPANY
Some of the precepts given to the Jews Muhammad rejected as being their unique punishment from God and not obligatory for Muslim observance. Thus, as we have seen, the Koran disregards the Jewish concept of a day of rest as well as the inheritance laws and the dietary laws. It does, however, prescribe the circumcision, and prohibits for culinary purposes the use of blood and the meat of pig or any animal that "dieth of itself." Where Islam stands quite alone is in its having raised to the dignity of a canonical obligation the duty of JIHAD or the waging of a Holy War. Though many Islamic sects have developed, some hostile to one another, all followers of Muhammad share the hope of "Islamizing" the non-Muslim world. To the pious Muslim, the world is divided into regions under Islamic control, the DAR AL-ISLAM, and those regions not yet subjected-the DAR AL-HARB.
According to one scholar, "between this 'area of warfare' and the Muslim- dominated part of the world there can be no peace. Practical considerations may induce the Muslim leaders to conclude an armistice, but the obligation to conquer and, if possible, convert never lapses.
Nor can territory once under Muslim rule be lawfully yielded to the unbeliever. Legal theory has gone so far as to define as DAR AL-ISLAM any area where at least one Muslim custom is still observed." This concept requires of the Muslim that he subdue the infidel, and he who dies in the path of Allah is considered a martyr and assured of entry into paradise. As long as Islam makes "church" and state synonymous, some Nasser or other will always arise to attempt to "Islamize" the world.
ISLAM AND JUDAISM THROUGH THE AGES
Despite the concept of JIHAD and its influence within present Arab-Jewish conflict in the Middle East, Judaism and Islam have a long common history of peaceful coexistence. From Islamic literature itself, we may rightly surmise that had Islam not appeared on the scene, Judaism might well have extended its faith throughout most of Arabia. Whole tribes of Arabs in Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, incorporated Jewish practices in their religious teachings, and were converted.
The knowledge of Jews and Judaism displayed in Islamic literature reflects not only the excellent relationship between Jews and Arabs before the rise of Islam, but also shows that Arabian Judaism was culturally and religiously productive. Arab sources reveal that the Jews of Arabia steadfastly abided by Jewish laws and traditions, erecting many schools and synagogues. In our own time, many of the Arab countries, recently freed from imperialism, are tasting self-determination for the first time. The separation of "church" and state where the role of Islam would be neither legal nor political but moral and spiritual and accompanied by economic and educational development would inevitably quicken the transformation of these countries from Muslim religious states to Arab democratic countries. With peace in the Middle East, Islam and Judaism might then resume once again their centuries-old cultural relations.
In the colleges and universities, as well as through the written word, Jewish Orientalists in America share the intellectual heritage of their Arab colleagues. Just as they played a part in the days of yore as intermediaries in the transmission and unfolding of Islamic culture to the Latin world, so are the Jewish scholars today contributing in no small measure to the advancement of Arabic learning in the English speaking world.
This lecture by Abraham I. Katsh, Chairman of the Department of Hebrew Studies at New York University, and the Director of the "Land of the Bible" Workshop, was abstracted by Prof. Robert Cooley, Central Bible Institute, Springfield, Missouri, member of the 1962 NYU Professorial Workshop.