With great interest, I read “Israel’s Right to Defense” in the February 4, 2008, issue of The Deerfield Scroll. There are a few points worth addressing, as some of the commentary is slightly biased simply because of the circumstance in which many of us were raised: in an social ideology, heavily influenced by Christendom’s historical affirmation of the Hebrew Scriptures and, similarly, its rooted rebuke of Muslim expansion both in Islam’s Golden Age and, notably and more currently, in the policies of some of western Europe’s American allies. This commentary is not a challenge to the complicated facts raised in the article, but rather an acknowledgment that we are innocent victims of the ideologies and influences of our places of birth.
Foremost, the Qur’an honors the people of The Book; those emerging from the story of Abraham: Jews, Christians and Muslims. These are known as dhimmi, and they are frequently addressed and honored in the holy Islamic text. Additionally, dhimmi included those non-Muslims in early Islamic history that were protected by the pluralistic ideology of the followers of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. One of his many great, beneficent acts was to promote a religious tolerance generally unheard of in the years during his life; this expectation continued for many years following his death. The author of the commentary in The Deerfield Scroll identifies the Jew, according to Muslims, only as “the infidel,” a characterization less prevalent in original Muslim sources than that of an honored people, one whose prophets were as influential and instructive as Mohammed himself. Mohammed, however, became Allah’s final messenger, and that is the distinction worth identifying as we sort out similarities and differences in theology.
Secondly, it is stated that “Jews are known to have had a continuous presence in Israel for the past 3,300 years.” What this judeocentric sentiment leaves out, however, is that the Jews had to battle the people of Canaan, among many others, in order to enter into the land. Though, according to the Tanakh, it was a “land flowing with milk and honey,” we must also remember that there were residents there that did not affirm a Jewish monotheism, and these people felt as deserving of the land on which their lives depended. Relatedly, the people of Canaan, as Islamic history is understood, had a geneaological connection from Noah’s son Ham through to Ishmael, the son of Abraham from whom an Arab-Muslim nation emerged. It is not ironic to recognize that Ham, in the Hebrew Scriptures, is cursed by his father Noah. In clear terms, this gave the Hebrews permission to persecute the people of Ham.
Finally, the article claims that “Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.” It is a Qur’anic fact Mohammed himself was escorted to Jerusalem by God in one of the holiest moments in all of religious history, where Mohammed saw heaven and hell and had the opportunity to be in direct contact with God. One of the most beautiful structures in Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock, a sanctuary enclosing the rock from which Mohammed went to heaven with God. Appropriately, a common Jewish understanding is that this event did not occur. It is not the only disagreement between these two traditions, but it is worth mentioning that Jerusalem, according to both traditions, holds a place of utmost esteem and reverence.
My interest in commenting on the well-written article is not to negate the important Jewish considerations in this eternal, seemingly unresolvable, conflict, but simply to continue to ask all members of this community to first name and question our own biases before affirming them as fact. Especially when it comes to religion, the human virtue of humility should be raised above others, and certainly a final claim of truth, in whatever form it comes, should forever be like the horizon, always within focus but forever out of reach.
Dean of Students Jan Flaska