Early Islam as reform Judaism

Early Islam as reform Judaism

In which the case is made for early Islam as Arab me-too desire for a faith to counterbalance the religion of the Jews and Christians in the Middle East. And where the case is presented that the very Europeanisation of the west contributed to the very visceral Muslim hatred of Jews that is today endemic across Europe.

Jews and Muslims do not get along. This is irrespective of whether they are Sunni Muslims, such as the Ikhwān al-Muslimūn, and Hamas, or whether they are Shīa Muslims, as in the case of Khomeinism or Hezbollāh or shades in between such as the Hizb ut-Tahrīr in Europe.

This is true not only of Islamists, but other members of the broader Muslim population as well. To whit: Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed, said in a speech before the Organization of the Islamic Conference in October 2004 that “today the Jews rule the world by proxy” (an allusion to the libel contained in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

Despite continuing Muslim protestations to the contrary, historic relations between the Jews and the Muslims have never been idyllic. While many would like to describe the relationship between Jews and Arabs as symbiotic, it is as well to differentiate between symbiosis as parasitic and symbiosis as convenience.

In the case of early Islam, it was arguably a case of a parasitic faith developed to assuage the desire for a religious anchor for idol-worshipping Hejazi Arabs which slowly developed into a symbiotic one once the major wars of Muslim Arab conquest of the Levant, North Africa and the Middle East were completed. Incontestably, Quranic revelations and nomenclature revealed a significant and specifically Jewish component among the development of that faith, and include religious ideas, ethical notions, and biblical lore.

Of the many parallels between Judaism and Islam, it is worth noting that the much extra-Quranic myths and legends which comprise an important part of Muslim critical examination of their scripture is actually called isrā’īliyyāt, or Israelite narratives, and some of the earliest transmitters such as Abd Allah ben Salām and Ka῾b al-Ahbar were converts from Judaism.

Many of the stories in the Quran come from the Jewish Talmud, the Midrash, as do many apocryphal works, and they borrow from early Christianity as well.

The much-favoured Muslim denigration of Jews as descendants  of apes/monkeys has its origins in Suras 2:65; 7:163-166 in the apochryphal story of an entire village of people who were turned into apes because they broke the sabbath by fishing was a popular legend in Muhammad’s day: “And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath: We said to them: “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.”

Additionally, other (Muslim-contested) narratives posit that Mohammad used pre-Islamic literature such as the 7 poems of Imr al Kais, a Hejazi Bedouin Arab, in his composition of Suras 21:96; 29:31,46; 37:59; 54:1, and 93:1.

Because of their professed love of poetry, pre-Islamic pagan Arabs followed the custom of hanging poems on the Kab’aa and it is parts of these 7 poems that Mohammad incorporated into the Suras.

But early Islam (reform Judaism) copied copiously from established Judaism.

The source of Sura 27:17-44 is the Second Tirgum of Esther. The tale of Abraham being delivered from Nimrod’s fire came from the Midrash Rabbah (see Suras 21:51-71; 29:16, 17; 37:97,98), and the seven heavens and hells described in the Quran came from the Zohar and the Khagigah.

This cultural appropriation aside, early Islam’s receptivity to Jewish stories of the founding fathers of Judaism is further reflected in the oft-quoted Hadīth of Muslim traditionalists: Hadittu῾an Bani israel wa-lā Haraj (Relate traditions from the Israelites without any qualms).

The use of the Arabic word “jinns” (Anglicised to “genies) takes it core from the Jewish “Shedim” who could be both good and bad. Muhammad also copied liberally from the Sebaeans (Sheba- ians), an ethnic group living in the southern part of Arabia, along the Red Sea, the capital of which was Mariaba, or Mareb. This region of Mareb was also called Yemen.From the Sebaeans Muhammad incorporated the ritual of praying five times a day. The requirement to pray facing Mecca in the Hejaz and not Jerusalem as was customary early on only came about after the Hejazi Jews rejected Muhammad’s claim that he was the Messiah.

But together with much cultural and religious appropriation from Judaism, Muhammad’s use of the term Allah came from pagan Arab sources and thus was not a new term for his followers to incorporate.

Pre-Islamic pagan Arabs worshipped 360 deities including the sun, the moon and the stars. The Kabah was a temple to the deities including their moon god. This particular god went by several Arabic names including Hubul, Ilumquh, Al-ilah and it was the moon god al-ilah that devolved into the more familiar nomenclature Allah we know today and the Kabah remains till this day the “House of Allah”.

On a side note, the Qur’an at one point told Muslims to worship al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat, the so-called “daughters of Allah”, the top deity in the Kabah. Muhammad said these “daughters of Allah”, themselves deities in the pagan Kabah, were revealed to him by the angel Gabriel (again) in Surah 53:19-20. Muhammud now said these deities were worthy as worship as daughters of the one tru al-ilah and the ploy worked. But this was after the Meccans proved hostile to his proselytising solely for al-ilah as the moon-god. However, once the Meccans agreed that there was no other “god’ but al-ilah, Muhammad stated that the was visited by Gabriel for a third time. This time Gabriel chastised him for implying that al-ilah could possibly have girls and not boys as offdpring and that Surah 52;19-20 were the words of Shaitan (Satan) and not al-ilah.

It is for this reason that those two verses are referred to as the Satanic verses……..

But, I have strayed. A little.

Muhammad’s Islam (as reform Judaism) followed the same structural model as Judaism including the shared, strict, uncompromising monotheism of Judaism which rejects all iconography of Deity; the concept of Divine Law that is partially revealed in a written scripture and partially oral in form as in Judaism, the concept of that monotheistic faith as a path to follow (Jewish halakha versus the Muslim sharī῾a); the Jewish notions of purity and impurity (Jewish  tahara, tum’a versus the Muslim tahāra, najas); the use of houses of study of religious texts (Jewish batei midrash versus the Muslim majlis; the doctrines of religiously permissible and non-permissible
food (Jewish kashrut, taref versus the Muslim hallāl, harām); and the physical marker of circumcision.

However, despite this cultural and religious debt, and despite the fact that most of world Jewry lived in the Muslim world (dar al- Islam), and despite the fact that the Caliphate’s Jews changed from speaking the broadly used Aramaic of the region for religious and secular purposes to Arabic as the region’s new lingua franca, Muslim refusal to accept Jews as equals only deteriorated, and particularly after the European Enlightenment. Increasingly, Islam’s Jews lived in ghettoes such as the Harat ha Yehud or the Mellah.

However, where Muslims viewed the Enlightenment with suspicion and hostility, the Jews embraced it fully and were quick to avail themselves of the educational and economic opportunities afforded them. In so doing though, many aspects of modernity in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, being Western imports, led to worsening Jewish- Muslim relations as increasing globalisation ironically led to the very tropes and themes of both European medieval and modern anti-Semitism now found among the principal tenets of virtually all contemporary Muslim societies.

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