By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
As Muslims approach Eid al Adha, we are reminded of the life of a great man, prophet, patriarch and friend of God. We are of course talking about the prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, the father of monotheistic faith, later to evolve into Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I was inspired to write, after reading through an interesting article I recieved about Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, on Chabad.org, about the nature of Abraham’s religion, from a Jewish perspective. One thing that immediately struck me, was how similar this orthodox Jewish view of Abraham’s faith, accords with that of the Holy Quran.
“Here’s how the Midrash tells the next part of the story: When Abraham was 48 years old, in the year 1996 (1765 BCE), G-d gazed upon the great tower that was still under construction, and turning to the seventy angels that surround His throne (obviously, in metaphorical terms). He said ‘They are one people, and they all have one language… let us go down, and there confound their language, that they became seventy nations with seventy languages.’
The Midrash then tells how G-d and the seventy angels cast lots to see which angel would be charged with which language and nation. When G-d’s lot was Abraham, He proclaimed ‘Portions have fallen to me in pleasant places; even the lot pleases me.’
This is the earliest instance in Abraham’s life in which he is described as being ‘chosen’ by G-d, (and according to some opinions it was in this year that the covenant between G-d and Abraham took place).
Later, we read of Abraham’s return to his father’s house, how he destroys his father’s idols, and is arrested for heresy. Holding steadfast to his faith even in the face of death, he is thrown into a fiery furnace, but G-d performs a miracle and he survives.”
~ Yehuda Shurpin, Chabad.org
The Midrash is an interpretative set of religious literature within the main denominations of Judaism, that along with the Talmud, forms an important tool in helping most Jews interpret the Torah. Hence, the Midrash texts are a significant aspect of Jewish tradition.
“Some do indeed explain, as would seem logical, that although Abraham initially had the halachik status of a non-Jewish Noahide, once he entered the covenant with G-d and was given the commandment to circumcise himself, he was considered a full-fledged Jew.
However, most disagree. Although it is true that our forefathers not only learned the Torah, but kept its laws even though it had not been given, they were never commanded to do so. Their fulfillment of these commandments was a personal and voluntary sign of their devotion to G-d. They were not obligated in the way their descendants would be after Sinai.
Accordingly, when we refer to Abraham as the first Jew or convert, it does not mean that he was actually Jewish in the sense that we know today—in the sense of a binding obligation. Rather, he had the technical status of a Noahide, just as any other person of the time (albeit one that was given additional unique commandments such as circumcision, in which he was indeed obligated). It was not until his descendants stood at Mount Sinai and G-d proclaimed, ‘You shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples . . . and you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation,’ that we became the Jewish People.”
~ Yehuda Shurpin, Chabad.org
Compare this with the following verses from the Holy Quran, which form the basis of the Muslim view of Abraham:
“Abraham was neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’, but was one who turned away from all that is false, having surrendered himself unto God; and he was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him.”
~ Holy Quran 3:67 (M. Asad)
“And who could be of better faith than he who surrenders his whole being unto God and is a doer of good withal, and follows the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false – seeing that God exalted Abraham with His love? For, unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and, indeed, God encompasses everything.”
~ Holy Quran 4:125-126 (M. Asad)
Muslims see Abraham as a Muslim, but this is in many respects the same as how Jews see him as a Jew, not a Muslim or Jew in the modern sense, but that he was in many respects of the same pure monotheistic faith, even if some of the smaller details of how he observed his devotions perhaps varied. Since there was a certain quality of Jewishness or Muslimness about him, that distinguished him from others of his generation. This is what is meant by the Jewish term ‘Noahide’, someone who lives by the 7 laws given by God to Prophet Noah, peace be upon him.
The 7 Laws of Noah.
1. Belief in God: The essence of life is to recognise the Creator of the Universe and accept His laws with awe and love. We must realise that He is aware of all our deeds, rewarding goodness and punishing evil. We are completely dependent on Him, to Him alone we owe allegiance.
2. Respect the Creator: As frustrated and angry as you may be, do not vent it by cursing God.
3. Respect Human Life: Every human being is an entire world. To save a life is to save that entire world. To destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. To help others live is a corollary of this principle.
4. Respect the Family: Marriage is a most Divine act. The marriage of a man and a woman is a reflection of the oneness of God and His creation. Disloyalty in marriage is an assault on that oneness.
5. Respect Human Rights: Be honest in all your dealings with people. By relying on God rather than on our own conniving, we express our trust in Him as the Provider of Life. To violate the natural rights and property of others, though theft or cheating, attacks their humanity at a most fundamental level. Unchecked, this breeds anarchy, plunging mankind into the depths of selfishness and cruelty.
6. Respect all Life: At first, Man was forbidden to consume meat. After the Great Flood, he was permitted, but only within certain parameters, we are forbidden to cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.
7. Establish Courts of Justice: A robust and healthy legal system, administering justice fairly, creates a society worthy of God’s blessings. Establishing a system of judges, courts, and officials to maintain and enforce the law is a far-reaching responsibility. This precept translates the ideals of our personal life into a formal order for society at large. It is the extension and guarantee of all the preceding laws.
The fact that Jews see Abraham as a Noahide, a righteous gentile, is fascinating as it blows away many of the myths anti-Semitic types like to pin on Judaism. If one of the most revered patriarchs of the Jewish people is a Noahide, how can this be a negative thing? How can it be that Jews (apparently) look down upon people of other faiths and backgrounds, as some hateful conspiratorial types like to make out? Isn’t it time we disposed of these despicable myths, and got to know each other properly?
“AND ABRAHAM, [too, was inspired by Us] when he said unto his people: ‘Worship God, and be conscious of Him: this is the best for you, if you but knew it! You worship only [lifeless] idols instead of God, and [thus] you give visible shape to a lie! Behold, those [things and beings] that you worship instead of God have it not in their power to provide sustenance for you: seek, then, all [your] sustenance from God, and worship Him [alone] and be grateful to Him: [for] unto Him you shall be brought back!’”
~ Holy Quran 29:16-17 (M. Asad)
“Thereupon he approached their gods stealthily and said, ‘What! You do not eat [of the offerings placed before you]? What is amiss with you that you do not speak?’ And then he fell upon them, smiting them with his right hand. [But] then the others came towards him hurriedly [and accused him of his deed]. He answered: ‘Do you worship something that you [yourselves] have carved, the while it is God who has created you and all your handiwork?’ They exclaimed: ‘Build a pyre for him, and cast him into the blazing fire!’ But whereas they sought to do evil unto him, We [frustrated their designs, and thus] brought them low, and [Abraham] said: ‘Verily, I shall [leave this land and] go wherever my Sustainer will guide me!’”
~ Holy Quran 37:91-99 (M. Asad)
“NOW [as for Abraham,] his people’s only answer was, ‘Slay him, or burn him!’ – but God saved him from the fire. Behold, in this [story] there are messages indeed for people who will believe!”
~ Holy Quran 29:24 (M. Asad)
“AND, INDEED, long before [the time of Moses] We vouchsafed unto Abraham his consciousness of what is right; and We were aware of [what moved] him when he said unto his father and his people, ‘What are these images to which you are so intensely devoted?’ They answered: ‘We found our forefathers worshipping them.’ Said he: ‘Indeed, you and your forefathers have obviously gone astray!’”
~ Holy Quran 21:51-54 (M. Asad)
“AND CALL to mind, through this divine writ, Abraham. Behold, he was a man of truth, [already] a prophet”
~ Holy Quran 19:41 (M. Asad)
To anyone who has investigated the scriptures of both Judaism and Islam, the fact that what we share, vastly out numbers where we differ, is most readily apparent. Another myth about Jews and their religion, is utterly demolished in the last paragraph of the Chabad article to which I have been referring, with the following reminder:
“We were not chosen to become ‘a light upon the nations’ due to any unique qualities. On the contrary, Jewishness is based on G-d choosing us despite our un-uniqueness. But it is precisely this type of choseness which makes our unique mission in the world the most humbling and inspiring. We are humble because of our un-uniqueess and inspired because of the everlasting bond it entails.”
~ Yehuda Shurpin, Chabad.org
Similar is equally true of Muslims. Some think that merely due to their religious allegiance, they are somehow “special” and will be granted Gardens of Paradise. The truth is, an affiliation with Judaism or Islam is both a gift and a responsibility from God, it should be a humbling experience, that God has given us the opportunity to serve Him. We have a collective duty, to work towards cultivating virtue and elevated consciousness, while doing our bit to make the world a better place.
“VERILY, Abraham was a man who combined within himself all virtues, devoutly obeying God’s will, turning away from all that is false, and not being of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God: [for he was always] grateful for the blessings granted by Him who had elected him and guided him onto a straight way. And so We vouchsafed him good in this world; and, verily, in the life to come [too] he shall find himself among the righteous.”
~ Holy Quran 16:120-122 (M. Asad)
Isn’t it time Jews and Muslims came to recognise their common bond of faith in God, their calling in the service of God and our Human Family, and collective sense of spiritual responsibility for the legacy we leave to our children?
While all religions share some things, Abrahamic faiths even more, Jews and Muslims share far more in common with each other, than either do with people of any other religion, even Christianity. Often this includes cultural ties as well as religious ones.
Eid al Adha, with its focus on Abraham, a prophet and patriarch revered in both religions, is a tremendous opportunity for Jews and Muslims to reach out to each other in friendship, and with Christians too. We must not let this go to waste.
God is One, our Human Family is One, let us help others discover this realisation for themselves. In so doing helping to rebuild the unity and consciousness of our Human Family, to become a spiritual reflection of the Divine attributes from which we were brought into existence.
With Salam/Shalom, may you all be blessed by the Grace of God, with wisdom, love and increased understanding. Ameen.
Happy Eid! ^_^
Was Abraham Jewish? On the Identity of the Pre-Sinai Hebrews by Yehuda Shurpin: