Redefining Ramadan: Embracing Unity in Anti-Zero Sum Polemics

About 120,000 people attended the second Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa-Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which ended peacefully and without any disturbances, police religious authorities said.

The Islamic Waqf estimated that around 120,000 people took part in the prayers, up from an estimated 80,000 last week. Police did not give a specific number, saying only that “tens of thousands took part.”

Police said there were “no unusual disturbances,” in spite of attempts to “spread fake news and false stories on Arabic social media” in an attempt to incite violence.

The Haaretz daily reported that around 10,000 of the worshippers traveled from the West Bank to attend the prayers.

This marked the second successive Friday prayers to pass without incident in the Muslim holy month despite fears of disturbances after the Hamas terror group had called on Palestinian worshipers to barricade themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In a statement last week, Hamas had called on followers to “participate urgently in defending Al-Aqsa Mosque against the aggression that lurks in these critical times.”

If Ramadan’s peace continues it will a hopeful sign that From the River to the Sea Palestinians and Israelis Should Be free From Hateful and Vengeful Behavior. May our sacred scriptures help us move in the direction of reconciliation and positive activities.

Sacred scriptures are are so important in humanity’s spiritual development that the angel Gabriel mentions written scriptures when he starts his revelation for Prophet Muhammad; who was meditating quietly in a cave just outside of Mecca. Gabriel appeared and commanded that Muhammad recite to the people in the name of God:

“Recite! your Lord is most generous, who taught by the pen, taught what humankind does not know” (Qur’an 96:2-4) The prophets ‘who taught by the pen’ are called messengers from God and they number only 313 out of 124,000 prophets of warning.

Although Catholics and Muslims have no female prophets, the Orthodox Rabbis of the Talmud taught that “48 male prophets and 7 female prophets prophesied in Israel... Who were the 7 female prophets? Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther..”. (Talmud Megillah 14b). And the Torah asserts that Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20); and Numbers 12:2 quotes Miriam and Aaron as saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”

But written Sacred Scriptures can also be used by one religion against other religions in a Zero Sum polemic. In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own. This view was the result of the specific influence of Aristotle and Greek philosophy’s general emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradicted one another, one or both of them must be false. They cannot both be true.

If one believes that there is only one God who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture.

“And before it (the Qur’an) was the (Torah) scripture of Moses to lead and as a mercy. And this (Qur’an) is a confirming Book in an Arabic tongue to warn those who have wronged and as good tidings to the doers of good.” (Qur’an 46:12)

Although the Qur’an states: “Do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, but say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (29:46)

In spite of this anti-zero sum philosophy most Muslim Polemicists argued that Tahrif meant not only did Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible wrongly but that they actually change the written text of the Hebrew Bible.

In a late thirteenth, early fourteenth century text, called Niẓẓaḥon Yashan, an anonymous Jewish author or compiler adapts Christian anti-hagiographical traditions about Prophet Muhammad and interweaves this polemical biography of the Muslim Prophet with the Jews’ own anti hagiographical tradition against Jesus, namely the Toledot Yeshu.

By engaging both Islam and Christianity in parallel fashions, and intertwining the polemic against one with the other, the unknown author of the Niẓẓaḥon Yashan sought to sharpen his or her invective against both.

The Jewish adoption of Christian anti-Islamic polemic was a calculated polemical strategy on the part of the Jewish author and is a testament to the depth of cultural awareness and exchange between medieval European Jews and Christians, not only in Iberia, often recognized as one of the main centers of these activities, but in Northern European, German-speaking lands.

The twelfth century has long been recognized as the beginning of a new stage of European Christian approaches to Jewish and Muslim writings, as Christians began to study both Hebrew and Jewish biblical exegesis, and later, the Talmud and Midrash, and Arabic, the Qur’an and ḥadīth. Initially, this effort was rooted in a desire to better understand the biblical text by studying it in Hebrew.

Later the learning of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and the translation of religious texts in these languages into Latin or European vernacular languages primarily fueled the polemical efforts of Christians, whether in formal, written treatises, “dialogues”, staged debates or forced preaching to Jews. In both Western Europe and the Middle East, Jews and Muslims likewise studied and sometimes translated Christian writings, as well as those of one another.

Such exchanges were easier in the Middle East, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims shared Arabic as a language of both written and spoken communication, although the use of Hebrew and Syriac alphabets for writing Arabic constituted a potential barrier for those outside a given religious community who wished to read some Jewish or Christian works.

Recent research suggests, however, that different alphabets were less of an obstacle than heretofore imagined. Ramadan teaches that all the Abrahamic revelations started in the same month of Ramadan so the Qur’an is anti-zero sum polemics. “For us is our religion and for you is your religion.” (Qur’an 109:6)

Ramadan is the month when the Sacred Scriptures of Christians, Jews and Muslims first began to be revealed, as Imam Sadiq said: “The Torah was revealed on the sixth day of the month of Ramadan, the Gospel on the twelfth night of the month, the Psalms on the eighteenth night of the month and the Quran on the Night of Qadr” (Al-Kafi, vol. 4, pg. 157); so Ramadan is a good time for all those who worship the One and Only God, to seek a deeper understanding of how our Sacred Scriptures inter-relate to one another.

Everyone knows how important fasting during Ramadan, and daily worship and prayer are in Islam; but few know that Islam considers reconciling people better than many acts of worship.

Prophet Muhammad said: "Should I not tell you what is better in degree than prayer, fasting, and charity." They (the companions) said: "Yes." He said: "Reconciling people, because grudges and disputes are a razor (that shaves off faith)." (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmithi)

Even more amazing the Prophet said: "The one who reconciles people is not considered a liar if he exaggerates what is good or says what is good."

This is an excellent guide to dealing with the three-generation old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than focusing mostly on what the other side did to us, we all should focus on how the conflict has hurt all of us, and how much better our future would be if we could live next to each other in peace.

If the descendants of Prophet Isaac and Prophet Ishmael negotiate a settlement that reflects the religious policy that “…there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them – and settlement [reconciliation] is best.” (Quran 4: 128)

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