Politically motivated people can easily use selected parts of their own religion and/or of their opponent's religion, to justify their own political actions and goals; just as lovers of co-existence can use their own religion, and the religion of others, to help bring people together.
The Passover Haggadah provides Jewish examples of both options: the outrage against oppressors of “Pour out your wrath” and the custom of “diminishing our joy" by spilling a drop of wine during the listing of the plagues that fell upon Egypt.
Jews and Muslims can use religion to promote future conflict or future reconciliation. I choose to promote religious opportunities for reconciliation by encouraging a mutual appreciation for each other's religious activities and views.
Many Jews will be surprised to learn that in the Quran, one of the most recounted narratives is the story of the bondage of the Children of Israel and their deliverance from Egypt’s Pharaoh.
According to the Qur’an, when Musa (Moses) is sent by Allah, he comes not primarily to warn or rebuke the Children of Israel (his own people). Rather Musa is sent “to Pharaoh” (repeated four times 20:24, 51:38, 73:15 and 79:17); “to Pharaoh and his chiefs” (al-mala), repeated five times (7:103, 10:75, 11:97, 23:46, and 43:46) and once “to Pharaoh and his people” (27:12).
Musa is sent to Pharaoh to warn him of the destruction that will fall on Egypt if he doesn’t stop setting himself up as a God, and doesn’t let the Children of Israel go free. Musa comes to rebuke Pharaoh and to rescue the Children of Israel. Only when the Jewish People is free from Egyptian bondage, do they receive God’s Torah at Sinai, by the hand of Moses, without any mediation through an angel.
For the last 3,300 years, this exodus from Egypt has been, and still is, celebrated by Jews throughout the world. This year (2019) the Passover celebration begins on the evening of April 19, and concludes seven days later.
On the first two evenings, a special ceremonial meal (called a Seder), is eaten in Jewish homes, that symbolically reenacts the events and religious significance of God’s redemption of the Jews from Pharaoh’s oppression.
It is particularly noteworthy that in the Quran, there is no story that is recounted as many times and with as much emphasis, as the story of the bondage of the Children of Israel in Egypt and their subsequent deliverance from Pharaoh's rule. The Quran quotes Moses as saying to his people:
“Remember," Moses said to his people: “O my people! Recall the favor of God unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.” (Surah Al Ma’idah 5:20)
It was Moses, with the help and guidance of God, who led the Jewish People out of the Land of Egypt towards a land of promise (Israel). Allah in the Quran says: “Children of Israel! call to mind the (special) favor which I bestowed upon you, that I preferred you to all others (for this Message). Then guard yourselves against a (judgement) day when one soul shall not avail another, nor shall intercession be accepted for her, nor shall compensation be taken from her, nor shall anyone be helped (from outside)." (2:122-123)
“And remember, We delivered you from the people of Pharaoh: they set you hard tasks and punishments, slaughtered your sons and let your women-folk live; therein was a tremendous trial from your Lord. And remember We divided the sea for you and saved you; and drowned Pharaoh’s people within your very sight.” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:47-50)
Indeed, the most important belief that unites Muslims and Jews is the faith in the One God as the Creator, Sustainer, and Law-Giver of the universe. Both religions teach the need for establishing the Law of God on earth, so that there will be peace and harmony flourishing everywhere. Just as Muslims have a Shari’ah (Law) to live by, Jews have their Halakhah (rabbinic laws, based on the Torah) to live by.
It is particularly noteworthy that in the Quran, there is no story recounted as many times and with as much emphasis, as the story of the bondage of the Children of Israel and their subsequent deliverance from Egypt’s Pharaoh.
The Quran quotes Moses as saying to his people: “We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, and provided for them sustenance of the best: it was after knowledge had been granted to them (at Sinai), that they fell into schisms. Verily God will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment.” (Surah Yunus 10:90-93)
The torments inflicted on the Children of Israel by the Pharaoh were continuous and harsh; so God sent His prophets Moses and Aaron to warn the tyrant that he should stop the oppression of the Children of Israel and free them. But he (Pharaoh) was arrogant and refused to free the Jewish slaves, until the last of the plagues God sent as punishment. The first-born of both man and beast were destined to fall down dead on that fateful night.
The holy day named Pesach, or Passover, refers to the last of the plagues sent by God to the Egyptians. While the Egyptians suffered this plague, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites. To protect themselves, the Israelites had marked their homes with lamb’s blood so that the angel of death could easily “pass over” their homes.
The Quran teaches that when, under guidance from God, the Israelites fled Egypt; Pharaoh and his men pursued them. It seemed like their journey would end at the Red Sea which prevented their escape. But a miracle happened when Moses struck the water with his staff: The waters of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites hurried between the parted waters.
Pharaoh and his soldiers followed; but by the time the Israelites reached the other shore, the sea closed in, engulfing their pursuers. Thus the Israelites were delivered from bondage, and the Pharaoh and his people perished.
If both Jews and Muslims were to share some of the Quran’s verses this article refers to, during the week of Passover (April 21-29, 2016 this year), it might help both communities come closer to one another.
And if Jews and Muslims throughout the world became closer, then maybe Palestinians and Israelis could overcome and passover the terrible plagues that have afflicted both of them in our generation. Then the world would have another miraculous event to celebrate.
When I have written about this previously, I received notes from both Jews and Muslims questioning the appropriateness of Jews using quotes from the Quran during a Seder celebration of the Jewish People’s Exodus from Egypt.
The Jewish writers basically said: Our ancestors were oppressed in Egypt; theirs weren’t so they can’t celebrate Passover. The Muslim writers basically said: Our religion should not celebrate Jewish events.
I replied to both views that Prophet Muhammad thought Muslims had as good, if not a better right, to commemorate Moses’ victory over Pharaoh, because they themselves had just recently escaped from years of oppression and persecution under the pagan Arabs in Makkah.
As Sahih Muslim narrates: “Ibn Bishr reported that when Allah's Messenger came to Medina, he found the Jews observing the fast of Ashura (tenth day). He asked them (the Jews) about it and they said: It is the day on which Allah granted victory to Moses and Bani Isra'il (the Jewish People) over the Pharaoh, and we observe a fast out of gratitude to Him.
“Upon this the Apostle of Allah said: We have a closer connection with Moses than you have, (the Jewish People escaped oppression under Moses’ leadership twenty four centuries ago; while I and my people have escaped from oppression in Makkah just recently) and he commanded (Muslims) to observe a fast on this day (Ashura).” (Muslim 6: 2519-20)
And as the Qur’an says: “We have certainly sent down to you distinct verses and (historical) examples from those who passed away before you and an admonition for those who fear Allah.” (Surah Al-Nur 24:34)
Centuries later Jews in Egypt and Arabia still observed the tenth day of Nissan in honor of the three brave, devoted woman who enabled Moses to live long enough to hear God’s call at the burning bush.
The first was Miriam, a Prophet of God (Exodus 15:20-1) who placed Moses in the Nile close to Pharaoh’s palace. The second was Bityah/Batyah, a daughter of Pharaoh (1 Chronicles 4:18) who rescued baby Moses; and the third was Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, (one of the greatest Muslim women (Bukhari, 3230; Muslim, 2431) who convinced Pharaoh to adopt Moses.
All three of these faithful, courageous women, were agents of God, and they each died on the tenth of Nissan. Pharaoh’s wife and daughter were originally polytheists like Muhammad’s oppressors, but then became supporters of Allah’s plan for Moses, just as those ex-polytheists who became Muslims, supported God’s plan for Muhammad. Thus, it was only natural for Prophet Muhammad to say, “We have a closer connection with Moses than you (Jews) have.”
Muslims and Jews can share their close connection with Moses mentioned in the Quran’s verses and the Hadith mentioned above, by also reciting the following verses from the Zabur of David giving thanks to the One:
“who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever; and brought Israel out from among them… with a strong hand and an outstretched arm…who divided the Red Sea in two and made Israel pass through the midst of it,,,but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever”. (Psalm 136:10-15)
Rabbi Maller's web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.