The harmony of Qur'an and Torah
Christian missionaries, who are interested in proving the superiority of the Bible to the Qur'an, say that the Christian Bible (the Old Testament and the New Testament) is the true word of God while the Qur'an is not. They try to prove this by asserting that when the Qur'an's narratives differ from the Bible's narratives about the same event; the Qur'an must be wrong. I am a Reform Rabbi who has studied the Hebrew Bible in its original Hebrew language for over fifty years. I have always found that the advice Muhammad gave his adherents in the following hadth narrated by Abu Huraira to be the best guide to understanding all of God's Sacred Scriptures: "The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Apostle said (to the Muslims). "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.' " (Bukhari book 92 #460 and book 93 #632) I myself follow this profound advise because I think of myself as a Muslim Jew.
Following Muhammad's teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur'an. I do respect the Qur'an very much as a kindred revelation, first given to a kindred people, in a kindred language. In fact, the Arab people, the Arab language and the Muslim understanding of the unity of God are closer to my own people, language and concept of God than that of any other religious community on earth. Islam teaches clearly that God does not have just one people or one true religion. Rather, God chose not to create human beings as one nation or with only one religion so that each religion could compete with all the others in order to see which religion produces the highest percentage of moral and loving people; and which people best embody in their personal and communal lives the moral teachings of their prophet. As it is written in the Qur'an [5.48] "For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn't) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah, so He will let you know that in which you differed." This is a wonderful further development of the teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah (4:5) that in the end of days-the Messianic Age "All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever."
I also think of myself as a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. (Reform Jews are now the largest of the Jewish denominations in the U.S. In the U.K..Reform Judaism is called Liberal Judaism.) As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham, the first Muslim Jew, and I submit to be bound by the covenant and commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Rabbis should modify Jewish traditions to prevent them from making religion to hard to practice. This is an important teaching in the Qur'an (7:157) and one that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. As Abu Huraira related: The Prophet said, "Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded." (Bukhari book 2 #38)
I would like to show how the Qur'an and the Torah compliment each other, and why it is false and narrow minded to say that one contradicts the other. There are many differences between similar narrations in the Qur'an and in the Torah. For example, both the Qur'an and the Torah relate events concerning the oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt, and how God sent Moses/Musa to liberate the Jews from persecution by Fir'aun/Pharaoh. Christian missionaries, and so called objective university professors, often point to the mention of Haman, an famous anti-semite who lived in Persia more than eight centuries after the exodus, as an example of Muhammad's ignorance of history. This is absurd. The Qur'an mentions Haman to show that God has saved the Children of Israel from persecution by more than one Pharaoh and in more than one land. This is a statement of God's enduring commitment to helping the weak and the oppressed. Let us read the passage together.
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. (Exodus 2:1-4)
In truth We recite to you some of the news of Moses and Pharaoh, for people who believe (in this Quran and the Oneness of Allah). Verily, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (the children of Israel) among them, killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of the Mufsideen (great oppressors or tyrants). And we wished to do a favor to those who were weak (and oppressed) in the land (of Egypt), and to make them (the Children of Israel) rulers and inheritors, and to establish them in the land (of Israel), and We let Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts receive from them, that which they feared. We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: "Suckle him (Moses), but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily! We shall bring him back to you, and shall make him one of (Our) Messengers." (Qur'an 28: 3-7).
In the next few verses the Qur'an gives us some extra details explaining how Musa's mother felt at the loss of her son, as well as why Pharaoh's daughter did not hire an Egyptian foster mother for Moses. The Qur'an stresses the lesson that bad events often eventually turn into good outcomes, so one should trust in God and not become depressed. Once again the parallel between Pharaoh, done in by his daughter's saving Moses from death, and Haman, done in by Esther, who only became Queen because Haman helped get rid of the previous Queen, is stressed. Those who plan evil are often done in by their very one actions.
Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She (the slave or Pharaoh's daughter) opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" "Yes, go," she answered. So the girl went and got the baby's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older (two years later), she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She ( Pharaoh's daughter) named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water." (Exodus 2:5-10)
Then the household of Pharaoh picked him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a cause of grief. Verily! Pharaoh, Haman, and their hosts were sinners. And the wife of Pharaoh said; "A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he maybe of a benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not (the result of that). And the heart of the mother of Moses became empty (lonely). She was very near to disclosing his (being her son), had We not strengthened her heart (with Faith), so that she might remain as one of the believers. She said to his (Moses's) sister: "Follow him." So she (his sister) watched him from a far place secretly, while they perceived not. We had already forbidden (other) foster suckling mothers for him, until she (his sister came and ) said: "Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and sincerely look after him in a good manner?" So did We restore him to his mother, that she might be delighted, and that she might not grieve, that she might know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of them know not. (Qur'an 28:8-13)
We see again that the differences between the Qur'an and the Torah are the result of different lessons being derived from the same events. These different lessons are not in opposition to one another; they compliment and enrich each other. When we follow Muhammad's teaching to "believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you." we always gain a better understanding of God's will and of our own Sacred Scriptures.
Rabbi Allen S. Maller retired after serving for 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is rabbimaller.com.
Topics: Pharaoh, Prophet Moses (Musa), Quran, Torah Values: Harmony