Religion Can Help Light Emerge From Darkness – OpEd


On October 27, 1978, only five years after Egypt started the Yom Kippur War with a surprise  attack on Israel, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were named winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for their progress toward achieving a Middle East accord; and only one year later came a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. Could the same process follow the defeat of Hamas in the Hamas-Israel War and the fall of Israel’s far right coalition government? 

Fifty years after the Yom Kippur War, on October 7, 2023 Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian terrorist attack on Israel in history, killing 1,200+ people. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest-ever airstrikes on Gaza with more than 14,000 Palestinians being killed since the Hamas attack on Israel. A  BBC investigation revealed that five Palestinian groups led by Hamas had been training together in preparation for the assault on Israel for almost three years. Before 7 October 2023, Hamas and allies were thought to have about 20-30,000 fighters in the Gaza Strip. 

The European Union, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have all designated Hamas and Hezbollah’s military wings as terrorist organizations. 

“There have been at least 260 antisemitic incidents reported on American campuses since October 7, 2023 compared to only 20 incidents in the same period last year,” the ADL said. Yet I think the same process that followed the Yom Kippur War, could follow the defeat of Hamas and the fall of Israel’s far right coalition government.

Although it might seem impossible now, I do believe that within a decade or two Muslims will visit Jerusalem and pray together with Jews as Prophet Isaiah states: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the (monotheistic one) Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast to my covenant, these I will bring to my holy mountain (Zion), and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:6-7) And then “Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

In 2011 the “Arab Spring” filled most of the world with great hopes. Now, twelve years later, the near east is filled with increasing conflict, anxiety, fear, darkness and despair. According to a world-wide poll for Reuters (May 2, 2012) “nearly 15 percent of people worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime”. That number is surely much higher by now.

In response to the pain and suffering of the past seven+ weeks, we all long to be safe, to be at peace, and to feel joy. And maybe even more so, we long for the ability to bless others. We desperately want to care for each other, to keep those around us safe. And we wish, like Abraham, that we could bestow blessings near and far throughout the world. There is so much pain, so many fires in need of divine attention. With Prophet Abraham as our model, we must each strive to be bestowers of divine blessings and kindness. 

The fires raging right now may seem too overwhelming to expect to find God in them. But while we cannot ignore the pain, darkness and fear, we will be overwhelmed if we only look at the threat of Armageddon. 

We need to balance our pain by looking for the charity, kindness and beauty in our world. Whether through prayer and good deeds, through art and song, through family and community, or wherever you find kindness, remember; even a world that is on fire cannot put out God’s light.

As Dr. Mohamed Chtatou, a Professor at a university in Rabat, Morocco says: “After the current (Hamas-Israel) war, Israel’s ultra-nationalist coalition will undoubtedly be undermined by public opinion, and probably by a commission of inquiry. If the Palestinian Authority were to agree to take over Gaza – backed by the international reconstruction aid that would inevitably arrive – and if a centrist coalition government were to emerge in Israel, everything would once again be possible. Two difficult “ifs”? Perhaps, but there is no serious alternative.”

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation-community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah; then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided. And prior to the 20th century Arabs and Jews never did make war with each other. Even the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria of the Yom Kippur War was followed six years later by a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. 

Could the same process follow the defeat of Hamas and the fall of Israel’s far right extremist government?
If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.  On that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

For more than seven decades political nationalist leaders in Israel and Palestine have failed to find a way to end the conflict between their two peoples. Perhaps it is time for religious leaders who understand the religious importance of repentance, humility, forgiveness, compromise and hope for peace in overcoming more than seven decades of pain and anger. As the Qur’an states: “Perhaps Allah will put, between you and those to whom you have been enemies among them, affection. And Allah is competent, and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”  (60:7) Then the words of the Qur’an will be for-filled “From the depths of Darkness into the Light; for Allah is very kind and merciful to you.” (Qur’an 57:9)

And we all will benefit from “Righteousness is not in turning your faces towards the east or the west. Rather, the righteous are those who believe in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Books, and the prophets; who give charity out of their cherished wealth to relatives, orphans, the poor, ˹needy˺ travelers, beggars, and for freeing captives; who establish prayer, pay alms-tax, and keep the pledges they make; and who are patient in times of suffering, adversity, and in ˹the heat of˺ battle. It is they who are true ˹in faith˺, and it is they who are mindful ˹of Allah˺” (2:177)

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)

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, all of us 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 and peace] is best.” (Quran 4: 128)  

I say we need to focus on people first and land second. “From the river to the sea Palestinians and Israelis should be freed of hatred and suffering’ with ‘a two state for two peoples sharing of the land peacefully.'”

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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