Can Religion Help Light To Emerge From Darkness? – OpEd


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 full-filled “From the depths of Darkness into the Light; for Allah is very kind and merciful to you.” (Qur’an 57:9)

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. 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 its opposition to a two state solution? 

Not if Hamas has leaders like Ghazi Hamad, a senior member of Hamas, who hailed the systematic slaughter of 1,000+civilians in Israel on October 7, vowing in an interview that “if given the chance, Hamas will repeat similar assaults many times in the future, until Israel is exterminated.”

The only possible chance for avoiding more wars is the two state solution. To establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That will not be possible with the current leaders on either side. Extremists, both Israeli and Palestinian, will do all they can to sink the idea, as they have done since the 1990s. If this war does not deliver enough of a shock to break deeply-held prejudices and to make the idea of two states viable, nothing will. And without a mutually-acceptable way of ending the conflict, more generations of Palestinians and Israelis will be sentenced to more wars.

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 “Lo yisa goy el goy kherev velo yilmedu od milkhama” “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 now.

The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas was started on October 7 when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists attacked Israeli military bases and farming communities. Some 1,400 people were killed, most of them civilians, and at least 245 people were taken hostage, with 240 still held inside Gaza. Esmail Qaani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is in Lebanon trying to stimulate a wider attack on Israel. According to the UK-based, Qaani arrived in Beirut one day after the Hamas October 7 assault on Israel.

Andrew Roberts co-author of Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine wrote: “In professing to believe that it can expel the Jews from the river to the sea, Hamas has been selling a dream that has brought only tragedy and rubble. Once Hamas has been destroyed, the people of Gaza may be able to flourish if they learn from all the other peoples who suffered large-scale population transfers in the later 1940s. Rather than endlessly trying to re-litigate the Naqba – the “Catastrophe” in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs left (fled the warfare in Palestine) or were forced out of Israel – they must recognize it as a historical fact that is now three-quarters of a century old.“ 

In response to the pain and suffering of the past few weeks, we all long to be safe, to be at peace, and to feel joy. We want to care for each other, to keep those around us safe. And we wish, like Prophet Abraham, that we could bestow blessings near and far throughout the world. With Prophet Abraham as our model, we must each strive to be bestowers of divine blessings and kindness to others.

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 fears and anger 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 wrote: “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 in the Hamas-Israel War?

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)

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

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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