Abraham Was First And Muhammad Was Last – OpEd


Just as Prophet Muhammad is known in the Qur’an as the Last of the Abrahamic monotheistic Prophets; so is Prophet Abraham known, in all three of the Sacred Scriptures of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, as a Friend of God; and the beginning of the three Abrahamic religions.

Farhad Shafti on his web site exploring Islam states that God promised Prophet Ibrahim to provide religious leaders from among his generation (Qur’an 2:124) and Prophet Ibrahim in particular asked God to raise a prophet among the generation of Ishmael (Qur’an 2:127-129). 

A series of prophets (“The first prophet among Bani Israel was Musa and the last of them (the Jewish prophets) was Isa (Jesus), and they (the Jewish prophets) were in all 600.” (Biharul Anwar, Vol. 11, Pg. 32.) were raised from among the Bani Israel, and then the promise for Bani Ishmael was also fulfilled by raising Prophet Muhammad. 

Many people ask why so many prophets for Bani Israel but only one for Bani Ishmael. My answer (based on my opinion because we do not have any explicit answer to this in the Qur’an) is as follows: 

“The many prophets given to Bani Israel also served to establish the concept of monotheism for Bani Ishmael, through the teachings reflected in their stories and by the establishment of Bani Israel as a chosen community. As you see references to these prophets and to the stories of Bani Israel, as the first chosen ongoing religious community, are made abundantly in the Qur’an. For Prophet Muhammad followed the same overall path as the Hebrew Prophets and Messengers: (See Qur’an 2:136; 22:78, 4:26, 3:95, 4:125; 6:161).

Many people have at one time or another asked, ‘If there is only one God why are there so many religions?’ A good question that I as a Rabbi have often been asked. This is my answer. 

The Qur’an declares that Allah could have made all of us monotheists, a single religious community, but (didn’t) in order to test our commitment to the religion that each of us have been given by God. “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God’s plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on judgment day) the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Qur’an 5:48) 

This means that religious pluralism is the will of God. Yet for centuries many believers in one God have chided and depreciated each other’s religions, and some believers have even resorted to forced conversions, expulsions and inquisitions. Monotheists all pray to the same God, and all prophets of monotheistic faiths are inspired by the same God. 

So how did this intolerance come about, and how can we eliminate religious intolerance from the Abrahamic religions. Greek philosophy, with its requirement that truth must be unchanging and universal, influenced most teachers of sacred scripture during Medieval times to believe that religion was a zero sum game; the more truth I find in your scripture the less truth there is in mine. 

Instead of understanding differing texts as complementary, they made them contradictory and declared the other religion’s sacred text to be false.

If religion is to promote peace in our pluralistic world we must reject the zero sum game ideology and develop the pluralistic teachings that already exist within our sacred scriptures. After all “all prophets are brothers. They have the same father (God) but different mothers (mother tongues, motherlands and unique historical circumstances that account for all the differences in their scriptures). 

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, son of Mary. Prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”  (Bukhari, Book #55, Hadith #652) Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion however; is one”.  (Muslim, Book #030, Hadith #5836) 

I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam when I studied it at the Hebrew University  in Jerusalem 64 years ago. I have continued my study of Islam off and on for many years. As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant God made with Abraham – the first Islamic Hebrew, and I submit to the commandments God decreed to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. 

Prophet Abraham was the first person to be called a “Hebrew” in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 14:13). The term Hebrew probably comes from the verb to go over a boundary, like the Euphrates or Jordan river, or to be a migrant. Prophet Jonah identified himself to non-Jewish sailors as “a Hebrew” (Jonah 1:9). 

Prophet Abraham was the first Islamic Hebrew as Qur’an 3:67 states: “He (Abraham) was not Yahuudiyyaun, “a Jew”, nor Nasraaniyyaan, “a Christian”, but rather a Haniifaam, “a Muslimaan, i.e. “a monotheistic Hebrew believer submitting (Islam) to the one imageless God who created all space and time; and who made Prophet Abraham’s descendants through Prophets Isaac and Jacob (Israel), into a great multitude of monotheists called the People of Israel-Banu Israel.

Prophet Isaiah said: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he [Abraham] was only one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. (Isaiah 51:1-2) and the Qur’an states: “You have an excellent example to follow in Abraham.” (60:4) and “Follow the way of Abraham as people of pure faith.” (3:95) 

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice. These are lessons that Prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in early 19th century Germany. 

In many ways statements in the Qur’an about Orthodox Jewish beliefs and Ahadith relating Muhammad’s comments about Orthodox Judaism, and religion in general, prefigure the thinking of Reform Rabbis some 12-13 centuries later.

I could have written this essay about religious pluralism by using quotes only from the Hebrew Scriptures, such as: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in His paths. Torah will go out from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. 

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord God has spoken. All the nations will walk in the name of their gods, and we (Jews) will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:1-5) 

Or I could have used a pragmatic argument like a Jewish leader named Jephthah offered when he tried to avoid a war by appealing to an invading king as follows:”Do you not hold what Chemosh, your God, has given you? So we will hold on to all that Adonai, our God, has given us.” (Judges 11:24) 

Jephthah does not believe in Chemosh, nor does he think that Chemosh is just another name for the Holy One of Israel. He knows that the One God of Israel does not allow Jews to have any other god. But Jephthah recognizes the king’s religious beliefs and wants the king to equally recognize Israel’s. 

Thus, Adonai the One God of Israel, is the only God for Jews; but others can have a different view of God that they submit to, as long as this God leads them to practice virtue. As the Qur’an declares, “For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning the matter, but continue to call people to your Lord.,..God will judge between (all of) you on the Day of Resurrection about what you used to differ”. (22:67&69)  

I choose to use Qur’an and Hadith to illustrate that all religions, as well as my own, have statements proclaiming and endorsing religious pluralism. They also have other statements that appear to claim  religious exclusivity. These opposing views are the will of God, so that we may be tested. 

Choosing between good and evil is a moral choice that even agnostics and atheists can make. Believers should believe in all God’s words (plural), but if we value kindness, humility and peace we are obligated to choose to understand the seemingly exclusive statements in the context of the accepting statements. This is the will of God so that believers may be tested in their commitment to kindness, humility and peace. 

While Christians, Jews and Muslims should make no disrespectful distinction between any of their prophets or their sacred scriptures, we cannot help but notice that the circumstances and style of each of the three written revelations are very distinct. 

The Hebrew Sacred Scriptures are a vast collection (305,358 Hebrew words) of Divinely inspired books written over a period of almost a thousand years, by 48 male prophets and 7 female prophetesses (Talmud Megillah 14a); plus many more anonymous inspired Jewish Historians, Poets, and Philosophers.

The Greek New Testament is much shorter (a total of 138,162 Greek words); and was written over a period of less than 70 years, by four biographers plus maybe a half dozen other writers who all wrote in a language (Greek) that Prophet Jesus and Prophet John never spoke.

The Arabic Qur’an is still shorter (a total of 77,934 Arabic words) recited only by Prophet Muhammad during a period of less than two dozen years and written down by his own disciples.

I believe that Prophet Jesus, who said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24); unintentionally became a Jewish Prophet for the non-Jewish world. And Prophet Muhammad. the unlettered prophet, was the one intentional non-Jewish Prophet for the non-Jewish world.

As the Qur’an states: “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong, and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil (things), and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. So they who have believed in him, honored him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him (even if they did not convert to Islam)  – it is those who will be successful.” (7:157)

“Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62) If all believers in monotheism followed this verse we would come closer to fulfilling 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)

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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