When Jews celebrate Hanukah (this year December 18-25, 2022) I hope that both Jews and Muslims will also remember all oppressed religious communities, such as the Rohingya people of Myanmar, the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang Province, and the brave Muslim woman of Iran who have suffered hundreds of martyrs: because Hanukah teaches the very important lesson that faith and hope in the long run overcome nasty politics and politicians.
Fear of hate crime looms especially large in the minds of Jews and Muslims, even if they have never been personally targeted, according to a new study from Rice University and West Virginia University.
Using data from the 2019 edition of the nationally representative Experiences with Religious Discrimination Study survey, the authors found that among religious groups, Jews and Muslims were most likely to express fear of being targeted. These concerns were explained in part by individuals’ personal experiences with being discriminated against, but also their knowledge of discrimination against close friends and family and their greater religious visibility (that is, they are more likely to wear outward symbols of their religion).
Hanukah is for Muslims as well as Jews because Hanukah (Hebrew for Dedication) refers both to: 1-The rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem after it was profaned in 168 BCE by an idol installed in it by the Syrian Greek king Antiochus IV; and 2-The dedication and valor of the Maccabees and all those who joined them in their resistance to the attempt by the ruling powers to force the Jews to abandon their God given religion, and conform to Greek forms of worship and culture. Abandoning circumcision was one example.
The Jews who resisted were Muslims (Arabic for faithful follows of the one and only God’s will) and their dedication eventually led to religious freedom and national independence for the Jews living in the Land of Israel.
Indeed Muslims, and all lovers of democracy today, should celebrate the Council on American-Islamic Relations report that a total of 170 American Muslim Candidates in 28 states and Washington D.C. ran for public office in 2020, the highest number ever recorded; and 62 were successfully elected to office. In comparison, 49 Muslim candidates were elected to public office in 2019, and 57 in 2018 (the previous high mark).
The Hanukah of the Maccabees was not the first Hanukah of the Jerusalem temple; rather it was an observance with deep roots in Jewish history. The first Hanukah was the dedication of Prophet Solomon’s Temple about 950-940 BCE. Then the first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. After the Persian King Cyrus, who Prophet Isaiah (45:1) called a Messiah, encouraged the Jews to return from the Babylonian Exile; many did return to the Land of Israel; and they rebuilt the second Temple.
Hanukah also celebrates the first time that a religion was forced to fight for religious freedom and religious pluralism. The oppression of Judaism by Antiochus IV, the Syrian Greek king, was the first known attempt at suppressing a minority religion, but unfortunately not the last. Other well known attempts were the three century long Roman persecution of Christianity, and the persecution of Muhammad and his followers by the majority of pagan Arabs in Makkah.
All three religions emerged from their varying periods of persecution stronger than ever, and this also is the ongoing spiritual lesson of the Hanukah lamp that once lit by faithful believers, filled with hope and trust in God; lasts longer than anyone else thinks possible.
But the Greeks were polytheists and only monotheists are supposed to be narrow minded fanatics, according to anti-religious atheists. This false belief is wrong because it was Greek philosophers who first formulated the concept that ‘truth’ was an absolute, unchanging and universal entity and thus truth must be what mathematicians call a zero sum game.
In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture; somehow diminishes my own. This was the result of the influence of Greek philosophy’s emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradict one another, one or both of them must be false.
This would mean that if my religion is true, yours must be false. In modern terms, light could not be both a particle and a wave at the same time. Yet we now have been enlightened and know that light is indeed both a particle and a wave at the same time, depending how you observe it.
Things did not improve much in modern times. In the last two centuries university academics have written many studies of comparative religion which they claim are objective and not distorted by their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, academics who treat other religions academically usually do not believe that other scriptures are actually Divinely inspired.
Indeed, many academics do not believe that even their own sacred scriptures are Divinely inspired; and believe in nothing except their own skepticism. They use the same kinds of explanations to understand a revealed religion that they would use to explain secular history and literature.
As a Reform Rabbi I follow a different model, one I learned from Prophet Muhammad. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other monotheistic scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture. So we should think of revelation not as a zero sum game like tennis, but as a multiple win co-operative sport like mountain climbing.
For example, the Mishnah (an early third century compilation of the oral Torah, states, “Adam was created as an individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as if he destroyed the whole world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)
And the Qur’an states,”one who kills a human being, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (Qur’an 5:32)
Academics explain the similarity of the two statements by assuming that since the Jewish statement is several centuries earlier than the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad must have heard it from a Rabbi or some educated Jew in Medina.
However, I believe Prophet Muhammad is a non-Jewish Abrahamic descendant Prophet of God who confirms the Torah of Prophet Moses. Prophet Muhammad has no need to learn this statement from another human being. Academics might reply that the statement is not found in the written Torah; it appears in the oral Torah written by the Rabbis in the Mishnah more than 1000 years after Moses.
But the Rabbis maintain that the Mishnah is part of the oral Torah that was passed down from Prophet Moses through many generations; just as Ahadith have been passed down through the generations. Indeed, the Qur’an itself introduces this statement as follows, “It is because of this that We ordained for the Children of Israel “one who kills a human being …” (Qur’an 5:32)
No prophet of God needs to be informed by another human what should be written in Holy Scripture. God is the source of all Divine inspiration. There are several verses in the Qur’an that mention things from the oral Torah. My perspective is that prophets and Holy Scriptures can not in reality oppose one another because they all come from one source. “Prophets are all brothers; they have the same father (God) and different mothers (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras)”. (Sahih al-Bukhari 3443 Book 60, Hadith 113)
My belief is based on an important Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Abu Huraira relates, “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.”‘
Following Prophet Muhammad’s teaching I also neither believe nor disbelieve the Qur’an. If I believed in the Qur’an, I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur’an because I believe that Prophet Muhammad was indeed a non-Jewish, Abrahamic descendant prophet; and I respect the Qur’an as a revelation to a kindred people, in a kindred language.
In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other religion on earth. This is why I look forward to 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. In 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)