Allah’s Apostle For Reform Judaism – OpEd


Allah’s Apostle was a messenger for all nations and not just for Arabs or Muslims: “We have not sent you but as an unequalled mercy for all the worlds” (Anbiya 21:107). I think of myself as a Reform Rabbi who is a Muslim Jew. 

Actually I am an Islamic Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Hanif Islamic Jew, and I submit to the covenant and its commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. 

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish law and tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we received at Mount Sinai. 

These are lessons that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century Germany. Although most Jews today are no longer Orthodox Jews, if the Jews of Muhammad’s time had followed these teachings of prophet Muhammad, Reform Judaism would have started 1,400 years ago. (In the U.K. Reform Jews are called Liberal Jews. Reform Jews in the U.K.are what we in North America call Conservative Jews. In Europe most Reform Jews are called Progressive Jews) 

I believe that Muhammad was a prophet of Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Jews of his day; although he was 1,200 years ahead of his time. During the six centuries between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of Muhammad in Yathrib (Medina), almost all Jews became Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Rabbis added many extra prohibitions to Jewish law and everyone became increasingly strict in the observance of the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut (dietary laws). 

For example, the rabbis have a general legal principle in the Talmud that states: “When in doubt regarding prohibitions (Issura which usually denotes ritual law as contrasted with civil law; the latter often designated Mamona) err on the strict side; when in doubt regarding money, err on the side of leniency” (Gittin 63b).

Orthodox Rabbis did not follow the example of Muhammad as narrated by his wife ‘Aisha: Whenever Allah’s Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was  sinful to do so, he would not approach it. ‘Aisha also said:  Whenever Allah’s Apostle ordered the Muslims to do something, he used to order them to do deeds which were easy for them to do.

Although the Torah of Moses prohibits adding to the commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1) over the centuries Orthodox Rabbis added many restrictions to the laws of prohibited activities under the theory of building a protective fence around the Torah’s laws. Also, whenever Orthodox Rabbis were in doubt if an animal had been slaughtered correctly according to Jewish law, or if one could eat a new species of bird, it was ruled prohibited. 

They were not guided by Muhammad’s principle as narrated by Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas: The Prophet said, “The most sinful person among the Muslims is the one who asked about something which had not been prohibited, but was prohibited because of his asking.” 

The Torah also teaches:”When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, do not come near her for seven days; she is taboo for her menstrual period ” (Leviticus 15:19). Orthodox Rabbis extended the period of no intimate contact by several extra days and demanded no physical contact at all during that period (again making a fence around the Torah;s laws). 

Prophet Muhammad supported the Torah’s ban on sex during a woman’s period, but opposed the additional restrictions enacted by Orthodox Rabbi. As Thabit narrated it from Anas: “Among the Jews, when a woman menstruated, they did not dine with her, nor did they live with them in their houses (they slept in separate beds). The Companions asked the Apostle, and Allah, the Exalted revealed: ‘They ask you about menstruation; say it is a pollution, so keep away from women during menstruation and do not approach until they are clean again.’ (Qur’an 2: 222). The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do everything except intercourse’. (Orthodox) Jews heard that and said: This man does not want to leave anything we do without opposing us in it.” 

Reform Rabbis teaching a Jewish couple today would be much closer to that of Prophet Muhammad than what an Orthodox Rabbi would say. Indeed, all Reform Rabbis would agree with Bukhari’s  Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad’s personal example: Narrated Um Salama: While I was laying with the Prophet under a single woolen sheet, I got the menses. I slipped away and put on the clothes for menses. He said, “Have you got “Nifas” (menses)?” I replied, “Yes.” He then called me and made me lie with him under the same sheet. (Volume 1, Book 6, Number 297) and Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet used to lean on my lap and recite Qur’an while I was in menses. (Volume 1, Book 6, Number 296)

A final example of some Arab Orthodox Jews’ overly pious attitude towards ritual impurity is found in two Bukhari Ahadith about impurity due to urination. Narrated Abu Wail: Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari used to lay great stress on the question of urination and he used to say, “If anyone from Bani Israel happened to soil his clothes with urine, he used to cut that portion away.” (Volume 1, Book 4, Number 226)

As opposed to this extreme behavior Prophet Muhammad was much more relaxed: Narrated Um Qais bint Mihsin: I brought my young son, who had not started eating (ordinary food) to Allah’s Apostle who took him and made him sit on his lap. The child urinated on the garment of the Prophet, so he asked for water and poured it over the soiled (area) and did not wash (all of) it. (Volume 1, Book 4, Number 223)

All Reform and Conservative Rabbis today are also much more relaxed about ritual pollution than Orthodox Rabbis. As the Qurʾān (7:157) states: God promises to show His mercy to those Jews and Christians who follow Prophet Muḥammad who will: “enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear” (trans. M. M. Pickthall).

These are only a few examples illustrating why I believe Muhammad was a Prophet of Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism to the Jews of his generation. 

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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