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Islam Sees A Decade Of Hope And Fear – OpEd

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The revolution known as the Arab Spring had its greatest victory in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood won the election, but governed badly and rapidly alienated Egyptians who were not their natural supporters; while next door Libyans are now marking the tenth anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and killing of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya has become one of the most intractable conflicts left over from the “Arab spring” a decade ago. The country has descended into devastating chaos and has become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups that survive on looting and human trafficking.

The Arab Spring had its greatest defeat in Syria; with grim years of wars, massacres, destruction, displacement, and oppression, and in Libya, Syria, and Yemen; and the Mid-East has became traumatized and exhausted by its most destructive decade recent centuries.

Many Muslims think of “Ya’juj and Ma’juj or Gog and Magog who are mentioned in the Qur’an in two places: in surat al-Kahf 18:94 and in surat al-Anbiya’ 21:96. Gog and Magog are also mentioned in the Biblical book of Prophet Ezekiel chapters 38-39. Many people believe that “Ya’juj and Ma’juj is a generic name for some unruly, barbaric, uncivilized and un-religious people who caused trouble in the past, and will cause vast mischief before the end of our world.

So in the MidEast the “Arab Spring” that filled 2011 with great hopes now is viewed with increasing anxiety and even fear. Why are so many people this negative and pessimistic about the future of monotheistic humanity?

While it is true that human society changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last 150 years than ever before in history, humanity has survived several major revolutions and world wars. Doctors today save the lives of millions; while dictators sacrifice the lives of millions. Populations are exploding in Africa and populations are declining in Europe. Technology produces both worldwide prosperity and worldwide pollution at the same time.

Should we look upon the 21st century with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Is the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday? Or are both occurring almost concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?

The long tradition of trying to foresee the eventual goal of human history started with the Prophets of Israel over 2.700 years ago. The Biblical vision of a Messianic Age may provide us with guidance in understanding the social, economic, scientific and cultural upheavals that will sweep society as it approaches the next stage.

Often, it is the dramatic dangers of the pre-Messianic tribulation that are emphasized. I will focus on the positive signs developing throughout the world that accord with the Messianic vision of the Biblical Prophets. In most religious traditions, redemption is defined in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation.

However, the three Abrahamic religions, especially Judaism, lead by the Prophets of Israel, conceived of redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of a transformation of the Jewish people. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religion, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age. But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps.
Islam teaches that Prophets are sent to every nation to issue a warning that their behavior has consequences, and these consequences must be faced on Judgement Day. As the Qur’an states, “Accountability for mankind is getting closer and closer, yet they are heedless and turn away.” (12:1 and 54:1-8)

God of course, is always ready to help us defeat evil, if we are ready to work for the establishment of a just and peaceful local and world wide society; that is why a Messiah will certainly come.

A Messiah is an agent of the One God who helps bring about this transformation. This agent of God (with several forerunners and many disciples) will be a human being with great leadership qualities; similar to Prophet Moses or Prophet Muhammed. The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run, but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails, will provide challenges to society for many generations to come.

For example, the Prophet Isaiah, 2,700 years ago, predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be filled with joy for “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (65:20) Until a century ago, the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%. For thousands of years almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one or two infants; now it happens to less than one out of a hundred.

If this radical improvement had occurred over a few years, it would have greatly impressed people. But since it occurred gradually over several generations, people take it for granted. Also, it seems to be part of human nature that most people focus on complaining about the less than 1% that still die (an individual family tragedy heightened by the fact that it is unexpected because it is so rare) rather than be grateful that the infant mortality rate has been reduced by over 96%.

These improvements in human health are unprecedented in human history. Truly we are close to Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20).

Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death. Yet who among us would want to return to the high mortality rates and early deaths of previous centuries?

The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone un-noticed and uncelebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long.

If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would be able to emigrate to Israel and USA, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic fantasy.

In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6) Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past. Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)

Where does the Messiah fit in with all of this? He will still have lots to do when he arrives. Most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, “He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them.” (6:13)

Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple of the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be possible.

But a Muslim Shrine called The Dome of the Rock presently occupies the site. Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and it was not built by Omar. It was built in 691 CE by Abd-Al-Malik and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world.

Just as important, 90% of the world’s Jews do not want see the the ancient Temple rebuilt, and daily animal sacrifices restored.

There is, however, much vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a small Jewish house of worship could be built near the Dome of the Rock, with religious services broadcast to Jews throughout the world; provided the Muslims would cooperate. Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be the Messianic Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5)

Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be important, and anyone who can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all Messianic predictions:

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.” (Isaiah 2:4) Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities.

Thus, each community could consider its leadership to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy: “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)

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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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