Understanding Hadiths – OpEd


Those who fear and hate Islam, frequently claim that the religion of Islam advocates perpetual warfare against non-Muslims. As proof they love to quote the following Hadith: Prophet Muhammad said:  لَتُقَاتِلُنَّ الْيَهُودَ فَلَتَقْتُلُنَّهُمْ حَتَّى يَقُولَ الْحَجَرُ يَا مُسْلِمُ هَذَا يَهُودِيٌّ فَتَعَالَ فَاقْتُلْهُ  “You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: come here, O Muslim, there is a Jew, so kill him. (Muslim, Book 41, #6981)

This is not a solitary Hadith. It is quoted in several different collections of Ahadith with some important variations in the text; but all of them include the words: “come here, O Muslim, there is a Jew, so kill him.” For example, the above Hadith; implies that Muslims will/should always fight Jews because it states: you will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding behind me); kill him.”

Another Hadith implies that both parties will always fight each other:  (Muslim, book 041, #6983) “Abdullah b. ‘Umar reported Allah’s messenger as saying: you and the Jews would fight against one another until a stone would say: Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.”

And a third Hadith implies that only someone (named Abdullah) Muslims will continually fight some Jews: (Bukhari, volume 4, book 52, #176) narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: Allah’s apostle said, “you will fight with the Jews until some of them will hide behind stones, the stones will (betray them) saying, ‘O Abdullah there is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.'”

There is also a more complete Hadith from Muslim and Bukhari which states: “The Hour/Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews. When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees; the stones and trees will say: O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (the Boxthorn tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” 

As a rabbi I think that the reference to the Boxthorn tree, a shrub, often thorny, growing 1 to 4 meters tall) as a Jewish tree; refers to the fire (of Moses Qur’an 20:10) of the burning bush (of Moses Torah Exodus 3:2) which protects the Jews who use the Torah’s light to guide them. 

This implies that the fight is only between unfaithful Jews and unfaithful Muslims since the Qur’an teaches: “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the ‘Last Day’ and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62) and (5:69)

Muslims today understand these words; “come here, O Muslim, there is a Jew, so kill him.” in a wide variety of different ways. One Muslim believes: The interpretation of this Hadith should be that when one believer (a Muslim) so hates another believer (a Jew) the end-last days is near. We, Muslims and Jews, are supposed to be the bedrock of humanity. We share a common history and a common future, and if we are so lost…so blinded by our hatred, then our massive loss of faith (the last hour/end of times) is complete. 

Another Muslim believes: The Qur’an itself condemns ALL Jews to “Hell” unless they admit that the Torah is false for Jews; having edited out all Prophecy related to the coming of Muhammad. In short, 100% of Jews are going to “Hell.” Ergo, If all Jews are going to “Hell” then all that “bedrock of humanity” is contrived. 

Which one, of these two opposing views prevails, will determine the future of all three Abrahamic religions. We already see evidence of increasing abandonment of traditional religious structures and behaviors as a result of the many examples of pedophile sexual, and terrorist political, sinfulness among religious leaders in all three religious communities. 

It is up to all believers, Christians, Jews and Muslims, to stand up and publicly oppose bigoted, hate filled attacks that people within our own religious community make against other religious communities. 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.

“To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [with one religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race [compete] to [do] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (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 as contradictory as they could; and declared the other religion’s sacred text to be false. Instead of interpreting texts to promote harmony and friendship, they interpreted texts to justify distain, contempt and hate.

If religion is to promote peace in our pluralistic world we must reject the zero sum game ideology, and promote the pluralistic teachings that already exist within our own sacred scriptures.

In addition, since the ‘last hour’ is when the devastating, and horrible wars of Juj and Majuj—Gog and Magog— will occur (the Syrian civil war is a foretaste of it); this Hadith should be used as a strong warning against religious warfare and conflict, and not an advocate of religious warfare. 

Indeed, all texts that seem to encourage or demand attacks on other religious communities must be understood as applying only to the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, who lived under continual attack from the pagan Arabs of Makka, and some of their Christian and Jewish allies in Medina. 

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. “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)

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. 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)

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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