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Why Do The One God’s Revelations Differ? – OpEd

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Since monotheistic religions proclaim the existence of the one and only Divine Being, the essence of their revelations would be the same. As the sage of Konya, Jalal al-Din al-Rumi writes, “Ritual prayer might differ in every religion, but belief never changes.” (Fihi Mafih 49)

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Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; they only cast additional light on each other.

As 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.”

Thus, however great the difference in the forms of Monotheistic Revelations we should totally respect the sacred texts mentioned in the Qur’an, which is the last of the five sacred texts.

“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 this matter.”[Sûrah Al-Ḥajj, 22:67]

One example of the major differences between the Qur’an and the Torah is the Torah’s attention to details (names of people and places) and the Qur’an’s avoidance of details and emphasis on universals. The Torah has long lists of geographical locations and genealogies which many people today, especially non-Jews, find boring.

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The name ‘Israel’ is mentioned 2,319 individual times in the Hebrew Bible because the covenant God makes with the nation of Israel (the descendants of Jacob/Israel) is the central focus of all the books in the Hebrew scriptures; except for the wisdom Books of Proverbs and Job.

The Qur’an rarely identifies locations, and often omits the name of the people it does mention, for example the name of the prophet who appointed Talut to become the first king of Israel (Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:246). Indeed, Muslim commentators disagree about many of these details. Some say the prophet who appointed Talut king of Israel was Samuel and others think it was Joshua or Simeon.

Why did these disagreements occur? Some early Muslim commentators did use Biblical details to elucidate Qur’an texts. But most later commentators —especially after the beginning of the Christian Crusades in Spain and the Middle East— rejected using Israelite materials to fill in some details for the Qur’anic verses.

The Qur’an’s avoidance of detail points to the Qur’an’s universal form and ongoing Divine call for all human societies to repent and reform themselves. But that does not require ignoring information from a brother prophet’s scripture.

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 most obvious difference in the holy books of the three Abrahamic religions is in size.

The [Jewish] Hebrew Sacred Scriptures —including the Zabur/Book of Psalms— are a vast collection (305,358 Hebrew words) of divinely-inspired books, written over a period of a thousand years, by 48 named male prophets and seven named female prophetesses (Talmud Megillah 14a). Furthermore, we find several anonymous prophets plus inspired Historians, Poets, and Philosophers.

According to Islamic tradition the total number of Jewish Prophets was 600: “It is narrated from Abu Dharr that one day he asked the Messenger of Allah: How many prophets are there in all? He replied: One hundred and twenty four thousand. He then asked: How many of them were messenger prophets? He replied: Three hundred thirteen (only a quarter of one percent) from the above group. He asked: Who was the first of them? He replied: Adam…The first prophet among Bani Israel was Musa, and the last of them was Isa and they were in all six hundred prophets.” (Biharul Anwar, Vol. 11, Pg. 32)

The [Christian] 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 central focus of the New Testament, as a whole, is on the nature of Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary, and the various claims made about him.

The [Muslim] Arabic Qur’an is still shorter (a total of 77,934 Arabic words —one quarter of the Hebrew Scriptures), coming only from the recitation of Prophet Muhammad during a period of less than two dozen years and written down by his own disciples. The central focus of the Qur’an is on the One God, including his warnings and promises of rewards and punishments in the afterlife for all humanity.

Yet all God’s prophets are the same in one specific way: They all have made a covenant with the One and Only God who created the universe.

“When We took from (all) the Prophets their covenant, and from you (Muhammad), and from Noah, Ibrahim, Musa, and `Isa son of Maryam. We took from (the five of) them a (very) strong covenant. [Sûrah Al-Aḥzâb, 33:7]

“This is certainly ˹mentioned˺ in the earlier Scriptures; the Scriptures of Abraham and Moses.” [Sûrah Al-A’lâ, 87:18-19]

Sûrah Al-Nisâ, 4:163 also states “and to David We gave the Psalms”

And: “We have written in the Zabur (two centuries) after the reminder (Torah of Musa) that ‘My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.'” [Sûrah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:105] (see Psalm 37)

“Then in the footsteps of the (Hebrew) prophets, We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah revealed before him. We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light and confirming what was revealed in the Torah—a guide and a lesson to the God-fearing.” [Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:46]

“And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he (Prophet Muhammad) came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.” [Sûrah Al-Ṣaff, 61:6]

One of the unique aspects of the Qur’an’s revelation is Allah’s explicit promise of Naskh; an Arabic word usually translated as “abrogation.” “We do not abrogate a verse (naskh) or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:106]

Although Prophet David had already said in the Zabûr: “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God” (Bible, Psalms 62:11)

this was not as clear as: “We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it.”

The rabbis in the Talmud maintained the statement of Prophet David in Zabûr/Psalms 62:11 (above): “God spoke once; twice have I heard it, that strength belongs to God.” This means that one Biblical verse may convey several different teachings. “In Rabbi Ishmael’s School it was taught: Like a hammer breaks rock into (many) pieces; so may one Biblical verse convey many teachings.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 34a)

But the rabbis applied this principle of multiple meanings to every verse in the Bible, and exclusively to its Jewish text —not for gaining understanding from non-Jewish sacred scriptures.

The best known example of naskh was the change of the Muslim qibla from Jerusalem to the Ka’bah. Deep within Prophet Muhammad was a longing for the qiblah of his ancestor Prophet Abraham. Also, some of Prophet Muhammad’s closest disciples thought that the command to face Jerusalem was a temporary one, and would someday be abrogated (naskh), and Prophet Muhammad would be commanded to face the Ka’bah.

The tafsir commentary of Abul A’la Maudûdi on Qur’an 2:106 (above) says: “This is in response to a doubt which the Jews tried to implant in the minds of the Muslims. If both the earlier Scriptures and the Qur’an were revelations from God, why was it – they asked – that the injunctions found in the earlier Scriptures had been replaced by new ones in the Qur’an? How could the same God issue divergent injunctions?

“Furthermore, they expressed their amazement at the Qur’anic indictment of the Jews and Christians for having allowed part of the revelation to be forgotten and lost, pointing out that it was impossible that Divine revelation should be erased from human memory.

“In refutation God states that He, being the Absolute Sovereign, has unlimited authority both to abrogate previous injunctions, and to cause people to forget the injunctions He wants them to forget. However, God ensures that whatever He abrogates or causes to be erased from people’s memories is replaced by something equally or even more beneficial.”

As Prophet Jeremiah states, “Is not My Word like fire (sparks), says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock into (many) pieces?” (Bible, Jeremiah 23:29).

As the Qur’an states: “Mankind was [of] one religion [pre-Adam polytheism]; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners, and sent down with them the Scripture [the Torah, the Zabûr, the Evangel, and the Qur’an] in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed.

“And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it —after the clear proofs came to them— out of jealous animosity among themselves. And Allah guided those who believed to the truth concerning that over which they had differed, by His permission. And Allah guides whom He wills to a straight path. [Sûrah Al- Baqarah, 2:213]

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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