Of 124,000 Prophets, Four Expanded Greatly – OpEd


The term ivri (the Hebrew) first appears in the Torah, when Prophet Abraham is called “the Hebrew’.”And it was told to Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13). And Prophet Joseph uses the name as both a geographical and an socio-ethnic term: “I was kidnapped from the land of the ivrim” Genesis 40:15 and ‘a Hebrew youth’ 41:12, and “The Egyptians could not eat with the ivrim, since that would be an abomination” Genesis. 43:32. 

The name for Abraham’s grandson Jacob was later changed to Israel, and the name Israel largely replaced Hebrews after the Hebrews left Egypt. Banu Israel is the best name for Jews because it was the name given to Jacob by God himself; and it has been in use for over 3,000 years.

The word Muslim is a religious identity term that refers to faithful monotheistic believers. The word Hebrew is a linguistic, geographical and ethnic identity term like German the language,  Germany the homeland and Germans the people. The word descendent is a biological inherited birth identity term like nobility or tribe.

Islam was a religion designed by God to overcome all other self-identities: “O mankind, We created you from male and female, and made you peoples and tribes, that you may know (respect) one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Quran 49:13)

“Once all humans were but a single community; then they disagreed (formulating different beliefs and rites). Had it not been that your Lord had already so ordained, a decisive judgement would have been made regarding [the truth of] their disagreements.” (10:19) Then all human communities invented different religions of their own with different creeds and ways This worldly life is a trial to see whether or not you yourselves recognize truth by competing in doing acts of kindness, toleration and welcoming others who are different into your own lands.

And: “Who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.” (4:125)

So Jews have many names to self-identify because they have been immigrants for a little more than half of their 36-8 centuries of Jewish history. Even more important, by God’s design Prophet Abraham’s biological descendants through Isaac and Jacob became the first ongoing monotheistic community to last to this very day. “And remember Our servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – those of strength and [religious] vision. Indeed, We chose them for an exclusive quality: remembrance of the home [the “safe haven” Land of Israel]. And indeed they are to Us among the chosen and outstanding.” (38:45-7) 

“And We certainly settled the Children of Israel in an agreeable settlement [the Land of Israel] and provided them with good things. And they did not differ until [after Torah] knowledge had come to them. Indeed, your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection about that over which they used to differ. So if you [O Muhammad] are in doubt, about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters. (Qur’an 10:93-4)

Qur’an 5:20-21 states: “Moses said to his people: O, my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when he appointed among you prophets and made you possessors [of the Land of Israel] and gave you what he had not given anyone among the worlds. O my people, enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you.”

Islam teaches that the one and only God inspired and sent prophets to the whole of mankind in different lands and at different times. One version of a hadith puts the number of prophets sent to mankind as 124,000 (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 5, 169). Whether the number was 124,000 or not is not important.

What was essential was that no land, people or period was neglected by God. Prophets were sent to every human language group since the age of Adam. The Qur’an says: “There never was a people without a Warner (Prophet) having lived among them’ (35:24) and “We would never visit our wrath (chastise any community) until We had sent a Messenger to give warning” (17:15)

Since there are over 7.000 languages now spoken in the world, and another 10-20,000 that were spoken over the  previous 10,000 years and then died out, all human societies have have been taught the way God wants each of them to conduct their Divine worship (Qur’an 21:25), and the moral behavioral rules they should observe (Qur’an 16:90-92). Even today when hundreds of languages are dying out, the African continent is home to some of the most multilingual countries in the world. For example Cameroon has a population of around 27 million people; and over 250 different languages are spoken as first languages.

Three Prophets after Prophet Abraham were directed by God to greatly expand their audience.   

The Hebrew Bible states that the One and Only God told Prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to (all) the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) and the Arabic Qur’an states that the One and Only God told Prophet Muhammad: “We have not sent you (O Muhammad) but as a mercy for all of humankind, (the) jinn, and the (other kind of life forms on exoplanet) worlds.” (Quran 21:107)

In the early years of Islam, Muslims faced the direction of Jerusalem as the qibla (holy prayer direction) for their prayers before changing the direction to face the Kaaba, as a result of a Quranic revelation to Prophet Muhammad. According to Islam, the Kaaba was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its history, most famously by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Prophet Ismail (Ishmael).

Karen Armstrong asserts that the Kaaba was officially dedicated to Hubal, a Nabatean deity, and contained 360 idols which probably represented the days of the year. Armstrong also says that the Kaaba was thought to be at the center of the world, with the Gate of Heaven directly above it. The Kaaba marked the location where the sacred world intersected with the profane world; the embedded Black Stone meteorite was a further symbol because it fell from the sky and thus linked heaven and earth.

The Qur’an contains 3 verses regarding the origin of the Kaaba stating that the Kaaba was the first (monotheistic) House of Worship for mankind, and that it was built by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail on Allah’s instructions.

1 “Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for mankind.— Quran 3:96

2 “Behold! We gave the site to Ibrahim of the (Sacred) House, (saying): “Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it around, or stand up, or bow down or prostrate themselves (in prayer).” — Quran (22:26)

3 “And remember (Prophets) Ibrahim and Ismail raised the foundations of the House (praying): “Our Lord! Accept (this structure) from us: for You are All-Hearing and All-knowing.”— Quran 2:127

Ibn Kathir, in his famous exegesis (tafsir) of the Quran, mentions two interpretations among the Muslims on the origin of the Kaaba. One is that the temple was a place of worship for angels (or perhaps Jinn) before the creation of humans. Later, a house of worship was built on the location but it was destroyed by Noah’s flood, and was finally rebuilt by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail as mentioned later in the Quran. 

Ibn Kathir regarded this tradition as weak and preferred instead the narration by Ali ibn Abi Talib that although several other temples might have preceded the Kaaba, it was the first Bayt Allah (“House of God”), dedicated solely to monotheism, built with God’s instruction, and sanctified and blessed by Him, as stated in Quran 22:26″ 

There is also a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari stating that the Kaaba was the first (monotheistic) mosque on Planet Earth, and the second was the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. 

Although the Hebrew Bible is filled with geographic details, it is vague about the places where Prophet Abraham was twice tested by God’s demand that he should make his sons into ritual offerings. All we know is that the place was on a hilltop later called Zion. 

During the almost 950 years that the First and Second Jerusalem Temple stood they welcomed Jews and monotheistic non-Jews (Hanifs), to attend services daily; for as the third expansive Prophet King Solomon himself said in his dedication service for the Jerusalem Temple: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel, but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and be in awe of you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I (Solomon) have built bears your Name.” (1 Kings 8:41-43)

Although Islam is a universal religion non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the Kaaba or even the city of Makka where the Kaaba was built. And since Judaism has a pluralistic, many religions are true philosophy, the Jerusalem Temple always had a section available for non-Jewish foreigners to pray..

So “Each (religious) community has its own direction to which it turns (in prayer), competing with one another in doing good deeds. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all before Him. God has power over all things.” (Qur’an 2:148)

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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