Prophet Muhammad’s Name In The Song Of Song’s? – OpEd


On a Muslim website (Islambrowser) I came across a short article about a verse with the name of Prophet Muhammad in Prophet Solomon’s Song of Songs (chapter 5, verse 16) one of the 39 books in the Hebrew Bible. The writer, whose native language is not English, writes as follows:

“If this word does not mean Muhammad, what is the real meaning of the words in one or two words in English translation. Actually for me, it is hard to accept this one word have to translated as he is altogether lovely (3 words) because the word to me based on the structure of the song, is a noun instead of an adjective. Actually, as a noun should not be any translation for מַחֲמַדִּ . Only can be rewrite based on the sound spoken as Muhammadin. ( yea Muhammad).

I think only Jewish Rabbi who expert in language have the true skill of understanding on this bible words (hopefully he will speak the truth) because the bible itself was an English translation instead of written in the Prophet Jesus (Eesa a.s) mother toque (some said Hebrew some said native Aramaic ) but for sure not American English or UK English.”

I accepted his invitation to explain the meaning of the word in Song of Songs 5:16. I am a retired Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam when I studied it at a university (UCLA) more than 62 years ago.  I have continued my study of Islam off and on since that time.The largest denomination of non-Orthodox Jews in the US and Canada, where 6 million Jews live, is the Reform movement. Reform Judaism began in Germany 200 years ago as a “back to the basics” modernizing movement. 

I think of myself as a Reform Rabbi who is an Islamic 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 Islamic Jew, and I submit (Islam) 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. 

Now to the word in the verse in Song of Songs (5:16) that may contain Prophet Muhammad’s name. First, the writer is correct in thinking that the word is a noun, but the word is also plural. I do not think it refers to many Muhammads. In the singular the word means precious one or desirable one: and that is a description that every Muslim would agree describes Prophet Muhammad as well as other Prophets sent by Allah. 

So the meaning of verse 5:16 is: “Precious Prophets are beloved friends of God.” Since the word used includes the name of Prophet Muhammad it is reasonable to conclude that Prophet Muhammad is in the line of God’s Precious Prophets like Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. The Song of Songs, like much  of Rumi’s poetry,  is all about our love of God, and God’s love for those who love God. 

But there are other verbs and nouns in Hebrew that have a similar meaning to the one in this verse, so why did Prophet Solomon use this word? Perhaps it was to draw Jews, Christians and Muslims closer to each other by encouraging them all to study the Song of Songs together and learn that love is more important than ultimate truth (which is only known by God). 

As it is written in the Qur’an 3;84 “Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and what was given to Musa and Isa and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.”

We do not even need to limit our joint study to the Song of Songs. After all the Qur’an 17:55 also states, “And your Lord best knows those who are in the heavens and the earth; and certainly We have made some of the prophets to excel others, and to David We gave a scripture”. Thus, the Zubar/Psalms would also be a good book for joint study. And we do not need to limit joint study of Song of Songs and Psalms to the three Abrahamic religions. 

Qur’an 2:62 states, “Those who believe (Muslims), those who profess Judaism, Christians and Sabaeans: whoever believes in God and the last day (of Judgment) and does good, righteous deeds, surely their reward  is with their Lord, and they shall have no fear, nor will they grieve”. The traditional Islamic commentaries have suggested that the Sabaeans could be many different religious groups among them Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Hindus. Only God knows. 

And when we study together we always need to abide by Muhammad’s teaching, “Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion is, however, one.”  (Muslim, book #030, Hadith #5836) All prophets have the same father, who is the One God whose inspiration gives birth to their prophethood. However, each prophet has a different mother i.e. the nation and people as well as the period and age that the prophet speaks to. 

Thus, prophets are brothers in faithfulness to the One God, but their Divinely inspired message differs because it must be appropriate for their motherland, their mother tongue, their own people and the historical circumstances of the prophet’s lifetime.

When all monotheists support a pluralistic religions theology, the ideal that religious pluralism 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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