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Prophet Muhammad’s ‘Best Jew’ Ally – OpEd

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During more than a decade of preaching Allah’s words to the idol worshipping, pagan polytheists of Makkah, Prophet Muhammad had been ignored, insulted, rejected and even violently attacked by his fellow townsmen, and the thousands of pagan Arabs that came on pilgrimage to the idol filled sanctuary of the Ka’ba. In 12 years he had only convinced a couple hundred people to accept him as their prophet.

When he left Makkah for Medina, he found a much more positive audience for his monotheistic message. One of the many Jews who supported Prophet Muhammad when he first arrived in Medina was Rabbi Mukhayriq, a learned leader of the tribe of Tha’labah, a tribe made up of Jews from the land of Israel who had settled in Medina several centuries earlier, plus a large number of local Arabs who had converted to Judaism over the ensuing generations.

According to Ibn Ishaq, the first major biographer of Prophet Muhammad, Rabbi Mukhayriq: “Announced to his congregation that he would fight to protect Prophet Muhammad from his many enemies among the pagan Arabs of Makkah; stating that if he died in the battle (as he did) he wanted his estate to go to Prophet Muhammed to be distributed as charity.” When Prophet Muhammed, who was seriously injured in that battle, was informed about the death of Rabbi Mukhayriq, Muhammed said about the Rabbi: مُخَيْرِيقُ سَابِقُ يَهُودَ Mukhayriq is the foremost among the Jews. (Ibn Shabbah, Ta’reekh Al-Madinah 467) In another narration, the Prophet said: مُخَيْرِيقٌ خَيْرُ يَهُودَ Mukhayriq was the best of the Jews. (Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat Al-Kubra 1535)

Ibn Ishaq also wrote that Rabbi Mukhayriq: “Recognized the Apostle of Allah by his description, and by what he found in his scholarship. However, (since) he was accustomed to his own religion, this held him back (from converting to Islam)”. Ibn Ishaq does not mention which Torah verses led Rabbi Mukhayriq to support the idea of a non-Jewish, Arabic speaking prophet as a legitimate prophet of God since all Jews knew that the last book of the Torah states that God will raise up a future prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18); and also states that there will never be another Prophet like Moses. (Deuteronomy 34:10) How can both statements be correct?

I think that Rabbi Mukhayriq took this verse in Deuteronomy 18:18 literally: “I will (in the future) raise them up a prophet from among their brothers, like you (Moses); and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” All Orthodox Rabbis gloss ‘brothers’ to mean fellow Israelites, but the literal meaning of the Hebrew word is biological brothers; and could mean a future non-Jewish brother prophet who would be a descendant of Isaac’s brother Ishmael.

This fits in with another Torah statement: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me (Moses) from among you, from your brothers— to him you shall listen— just as you (Jewish People) desired of the Lord your God at Horeb (Sinai) on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the (direct) voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me (Moses) ‘They (the Jewish People) are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their (non-Jewish) brothers (Arabs are Jews are descendants of two brothers). And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them (your non-Jewish descendants of Isaac’s brother Ishmael) all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 21:15-18)

So the answer to the question ‘how can Prophet Muhammad be a prophet like Prophet Moses’ is that the Torah ends with the statement: “Since that time (at Sinai) no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew (spoke to directly) face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10)

Precisely because Prophet Muhammad did not rise up within the Children of Israel, or in the Land of Israel, he can be a non-Jewish prophet who like Moses, speaks the words of the one God to all non-Jews, as he received them from Allah, not face to face like Prophet Moses, but from Angel Gabriel like most other prophets.

And there is another possibility. It is reasonable to think that any rabbi would view Prophet Muhammad through the perspective of the Torah’s words; and through the words of all the Hebrew prophets from Prophet Samuel to Prophet Zachariah.

So perhaps Rabbi Mukhayriq also used the following words of Jesus, spoken by Prophet Muhammad and recorded in the Qur’an: “And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Torah (which came) before me, and giving glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad. But when it (the messenger’s time) came to them (the pagan Arabs) with clear signs, they said, “This is evident sorcery.” (Quran 61:6)

What is important here is that Prophet Jesus says quite clearly that the Torah given to Prophet Moses mentions the coming of a future prophet, and that Jesus himself also looks forward to the coming of a messenger. Although Jews in general do not believe that Jesus was a Messianic figure, and certainly not a divine son of God, some Jews see Jesus as a prophetically gifted, miracle working Rabbi, like the great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria; or the founder of Hassidism, Rabbi Israel the Baal Shem Tov; or Prophet Elijah.

A Dead Sea scroll states that the Qum’ran community must live according to the original discipline “until there shall come a prophet (Elijah) and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” (Manuel of Discipline 9:11).

Thus, Rabbi Mukhayriq could have been guided by three passages in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is quoted as saying: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper (comforter, advocate, counselor), who will stay with you forever. (John 14:16) And; “The Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Counselor) will come – the Spirit, of truth about God, who comes from the Father”. (John 15:26)

Could Prophet Muhammad be ‘The Spirit’/Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Counselor)? Many Muslim scholars say the original Greek word, in John’s Gospel, which is now Paracletos, was originally a similar sounding Greek word Periclytos which could have meant the “Praised One”, which in Arabic can be translated as Ahmad or Muhammad.

The Qur’an states 4:171 “O (Christian) People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah anything but the truth. Christ (Messiah) Jesus the son of Mary was (only) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist”

But the third time the future helper is predicted is a much more mysterious verse; “But I am telling you the truth: it is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go away, the Helper (comforter, advocate, counselor) will not come to you. But if I do go away, then I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Why Jesus had to go away before the Helper could come is unknown. Why it took almost six centuries until the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad is also unknown.

Yet to a rabbi like Rabbi Mukhayriq, the fact that in the year 614 CE (only 8 years before Prophet Muhammad arrived in Medina), the Romans had for the first time lost control of the Land of Israel, may have played an important role in stimulating Jewish Messianic hopes of a restoration of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, through a non-Jewish leader. After all, the first restoration of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel occurred with the support of Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, who was addressed by the Prophet Isaiah as a Messiah;

“Thus says the Lord to his anointed (Messiah), to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings…” (Isaiah 45:1) As the Bible records it: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him; let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel…” (Ezra 1:1-3)

In 614 CE a Persian army, supported by thousands of Persian Empire Jewish volunteers, had captured Jerusalem. This event is referred to in the Qur’an: “The Romans (Byzantines) have been defeated in the nearest land (Syria/Israel). But after their defeat, they will overcome (the Persians) within three to nine years. To Allah belongs the command before and after.” (30:2-4)

In 628 CE the Romans (Byzantines) did recapture Jerusalem, and they massacred all those Jews who had returned to Jerusalem during the period of Persian rule. Yet just one decade later, Arab armies had conquered and displaced the Roman (Byzantine) rulers from Egypt to Iraq.

If Rabbi Mukhayriq had not died fighting alongside Prophet Muhammad in the battle of Uhud; he could easily have lived long enough to see the Arab conquest of Jerusalem, and himself been able to return to Jerusalem to live there in peace.

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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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