Ramadan Opposes Zero Sum Polemic Thinking – OpEd


About 125,000 people attended the third Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa-Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which ended peacefully and without any disturbances, police and religious authorities said. The Islamic Waqf estimated that around 125,000 people took part in the prayers, up from an estimated 80,000 the first week. 

Police said there were “no unusual disturbances,” in spite of attempts to “spread fake news and false stories on Arabic social media” in an attempt to incite violence.

The Haaretz daily reported that more than 10,000 of the worshippers traveled from the West Bank to attend the prayers.

This marked the third successive Friday prayers to pass without incident in the Muslim holy month despite fears of disturbances after the Hamas terror group had called on Palestinian worshipers to barricade themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. 

In a statement three weeks ago Hamas had called on all Muslims to “participate urgently in defending Al-Aqsa Mosque against the aggression that lurks in these critical times.”

If Ramadan’s peace continues, and Hezbollah does not start another war,  it will be a good and hopeful sign that From the River to the Sea Palestinians and Israelis Should Be Free From Hateful and Vengeful Behavior. 

May our sacred scriptures help us move in the direction of reconciliation and positive activities. 

Sacred scriptures are so important in humanity’s spiritual development that the angel Gabriel mentions written scriptures when he starts his revelation for Prophet Muhammad; who was meditating quietly in a cave just outside of Mecca. Gabriel appeared and commanded that Muhammad recite to the people in the name of God:

“Recite! your Lord is most generous, who taught by the pen, taught what humankind does not know” (Qur’an 96:2-4) The prophets ‘who taught by the pen’ are called messengers from God and they number only 313 out of 124,000 prophets of warning. 

Although Catholics and Muslims have no female prophets, the Orthodox Rabbis of the Talmud taught that “48 male prophets and 7 female prophets prophesied in Israel… Who were the 7 female prophets? Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther..”. (Talmud Megillah 14b). And the Torah asserts that Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20); and Numbers 12:2 quotes Miriam and Aaron as saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”

But written Sacred Scriptures can also be used by one religion against other religions in a Zero Sum polemic. In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own. This view was the result of the specific influence of Aristotle and Greek philosophy’s general emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradict one another, one or both of them must be false. They cannot both be true.

If one believes that there is only one God who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture.

“And before it (the Qur’an) was the (Torah) scripture of Moses to lead and as a mercy. And this (Qur’an) is a confirming Book in an Arabic tongue to warn those who have wronged and as good tidings to the doers of good.” (Qur’an 46:12)

The Qur’an states: “Do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, but say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (29:46) 

In spite of the Qur’an’s anti-zero sum philosophy most Muslim Polemicists argued that Tahrif meant that not only did Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible wrongly; but that they actually changed the written text of the Hebrew Bible.

The twelfth century has long been recognized as the beginning of a new stage of European Christian approaches to Jewish and Muslim writings, as Christians began to study both Hebrew and Jewish biblical exegesis, and later, the Talmud and Midrash, and Arabic, the Qur’an and ḥadīth. Initially, this effort was rooted in a desire to better understand the biblical text by studying it in Hebrew. 

Later the learning of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and the translation of religious texts in these languages into Latin or European vernacular languages primarily fueled the polemical efforts of Christians, whether in formal, written treatises, “dialogues”, staged debates or forced preaching to Jews. In both Western Europe and the Middle East, Jews and Muslims likewise studied and sometimes translated Christian writings, as well as those of one another. 

Ramadan teaches that all the Abrahamic revelations started in the same month of Ramadan so  the Qur’an is anti-zero sum polemics. “For us is our religion and for you is your religion.” (Qur’an 109:6)

The Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic) was the night when the first verses of the Quran were sent down from heaven to the world; and were revealed to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. According to various traditions (hadiths), its exact date is uncertain but it was one of the odd-numbered nights of the last ten days of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. 

This uncertainty is parallel to the giving of the ten commandments to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai which is the only Biblical holy day that is observed on the same day of the week each year rather than the same date of the month. 

The lesson of this uncertainty is that while revelations are historical events; they should not be viewed as rigid or unchanging. Indeed, since the one God’s revelations are given for all generations to come, they must be flexible and capable of being interpreted for dozens of centuries to come.

Ramadan is the month when the Sacred Scriptures of Christians, Jews and Muslims first began to be revealed, as Imam Sadiq said: “The Torah was revealed on the sixth day of the month of Ramadan, the Gospel on the twelfth night of the month, the Psalms on the eighteenth night of the month and the Quran on the Night of Qadr” (Al-Kafi, vol. 4, pg. 157). 

So, Ramadan is a good time for all those who worship the One and Only God, to seek a deeper understanding of how our Sacred Scriptures interrelate with one another.

Everyone knows how important fasting during Ramadan, and daily worship and prayer are in Islam; but few know that Islam considers reconciling people better than many acts of worship. 

Prophet Muhammad said: “Should I not tell you what is better in degree than prayer, fasting, and charity.” They (the companions) said: “Yes.” He said: “Reconciling people, because grudges and disputes are a razor (that shaves off faith).” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmithi)

Even more amazing, the Prophet said: “The one who reconciles people is not considered a liar if he exaggerates what is good or says what is good.” [Ahmad] 

This is an excellent guide to dealing with the three-generation old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than focusing mostly on what the other side did to us, we all should focus on how the conflict has hurt all of us, and how much better our future would be if we could live next to each other in peace. 

If the descendants of Prophet Isaac and Prophet Ishmael negotiate a settlement that reflects the religious policy that “…there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them – and settlement [reconciliation] is best.” (Quran 4: 128)  

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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