By Rebecca Abrahamson
This is part two of an article about religious diplomacy. In that first piece, we discussed the history of religious diplomacy and the scriptural roots of modern political science. As we venture into the world of religious diplomacy, we will need tools from scripture and tradition, here are some:
Recognizing the Other in a Legal Sense in Judaism and Islam
There are important concepts in recognizing the Other within Judaism and Islam in a legal sense. In Judaism, when a Jewish court recognizes, in this case, a Muslim as following the seven laws of Noah, the Muslim then has full protection as a righteous gentile and, if living in the Land of Israel, ger toshav, or foreign resident.
These seven laws are:
- Justice – setting up righteous courts
- Respect for G-d (do not blaspheme)
- Belief in G-d (do not worship idols)
- Respect for Family
- Respect Human Life (do not murder)
- Respect for Property (do not steal)
- Respect for all Creatures (do not eat limb from a living animal).
A feeling of brotherhood with the ger toshav is proscribed in scripture, king David himself declares, “I am a pilgrim (ger) before You, cries David, a toshav like all my fathers.” (Psalm 40:13).
We are likewise reminded of our transience on Earth, that God is the true owner of all lands, and that we are all in a sense ger toshav: “The land belongs to Me, for you are with me like pilgrims (gerim) and like residents toshavim.” (Leviticus 25:23)
(Some Jewish commentators have streamlined the requirements for being considered ger toshav to a portion of the above seven laws, this discussion is beyond the scope of this article, see Israel and Humanity by Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh for more.)
In Islam, there are two important concepts in recognizing the Other – one, is this person Ahle el kitab – a member of the People of the Book and proper monotheist. After this is the next crucial step – is this member of the People of the Book a Mumin – related to the Hebrew word amin, ma’amin, which means believable – and in the legal framework, a declaration that this person is both holding fast to basic universal ethics, but is also trustworthy, believable.
What standard in Islam determines if one may be considered a Mumin? The Qur’an tells us:
To every people (is given) a rasul (law giver): when their law giver comes before them, the matter will be judged between them with justice and they will not be wronged. Al Yunus (10:47)
“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)
We thus see that based on the above verse, there are three conditions to be considered mumin: belief in Allah, in the Last Day, (day of Judgement), and one who performs righteousness.
Here is a hadith that illustrates that Muhammed himself validated Jews as mumin:
Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 53, Number 398: Narrated Sahl bin Abi Hathma: ‘Abdullah bin Sahl and Muhaiyisa bin Mas’ud bin Zaid set out to Khaibar, the inhabitants of which had a peace treaty with the Muslims at that time. They parted and later on Muhaiyisa came upon ‘Abdullah bin Sah and found him murdered agitating in his blood. He buried him and returned to Medina. ‘Abdur Rahman bin Sahl, Muhaiyisa and Huwaiuisa, the sons of Mas’ud came to the Prophet and ‘Abdur Rahman intended to talk, but the Prophet said (to him), “Let the eldest of you speak.” as ‘Abdur-Rahman was the youngest:. ‘Abdur-Rahman kept silent and the other two spoke. The Prophet said, “If you swear as to who has committed the murder, you will have the right to take your right from the murderer.” They said, “How should we swear if we did not witness the murder or see the murderer?” The Prophet said, “Then the Jews can clear themselves from the charge by taking Al Aska (an oath that it was not they who committed the murder).” They said, “How should we believe in the oaths of infidels?” So, the Prophet himself paid the blood money (of ‘Abdullah). (See Hadith No. 36 Vol. 9.)
Thus, despite resistance from others, Muhammad himself recognized Jews as part of a legal system in which he could intervene and pay the necessary fine.
So once we have the concepts of ger toshav and mumin in place regarding recognizing the Other, we can explore more tools:
Basic Deen/Noahide Laws
One of the Sahaba, companions of Muhammad(pbuh), Qatada, stated, “al din wahad we al shari’a muchtalifa” – the basic deen/common law is one, and there are multiple shari’a. Shari’a means covenant, which is brith in Hebrew. As long as one is following basic law: in Jewish parlance, the seven Noahide laws (or a portion thereof), in Muslim parlance, the basic deen, as noted above, then that person is recognized in a legal sense, even if they are keeping another shari’a – religion.
The perfect place for this joint recognition is of course joint Muslim-Jewish courts, which in my hope will sift evidence, eschew rumor, and replace the courtroom of the media and public opinion.
Joint courts are based upon mutual recognition, and when that mutual recognition is based upon scripture and tradition, it will be accepted by many of the peoples who inhabit the Middle East and by those who honor religion. This means that we can develop healthy relationships among ourselves, free of the need to convince some real or imaginary audience in the constant race for swaying public opinion.
Freed from the spotlight, and recognizing the Other in light of scripture and tradition, we can then put our energies into the race for virtue as noted in the Qur’an, surat al-Maida, 5:48 –
“To each among you we have appointed a law (shar’ia) and a custom (minhaj). Had God willed, He would have made you a single community (umma), but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So strive as in a race in all virtues. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.”
When conflict resolution lies in scriptural-based adjudication, it is accountable, and all parties feel represented.
United Nation/Seventy Nations
This brings us to the next concept in recognizing the Other in a legal sense, the “Umma Wahida”, meaning, “United Nation”.
What is “Umma Wahida” in Islam? When the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) drafted the Salifat al Medinah, the constitution of Medinah, (622CE) he did so with members of other Jewish tribes. Thus the Umma Wahida, a united nation, includes all proper monotheists: Muslims, Jews, Christians, and a fourth group known as Sabeans in the Qur’an, which we can regard as unaffiliated monotheists.
A parallel concept exists in Judaism, referred to as the “Seventy Nations.” This assumes that there is variety in humankind, that peoples are meant to differ and be part of various nations, and that all those who keep the seven laws of Noah are acceptable before Allah (swt) and have a place in the World to Come
And he said, The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints (prophets): from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Deuteronomy 33:2
Seir, in the land of Edom, is a fitting symbol of Rome, which is identified with Edom, and Paran was the original home of Ishmael, father of the Arab peoples. (Talmud, Baba Bathra 25a, Sifrei, Piska 343, Midrash Tannaim 209).
The link with Sinai in this verse has inspired commentaries to state that as Seir and Paran symbolize the two great powers: the Arabs and the Romans, East and West, and are linked here with Sinai, God renewed His covenants with the nations of the world at Sinai (Talmud, tractate Avodah Zara 2b).
There is thus a parallel between the Umma Wahida of the Qur’an and the concept of Seventy Nations in the Torah in terms of accepting members of other nations and religions as proper citizens, worthy of legal recognition, as long as they are fulfilling the basic universal precepts, as mentioned above.
Once we recall that both the Torah and Qur’an possess tools for recognizing the Other, it will come as no surprise that the whole concept of human rights and obligations is actually not a western invention, but stems from scripture and tradition, as brought down by Christian Hebraists of the 16th – 18th centuries including Erastus, Hugo Grotius, John Selden, and the founding fathers of the United States, and inherited by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.
With all the above, what went wrong, and how can we fix it? That will be the subject of my next article, but for now let me leave you with the vision that we are striving for:
The Peace Ladder:
1 – Recognizing each others as believers leads to being able to trust
2 – Being able to trust leads to credibility
3 – Credibility leads to justice
4 – Justice leads to civil society
5 – Civil society leads to peace
On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s inspiration from scripture:
More on the scriptural roots of modern political science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNjfrFc7tOs&t=1811s
The seven laws of Noah, as presented to the Qur’an Study Group, London:
Rebecca Abrahamson is passionate about the common heritage between Islam and Judaism, and in that capacity is co-director of the AlSadiqin Organization, along with her husband Rabbi Ben Abrahamson. http://www.alsadiqin.org