August 4, 2004
Jihad over Jerusalem (2)By James Arlandson
[Part (1) argues that Muhammad received revelations that the sacred Ka'bah shrine belonged to him and his followers. The Meccans were deemed unrighteous to take care of a shrine that folk belief claims—and Muhammad's revelations confirm—that Abraham and his son Ishmael rebuilt and purified the shrine. Revelation trumps history.]
One misinterpretation and misapplication of a widely read translator and commentator on the Qur'an, bears on today's war on terror. It posits that if the Meccans are so unrighteous that they lose their sacred shrine, are the Jews so unrighteous that they lose their Holy Land?
Maulana Muhammad Ali (1874—1951), an apologist* for Islam more than an objective scholar, began his work on the Qur'an in 1909 and published it in 1917. He then began a revision in 1946 and finished it in 1950, and oversaw its publication in 1951, just before his death. Subsequently, it has been corrected, updated and reprinted five times, until 2002. It has been distributed to hundreds of thousands. Sadly, he draws one dubious inference about Muhammad's conquest of Mecca and applies it to Jerusalem.
(2) Muhammad's policies towards Mecca are misapplied later to Jerusalem.
The conflict between historical ownership and revelations regarding Mecca lands us today in epistemological and political difficulties regarding Jerusalem. Should revelation trump history? It is one thing to have a belief that harms no one materially or politically, but it is quite another if the belief runs roughshod over historical facts to the point of spilling blood. Muhammad's policies and religious beliefs are seeds that have grown up and are difficult to untangle today.
These difficulties show up in Maulana's lengthy commentary on 2:124:
2:124: And when his Lord tried Abraham with certain commands, he fulfilled them. He said: surely I will make thee a leader of men. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the wrongdoers, said He.
The key words are my covenant does not include wrongdoers. Maulana, by unwarranted reasoning, will show that Israel belongs to Muslims today because the Jews are unrighteous. His argument is not complicated.
First, Maulana spends the bulk of his commentary on v. 124, demonstrating how God's covenant with Abraham includes Ishmael, and not only Isaac. If that belief remains only in the realm of abstract theology, then the belief is materially harmless. So far, so good.
Second, Maulana highlights Allah's or Abraham's prophecy that God will raise up a new Messenger and a new Book, which replaces the previous Books, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Again, if that belief remains just that, then it is politically harmless.
129 . . . Our Lord, and raise up in them a Messenger [Muhammad] from among them who shall recite to them Thy passages and teach them the Book [Qur'an] and the Wisdom and purify them.
This verse says that the fledgling Muslim community is being purified by the Prophet and his Book, which contrasts with the condition of the Jews, who threw away their covenant with God because of their unrighteousness. In chapter two of the Qur'an Muhammad spends a great deal of time showing how the Jews were unrighteous, such as their worship of a golden calf during their Exodus from Egypt.
Finally, it is precisely in the context of Muhammad's takeover of the sacred shrine that Maulana claims that Muslims have the right to own the Holy Land. So these beliefs do not live only in the realm of abstract theology, after all. They are applied politically to today's world. He finishes his argument with this conclusion, which should be read carefully:
But the fact is that the land of Canaan continues to remain as an everlasting possession in the hands of the seed of Abraham, for as soon as the Israelites or their representatives, the Christians, were deemed unfit to have the Holy Land in their possession because of their unrighteousness, that Holy Land was given to the Arabs, who were Ishmaelites, and to this day it remains in the hands of the Muslims, who are the true representatives of the house of Ishmael.
The key words are that the Jews (and Christians) are . . . unfit to have the Holy Land in their possession because of their unrighteousness . . . .
Paralleling the Meccans and the Jews, Maulana's odd logic seems to run as follows:
(1) If A, then B. If the Meccans were so unrighteous that it is justified they lose control over Abraham's Ka'bah even by conquest, then the Jews can be so unrighteous that it is justified they lose control over Abraham's Holy Land even by conquest.
His logic is evidence of how hard it is for present—day Muslims to interpret and apply Muhammad's ambiguous theology and sunna, or 'path,' which are the seeds of future jihads.
We now have two competing claims: one is based on Muhammad's revelation and Maulana's judgment that the Jews are unrighteous, which favors the Muslims, and the other one is based on simple history, which favors the Jews.
The historical claim is answered first. The rocks of archeology cry out that Jews had possession of the land of Canaan for thousands of years. That is an historical fact, and facts are stubborn things. Earlier in Maulana' commentary he indeed concedes this point, but the Jews lost it because Allah says they were and are unrighteous.
The claim of unrighteousness is odd because Maulana asserts that if the first group, the Jews, is unrighteous and thereby loses possession of the land, then it devolves to a second group, the Christians, who lose it by their unrighteousness. But what if the third group, the Muslims, is unrighteous? To whom does the land devolve in that case? A fourth (unrighteous) group? Maulana seems to forget this one empirical fact: everyone has some degree of unrighteousness, even the most devout Muslims, Jews, Christians, or fill—in—the—blank, simply because they are human beings. His logic, if followed to absurd, comical ends in a chain, would result in an empty Holy Land:
(1) If even the most devout of all religions have some degree of unrighteousness, then so do the lukewarm.
Back to reality. Who judges how much unrighteousness is sufficient to disqualify a religious community from possessing the Holy Land? Does this come from revelation? A later commentator of a sacred text? Now that the Jews are (rightfully) back in control of the Holy Land, does that mean Muslims should follow Muhammad's example vis—�—vis the Meccans and attack the Jews?
Ambiguities multiply in Muhammad's revelation and praxis towards Mecca and the Ka'bah, and apparently some misguided Muslims take advantage of the ambiguities and attack Jewish civilians with suicide bombers, not to mention their wars in 1949, 1967, and 1973.
We follow our usual practice of examining other religions, in this case Christianity, since it is alleged that Christians may have a claim over Jerusalem. This is false, for New Testament Christianity does not share the same geopolitical goals that Islam has; therefore, it does not have the same seeds or ambiguities of conflict.
In chapter 4 of the Gospel of John, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well. He asks her for a drink, and she complies. Then he asks her to call her husband. She replies that she does not have one. In order to heal her heart, he reads it and informs her that she has had five husbands, and the one she is living with now is not her husband. Surprised by truth, she changes the subject to a political, religious dispute over the right mountain on which to worship. His response:
4:21 Jesus declared, 'Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain [Gerizim] nor in Jerusalem . . . 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth . . . .'
The key phrase is in spirit and truth, which transcends time and place. In these verses Jesus remains consistent to his mission only to change people's hearts and not to get involved in geopolitical matters. In no passage in the entire New Testament does an author enjoin the early Christians, say, to take up arms to conquer a holy site or Jerusalem. In fact, they transform the physical temple into people—the community of believers, the church, is now the temple of the Holy Spirit, says St. Paul (1 Cor. 3:16). This sets the genetic code for Christianity in the future. The early Christians rose above their own cultures and sought out the City of God (as St. Augustine calls it) and the Heavenly Jerusalem (as John the Revelator calls it), and invited as many as they could to join them on their journey, and their religion grew dramatically over the first few centuries by peaceful proclamation.
It is true that later Christians like the Medieval crusaders deviated from this early genetic code set by the Founder, so they conquered Jerusalem and the Holy Land (but did not hold it), but their actions do not establish the norm. Moreover, the Reformation in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries gradually, with plenty of mistakes, returned to the basics and to the Bible.
So it is verses like the ones found in the Gospel of John and 1 Corinthians that make this fact obtain: the more closely Christians today, such as Evangelicals, follow their Bible, the farther they distance themselves from geopolitical claims over the Holy Land, and instead let history as outlined in the Hebrew Bible guide them. And the Bible and archeology agree: the Jews had possession of it from ancient times.
This is why Bible—believing Evangelicals are the most vocal supporters of Israel today—the very ones whom many in the Jewish community fear the most! And this is why, in regard to the Holy Land, the vast majority of Evangelicals who follow their Bible closely conclude that if a geopolitical belief based on a later revelation (e.g. in the Qur'an) does not spill over into politics and real power, then it is essentially harmless. However, if it does spill over and harm others (e.g. the Jews in Israel) materially, physically, and politically, then such a belief should be abandoned or pushed back into the realm of harmless abstract theology.
Thus, faced with the two options of dangerous religious—political revelations on the one hand, and historical facts that can solve problems peacefully on the other, Bible—educated Christians conclude that history should trump dangerous revelations. And thousands of years of history demonstrate incontrovertibly the existence of the Jewish nation in the Holy Land.
Also, Evangelicals who read their Bible carefully infer accurately that God gave the land to the Jews, so Biblical history trumps much—later political revelations and dubious inferences like Maulana's.
Rising above such geopolitical disputes, neither the Founder of Christianity nor the New Testament authors ever negate that gracious gift. So why does the later Founder of Islam in his sacred text and Hadith negate it, and his even later interpreters concur?
After all, Muhammad and his sacred text claim to complete and fulfill Christ and his sacred text.
Given the epistemological difficulties that later revelations pose to clear history—revelations that not everyone accepts because they cannot be verified empirically—it is better to follow history that is based on verifiable facts. It can be verified empirically that the Jews are the historical owners of the Holy Land, so all sides in the debate should relinquish their alleged rights that are based on fluid, slippery, and political revelations and allow the Jews to keep it and live in peace.
This is not so hard if we consider that our real home is in heavenly Jerusalem, which is strictly a spiritual revelation with no damaging political impact on the earthly Jerusalem. Onwards and upwards!
*In theological usage 'apologist' means 'defender.'
Jim Arlandson (Ph.D.) teaches introductory philosophy and world religions at a college in southern California. He has published a book, Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, 1997).