Peace between Islam and Israel? Response to Ms.Tezyapar

Ms. Tezyapar's vision of Islam's peace with Israel is laudbable, but Islamic theological reality at the present time leaves many questions unanswered, says the writer, and details them below.

Daniel Pinner

OpEds Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner

Recently in these columns , the Muslim Turkish political and religious commentator Sinem Tezyapar wrote an optimistic article under the headline “Islam Mandates Abiding by the Peace Agreements”. Her main thesis was that, in her words, “Muslims are not at war with Jews”. She explains that “From an Islamic point of view, there can be only defensive war... Muslims do not attack, they can only defend themselves”.

Ms. Tezyapar presents an idyllic vision of how we all, Jews and Muslims, can and should co-exist in peace, harmony, and mutual respect. Best of all, she claims that every detail of her vision is in accordance with the Qur’an.

There are three main problems with her laudable vision, three fundamental reasons that this vision cannot be based on Islamic theology:

1. The Doctrine of Abrogation

Islam teaches that the Qur’an was progressively revealed to Muhammed over a period of 23 years, from Muhammed’s first calling on Layl al-Qadr (the Night of Glory) in the final ten days of Ramadan in the year 610 C.E., when he was 40 years old, until his death in 632 C.E.

(Just for theological precision, it should be noted that this is the Sunni consensus; most Shi’ites believe that the first revelation was on the 27th of Rajab, about two months earlier.)

The 114 suras (“chapters”) of the Qur’an vary greatly in length, and when the Qur’an was completed, the suras were reordered, not in chronological sequence but in order of length, starting with the longest sura and finishing with the shortest. Chronologically, Sura 96 was the first, and Sura 9 was the last.

That Sura 9 is the last revelation ever has immense significance, which we will examine at the end of this section.

Many suras have contradicting messages. The question thus arises: which sura takes precedence? The answer is simple: Whichever was written later. The later suras abrogate the earlier ones. In Islamic theology, this is referred to “naskh”, or the doctrine of abrogation.

To give a simple example, Sura 2:219 (an early sura) permits gambling and drinking alcohol; Sura 4:43 forbids Muslims to come to prayer while drunk; and Sura 5:93 (a much later sura) prohibits drinking and gambling entirely. The later sura has replaced and abrogated the earlier ones. Muslim scholars enumerate anything from five to 260 suras which have been abrogated.

The doctrine of abrogation is based upon two Qur’anic sources:

  1. “Such of our [Allah’s] revelations as we [Allah] abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we substitute something better or similar. Have you not known that Allah is able to do all things?” (Sura 2: 106).

  2. “When we [Allah] substitute one revelation for another – and Allah knows best what he reveals - they say, ‘You are merely inventing’; but most of them understand not” (Sura 16:101).

It is difficult, however, for the casual reader of the Qur’an to determine which sura precedes which, and therefore to know which sura abrogates which. (When Nessim Joseph Dawood, an Iraqi Jew, translated the Qur’an into English in 1956, he rearranged the suras into chronological order. His translation was almost universally accepted, even by Muslims, until it became known that N. J. Dawood was a Jew.)

The suras which Ms. Tezyapar quotes in her article are exclusively the earlier ones. She cites as a prime example, “Fight in the Way of God against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits. God does not love those who go beyond the limits” (Qur’an, 2:190). Another example: “You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to heedfulness...” (Sura 5:8).

These verses indeed suggest a peaceable religion, fighting only in self-defence but never initiating combat. It would be nice if these suras defined Islam’s relationship with the rest of the world, and if they did then the world would be a safer and more peaceful place.

But alas, they have been abrogated by the later suras which legislate jihad.

As mentioned earlier, the last sura ever written was Sura 9, which contains the practical instructions for wars to come and how to wage them. It is the only sura in the entire Qur’an which does not begin with the formula, “bi’-smi’llahi’r-Rahmani’r-Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful”) – because it contains no mercy whatsoever. It is the harshest and cruellest of all the Suras. And it is the final revelation, the one sura which can never be abrogated, replaced, or superseded.

Let us see its rules for warfare: “…Allah is free of any obligations to the infidels, as is his messenger. So if you repent it will be well with you, but if you oppose, then know that you cannot escape Allah. Announce a painful doom to the unbelievers… Fulfil the treaties with them till their term – because Allah love those who do their duty – and when the sacred months have passed, slay the infidels wherever you may find them, take them captive, besiege them…

“Fight against such among those who were given Scripture yet do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, and who do not forbid that which was forbidden by Allah and his messenger [Muhammed], and who do not follow the true religion… The Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The messiah is the son of Allah. That is what they say with their mouths, and they imitate the sayings of the unbelievers of old. Allah himself fights against them! How perverse they are!...

“They have taken their rabbis and their monks and the messiah, son of Mary, as their lords besides Allah, though they were enjoined to worship only one God…

“Go forth, lightly-armed and heavily-armed, striving with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you, if you but knew…”.

This sura was the portent of things to come. Immediately after receiving this revelation, Muhammed sent a message to the Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople, exhorting him to embrace Islam. If he and his subjects did so, Muhammed assured him, their lives and their property would be safe. The implied treat was obvious.

When Muhammed, at the very end of his life, rode northwards to the Byzantine outposts in north-west Arabia (the present-day border of Syria), the Byzantines withdrew rather than fight. It was about that time that Muhammed received that infamous ninth sura.

It was that sura, and that precedent of Muhammed’s unprovoked attack against the Byzantine Empire, which constitute the precedent for the rules of jihad. It was then that the legal precedent was clearly established: jihad is not just self-defence – it is also a war of aggression. And even Jews and Christians – the “ahl al-kittab” (“the People of the Book”) – are to be killed in battle, or subjugated and relegated to slavery if they survive the battle.

The Qur’anic verses which Ms. Tezyapar cites in her op-ed most emphatically do not provide the rules of jihad, and unfortunately, are not the ones in force today.

2. The Principle of  Ijma’

Islam, like Judaism, has a recognised legal system. As Judaism has halakhah, so Islam has sharia’. As the word “halakhah” is from the root “halakh” (“go”), because halakhah is the path along with the Jew walks, so the word “sharia’” means “path”.

Sharia’ is defined largely in accordance with the principle of ijma’, meaning approximately “broad agreement” or “agreed decision” (ideally, though not necessarily, complete consensus). There are two kinds of ijma’: ijma’ al-umma (agreement by the entire Muslim community), and ijma’ al-aima (agreement by the majority of scholars). The theological belief at work here is that Allah would never allow the majority of the community (whether Muslims as a whole or the community of religious leaders) to fall into error: the hadith (the oral tradition relating events in Muhammed’s life) reports him as saying, “My umma will never agree upon an error”.

Hence the principle that the interpretation which the global community of Muslims gives to sharia’ is authoritative.

This has momentous, and very disturbing, implications. If the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims have agreed that jihad is mandatory against Israel, that the Jews in Israel have to be defeated, then that opinion becomes authoritative sharia’. Sincere and scholarly though Ms. Tezyapar may be, she does not have the authority to overrule ijma’ – neither ijma’ al-umma nor ijma’ al-aima, and certainly not both.

Only the world-wide Islamic community can do that.

3. The Social Aspect

Ms. Tezyapar cites examples of how Muslims and Jews can, and in her opinion should, cooperate. Specifically, “kosher food is also lawful for Muslims to eat and permission has been given for Muslim men to marry Jewish women. So from an Islamic perspective, this shows that there can be no obstacle to living together and in harmony”.

With regard to kosher food being permitted to Muslims, this is highly questionable. True, many Muslim authorities permit kosher meat (i.e. animals which have been slaughtered according to shechitah), on the grounds that zabiha (Islamic slaughtering) follows the same technical method as shechitah, and all animals which are kosher are also halal.

Indeed, shechitah is more stringent than zabiha: the knife must be sharper, and the cut must be smoother. In addition, all parts of the animal are halal, including the sciatic nerve and certain fats (chelev) which are not kosher (although, interestingly, the Maliki school prohibits these as well). Also, there are certain animals which are halal though not kosher, such as the rabbit, camel, horse, shark, shellfish, ostrich, and emu.

So it would appear that though not all halal meat is kosher, all kosher meat is halal. However, food is not quite that simple. As noted above, sharia’ forbids all forms of alcohol, and many foods are cooked or served with alcohol – think alcohol-based vanilla essence, white wine sauce, wine vinegar, alcohol-based flavourings, marinades which include wine, rum flavourings in chocolate and ice-cream, and so forth.

For sure, a Jew cannot eat in a halal kitchen, but neither can a Muslim eat in a kosher kitchen, in which every vessel is likely to have contained alcohol at some time.

And finally we turn to Ms. Tezyapar’s claim, that “permission has been given for Muslim men to marry Jewish women”. Given the facts on the ground and the historical background, this is an unfortunate remark.

We start by noting that this permission is strictly one way only. Muslim men can marry Jewish women; any Muslim woman who even goes out with a Jewish man will be, at the very least, an outcast in her society. More likely, she will be murdered.

But let us be more incisive. Where did this permission come from?

It was five years after the hejirah (Muhammed’s flight from Mecca to Medinah), in February 627 C.E., when Muhammed and his army laid siege to the Jewish tribe of Qurayza. After a 25-day siege, the Moslem armies attacked and defeated the Jews. The defeat was the ghastliest episode in Islamic history until then. All the men who had reached puberty were beheaded – between 600 and 900 all told.

The children and the women were divided among the victorious Muslims as spoils of war to become their property. It was then that Muhammed granted the Muslims the right to take Jewish women for their own pleasure, and this was later broadened to include marrying them.

There are, however, very specific conditions. Though the Jewish woman herself may remain Jewish, she will be forbidden to carry out any Jewish practices. The children, since they will be born to a Muslim father, are to be raised and educated as Muslims.

Bringing this permission given to Muslim men to marry Jewish women, then, is far from a portrayal of Islamic tolerance towards Jews and Judaism.

Ms. Tezyapar's sincerity and courage in her hopes for peace between Jews and Muslims, between Arabs and Jews, particularly in Israel, are praiseworthy.. Of course, every normal person wishes her well and wishes her every success.

But there are too many questions that she leaves, not merely unanswered, but even unasked. A good place to start would be to begin by facing up to the inherent problems in Islam, to change the ijma’ by changing Islam from within. If this is what Ms. Tezyapar is attempting to do, then she must also address the issues described above.