Let’s work it out ourselves, just Muslims and Jews Part I

Dr. Mohammed Abu Zaid Alfiqui – another in the series of articles about Muslims who want peace with Israel.

Rebecca Abrahamson,

OpEds Rebecca Abramson
Rebecca Abramson
INN:RB

Hadassa Froman, widow of the late Rav Menachem Froman, Rav of the Tekoa settlement and pioneer in Muslim-Jewish dialogue and peace initiatives, said, “we live in a land of life, and land of peace. This is the only way for us to survive. If we dismiss the importance of life for others we will cut our own roots out ”[1] [2]

Just as it is not an option to dismiss members of the Arab population when it comes to pikuach nefesh, which Rabbanit Froman was referring to, we cannot dismiss Muslims who truly seek peace with the Jewish people.

Here I will tell you about a colleague of Dr. Omer Salem, whom I discussed in my recent article. Just a reminder – Dr. Salem successfully defended his doctoral thesis at Al Azhar University in Egypt in 2014 declaring that the Jews are Ahlul Kitab (people of the book) and deserving of respect, in defiance of rhetoric in much of the Muslim world today. I want to refer you back to Dr. Salem’s essay, “What could happen if only?” which was delivered in Arabic to Muslims in Egypt.[3]

He was talking to his own people, holding little back in his criticisms, and here they are: the Arab world can well afford to help the Palestinian refugees who reside in refugee camps, and cease oppressing those who live in Arab countries but who are discriminated against. The Arab world can likewise take responsibility for evicting Jews from Arab lands in the 1940’s and 1950’s which was not only an injustice against the Jewish population but ended up blighting the economies and development of those nations. “…about one million Jews had to leave Arab lands against their will. We confiscated their places of worship. We took away their communities and possessions and threw them out of our countries. This action by us Muslim Arabs in the late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s is contrary to the commandments of Allah and his messenger in the Holy Qur'an.”

But here is probably the most welcome statement to Jewish sensitivities – Dr. Salem insists that Jews need a sense of security, that Muslims granted safety to Jews many times in history, and they should likewise respect Am Yisrael’s need for security in the Holy Land. “…the Jews with all their weapons and military might still do not feel secure in the Holy Land. They wake up each morning with a view of Arab guns and rockets surrounding them and terror reigning down upon them. He brandishes this verse from the Qur’an: “if a non-follower of Muhammad asks you for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God. Then escort him to where he will be secure.”

Finally, we are validated. How many articles, op-eds, lectures, etc, have emanated from the Jewish world demanding the recognition of the above issues, and more? Remember - Dr. Salem was not placating a Jewish audience in the above lecture, he was chiding his Arab Muslim colleagues. Read it.

June 10 2015 - in a ground-breaking and ruckus-creating speech given in Cairo, Dr. Salem demanded of the Egyptian intelligentsia seated with him to jettison their misconceptions about Jews, visit Israel and see it for themselves, and work out political problems without the intervention of western governments. “When we look in our Holy books, we see we have much in common with the Jews …Our peoples used to be close to each other, it was outsiders who separated us… In Egypt, Jews had holdings like the department stores Chechorel, Sidnawy, Benzion and others. Egyptian Jews should be invited back and their assets restored to them. Muslims mistreated the very Jews who had been good to us…why must the American government intervene to make peace between Egypt and Israel when we could draw upon our own sources and do it ourselves?” [4]

He received quite a lot of flack but somehow held up in the face of jeering, condemnation, a few shouts and, I am sad to say, statements about world conspiracies against Muslims. I really do not know how Omer kept cool standing alone defending Jews in the face of all that heat – a lesson in character, midot, for us all. This clip is a must see for Jews who suspect that some Muslim leaders may be merely placating us – here Omer is standing up to his own people in his native land and language. Watch it.

You will see in the comments section a partial translation of his June 10 speech. My first reaction when I read Omer's colleagues' responses to his proposals was to despair of the anti-Jewish drivel they were spouting, and to imagine taking refuge in some bunker. I was very shaken up and let Omer know it.

But if you take a closer look, all of these colleagues knew full well where Omer is coming from. Omer is well known in the Arab Muslim world, he had already given speeches in Cairo, shared on facebook, and is making a name for himself with his peace proposals. Leaders as diverse as Imam Shamsi Ali and Sheikh Ibrahim, whom you remember from my previous articles, know Omer. What he was going to say on June 10 was no surprise to the intelligentsia sitting with him. So much of what they said was a result of peer pressure, and not as heartfelt as we think. Not only did they attend, but more meetings are planned, and that is a very good sign. So take what they said with a grain of salt, and lend support to Omer for standing up.

And he has friends.

Dr. Mohammed Abu Zaid Alfiqui is former Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies and Arabic, and professor of Islamic culture Al Azhar University, Cairo. Al Azhar university was founded by the Fatimids in the tenth century CE and is the oldest university in the world that is still functioning. Today it is considered the center of Islamic and Arabic scholarship. Additionally, the university administers about 4000 teaching institutes and a system of schools with about two million students nation-wide.[5]

Dr. Alfiqui’s focus is on dawa – proselytizing. He was appointed professor of dawa in 2002. He has authored several books and is involved in charitable programs concerning agricultural sustainability in Egypt. And he also seeks peace with the Jewish people.

Dr. Alfiqui, like Dr. Salem, is forthright in his criticisms of the Arab world. Noting the work ethic in other countries, he reproves his brethren in Arab states for their short work day and expectations of daily leisure. “The Chinese work a 16 hour day if they must, and our people want to hang out in the street and sleep late!” He then quotes surat 68 and 69 proving the Qur’anic-based work ethic, and sources which draws upon the imagery of the hard working honey bee.[6]

Chiding his people with a lesson in initiative, he draws upon the story of the second pledge at Aqabah, in which prominent Arabians pledged allegiance to Muhammed (622 CE). He says this group left nothing to chance, had no expectations of respect from others, and emphasized their own personal devotion and character above all. “First comes faith, then defending the faith.” Challenging the cultural tendencies among his brethren to crave dignity, he scolds them: where is this dignity to come from? Not from demanding it from others, but from earning it via strong faith, good midos, and a good work ethic.

He wrote a letter of condolence to the Jewish people after the terrorist murder of Rabbis Moshe Twersky, Calman Levine, Aryeh Kopinsky, and Avraham Shmuel Goldberg at morning services in Har Nof, Jerusalem, November 2014. Offering sympathy to the bereaved families, he compares us to pawns in a sinister game of chess, manipulated by uncaring politicians.

This imagery of being pawns seems to echo the oft-repeated rhetoric in the Muslim world of world conspiracy against them, which I find exasperating, but Dr Alfiqui is not getting mired in this rhetoric, instead, he is acknowledging this feeling and using it as a bridge to get his own people out of such a mentality; to resist feelings of being manipulated, and take upon self-improvement via self criticism.

And precisely that attitude of responsibility is what shapes his approach to rapprochement with the Jewish people. Dr Alfiqui states: “It was the Islamic Caliphate which gave the best protection to the Jewish people. And as late as the time of World War II, Albanian Muslims were protecting Jews. Our peoples have always been interrelated, and there is much that Muslims can benefit from working in harmony with the Banu Yisrael (children of Israel). Indeed the Qur’an itself states, ‘And we chose them aforetime above the nations [during the time of Moses ] with knowledge ....’ 44:32. We see the intelligence of the Jewish people in the fields of business and public life.”

He points the finger at western influences as major causes of animosity in the Muslim world against Jews. Identifying such influence will get Muslims and Jews talking without the unnecessary aid or interference of western governments, which, it turns out, have not always supported democracy in the region. As former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice admitted, “for sixty years the USA has pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East and has ended up with neither.”[7] Journalist David Gardner stated that United States foreign policy in the Middle East - “had openly backed the ‘local variant of Stalinism.’”[8] According to Dr. Omer Salem, American support for dictatorial Arab regimes is partially what has fueled animosity in the Arab world towards the United States.[9]

Dr Alfiqui supports Jews living in the Holy Land, but brings an interesting perspective: he claims that some of the support that emanated from the west for the state of Israel came from a wish to rid western countries of Jews.  President Harry Truman supported the creation of the state of Israel, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt. As much as Truman’s sympathies can be appreciated, there is one thing he said that Dr. Alfiqui and his like-minded colleagues would disagree with, and has somewhat irked me personally - “Jews need a place to go”.[10]

Dr Alfiqui recognizes this trap and warns us not to fall into it. Instead, Dr Alfiqui states that the Holy Land is a place that the people of the book can flourish while countries all over the world must purge anti-Semitism from their midst and benefit from interdependence with Jews. Independent statehood should not bar the Jewish people from interdependence with Muslims. Jews should continue to play a positive, interdependent role with other peoples and even dwell in Arab and Muslim majority countries. You will hear this nostalgia for Jewish presence in Muslim lands by Muslims in a way hardly heard of in western lands.

And he insists that Muslims and Jews can and must work out their differences on their own.

WORKING IT OUT TOGETHER

“The children of Israel and the children of Ishmael can negotiate without America or Europe acting as brokers. This is because from the religious point of view, Jews are closer to Muslims in their view of the Oneness of God Almighty,  and in their belief in the line of Prophets. The peace agreement between Israel and Egypt under Prime ministers Sadat and Begin still endures. The Qur’an describes the children of israel in wonderful terms, such as:

And We said unto the Children of Israel after him:  Dwell in the land; but when the promise of the Hereafter (wa’dul akhirati) cometh to pass We shall bring you as a crowd gathered out of various nations. Qur'an 17:104

O Children of Israel! call to mind the (special) favour which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill your covenant with Me as I fulfill My Covenant with you, and fear none but Me. Qur'an, sura 2:40

Children of Israel! call to mind the (special) favour which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all other nations (for My Message). Qur'an, sura 2:47, 2:122

And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you Mount (Sinai) : (Saying): "Hold firmly to what We have given you and bring (ever) to remembrance what is therein: Perchance ye may fear Allah." Qur'an, sura 2:63

There are more. [11]

“When the Qur’an speaks negatively about Jews, it is only in reference to their outward actions, and not their essence. I am confident that any hatred between the children of Israel and Ishmael is not religious at all, but a media policy.”

“It is not only possible, but essential, that Muslims and Jews work towards conciliation without the intervention of America or Europe - this is a must - because much animosity towards both Jews and Muslims emanates from the west. Indeed, western powers cannot be the arbiter between the two parties. Both sides must work together to reduce tension and hatred.”

“The whole problem can be summarized as follows: The Palestinian people need pride and dignity, and the people of Israel need security. Islam indeed acknowledges the need of the children of Israel to have security: God Almighty says in the Quran: “If they incline to peace, incline, and trust in God ...” verse 61 Surah Anfal. When the children of Israel want peace, it is the duty of the Muslims to meet this demand and comply with it.”

“I personally do not doubt the intelligence of the children of Israel and their love of life, so I appeal to them to seek peace, and not to rely on force, because force is only a temporary solution.”

“The children of Israel need the children of Ishmael to acknowledge their need for security. Likewise, the Muslims need the Jews for their keen intelligence and leadership, helping to assist the Arab region to wean itself off American hegemony.”

Dr Alfiqui then referred me to the Constitution of Medina as a basis for negotiations. This will be the subject of the next article.

Using intellectual frameworks such as scripture and the Consitution of Medina that are held dear by Muslims will help put an end to fears in the Muslim world about western conspiracies against them as they take the reins in peacemaking with the tools cherished by them.

Next article – Dr Alfiqui on the Constitution of Medina

Sources:

[1] At joint Arab-Jewish prayer rally, Gush Etzion, August 3 2015 /News/News.aspx/198942#.VcgibXGqqko

[2] http://www.scribd.com/doc/175816883/An-Interview-With-Hadassah-Froman#scribd

[4] June 10 speech in Cairo by Dr. Omer Salem  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mvt-HmARXc

[5] Globalized Islam: The Search for a new Ummah, Oliver Roy

[6]https://m.facebook.com/Abu.Zaid.alFiqi/photos/a.353578436598.159729.268856451598/10152647533486599/?type=1&refid=17

[7] speech in Cairo, 2003

[8] Dr. Wakif Mustafa, “Egypt::The Elusive Arab Spring”. Pg 118

[9] Dr. Omer Salem, “The Struggle for the Holy Land” http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0129VOAFS

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFRvuwQZQaE

[11] http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~jkatz/quranhadith.html




top