What does the Koran really say about Jews and the Land of Israel?
The Koran recognizes that Israel is the land of the Jews
Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Director of the Istituto Culturale della Comunita Islamica Italiana (Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community) in Rome, who will speak on the sanctity of Jerusalem to the Jewish People.
The sources he intends to quote, from both the Bible and the Qur'an, indicate that, just as Mecca is sacred to Islam, so is Jerusalem sacred to Judaism. He sees no contradiction in the fact that Jerusalem, also sacred to the Muslims, should be under Jewish sovereignty.
As he tells us, he is no politician; he is merely giving us the benefit of his opinion as a theologian, a religious scholar: There is nothing wrong, he says, with Jerusalem being the undivided capital of the Jewish State, under Israeli sovereignty.
Here is ample illustration of my conviction that our ideas may be corroborated from various directions.
And this is, I repeat, only one of the topics to be discussed here.
I am indebted to President Weizman for hosting the opening session of the seminar. Let me express the hope that our discussions will be interesting and fruitful.
Jerusalem: Three-Fold Religious Heritage for a Contemporary Single Administration
Any discussion of the problem of sovereignty over Jerusalem necessarily means involvement in a kind of investigation that has political, cultural, psychological and religious implications. For Jew or Muslim, religious or secular, thinking of Jerusalem means to feel reason and sentiment mingled together.
In this paper I do not want to enter into specific features directly connected with politics; but, as a Muslim scholar and man of religion, only to try and determine whether, from an Islamic point of view, there is some well-grounded theological reason that makes it impossible for Muslims to accept the idea of recognizing Jerusalem both as an Islamic holy place and as the capital of the State of Israel.
Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Director of the Istituto Culturale della Comunita Islamica Italiana (Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community) in Rome, spoke on the sanctity of Jerusalem to the Jewish People.
The sources he quotes from, both the Bible and the Qur'an, indicate that, just as Mecca is sacred to Islam, so is Jerusalem sacred to Judaism. He sees no contradiction in the fact that Jerusalem, also sacred to the Muslims, should be under Jewish sovereignty.
There is nothing wrong, he says, with Jerusalem being the undivided capital of the Jewish State, under Israeli sovereignty.
1.1 Sovereignty belongs to God
First, I would like to emphasize that the idea of considering Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel as a western “invasion”, and Zionists as new “colonizers”, is very recent and has no relation to the basic features of Islamic faith. According to the Qur'an, no person, people or religious community can claim a permanent right of possession over a certain territory, since the earth belongs exclusively to God, Who is free to entrust sovereign rights to anyone He likes and for as long as He likes:
قُلِ اللَّهُمَّ مَالِكَ الْمُلْكِ تُؤْتِي الْمُلْكَ مَن تَشَاء وَتَنزِعُ الْمُلْكَ مِمَّن تَشَاء وَتُعِزُّ مَن تَشَاء وَتُذِلُّ مَن تَشَاء بِيَدِكَ الْخَيْرُ إِنَّكَ عَلَىَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“Say: 'O God, King of the kingdom, Thou givest the kingdom to whom Thou pleasest, and Thou strippest off the kingdom from whom Thou pleasest; Thou endurest with honour whom Thou pleasest, and Thou bringest low whom Thou pleasest; all the best is in Thy hand. Verily, Thou hast power over all things'”.
Qur'an, Sura Al-i-Imran (“The Imrans”), 3:26 (Palazzi translation)
From this verse one can deduce a basic principle of the monotheistic philosophy of history: God can choose as He likes as to relationships between peoples and countries. Sometimes He gives a land to a people, and sometime He takes His possession back and gives it to another people. In general terms, one might say that He gives as a reward for obedience and takes back as a punishment for wickedness, but this rule does not permit us to say that God's ways are always plain and clear to our understanding.
1.2 Anti-Zionism is un-Islamic
The idea of Islam as a factor that prevents Arabs from recognizing any sovereign right of Jews over Palestine is quite recent and can by no means be found in Islamic classical sources. To see anti-Zionism as a direct consequence of Islam is a form of explicit misunderstanding which implies the transformation of Islam from a religion into a secularized ideology.
This was originally done by the late mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, who was responsible for most of the Arab defeats and during World War Two collaborated with Adolf Hitler. Later, Jamal el-Din Abd el-Nasser based his policy on Pan-Arabism, hatred for Jews and alliance with the Soviet Union. All these doctrines were the real cause of Arab backwardness. Most of Nasser's mistakes were afterwards corrected by the martyr Anwar Sadat.
Following the defeat of Nasserism, “fundamentalist” movements made anti-Zionism an outstanding part of their propaganda, trying to describe the so-called “fight for liberation of Palestine” as rooted in Islamic tradition and derived from religious principles.
1.3 Both the Bible and the Qur'an confirm that God gave the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel, and that He will bring the Children of Israel back to the Land of Israel at the End of Days
This plan for the transformation of Islam into an ideology of political struggle nevertheless encounters a significant obstacle, since both the Qur'an and the Torah indicate quite clearly that the link between the Children of Israel and the Land of Canaan does not depend on any kind of colonization project but directly on the will of God Almighty.
We learn from Jewish and Islamic Scriptures that God, through His chosen servant Moses, decided to free the offspring of Israel from slavery in Egypt and to make them inheritors of the Promised Land. Whoever claims that Jewish sovereignty over Palestine is something recent and dependent on political machinations is in fact denying the history of revelation and prophecy, as well as the clear teachings of the holy books.
The Qur'an cites the exact words with which Moses ordered the Israelites to conquer the Land:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنبِيَاء وَجَعَلَكُم مُّلُوكًا وَآتَاكُم مَّا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِّن الْعَالَمِين يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الأَرْضَ المُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللّهُ لَكُمْ وَلاَ تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَى أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ
“And (remember) when Moses said to his people: 'O My People, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O My People, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin”.
Qur'an, Sura Maida (“The Table”), 5:20-21 (Palazzi translation)
Moreover – and “fundamentalists” (Wahhabis) always “forget” this point – the Holy Qur'an quite openly refers to the reinstatement of the Jews in the Land of Israel before the Last Judgment, where it says:
وَقُلْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِ لِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اسْكُنُواْ الأَرْضَ فَإِذَا جَاء وَعْدُ الآخِرَةِ جِئْنَا بِكُمْ لَفِيفًا
“And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, We will gather you together in a mingled crowd'”.
Qur'an, Sura al-Isra (The Night Journey) - Bani Isra'il (Children of Israel), 17:104 (Palazzi translation)
1.4 Jewish Sovereignty over Jerusalem
The most common argument against Islamic acknowledgment of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is that, as al-Quds is a holy place for Muslims, Muslims cannot accept its being ruled by non-Muslims, because such acceptance would be a betrayal of Islam.
Before expressing our point of view on this question, we must reflect upon the reason that Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque hold such a sacred position in Islam. As everyone should know, the definition of Jerusalem as an Islamic holy place depends upon al-Mi'raj, the Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven, which began from the Holy Rock.
While remembering this, we must admit that there is no real link between al-Mi'raj and sovereign rights over Jerusalem, since when al-Mi'raj took place the city was not under Islamic, but under Byzantine administration. Moreover, the Qur'an expressly recognises that Jerusalem plays the same role for Jews that Mecca has for Muslims.
مَّا تَبِعُواْ قِبْلَتَكَ وَمَا أَنتَ بِتَابِعٍ قِبْلَتَهُمْ وَمَا بَعْضُهُم بِتَابِعٍ قِبْلَةَ بَعْضٍ
“They would not follow thy direction of prayer (qibla), nor art thou to follow their direction of prayer; nor indeed will they follow each other's direction of prayer”.
Qur'an, Sura Al Baqarah (“The Heifer”), 2:145 (Palazzi translation)
All Qur'anic commentators explain that “thy qibla” is clearly the Ka'ba of Mecca, while “their qibla” refers to the Temple Mount (bayt al-maqdis) in Jerusalem. To cite just one of the most important of them, we read in Qadi Baydawi's commentary:
“Verily, in their prayers Jews orient themselves toward the Rock (sakhrah), while Christians orientated themselves eastwards”.
M. Sheikh Zadeh, Hashiyya ala tafsir al-Qadi al-Baydawi, (Istanbul: 1979)
As opposed to what Islamic “fundamentalists” (Wahhabis) continuously claim, the Book of Islam – as we have just now seen – recognises the Temple Mount (bayt al-maqdis) in Jerusalem as the Jewish direction of prayer. Some Muslim exegetes also quote the Book of Daniel as proof of this:
“And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house -- now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem -- and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime”.
After reviewing the most relevant Qur'anic passages in this connection, one easily concludes that, as no one wishes to deny Muslims complete sovereignty over Mecca, from an Islamic point of view there is no sound theological reason to deny Jews the same rights over Jerusalem.
If we see ourselves as religious men, we must necessarily include justice among our qualities. As regards the argument, we have to admit that the same idea of justice requires that we treat Jews, Christians and Muslims equally. No community can demand for itself privileges that it is not ready to recognise for others.
We know that Roman Catholics see Rome as their own capital. The fact that Rome has the largest mosque in Europe and an ancient Jewish community does not alter its role as the world center of Catholicism. Even more can be said of Mecca: It is the main religious center for Muslims the world over and is completely under Islamic administration.
Respecting this principle of fair-mindedness, we necessarily conclude that Israelis as a nation and Jews as a religion must have their own political and religious capital, under their sole administration, even though it contains certain places regarded as sacred by the other two Abrahamic faiths (Christianity and Islam).
To my mind, this is the only realistic ground for any discussion of the future of the Holy City. The other parties must understand that Jews will never agree to have less rights than other religions, and that Israelis will never agree to see David's City divided into two parts.
If everyone was happy to see the Berlin Wall destroyed, it was because the very idea of forced separation within a single city is something objectionable to human sensitivity. We cannot even think of creating another Berlin in the heart of the Middle East. Of course, the idea of “two Jerusalems”, if ever realized, will by no means be a solution, but a source of new troubles and conflicts.
It is quite clear that the future of Jerusalem requires general agreement. In our opinion, the only reliable partners for Israel seem to be the Holy See and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. They must understand that Israelis will never agree even to discuss the possibility of dividing their capital and spiritual center, while Israel must grant Christians and Muslims considerable autonomy in the administration of their respective Holy Places.
Those who speak of Jerusalem as the future capital of “two different states” know very well that this kind of proposal has no basis in reality. It is time to suggest imaginative solutions, and to become involved in a global project for the development of the Middle East as a whole, so that peaceful coexistence with Israel can make a real contribution to overcoming the backwardness of most Islamic countries.
1.5 Prohibiting Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims from praying on the Temple Mount (bayt al-maqdis)
The administration of the holy places in Jerusalem is a very complicated issue, and it is not possible here to enter into details. We would nevertheless like to mention something that appears unbearable for any person of religious conscience: The fact that at present the Islamic administration of bayt al-maqdis (Temple Mount) permits Jews to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there. There are special officials in the area whose task is to ensure that Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount are not moving their lips in prayer.
To my mind, this is clearly opposed to Islamic prescriptions and rules. We have seen that the Holy Qur'an declares the Rock a qibla (direction of prayer) for Jews. How then, is it possible that – in the name of Islam – someone dares to forbid Jews to pray in the place that God has appointed as their qibla?
This is a clear example of a case in which pseudo-religious principles may work against the real spirit of religion. Moreover, we must ask: Is it possible for someone who believes in God to forbid another human to pray? What kind of religion can let us interfere in the relationship between the Creator and His creatures?
On this point the Qur'an says:
وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُواْ لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُواْ بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ
“When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close to them: I answer the prayer of every suppliant who calleth on Me”.
Qur'an, Sura al-Baqarah (“The Cow”), 2:186 (Palazzi translation)
This verse explains that God is always close to His servants when they are praying. Wherever we are and whoever we are, according to the Qur'an we can be sure that God is listening to our prayers and will answer them, although, of course, we are not always able to understand His response.
This being the case, no one who believes in God can possibly prevent others praying, notwithstanding the fact that they belong to another religious tradition.
The very idea of opposing someone's prayers reveals a really deep lack of faith.
1.6 Jewish-Muslim Relations
As to Jewish-Muslim relationships, we heartily agree with the decision of Samuel Sirat, President of the Council of European Rabbis. Until now, interreligious dialogue has been hampered for political reasons; but, from a theological point of view, dialogue between Jews and Muslims is easier than, say, dialogue between Jews and Christians.
In the past, Ibn Gabirol (Avicebron), Maimonides, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were not isolated intellectuals, but part of a world of discourse transcending confessional links. If we reflect on the level of interreligious dialogue in past centuries, we must frankly admit that in this respect we have been moving backwards.
True, one can blame this on the political situation, but that does not free intellectuals and men of religion from their responsibility. Today, looking toward the future, we must again create the same kind of intellectual atmosphere, until it will become common for Islamic theologians to read Buber and Levinas, and for Jewish scholars to study the works of Sha'rawi and Ashmawi.
Israeli intellectuals, for their part, must be ready to understand that a new attitude is emerging among some Islamic thinkers. Many of us are now ready to admit that hostility for Israel has been a great mistake, perhaps the worst mistake Muslims have made in the second half of this century.
1.7 Obligation of Muslim leaders in democratic nations to speak out
For those Muslim leaders who live in Europe, in democratic countries and not under dictatorships, this declaration is not so dangerous as for those of our brothers who live in Arab countries. We know that, in those countries too, there is a certain part of the educated population that does not blindly accept anti-Israel propaganda; but freedom of expression is considerably limited in their societies.
It is very important for us to verify that we are not alone in our cultural activity. In our efforts not to repeat past mistakes; we must know that there is someone else who appreciates and shares our goals.
Readiness to understand the signs of the times requires us to recognise that it is now possible for Jews and Muslims to recognise one another once again as branches of the single tree of monotheism, as brothers descended from the same father, Abraham, forerunner of faith in the Living God.
In the field of comparative studies, there are broad prospects for common work. We can investigate the past and understand common features in the development of kabbalah and tasawwuf(Jewish and Muslim mystical traditions). We can study the respective influence of halakhah and sharia (Jewish and Islamic law and jurisprudence).
Apart from these examples, our general guideline must be the principle that, the more we discover our common roots, the more we can hope for a common future of peace and prosperity.