I woke up to the echoes of the Islamic prayers through the Judean mountains that were both beautiful and haunting. Living here among Palestinian Arabs Moslems I hear the call to prayer daily, five times a day, but today was different. Today the volume and length of the prayer was considerably louder and longer. The sustained repetition of “Allah Akbar” is audible, perhaps amplified by the mountains, and only competing with an occasional car, or bird.
I have no problem with how one approaches God in their respective faith, as long as they’re doing so is respectful of mine, and does not preclude my right to do so as well.
Listening to the prayer this week makes me realize however that as much as their faith may be sincere, there is something at its roots that is mutually exclusive to my right to exist here as a Jew in the Land of Israel.
Today is Eid al Adha, The Festival of the Sacrifice. Moslems around the world celebrate it as a commemoration of Abraham’s faithfulness to sacrifice his son. That’s great. Jews, Christians and Moslems can relate to and even celebrate that. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son is a symbol of devotion to God that each look at from their own perspective, but all rooted in the Biblical verses of Genesis 22:2-4, “And He said, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.”
While we look at the meaning of the text differently, Jews, Christians, and Moslems all look to the significance of Abraham’s faithfulness. With one main exception.
Today, Moslems celebrate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael. It’s astoundingly so un-Biblical that it makes one wonder how one can think that with a straight face. There’s not only no Biblical foundation for it, but it’s so divergent from scripture that completely erases any connection to a Biblical to which Islam might be rooted. There are many translations and interpretations of Genesis 22, and indeed all Biblical text. Jews and Christians see the significance of Abraham’s sacrifice differently, with Christians looking to the parallel of God sacrificing Jesus. But neither edit nor completely rewrite the scripture to fit their belief.
Again, I don’t particularly care about how one approaches or has a relationship to God, as long as it doesn’t impede my right to believe or practice as I wish. Biblical tradition evolves like layers of an onion, revealing more and more with each chapter and verse. But what it seems to me is that with Eid al-Adha, albeit that Islam is monotheistic, it separates itself from Judaism and Christianity by editing, interpreting, and even making up Biblical events in a way for which there’s no historic foundation, thousands of years after these events were recorded. Interpret it differently, go for it. Edit it and change the text? To me that’s like theological belief in a flat earth. Sorry, I know that’s not nice and certainly not PC, but it is astounding.
But I also don’t care if someone believes that the earth is flat. I disagree, and there’s abundant documentation to the opposite. But as long as it doesn’t affect me, I really don’t care. Just don’t try to push me off the edge of it.
The problem is that with Islam diverging from Biblical tradition here, it undermines any further connection to anything Biblical. One cannot change a penultimate Biblical scene, and then go back to read Genesis 23 and the rest of the text as nothing happened. Even belief in one God is not enough if there’s such a fundamental rewriting of His word.
And the other problem as the text tells us, and as played out this week, is that by believing what it does, Islam does believe that its interpretation is mutually exclusive to that of Jews and Christians. In Genesis 22:3-4, it’s understood that the place where Abraham took Isaac is to a rock on a mountain that can be seen from a distance, Mount Moriah. That’s not just Jerusalem but it’s the rock that’s on the Temple Mount that sits inside the (conveniently named) golden, Dome of the Rock. As a tourist in my youth, before I understood that it’s a place that Jews probably should not go because it’s also where the Temple stood, and before it was as controversial for non-Moslems to ascend and have near full access to the Temple Mount, I removed my shoes as did the Moslem worshippers, and went into the mosque and saw the rock. It’s huge. It’s hard to imagine that not being anything other than the place that Abraham saw.
Today, Jews and Christians ascending to the Temple Mount is not only charged with extremist intolerance, but Jews and Christians are not formally allowed to pray there. It’s a law enforced by the Islamic Wakf. It’s never not an issue. Islamic leaders shadow non-Moslem groups along the very narrow path that non-Moslems are allowed to follow, looking for and protesting even the silent quivering of the lips of those who ascend to the site that’s holy to Jews and Christians as well.
This week, when Eid al-Adha coincides with Tisha B’Av, the theological differences were put in the spotlight. On Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av, we mourn the destruction of both Temples on the same day, at that very spot. This year, an unprecedented number of Jews, some 1700, ascended to the Temple Mount in commemoration and mourning.
The response to this, locally among the Palestinian Arab and Jordanian Wakf, voices of leaders throughout their societies, and from divergent Islamic countries including Iran and Turkey, was to decry the Jewish presence as a threat to take over “Al Aksa,” the other mosque on the Temple Mount that is the third holiest site in Islam. Disappointingly but perhaps not surprisingly, echoes of Moslem exclusivity of the Temple Mount came from Israel’s Islamist Ra’am party, a member of Israel’s current governing coalition.
1700 Jews ascending to the Temple Mount does not constitute the canard of “settlers storming al-Aksa.” Saying so is not only dishonest, but it’s akin to a theological throwing of a Molotov cocktail into a crowded mosque. It’s not just wrong, but its hateful, and a dangerous provocation.
The problem is that Eid al-Adha, and the prevention of Jews and Christians from ascending to, much less worshiping on, the Temple Mount – in general but particularly on the day on which we mourn the destruction of the Temples – is mutually exclusive.
I’m all for people understanding and approaching God in ways that they are comfortable. I don’t believe what others believe, including some Jews, and others don’t believe what I believe. I can live with that. As long as it’s not mutually exclusive. But this week, according to Islam and radical and intolerant voices from throughout the Islamic world, it was made quite clear: Jewish and Christian presence on and connection to the Temple Mount, indeed to all of Jerusalem, is verboten.
Just as the sound of their prayer echoes throughout the Land today, so does this ideology rooted in the most harsh of replacement theology. It astounds me that anyone cannot look at the Temple Mount as anything other than the place that Abraham brough Isaac, and upon which two Temples were built and destroyed. That doesn’t change the reality of where we are today. But it is the reality nonetheless, no matter how many people celebrate the purported sacrifice of Ishmael.
The denial of these foundational truths does not project any religious tolerance, or, quite candidly much of a hope for peace here. Because even if they approach God differently, when they do so with abject denial of Biblical history in a way that is mutually exclusive to that of Jews and Christians and our legitimacy, it’s hard to see them as being accommodating on anything else as “simple” as recognizing and living alongside Israel as the Jewish state. God help us.