I’ve never understood why some people say the problem between Israelis and Palestinians has been going on for thousands of years.
I recently gained some insight into why that idea persists. I participated in a MeckMin program that invited Jews, Christians and Muslims to learn about the story of Abraham from each other’s perspectives and to see if lessons could be learned to help bring peace to the land so many call “Holy.”
I learned that many of the Jewish and Christian stories of Abraham, his wives and his children have elements of rivalry, jealousy, favoritism and chosenness. Perhaps that is where people get the idea that the conflict has been going on for thousands of years.
It’s important to know that the Abrahamic faiths build on one another. The Jewish prophets and their stories are known by Christians, because the Torah is incorporated into the Bible. Muslims believe in and revere the prophets of the Torah and the Bible. The Baha’i, who consider themselves to be Abrahamic, believe in the prophets of the Torah, Bible and the Quran. Understandably, those who received earlier revelations don’t acknowledge later revelations, and each faith has different interpretations of its prophets.
Muslims believe in Abraham, the “friend of God” as he is referred to in the Torah, Bible and Quran. But there are differences in the stories.
In the Islamic story, God (not Sarah) instructs Abraham to leave Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, which he does reluctantly. When Abraham explains God’s command to Hagar, she responds, “Then He will not neglect us.”
According to the Quran, God charged Abraham with sacrificing his son. Abraham informed his son of God’s command, and the son replied, “Oh my father! Do what you are commanded; if God please, you will find me one practicing Patience.” (Quran 37:102). Abraham and his son set out to fulfill the command, but at the last minute, a ram was presented as an alternative.
While the Torah and Bible specify that it was Isaac whom Abraham was supposed to sacrifice, Islamic scholars differ. A majority says it was Ishmael, but there are some who say it could have been Isaac. In Islam it doesn’t matter which son it was, because both are equal in the eyes of God. Neither one is considered favored or chosen; that concept does not exist in Islam. God rewards all by their faith and actions, not by lineage.
In Islam, the most important aspect of the stories of Abraham is how strong his and his family’s faith was. Imagine having such insurmountable faith. Our stories may be different, but all faiths have common core tenets (i.e., commands) such as charity, kindness, truthfulness, justice and love. How well are we following the much simpler commands that God has given us?
If we look at the family of Abraham from a different lens we can begin to understand the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in a different way. From a Palestinian perspective, the conflict is not founded on animosity towards Jews; the conflict is about the land.
Palestinian Christians and Muslims are struggling against the political Zionistic ideology that asserts the land is exclusively for a specific line of descendants of one of the sons of Abraham, regardless of who was living on it.
What if we look at all the descendants of Abraham as being equal members of the same family of the Creator? What if we take opportunities to get to know each other, learn from each other and come to love each other? Perhaps that could be the starting point for peace in the Holy Land.
Rose Hamid of Charlotte is president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas.