The Jewish view of Islam

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This article explores what Judaism thinks of the teachings of Islam, its followers and their revered Prophet – Muhammad SAW

Muslims practice perfect monotheism

Islam was unknown to most Jews during the Prophet Muhammad’s SAW lifetime. It wasn’t until the Muslim conquest of Iraq, shortly after his death, that the leaders of Banu Yisrael first investigated Islam and ruled the Jewish people should consider Muslims as fellow monotheists1.

As time passed Judaism’s spiritual leaders, particularly those living in Muslim caliphates, began exploring the teachings of Muhammad SAW and his companions. Upon immersing himself in Islamic study one of Judaism’s greatest rabbis, Maimonides, declared that the Muslim understanding of monotheism was without fault.

The [Muslims] are not idol worshipers, [idolatry] has ceased to exist in their mouths and hearts, and they attribute the proper Oneness to God with no blemish. And because they [the Muslims of the 13th century] lie about us, and falsely accuse us of saying God has a son, it does not mean we can lie about them and say they are idol worshipers… And if someone should say that they worship in an idolatrous shrine [the Kaaba], as their ancestors worshiped idols there – this does not matter. The hearts of those who bow down toward it today are [directed] only to Heaven [towards One God]… [Regarding] the [Muslims] today, all of them [including] women and children have ceased to believe in idolatry.

– Maimonides, Responsa #448.

By the modern era the Jewish people, now familiar with the Message of Islam, fostered a deep respect for the Ummah recognizing their submission to One God, Allah SWT, as righteous and exemplary.

There is no unity [of God] like the unity found in Islam

– Rabbi Joseph Messas, Mayim Hayyim, Yoreh Deah, no. 66, p. 159

Do Jews consider Muhammad SAW a Prophet?

Although the Talmud teaches that Allah SWT sends non-Jewish prophets to different nations,2 such as Job (Ayyub AS), the mainstream view recorded in the Talmud states that after the non-Jewish prophet Balaam tried to destroy Banu Yisrael, Moses AS prayed the Divine Spirit (a level of prophecy) would never rest on non-Jews again.4 There are isolated opinions that claim non-Jews can still receive prophecy5, but only one rabbi in the history of Judaism has ever been recorded entertaining the idea that Muhammad SAW could have been prophet. A little known 12th century Yemenite rabbi, Natanel Al-Fayyumi, once suggested that not only did Allah SWT establish an eternal covenant with Moses AS and Banu Yisrael, but He may have also established a covenant with Muhammad SAW and the Muslims. However, academic consensus says that he was forced to write this under duress.

That indicates that Muhammad was a prophet to them [Muslims] but not to those that preceded them in the knowledge of God [Jews]

– Netanel ben al-Fayyumi3

This is not a common view, Judaism teaches that while Islam is part of God’s plan to prepare the world for the Messianic era, Muhammad SAW is not a prophet.

[Muhammad] served to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord.

– Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim

Do the Jews consider Jesus a prophet?

The Christian version of Jesus is unacceptable to Jews, who consider the belief that God had a son, the trinity and praying to Mary are all acts of heresy. However, the Islamic account which rejects these positions6 by teaching that Jesus was a mortal man continuing the message of Noah AS, is compatible with Judaism and even shared by a few rabbis (although no major rabbis consider him a prophet).7

We see clearly here that [Jesus] and his Apostles did not wish to destroy the Torah from Israel, God forbid
——
As I have said earlier – that the writers of the Gospel never meant to say that [Jesus] came to abolish Judaism, but only that he came to establish a religion for the Gentiles from that time onward. Nor was it new, but actually ancient; they being the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, which were forgotten.

– Rabbi Jacob Emden, Seder Olam Rabbah Vezuṭa

It should also be noted that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah is similar to al-Mahdi, and nothing like Jesus.

Were the prophets Jews or Muslims?

Judaism and Islam are both continuations of a much older religion. The Talmud records that Allah SWT established a religious framework with Adam AS for all men to follow, this religion was then later renewed with Noah AS.

Then Adam received from his Lord [some] words [of revelation], and He accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.

– Quran 2:37

He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus – to establish the religion and not be divided therein. Difficult for those who associate others with Allah is that to which you invite them. Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him].

– Quran 42:13

According to Jewish tradition the religion Noah AS taught consisted of seven laws.8 Any future religion claiming to be of divine origin cannot contradict these laws. Judaism is able to regard Islam positively because these laws are found in the Quran.

1. Prohibition of Idolatry

Do not make [as equal] with Allah another deity and [thereby] become censured and forsaken – Quran 17:22

2. Prohibition of Murder

And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly – We have given his heir authority, but let him not exceed limits in [the matter of] taking life. Indeed, he has been supported [by the law] – Quran 17:33

3. Prohibition of Theft

[As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah . And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise – Quran 5:38

4. Prohibition of Sexual Immorality

And do not approach sexual immorality. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way – Quran 17:32

5. Prohibition of Blasphemy

The most beautiful names belong to Allah: so call on him by them; but shun such men as use profanity in his names: for what they do, they will soon be requited – Quran 17:32

6. Prohibition of Eating Meat Torn from a Living Creature

Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah , and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience – Quran 5:3

7. Establish courts

Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you. And do not be for the deceitful an advocate – Quran 17:35

Judaism and Islam teach that all the prophets before Moses AS followed the religion revealed to Noah AS and Adam AS… Jews call this Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach, Muslims call it Islam and while the names may differ – the religion is the same. After Moses AS received the Torah, Banu Yisrael were commanded to practice the Jewish religion and any of their subsequent prophets were considered Jewish.

Summary

  • Orthodox Judaism considers Islam to be part of God’s divine plan, paving the way for the Messiah / Mahdi
  • Judaism teaches that non-Jewish prophets are sent to other nations
  • Mainstream Judaism does not consider Muhammad SAW a prophet
  • Judaism states that the early prophets followed the teachings of Noah AS… this is confirmed in the Quran
  • Jews consider Islam to be a perfect form of monotheism and are therefore able to pray in Mosques (a courtesy not extended to churches)

Sources

1. The Torah forbids Jews from drinking wine used to serve idols, as a precaution the great sages of Mishnah extended this prohibition to drinking wine handled by a non-Jew. They gave two reasons.

  1. The wine could have been used to serve idols
  2. If Jews were socializing and getting drunk with no-Jews they could intermarry.

“It is forbidden to drink wine handled by [Muslims], [but unlike wine handled by an idolater, one can still derive benefit from it]” – Rabbi Zemah Gaon, Chemdah Genuzah, 114
2. Bava Batra 15b
3. The Bustan al-Ukul, by Nathanael ibn al-Fayyumi, edited and translated by David Levine, Columbia University Oriental Studies Vol. VI, p. 105
4. Berachot 7a
5. Proof of prophecy existing after Moses is supported by these opinions:

  • Rabbi Natan’el Al-Fayyumi – Bustan al-Ukul, “God permitted to every people something he forbade to others… God sends a prophet to every people according to their own language”
  • Tana D’vei Eliyahu 9:1, “The prophet Elijah said: I call heaven and earth to bear witness that anyone – Jew or gentile, man or woman, slave or handmaid – if his deeds are worthy, the Divine Spirit will rest upon him”
  • Bava Batra 15b, “R. Eliezer says that Job [a non-Jewish prophet] was in the days ‘of the judging of the judges’ [after Moses’ generation] as it says [in the book of Job], Behold all of you together have seen it; why then are ye become altogether vain? What generation is it that is altogether vain? You must say, the generation where there is a ‘judging of the judges’. R. Joshua b. Korhah says: Job was in the time of Ahasuerus [after Moses’ generation], for it says, And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job.”
  • Israel Lipschitz – Tiferet Yisrael, Avot 3:17, “R. Elazar ben Azaryah said, ‘If there is no Torah there is no civilisation’ The word Torah here cannot be meant literally, since there are many ignorant people who have not learned it, and many pious among the gentiles who do not keep the Torah and yet are ethical and civilised. Rather, the correct interpretation seems to me to be that every people has its own Divine religion, which comprises three foundational principles, (1) belief in a revealed Torah, (2) belief in reward and punishment, and (3) belief in an afterlife. They only disagree on the interpretation of these principles. These three principles are what are called here ‘Torah'”
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims”

6. “And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. ” – Quran 5:116
7. Rabbi Jacob Emden, Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Shmuel Boteach
8. Talmud Sanhedrin 56a

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6 thoughts on “The Jewish view of Islam

  1. Pingback: The Jewish view of Islam « One Film 9/11 interfaith initiative

  2. Thanks for the very informative post. One of the few factually-based arguments I’ve heard made by those trying to get around the obviously profound affinities and parallels between Islam and Judaism is to cast Islam as at odds with Judaism based on its complicated approach to Jewish scripture (the notion of Tahreef). The argument goes that the theoretical recognition of the sacredness and perfection of Jewish scripture accorded by Christians trumps the obvious theological similiarities between Judaism and Islam. It strikes me as a very weak argument, but I’d love to learn more about the extent to which premodern Jewish sages were impressed by this half-hearted recogition (I say “half-hearted” because it was often accompanied by a paradoxical rejection of the entire notion of the Jewish people being blessed by God, not to mention outright demonization; respect for a religious tradition isn’t worth much when you scorn and persecute all its representatives, after all).

  3. The criteria for The prophet are correct. Muhammad didn’t reject all the Torah except the REAL Torah. How to distinguish the real Torah and the fake Torah? The real one talks about Muhammad but the fake one hide it.

  4. Salaam/shalom, Muhammad pbuh was a Hebrew being a direct descendant of Ishmael son of Abraham pbut.
    The children of Israel and Ishmael pbut were considered brethren. Therefore Muhammad pbuh could have been considered a prophet due to this fact and also the question of who was a Jew as assessed today is different as the question is who was an Israelite. The answer is resolved in practice rather than semantics. Muhammad pbuh practice of Islam was identical to the Hebrew Faith,and after his ascension to Jerusalem Al Isra he was an Israelite in concept.
    The coming of the prophet in dibarim 18:18 ,and or Shiloh. Muhammad partook of the Israelite covenant in order to bring the children of Ishmael in and expand it to the world.

  5. Pingback: From Moses to Moses: Traversing two Maimonides Quotes on Muslims | Spencer Watch

  6. Pingback: From Moses to Moses: Traversing two Maimonides Quotes on Muslims | Islamophobia Today eNewspaper

The Jewish view of Islam