Perspective Written by Mikhayah Friday, 10 April 2009 Leonardo DaVinci once famously said that “Perspective must...

be preferred to all the human discourses and disciplines.” Few would question DaVinci’s authority on perspective, as his mastery of the subject is borne out in his works. This matter of DaVinci’s demonstration of authority is alone one for which all religious practice can be surmised. And yet this is hardly the point here. What is the concern is this matter of perspective and how seeking to approximate the historical, social and religious perspectives of any relevant figure (but here any given prophet), is fundamental to understanding the religious paradigm which they espoused. For many centuries Source Criticism in the field of Christian Studies perpetuated the false notion that Jesus was a Christian, that he founded Christianity and that later Christian beliefs, practices and dogma originated with him. Whereas in the First Century CE the pertinent question was whether you could be a non-Jew and follow Christ, the question of the Second Century was if you could be a Jew and follow him. This is how quickly perspectives change. The Qur’aan tells us about this fundamental discipline of perspective in the story of the Ahlu-l-Kahf, the People of the Cave. Once, many years ago someone quoted to me a hadeeth saying that if you memorize the first ten `aayaat of Sooratu-l-Kahf then you would be protected from the Dajjaal, the Antichrist. I found this intriguing and thus naturally went back to reexamine the passage from the Qur’aan. What I found taught the discipline of perspective. The People of the Cave were ostracized, hunted, persecuted for following Jesus, remembering, of course, that these were not yet Christians. Like the legendary masters of Zen and Dao these adepts went into a cave, entered a state of suspended animation and were not roused until 309 years later. When they returned to society they found that they had many descendants, ahadeeth would come to claim, and more specifically, and astonishing to them, that Jesus – who they were once hunted for following – was now professed as “lord” of this region, even right down to the coinage. That is to say, they entered the cave in an era when even coinage claimed divinity for Caesar and when they exited it claimed lordship of Jesus. This was obviously surreal to say the least. How dramatically perspectives can change in only a short period of time like this. The question of why understanding of this offers protection against the Dajjaal is beyond the scope and brevity of the topic at hand (at least how it is being presented here). Persistent still is the approach of Lower Criticism within Islaamic and Judaic studies. The Jewish community rarely questions the Torah’s use of terms like “Israelite,” “Children of Israel,” “Judah,” and Hebrew. These are all very different terms in meaning, and usage within the Torah. Yet today these are regarded as synonymous by most who do not know better. Moses too is regarded as historically a “Jew” rather than a Levite (though indeed an Israelite and a Hebrew), and no one regards his children as anything other than full members of the Jewish community even though neither was born to a Jewish mother. If Moses saw no need to marry a woman from amongst the tribes at that time (let alone from one), do Jews today imagine themselves to have a vantage point that he did not have? In other words, who knows more about Judaism, Moses or you? How strangely fast perspectives change. Samaritans hold famously divergent perspectives on Judaism, so much so that most Sunday School students in Churches all over the world can tell you about the conflict between Samaritans and Jews. Today, after the formation of the Israeli

political state, many Ethiopian “Falasha” Jews have made aliyah to the Holy Land. There has been considerable discussion about white Jewish racism towards them but this actually misses the point. Second generation Falasha Israelis do not experience the ostracizaition that their parents have. Why? Perspective. For the centuries of Diaspora the Jewish community cemented and codified the Rabbinic tradition. Rabbinic Judaism in a very real sense was born of the Diaspora. Yet Falasha Jews did not experience this. Centuries upon centuries of rich Rabbinic teaching was something which Jews elsewhere experienced, but the Falasha Jews did not. Naturally, when such Jews returned to the Holy Land, Ashkenazim and Sefardim regarded the Falasha perspective as inferior. Again, this was not about race but about perspective. Yet the irony is that the perspective of the Falasha Jews was in fact from an age which so many ancient Jewish heroes lived. Were they not Jews? Were the Judeans of the First Century not Jews? Of course they were, but even amongst them Josephus notes four quite different “Philosophies,” not even including Hellenistic Alexandrian Jewry, or the Essene-like Theraputae of which Philo depicts. If these were all Jews, and no one disputes that they were, then how different their perspectives were from one another and especially from Rabbinic Judaism today. Yet today because the Judaism of the Falasha is not Rabbinic, it is regarded as inferior or even barely Jewish. Imagine now the differences between them and the Patriarchs, or between Jews today and the Patriarchs… This is not to imagine that the Muslim situation is any better. Indeed even the usage of “Muslim” as a title is perspectivally problematic in and of itself. Today, in a most vain manner, Muslims all over the world - in all sects of Islaam (including those who imagine themselves not to be sects) - and certainly `ulemaa’ are no exception but imprinters of this rule - imagine that the perspective of the first generation of Muhammad’s follows is somehow being faithfully executed in the Ummah today. Now upon reading such a claim the conservative mind will think to itself “Au contraire! The Ummah today is not traditional enough, not following the Sunnah [read that the Sunnah imagined of Muhammad] enough, or the Ahlu-l-Bayt [read that, the Sunnah imagined of the Ahlu-l-Bayt], enough.” The conservative Muslim, like the Orthodox Jew, imagines the problem to lie in not following their traditions closely enough! Before the Kotel (Wall) of the Temple was claimed by Israel in 1967 (following the 6 Day War), for many centuries Jews visited in mixed-sex communities. Following this, however, Orthodox Jews immediately imposed a mechitzah (barrier) between men (the larger area) and women. Today Orthodox, Conservative and even some more liberal Jewish Israelis defend the Mechitzah as “tradition,” as “the way it has always been.” But this is far from the case; this is only their perception due to lacking historical knowledge on the matter. In the same way Zarqa Nawaz, a young Muslimah from Saskatchewan, Canada documents in “Me and the Mosque” that Western Masaajid have actually grown far more strict in dividing the sexes (in the same way as we see with the mechitzah). She interviews elderly women from traditionally Muslim countries who tell of having no such separations into different rooms in their youth. It would seem apparent that this radicalization, certainly not exempt from the ever-feared word “bid`ah,” has emerged in response to modernity and Westernism. Nevertheless, it has taken only a short period, a single generation, for this innovation to be viewed as “tradition” within the Islaamic Ummah. Muhammad rode a camel, not a car. Does this matter? Is this “Sunnah?” Muhammad did many things because of his time and place, because of the cultural framework within which he lived and worked. Do these things matter? Did they matter to him? Were these what he considered his “Sunnah” or was his “Sunnah” comprised of

compassion, generosity, courage, love, reason, devotion and so on? When the man spoke of his Sunnah he did not mean his “cultural way of life” but his “spiritual way of life.” Yet today people concern themselves with growing their beard as long as his in old age, or wearing clothes they imagine to be similar to the clothes he wore, or not having furniture (forgetting that the lifestyle Muhammad lived made this practical), or brushing teeth with a miswak instead of a toothbrush and toothpaste, having multiple wives but not being the lover described in ahadeeth who delighted in prolonged foreplay and made love to each of his wives in a single night, waking up in a state of ritual purity (meaning having warded off ejaculation throughout the exchange like the Daoist masters). Why is this Sunnah regarded as unimportant? Because perspective has changed, it has even been altered as it has been in Christianity. This is so much so the case that hadeeth tells us Muhammad warned the Ummah would follow previous Umam in deviating from their respective prophets; even following down a lizards hole! Muhammad said “three generations from me will not be of me.” Muhammad said his Ummah would even be “dead” within “a day or half of a day.” Yet people imagine their practices to be outside of the inclusiveness of these claims. Today people imagine that they understand the perspective of Muhammad and in this cultural hubris they drive further nails into the coffins on the Day of Resurrection. That Muhammad had an affinity for Judaism is certain to any independent scholar. The Qur’aan is rife with quotations from the Talmud, to say nothing of references from the Torah. So many maxims of Islaam today are directly found paralleled in the Talmud, and for this reason there was once a great tradition of Judeo-Sufism; a harmonization and reconciliation of these two traditions in both the works of such great philosophers as Bahya ibn Paquda, and the Maimonides dynasty. The individual may wish to imagine such Judaic, even Talmudic, presence in the Qur’aan as cultural borrowing from Muhammad, or as divine inspiration working with traditions already known by monotheistic faiths present in the region. Nevertheless there can be no doubt that the Qur’aan is deliberately drawing from famous Jewish sources with an obvious initial attempt to harmonize with existing Jewish practice. Thus we find the original Qiblah of Jerusalem and so many other facets of the first wave of Muhammadean practice that it is clear Muhammad saw himself as practicing the ancient form of the same tradition. Until opposed, Muhammad seemed to have had no concerns with altering the practice of Jews in his region. This is so much so that the Qur’aan calls his attention to his similarities with early Christian monks like the “Desert Fathers” in a frequently misunderstood passage seemingly saying that Christians are closer to Islaam than Jews. “...and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.” (5.82) This passage in particular is so misunderstood because there is no attempt made by exegetes to understand the original perspective of this revelation. That is the passage here refers to believers, mu’minoon, not to general muslimoon. This difference in phraseology seems to be largely ignored by the Muslim Ummah by all but the sharpest `ulemaa’. The state of “Imaan” being the true religion of Muhammad not the inferior state of “Islaam!” Yet Islaam, submission to ordained law is not rejected by Imaan (pure faith, all-encompassing and permeating belief) but rendered irrelevant to it. There is no question that in terms of law, of “islaam,” Judaism and Islaam are immensely similar, certainly more so than Christianity and Islaam. But here the Qur’aan must remind Muhammad that there are Christians, some at least, whose practices are very close to those “Sufi” practices of the “Mu’minoon.” The point is that this was not obvious to Muhammad who clearly had a more affinity for Judaic tradition and practice as “Islaamic!”

In the same way the Qur’aan says that Jews of Arabia were saying that they killed and crucified Jesus. What the Qur’aan says is true. The Jewish community, particularly in Arabia and in the Bavli Talmud were saying just that. Interestingly, and important to note, there is a considerably different treatment of Jesus in the Yerushalami Talmud and the Bavli. In the latter were described events which are today unquestionably historically anomalous and fabricated. Descriptions of Jewish execution are seemingly unaware of the famous Roman method carried out. Elaborate legends of the earlier years of this flagrant brickworshipping apostate were invented, similarly unaware that this figure was so minor there is almost no historical record of him (thus making such elaborate accounts of his formative years utterly unbelievable). “That they said ‘We killed Jesus the Messiah, the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah,’ but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for certainly they killed him not.” (4.15) On even the most surface reading, the Qur’aan says that Jews did not kill or crucify Jesus. That is, Jews did not hang him, Jews did not stone him, Jews did not even crucify him, it was just made to appear as though this were the case, by Christianity which quickly blamed Jews for the death of Christ. Far from the Qur’aan saying there was no Roman crucifixion of Jesus (noting that it can be argued from an Islaamic or even secular perspective that Jesus survived deliberately), it is saying there was neither a Jewish execution of Jesus nor even a Jewish crucifixion which he survived. The Qur’aan was speaking from a perspective, a vantage point of history that the Arab Jewish communities simply did not have (but later Askenazim debating Christians over the years, like the Maharal of Prague would come to see on their own). So too is this perspective forgotten in perceived anti-Jewish attitudes of Muhammad’s battle with Jewish tribes of Arabia. Considering this anti-Jewish is to belie the fact that so many Arabian Jews, Yemenite Jews (before Zaidi persecution), even the leader of the Yemenite Jewish community, Netanel ibnu-lFayyumi, accepted and professed openly the prophethood of Muhammad whilst remaining in a culturally Judaic framework! That is to say that the modern Jewish perspective belies the Medieval Judeo-Arab perspectives on the matter (to say nothing of the Judeo-Sufi!). Moreover, to consider such battles against incidentally Jewish Arab tribes to be anti-Jewish would be the same as considering the far more numerous battles against Arab tribes as anti-Arab! That is to say that any such historical knee-jerk reactions try to frame ancient contexts within a modern setting: “What would it mean if a Muslim leader attacked Jewish tribes today in such a manner?” It does not ask the questions that a historian would ask, questions so fundamental to Higher Criticism. Indeed, just as Higher Criticism has elucidated so much about the quest for the historical Jesus over the past two centuries, Post-Enlightenment thinking can and will shine the light of reason upon the dusty annals of Islaamic history; giving us new insight into the original perspective of Muhammad’s Ummah. This is not merely an important endeavor for the historian but perhaps more so for the religious. If following Muhammad’s Sunnah is important, even a component of one’s deen, then it is essential that we see Islaam from his perspective first and foremost.

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