Sunday, August 20, 2006

Follow up on Islamic Comments #2

This one on seeing Islam in relation to the history of Judaism.

First a basic review of Jewish history. The story told in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) describe the Israelites as being descended from Jacob who was renamed Israel after fight with the angel of the Lord. Jacob's son Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. He rises to become Overseer of all Pharoah's lands. Joseph eventually reunites with his brothers who bring his aging father and the rest of the clan to Egypt to avoid a famine in Israel.

And thus ends the Book of Genesis. The Book of Exodus which follows starts off by saying that another Pharoah arose in Egypt who "knew not Joseph." Meaning he did not recognize an alliance with the "Hebrews" and begins to enslave them. The Exodus recalls the story of Moses and his brother Aaron, leading the people out of Egypt into the Wilderness and eventually to the Promised Land of Canaan.

The Books of Joshua and Judges complete the piecture of the Pentatecuh. It continues the story of how these twelve tribes form a nation and conquer the Canaanite peoples--the original inhabitants of the land.

It is a deep and complex narrative, at times violent and brutal at others transcendent and mysterious. But scholars no longer see this narrative as historical fact.

It is much more likely that what we today now as the Jewish peoples were originally Canaanites themselves, who began by some process to form their own unique identity within the Canaanite world. There was a Northern and Southern version of this Jewish identity, reflecting in the texts. But anyway, they begin to tell stories of patriachs and their foundings, a cosmology (and cosmogony) as did all ancient peoples.

The Hebrew writings start to reflect a deep suspicion of "intercourse" (metaphoric and literal) between the Jews and Canannites. The text has what one scholar describes as a monotheistic-trajectory or tendency.

If you read the Hebrew Scriptures you see a movement towards monothesim, in fits and starts. And the earlier "historical" pieces have been later re-edited to fit a later theological format.

The Hebrew Bible--what Christians calls the Old Testament--really comes to be only after the Babylonina Exile (6th century BC). It arises in relation to the quesiton of how one can worship their local god Yahweh in a foreign land. All ancient tribal religious traditions were localized. It is in exile that certain authors, some prophets, speak of a universal God, a Lord over all and an identity of common humanity larger than local tribal-only identifications. A Lord who seesk justice and looks after the widow, orphan, stranger, and the oppressed.

The two main traditions that flow out of the Exile and re-interpret the Biblical text to fit their theological viewpiont is the Deutoronomist and Priestly Traditions. The D tradition emphasizes Torah, the living of a life of justice devoted to God and his law. The P tradition emphasizes "holiness" and "purity". After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE the Priestly tradition loses its grounding.

The modern Rabbinic Judaism that arose from then on, is the tradition of Torah-Deutoronomy.

As many scholars now argue the Jewish narrative of a people in exodus from Egypt to Canaan--what will become Israel--is a deeply mythic story.

But it's important to note how the Jewish identity of truly being Jews only really starts to gain popular credence around the year 300 BC or so. And that identity arose through military exploit, political subterfuge, prophetic inspiration, and all other means both good and bad.

Theologically, we say that God writes straight human's crooked lines. In other words, God is not "above" using "base" means. Or not as crudely, God works with humans as they are. God calls humans into comunity; God calls a people. And these people wander in the wilderness, they struggle, they sin, and yet God's love is faithful and everlasting.

So the Hebrew tradition is full of the notion of warfare and even, if you like, "holy war." But Judaism through conquests by the Greeks and Romans, lost its ability to hold political power. It learned "separation of synagogue and state" if you like through necessity.

Through contacts with the Western Enlightenment, Reform Judaism was born. Judaism is now split across the spectrum--religious and secular; progressive, conservative, hardline.

And perhaps most importantly, the Jewish people were given the state of Israel by international agreement. Zionism was orginally a secular nationlist agenda (even Marxist for some). It played upon a religious notion of returning to the land, to bring more religious Jews on board with the idea. But there were, prior to 1948, Zionist terrorists, who targeted British supply lines, even at times innocents. Just as there were Arab attacks on Jews and vice versa during the British mandate.

Out of these threads, Israel managed to make a leap into modern political consciousness and most Jews--both religious and secular--followed that trend. [American Judaism as well].

out of all these trends, with its Prophets and Leaders Moses and Joshua leading troops in battle, killing enemies, there is no argument that Judaism, as such is incapable of living in the modern world. That Judaism is an inherently violent religion. In fact much of the leftist anti-Israeli writing common in Europe hates Israel and to a degree Jewish religion because it is frankly too modern and corrupt.

So the argument that Islam because there are destructive texts in the Quran because Muhammad and the early companions were also warriors, is an inherently violent religion incapable of relating to the modern world, I just don't get it.

If one of conservativism's credo is to support traditional values (especially religion) then it would be here I thought Western conservatism might build a bride with Islam. Namely Islam is the traditional faith and the stabilizing social glue for more than a billion people on the planet currently and has been a dominant religious tradition for over 1,000 years in huge swaths of the world.

It's not going anywhere. The Prophet Muhammad allowed wommen to divorce men (in 650 AD!!!--the Roman Catholic Church will still not allow a married woman whose husband has HIV to use a condom to perfect herself/children even under the moral banner of the lesser of two evils. In 2006!!!

That initial teaching of the Prophet was lost. Christians and Jews during Muhammad's lifetime could worship in Arabia. The later caliphs outlawed such a practice, still the tradition in Saudi Arabia--which bars women from driving...find that one in the Quran.

So W. conservatives could have made a very strong argument to the effect of modern Muslims were not being sufficiently conservative. They weren't actually following their tradition. They weren't traditional enough.

That argument was lost by the underlying anti-Islamic bias still inherent in Western psyche, and particularly the not so thinly veiled desire for an American geo-political shifting of the Middle East to be followed by a mass Christian evangelizing effort.

What the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East needs is an Israel-like international acceptance. Particularly of a Palestinian state. It needs that to no longer be outsiders and thereby affect this anti-colonial rebel-chic, seeing a Nasrallah as some kinda hero, far leftists thinking he is the new Che or something absurd like that.

Until such an agreement both with Palestine and diplomatic co-option with Iran, fighting Israel and Islamiczing society will be the only way of restoring pride. the pride has been lost and the West fundamentally misunderstands this basic fact.

Such a deal struck, this inner pain within the Islamic religion and dominant Muslims societies will be directed where it belongs--the conservative ulema (scholars/clerics) who have held the evolution of the religion back and the political autocrats who hold back the political evolution.

Like Israel/Judaism more generally, this shift must come within themselves. Religion is the converyor belt, as it were. They only thing the West can do is its side of the bargain and smooth the path as much as possible.

As a famous hadith (saying of the Prophet) goes, Muhammad returned from battle victorious and when he was congratulated by those back home he subtly rebuked them saying, "Now is the time for the greater jihad."

The greater jihad is the struggle of the heart, the struggle for justice in this world with peace, the struggle against our own egocentricism, cynicism, and sin. The struggle to be "warriors" for righteousness.

The Muslim world needs the opportunity to be done with the lesser jihad of war/anti-Westernism/corruption/terrorism so that each and all can undertake the greater one. Of building societies of justice and multi-ethnic harmony under the banner of the One God, merciful and just towards all. inshallah.


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