The events of the Six Day War brought Biblical concepts to headline news. Scriptural meaning was given to the war’s unfolding and aftermath. The Jews were inspired that they could re-establish their polity, Christians anticipated the imminent return of Jesus, and Muslims were convinced that the subsequent Golden Age of Mahdi was at hand.
However, with these hopes for a bright future came revived wounds, old disputes, and conflicting paradigms. For the Jewish people, ever haunted by a constant sense of fear for its security, many saw the birth of the state of Israel in 1948 and its sudden expansion in 1967 as the Jewish people’s salvation. But for the Palestinians, that very same process was a nakba (catastrophe). How can we reconcile these conflicting paradigms?
The way to peace, based upon my years of research in Islam and Judaism, is a twofold – one, reclaiming the dynamic synergy that has existed among Muslims, Christians and Jews, and two – forming credible bodies of mediation which all parties can trust.
The first step, reclaiming synergy among our peoples, is achieved by developing an intellectual framework of how we can view each other. This begins with joint activities such as study sessions and social activism, creating dynamic relationships that inspire efforts at conciliation.
The second step in establishing peace is an interconnected, credible justice system, which is based upon a shared understanding of the meaning of citizenship.
The idea of citizenship is derived from scriptural concepts: membership to ummah means belonging to a faith community. A proper member of an ummah is a Momin, which means not just a believer in God, but one who is believable, faithful, credible, trustworthy – a good citizen if you will.
In Judaism, when a Jewish court recognises (in this case) a Muslim as following the seven laws of Noah/Nuh, the Muslim then is a co-religionist with the Jew, and, if living in the Land of Israel, is an equal citizen free to pursue his or her religious beliefs.
This of course has very real implications for Israel/Palestine. Islamic and Jewish concepts of citizenship will jettison outdated 19th century ideas of statehood, sovereignty and ownership of land. It is time to recognise each other as worthy citizens, without fear of the presence or increasing population of the “other”. After all, no country is overrun by good citizens, no matter what religion.
Citizenship assumes functioning courts. The project of joint courts will replace the “courtroom” of the media and public opinion. Joint courts that adjudicate disputes mean that we can develop healthy relationships among ourselves, free of the need to convince the Other in the constant race for swaying public opinion. When conflict resolution lies in scripturally based adjudication, it is accountable and all parties feel represented.
“To every people (is given) a law giver, when their law giver comes before them, the matter will be judged between them with justice and they will not be wronged." Surat Al Yunus (10:47)
We can then put our energies into the race for virtue: “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you are different.” Surat Al Maeda (5:48)
It’s a race that everyone wins.
Barriers to Peacemaking in Modern Times: German Revisionism; Scriptural Roots Forgotten
Geiger and Wellhausen were nineteenth century German revisionists. They promoted their own stereotypes, looking upon the dawn of Islam through their own prejudices, and not through the reality that existed in seventh century Arabia.
They taught that the Jews were an oppressed and stubborn people, clinging to their ethnicity with Maccabean fervor, rejecting any cooperation with Islam. In turn the Prophet (PBUH) turned on them and out of hatred for their stubborn refusal to accept him declared war on them, leading to a fundamental, irreconcilable conflict between Islam and Judaism.
Similar attitudes fuel the assumption of a never ending dispute among Muslims and Jews. Unfortunately, many members of our peoples have internalised this view, and we must question and uproot it. We can do this by following the lead of historiographers like Robert G. Hoyland., David Cook and Michael Lecker, and peruse cross-referenced traditional Islamic and Rabbinic literature to reconstruct the reality and relationship between Islam and Judaism during those years, which is better expressed in the Muslim-Jewish pact of the Constitution of Medina than through nineteenth-century prejudices.
We must likewise reclaim the scriptural roots of western political science. Professor of Government at Harvard university, Dr. Eric Nelson, asserts that human rights and fundamental freedoms are in fact derived from Scripture as studied by philosophers in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. Erastus, Hugo Grotius, John Selden, John Lightfoot, Henry Ainsworth, and more, studied the ancient Hebrew commonwealth to arrive at a model for ideal government; they were especially impressed by the rights of the non-Jew and, as noted above, this tolerance is present in Islam as well.
Human rights are thus no secular invention, indeed, the west is in need of revival, of recognizing its scriptural roots. Instead of rejecting the west that has become fashionable in religious circles of late, the traditional Muslim and Jew should seek to educate the west about its true roots in scripture.
To summarise, I urge all to embrace opportunities to get to know members of other faiths via the variety of organisations that facilitate this. Let us question the assumptions we have absorbed that seek to divide us, and let us ponder the times when all members of the Abrahamic faiths shared golden ages together, and how we can emulate that.
So the problem is not that people played out scriptural scenarios too much, but that they played them out too little. They emphasised the warring and conquest of scripture while neglecting the moral values on which all is based.
Ultimately, in practise, mutual recognition is achieved in its finest form in interconnected courts, in which the majority of those who dwell in the Middle East, as traditionally minded peoples, will respect, and where all feel represented.