Simple Habits of Greatness

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Following Muhammad’s teaching I also neither believe nor disbelieve in the Quran. Islam teaches clearly that God does not have just one people or one true religion. Rather, God chose not to create human beings as one nation or with only one religion so that each religion could compete with all the others in order to see which religion produces the highest percentage of moral and loving people; and which people best embody in their personal and communal lives the moral teachings of their prophet.
As it is written in the Quran [5.48] “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah, so He will let you know that in which you differed.”
This is a wonderful further development of the teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah (4:5) that in the end of days-the Messianic Age “All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever.”
I would like to show how the Quran and the Torah complement each other, and why it is false and narrow minded to say that one contradicts the other. There are many differences between similar narrations in the Quran and in the Torah. For example, both the Quran and the Torah relate events concerning the oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt, and how God sent Moses/Musa to liberate the Jews from persecution by Fir’aun/Pharaoh.
Christian missionaries, and so called objective university professors, often point to the mention of Haman, a famous anti-semite who lived in Persia more than eight centuries after the exodus, as an example of Muhammad’s ignorance of history. This is absurd. The Quran mentions Haman to show that God has saved the Children of Israel from persecution by more than one Pharaoh and in more than one land. This is a statement of God’s enduring commitment to help the weak and the oppressed. The Torah states:
“Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.” (Exodus 2:1-4)
And the Qurqn states: In truth We recite to you some of the news of Moses and Pharaoh, for people who believe (in this Quran and the Oneness of Allah). Verily, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (the children of Israel) among them, killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of the Mufsideen (great oppressors or tyrants). And we wished to do a favor to those who were weak (and oppressed) in the land (of Egypt), and to make them (the Children of Israel) rulers and inheritors, and to establish them in the land (of Israel), and We let Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts receive from them, that which they feared. We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: “Suckle him (Moses), but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily! We shall bring him back to you, and shall make him one of (Our) Messengers.” (Quran 28: 3-7).
In the next few verses the Quran gives us some extra details explaining how Musa’s mother felt at the loss of her son, as well as why Pharaoh’s daughter did not hire an Egyptian foster mother for Moses. The Quran stresses the lesson that bad events often eventually turn into good outcomes, so one should trust in God and not become depressed. Once again the parallel between Pharaoh, done in by his daughter’s saving Moses from death, and Haman, done in by Esther, who only became Queen because Haman helped get rid of the previous Queen, is stressed. Those who plan evil are often done in by their very own actions.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She (the slave or Pharaoh’s daughter) opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older (two years later), she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She (Pharaoh’s daughter) named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:5-10)
And the Quran states: “Then the household (daughter and wife) of Pharaoh picked him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a cause of grief. Verily! Pharaoh, Haman, and their hosts were sinners. And the wife of Pharaoh said; “A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he maybe of a benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not (the result of that). And the heart of the mother of Moses became empty (lonely). She was very near to disclosing his (being her son), had We not strengthened her heart (with Faith), so that she might remain as one of the believers.
“She said to his (Moses’s) sister: “Follow him.” So she (his sister) watched him from a far place secretly, while they perceived not. We had already forbidden (other) foster suckling mothers for him, until she (his sister came and) said: “Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and sincerely look after him in a good manner?” So did We restore him to his mother, that she might be delighted, and that she might not grieve, that she might know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of them know not. (Quran 28:8-13)
The Quran teaches that both Pharaoh’s daughter and wife joined together to prevent Pharaoh and his evil advisor Haman from killing baby Moses; for alone they would nor have succeeded.
We see again that the differences between the Quran and the Torah are the result of different lessons being derived from the same events. These different lessons are not in opposition to one another; they complement and enrich each other.
When we follow Muhammad’s teaching to “believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.” we always gain a better understanding of God’s will and of our own Sacred Scriptures.
Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.
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