Does Islam teach that Jews are entitled to Israel? A distinguished group of Muslims joins us today for our panel discussion. Our guests:
Mohamed El-Mallah, a board member of Al-Ittihad Mosque in Vista, former board member of Islamic Center of San Diego, and an associate member of the Muslim American Society. A native of Egypt who migrated to the U.S. seven years ago, he is an activist in the Muslim Community of San Diego who has given many series of presentations on Islamic History.
Prof. Khaleel Mohammed, Assistant Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. He has sparked controversy within the Islamic community by arguing, as a Muslim himself, that the Koran says Israel belongs to the Jews.
Salim Mansur, a writer and a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.
FP: Mohamed El-Mallah, Khaleel Muhammed and Salim Mansur, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Prof. Mohammed let me begin with you.
As a Muslim, you have argued that the Koran teaches that Israel belongs to the Jews. This has provoked quite a bit of criticism of you from some quarters of the Islamic community. Could you briefly restate your arguments for us?
Let me try to get us started: in your view, you hold that Islam itself teaches that Jerusalem is not within Muslim geography. And since you also hold that conquest of foreign territory is also not an injunction of Islam, then it means that Muslims should not wage war against Israel and Jews. Correct?
Mohammed: Thanks for a wonderful synopsis Jamie. My argument is extremely simple: the Qur'an says "this day I have completed for you your religion." (Q5:3). One of the laws of Qur’anic exegesis is simple: The basic rule in speech is literalness (al asl fi al kalaam, al haqiqa). How LATER exegetes chose to reinterpret, refract and revise those verses is meaningless in terms of what the Qur’an therefore says, and what we can prove.
EVERY researcher in the field knows that Muhammad died in 632 and that at that time, his control extended only over what we may now consider as present day Saudi Arabia. The Qur’an talks also about it being an Arabic document, addressed to a people "so that they may think/reflect (la'allakum ta'qilun)...now this would be an extremely nonsensical statement, indeed downright triumphalist and racist, if the God of the Qur'an were to be implying that the surrounding, non-Arabophonic lands should (a) convert to Islam, a religion whose main scripture is in Arabic or that (2) in order to understand God, these people had to change their language (3) or that only Arab speakers are capable of intellectual analysis.
I am of course aware that Muslims have relied on the reports of medieval chroniclers to show that Muhammad sent letters of invitation to the neighboring countries etc. As respected historians have shown us, among them Tarif Khalidi, Hugh Kennedy, Stephen Humphreys et. al have shown us, much of this history is created.
To put it bluntly, the chroniclers, writing long after Muhammad's death, created fictions--referring to non-existent letters, events to legitimize their forays and empire building. And they did not stop there--despite the fact that the Qur'an took a severe stance--a proto-karaite, almost Sadducean stance against non-scriptural sources, the Muslims created a new source--the hadith literature. And it is this hadith literature--along with fictitious history--that is often used to explain the Qur’an.
Look around you: who explains the Qur'an in the mosques? People who have been, in a best case scenario, trained in the madrassas--with only the prejudice of faith-based creeds, refracting the Qur’an by the hadith that knows little love for non-Muslims, and champions Islamic supercession.
In a worst case scenario, people who have NO formal training in Islam get to spout their interpretations; which for the most part in the US and Canada, happen to be those who come from countries that, by force of circumstance, interpret the Qur’an as if its main focus is against Jews, Israel and non-Muslims.
El-Mallah: Prof. Mohammed based his argument that Islam belongs only to the Arabs (represented geographically by Saudi Arabia) on three points, which I will tackle in order:
1-“This day I have completed for you your religion." (Q5:3).
The word “Religion” is defined in the dictionary as “A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” There is no way the word religion can be used to limit the geographical borders of Islam or the racial borders of Muslims.
Applying the same rule (i.e., Qur’an verses are literalness) Q6:90, Q12:104, Q25:1, Q38:87, Q68:52, and Q81:27 say clearly that Qur’an is a message for the Worlds and Q21:107 say clearly that Muhammad (pbuh) is a prophet sent by God as a mercy for the Worlds. It would be interesting to apply Prof. Mohammed’s logic on Christianity, saying it is only meant for the people who speak and understand Hebrew or Aramaic fluently. I guess that will leave most of the current Christians without a religion.
2 - Prophet Muhammad’s control (at the time of his death) extended only over what we may now consider as present day Saudi Arabia. This is simply not true; Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had control over Yemen, Bahrain, southern areas of Jordan. (Refer to Tabakat Ibn Sa’ad, Sirat Ibn Hisham, The Spread of Islam by Thomas Arnold, to name very few.)
3 - Prophet Muhammad’s letters of invitation to the neighboring countries.
Prof. Mohammed concentrated too much on the validity of these letters, but it is not really relevant at this point, because there are proofs that the Prophet (pbuh) communicated and interacted with his non-Arab neighbor countries, to spread Islam. To name a few: I) Two battles that happened in Jordan (Tabook and Mo’ta) against the army of the Byzantine Empire. II) The army, which he had prepared a short time before his death intended for Syria. III) The Prophet’s (pbuh) wife, Maria the Egyptian, who was sent to him by the governor of Egypt in response to the Prophet’s letter to him. Maria gave birth to the Prophet’s (pbuh) son Ibrahim, who died as an infant.
Mansur: Thanks, Jamie, for inviting me into this discussion. Let me state at the outset that I am not a scholar of the Quran nor Hadith in the same way Professor Khaleel Mohammed is and, I understand from your introduction, Mr Mohamed El-Mallah is presumably. I approach this subject and the question you have posed as a Muslim deeply interested due to faith considerations, and from the perspective of history and politics with the tools of modern philosophy.
Both Professor Mohammed and Mr El-Mallah have staked out their positions by citing verses from the Qur’an. For Muslims the incontrovertible text of their faith tradition is of course the Qur’an, and all matters of dispute or controversy of a personal or public nature might and should be referred to the Qur’an. Yet the Quran does not read itself, never did except with the Prophet Muhammad, and this fact though readily obscured should never be lost sight of. From the opening remarks made to your questions by the other participants, I find myself mostly in concurrence with Professor Muhammad when he points out how in the post-Prophetic age Muslims began conjuring fake traditions for political reasons.
I will go further and suggest that the followers of Prophet Muhammad immediately after his demise began to appropriate for themselves roles in public life that were inadmissible, and this continues to be the problem right into our time. While the Qur’an was taken as a blueprint for social order by the first generation of Muslims, a political slant was put in place in the reading of the Qur’an opening a space between its universal moral message for a people - Arabs of the desert who for reasons unknown to mortal men had lived outside of the divine economy of things before Muhammad - and its particular guidance to an individual raised to prophethood instructing him on how to prevail over the opposition of his people and the tribes among whom he was placed. In time this space widened so immensely that the universal message of the Qur’an keeps getting trumped by Muslims obsessed with the particular confusing their own position with that of the prophet, whether it be in dealing with issues among themselves or in engaging with others beyond their own faith tradition.
It is from this perspective I suggest that the problem of Arabs and Muslims associated with the question of Jerusalem and the Holy Land has accumulated over time. I want to emphasize here a point already alluded to before I sign off. I trust I will be able to return to it in later rounds. The claims and counter-claims Muslims make on the basis of the Qur’an can only be arguments put forth by Muslims reflecting their understandings and their political inclinations, not necessarily what remain hidden and belong to divine prerogative and preserve. Unless we keep the two apart we will be doing what Muslims have readily done through 14 centuries, confusing their politics by claiming rights from the Qur’an and inflicting on the Qur’an meanings with an arrogance totally inappropriate as they bend the sacred scripture to serve their pride and their fallible view of people and things. In other words, all of us Muslims have to be conscious at all times and readily admit as we engage ourselves in such discussions of our limitations as we reflect on the words of the Qu’ran and the prophetic example before us, that the ultimate meaning of these matters remain with God and we will know of our errors eventually when we are gathered before Him.
FP: Thank you Prof. Mansur. Prof. Mohammed please feel free to make a rejoinder to the comments made by the guests. But within your answer, kindly continue to help us crystallize one of the main questions of this symposium: Is it Islamic or Un-Islamic for Muslims to wage war against Israel – as well as against non-believers throughout the world?
Mohammed: First of all, I apologize for not having wished my two coreligionists a fruitful Ramadan and a Happy Eid. Since I was first, I should have started with that wish.
Re Mr. El-Mallah's points:
 I thank him for providing a definition of “religion” based on the English dictionary--although most linguists would tell you that "religion" is not a proper equivalent of "din" and that the Qur’an should not be detailed by foreign lexicology. But even so, the term “spiritual leader” is significant...Muhammad was spiritual leader to whom?
The important words of the verse, however are "for you" and "your" as in "This day I have completed for you your religion. Some people are being addressed...and who are they? Those to whom ARABIC makes sense...the community of Muhammad's time--his ARABIC speaking people. To emphasize this obvious point, the possessive is applied "your religion". Such possessive only can apply to something to denote a boundary--in this case, the people of the unlettered prophet.
 On the literalness of the verses, the problem is that I only gave a part of it, and Mr. el-Mallah, I assumed would have, as a representative of a mosque, know the full extent of this rule regarding literalness: unless there is something that denotes a limitation or condition. So Muhammad is addressing the ARABS, and telling them that he is a mercy for ALL HUMANKIND? Even those who are faraway in South, North America, and lands not known to the Arabs? Even when he takes time to define himself and his people by the Qur'anic references to "gentile people" and by saying that to each nation has been sent a prophet? A remembrance for all the worlds, a mercy for all the worlds...simply refers in context to those who are of his world...his own Arabs.
 On the issue of Christianity, Hebrew and Aramaic...I will leave that alone since it appears that from his raising the issue, Mr. El-Mallah is unaware of the controversy regarding it. Why he, as a professed historian, mentions Hebrew and Christian thought is beyond me.
 If you look at my letter you will see that I spoke of the general area of control that Muhammad had at the time of his death. That he may have fought battles to prevent incursions to the lands of what he and his people perceived as Arabia I do not deny. But I find it rather frustrating that after all my reference and outlining of the problems of Muslim historiography--or what passes as historiography--Ibn Sad (d. 845) and Ibn Hisham (d. 833) should be cited as references. Certainly they were not eyewitnesses! I would be willing to say I am wrong if there is any non-Islamic corroborating evidence. Thomas Arnold is now a reference for a Muslim historian? Oy ve.
 Letters of invitation: It is well known, as from chapter 30, that the Romans and Persians were vying for power in the region. To send out an army to stop a threat in its tracks does not constitute spreading of a religion. And there is a logical problem in Mr. El-Mallah's answer: he concurs that the validity of letters are problematic and then seeks to make a claim that involves accepting the claim of validity of a letter Muhammad purportedly sent to the governor of Egypt? This befuddles me, and so I take time of inform Mr. El-Mallah of a rule known to all historians of Islamic discussion: Proof is the burden of the claimant. He says there are proofs --I have debunked those "proofs"--and so he has to still prove his point. I don't deny Marya was sent to the prophet--a present from a powerful person (a Christian) to a prophet who respects Jesus is something that was totally logical. I don't see why it had to be in response to a letter of invitation to Islam. If a letter was sent, what were the contents as proven by reliable reports?
In response to Prof. Mansur: as the Arabs would say, his words are my words---although I balk at using the term "universal" to describe Muhammad's message for reasons already outlined.
Israel. No Muslim that I know of, and I KNOW that Mr. el-Mallah is vehemently opposed to the concept, feels that Muslims must wage war against non-believers. Even Osama and his band of idiots claim that they are simply trying to rescue Muslim lands from foreign influence--it is not just a matter of fighting non-believers. Re Israel: there is no issue of subjective understanding of the Qur'an or a refraction of what the Qur'an wants to say on Israel.
The main issue regarding Muslims and war is as far as it pertains to
: O my people! Enter the HOLY LAND that GOD has WRITTEN FOR YOU" are the Qur’anic words put into Moses mouth, supposedly by divine mandate. For Muslims, the Qur’an is God's word...that means that HOLY LAND belongs to those to whom Moses addressed as "MY PEOPLE." "Written for you" as ALL Muslim exegetes agree means "Enjoined upon you." As in "Written upon you is the fast."--one of the verses that Muslims use to show the obligatory nature of the fast of Ramadan. Israel was NOT part of Islamic geography at Muhammad's death. I agree with Prof. Mansur--pace fellow Muslims--that "the followers of Muhammad immediately after his demise began to appropriate roles in public life that were inadmissible..." Among those roles were those of empire builders. . .
FP: Thank you Mr. Mohammed, I must say I am a bit confused at the image of a God that only cares about certain people. Let me get this right, Allah is the one and only God but he is basically just concerned with Arabs and isn’t really interested in anyone else? The myriad implications here boggle the mind. So when a South American Christian or a Russian Jew pray to God, Allah is up there but no one is listening? Or are there other Gods listening to them? But Islam is monotheistic right?? Kindly educate me on how this would work. What happens to the souls of unbelievers (in Allah) who lived a religious and noble life piously following other faiths?
Or are you saying that God is Allah to the Arabs but goes by other names and gives other rules of salvation to other peoples?
You say that you don’t know “one” Muslim who believes that he is obligated to wage war on unbelievers. Ok, do you know “one” Muslim who thinks that the unbeliever is a lower equal than himself and that he should not be friends and hang out with him?
Go ahead El-Mallah, and within your answer, kindly comment on my questions and on Prof. Mohammed’s view on ahadith.
El-Mallah: I will respond first to the "Islam being for Arabs only" topic, since it will contribute significantly to any conclusion to the main subject (i.e., the Holy Land):
1. The word "Deen" (the closet translation of it in English is Religion) NEVER meant, implied or included a geographical border of Islam or a racial borders of Muslims, NEVER, not in Islamic fiqh and not in the Arabic language. I think Prof. Khaleel is trying to invent a new definition of the word.
2. Allah (SWT) when he said "Your Religion," in Q5:3, you have to refer to the preceding verses to know who Allah (SWT) is addressing. Prof. Khaleel claims that
they are the Arabs, but Allah (SWT) in Q5:1 and Q5:2 clearly addresses All the believers.
3. Some of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH), many of the followers of the companions, many of the great scholars of Islam, and some of the Caliphs were not
Arabs. The above was never an issue since the time of the Prophet (PBUH).
4. Q33:40 describes Muhammad (PBUH) as the last prophet, if he is only for the Arabs, who will deliver the message of Allah (SWT) to you and me (since I'm originally not Arab, I'm originally Egyptian/Copt)?
5. Prof. Khaleel said it clearly that the basic rule in speech is literalness and he accused LATER exegetes of being meaningless when it comes to reinterpreting some verses. But he clearly does not do what he preaches, Q21:107 clearly says that Muhammad (PBUH) is a prophet sent by God as a mercy for the "Worlds," Prof. Khaleel claimed that the "Worlds" here means the Arabs, which is clearly not the literal meaning of the word. Now he has to prove to us how he came up with this conclusion and the proof should not be just that it made sense to him. The word "Worlds" in Arabic was used in Qur’an a lot, and never meant a specific race, one example in the first chapter of Qur’an where Allah (SWT) describes Himself by saying "The Lord of the Worlds." Let alone in other 60 times in Qur’an, in some, this word is used in text where Allah (SWT) talking to non-Arabs, how can it be that Prof. Khaleel limited the word definition to a specific race!
6. Q34:28 says clearly that the Prophet was sent to all the mankind WITH NO EXCEPTION (Kaafah).
7. Finally, Allah (SWT) clearly orders the Jews (all the children of Israel) (Q2:41) to follow Muhammad (PBUH), how can that be, if Islam is for Arabs only?
I urge Prof. Khaleel not to put words in my mouth, he said about me "he concurs that the validity of letters are problematic," which I did not say, please refer to what I said.
On the contrary, I'm convinced that Prophet (PBUH) sent letters to kings and leaders of Non-Arab countries inviting them to Islam (Sealed Nectar, HamiduAllah: Raasool Akram, Zad Al Mia'ad)
Allah (SWT) promised that He will protect Al-Zikr (Q15:9), Prof. Mohammad might choose to interpret Al-Zikr to be only Qur’an, but if Allah(SWT) chose Muhammad (PBUH) to explain Qur’an to people, and ordered the people to follow and obey Muhammad (PBUH), so the protection has to extend to the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH). Case in point, the prayer format, performing Hajj and the Zakkah percentage (three main pillars of Islam) are explained in details only in Hadith.
Imposters through the history managed to introduce fake Hadith and claim it to the Prophet (PBUH), but they tried to do the same to Qur’an as well. Allah(SWT) protected Qur’an on the hands of the men who wrote it and memorized it and collected it. And He protected Hadith on the hands of the scholars who memorized it, collected it, and traced its chain of narrators.
Regarding your question Jamie: There is only One God, and He is the God of all
creatures. God cares about all of His creations and specifically Mankind (Q17:70), which He honored and preferred them, and He is listening to all of them. I will elaborate more next time on the relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims and what happen to the non-Muslims in the Day of Judgment.
To continue reading this symposium, click here.