By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
07 November 2019
The Qur'an is the only book of revelation that includes within itself a theory of prophethood which includes other religions. There have always been (since the days of Adam) people inspired by God who urged their society to avoid destruction by turning away from its corrupt and unjust ways and turning to the One God who created all humans. The Qur'an mentions 25 prophets by name (most of them known to non-Muslims too), and Muslims believe there were some one hundred twenty four thousand others, whose names are now unknown. Of the 25 mentioned by name in the Qur'an, only four (Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad) revealed books of sacred scripture that are the bases for three religions that still flourish today.
According to the Qur'an, every nation in the world receives at least one prophet who speaks to it in its own language. However, one nation, the Children of Israel, has received a great many prophets. The Qur'an doesn't explicitly tell us why so many prophets arose within the Children of Israel, but a careful reading of the Qur'an reveals an answer. This was what I learned from a profound and enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Khan in a book entitled Jewish-Muslim Encounters edited by Charles Selengut (Paragon House 2001). The book is a collection of 11 papers given at a conference in Cordoba, Spain, sponsored by the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace.
This very enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Khan stimulated me as a Reform Rabbi to realize that, as opposed to the accusations of some who blame the Qur’an for being antagonistic toward Jews, the many narrations in the Qur’an present events from Jewish history as archetypal events for all humanity to draw lessons from. The Qur'an stresses again that one part of the Children of Israel was faithful and another party was not. This was also stressed by the Prophets of Israel. Perhaps the fact that the spiritual history of the Children of Israel was so well known in Arabia is a simple explanation of this. Or perhaps the Qur'an views the Jews as an ongoing illustration of a religious community striving to live up to its covenant with God. The Hebrew Scriptures contain the words of more than 20 prophets (starting with Prophet Samuel) delivered over at least 7 or 8 centuries; so they reflect not just the generation of any one Prophet but also the failings of the largely corrupt monarchy and nobility during many subsequent generations to abide by the words of the Prophets. This is like the failure of so many caliphs after the first four rightly-guided ones to establish a true Muslim government.
As a Rabbi, I believe that the many prophets God sent to the Children of Israel are a sign of the ongoing covenant between God and the Children of Israel. I know Muslim interpreters interpret Quran 2:63-64 to mean that the favors mentioned in these verses were conditional with a certain period of time when the Divine trust—the representation and promotion of God’s eternal religion—rested on the shoulders of the Children of Israel. The biblical religious tradition claims this trust is an “ongoing covenant” between God and the Children of Israel. Clearly, not all Jews live up to this trust, but the commitment, I believe, is ongoing for the whole community of those who do. Although many Christians claim the new covenant replaces the old covenant for all Jews and many Muslims may say that the Jewish covenant has expired for all Jews, faithful Jews remain loyal to their spiritual relationship with God. I believe wisdom dictates that we follow the Qur'an's (22:67) advice:
“For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning this matter.”
I believe the Qur’an relates this concern when Prophet Moses speaks to his people as follows:
“O my people! Remember God’s favor upon you, for He appointed among you Prophets, and rulers, and He granted to you favors such as He had not granted to anyone else in the worlds” (Quran 5:20).
Although the covenant was made with the whole community of the Children Israel, this community like all other nations, also had people among them whose hearts are like rocks that spring forth streams, while others only yield water when split, and others sink for fear of God (Quran 2:74). It is this last segment of the Children of Israel that Prophet Muhammad refers to when he rebukes the Children of Israel. The Qur'an correctly understood doesn't attack all of the Children of Israel. Every community, including the Muslim Ummah, contains groups of faithful believers and a party who disbelieve. This has always been true and will remain true until the end of time, when Judgment Day will occur.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, USA. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com His book Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism can be procured from Amazon