Monday, February 22, 2010

In 2001, a pair of books were written for the purpose of cross-cultural understanding between Jews and Muslims. One was called "Children of Abraham: an introduction to Judaism for Muslims" by Reuven Firestone and the other one was called "Children of Abraham: an introduction to Islam for Jews" by Khalid Durán.

The latter book was slammed by Muslims and Islamists as being inaccurate, and the author says that he received death threats.

The book for Muslims to learn about Judaism, written by a professor at Hebrew Union College, is now under a different type of attack.

Although both books were written under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee and the Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Institute For International Interreligious Understanding, a new Arabic translation of the book is being decried as a great danger by Israel to the Arab nation, by a columnist in Al Asharq al-Awsat:

Zionism, as a doctrine based on religious myths, is controversial and extremely racist. The international community acknowledged the danger of it and considered it a disease that must be fought against just like Nazism, Apartheid etc. For decades, Israel has been trying (by all means possible) to consolidate the idea that it has a divine right to the land of Palestine, however to no avail. Of course this idea is met with the biggest rejection from the Arab and Islamic World.
Now Israel is taking a new step in this regard, or to be more precise, an unprecedented audacious step (even for Israel!) A book has been published in Israel in Arabic by the Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding of the American Jewish Committee entitled: ‘Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims,’ by Reuven Firestone. The book opens with the following verse from Surat al Jathiya: “We did aforetime grant to the Children of Israel the Book, the Power of Command, and Prophethood; We gave them, for Sustenance, things good and pure; and We favoured them above the nations.”
The book contains numerous historical errors and fallacies. The author chose Quranic verses that praise the Children of Israel to open his book with but the truth is that this praise was not aimed at today’s Jews but the rather the People of Moses within a certain period of history. The People of Moses believed in Almighty God as the One and Only Creator and at the time they formed a unified nation. However, the Jews who came after them broke away from the divine teachings and some of them worshipped the calf and became disbelievers while others killed prophets, went back on their pledges and acted treacherously.
The book’s “dangerous” introduction aims to give an Islamic smokescreen to the Jewish claim to Palestine by misinterpreting certain Quranic verses and presenting an explanation to history that corresponds with the Jewish Zionist vision of the right to the Promised Land (whilst completely ignoring Quranic verses that criticize this). The book bases its argument on a mix of religion, history, politics and law but its points are weak and fragile and can be refuted. However, Israel is randomly sending hundreds of copies to Arab addresses in an attempt to gain new solid ground among Arab masses. It uses Islam as a pathway to achieve its goals and plays on the profound influence of religion on Arabs and Muslims. They are trying to send a malicious message here; that Israel’s existence in Palestine – by virtue of it being a “divine right” – is not only a Jewish belief but also an Islamic one.
However, Islam is very clear on this point. No Mufasirun [interpreters] of the Holy Quran or the Hadith [Prophetic traditions] or the Prophet’s Seerah have ever acknowledged that the land of Palestine was promised to the Jews or anything of the sort. War is an act of deception; Israel is now escalating its psychological war against Arabs and Muslims by presenting them with misleading, ideologized political and religious interpretations to serve its Zionist plots in an attempt to show people that the truth is on its side. Israel claims to be standing on a firm, legitimate foundation as the party that is rightfully entitled to the land of Palestine, not the Arabs.
The lies and myths of Israel are nothing new. The Israelis have made many attempts in the past to pollute our heritage and establish their lies and myths as part of the region’s history in order to base all policies, laws and systems on that distorted foundation. ‘Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims’ needs to be read carefully and countered as there is a wide base that is not qualified to interpret the Quran away from its historical context and the events that took place. This new book represents a new chapter of Israeli audacity to be added to Israel’s record of black deeds.

Whew! A book that aims to show the Jewish side of the story (and, from looking at the excerpts on the English version, its point is clearly not to interpret the Quran but to explain things from the Jewish perspective) is considered a huge danger to Arabs by this writer. Not only that, but he feels threatened by any narrative that asserts that Zionism is anything but racist and built on lies.

He must believe that Arabs' knowledge of their own history and the Quran is tenuous indeed to be this upset over a book, so that even the slightest exposure to other viewpoints is a major assault against their very beings.

And, of course, he blames Israel for being behind this immense propaganda campaign, when the entire project was apparently done by well-meaning - and very naive - Jews who are only yearning for peace. Could anyone imagine a Muslim organization being behind a similar initiative?

Once again, the utter Arab inability to look at, or attempt to understand, anything but their own ingrained narrative is an immovable obstacle to any real peace. Long-term understandings and agreements cannot occur without a degree of empathy, and this is an attribute that most Arabs simply do not exhibit. As this story proves, they don't only lack empathy - they actively fight against the possibility of any of them gaining empathy, as if learning another viewpoint is danger to their very sense of identity.

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