8-Surah Fatiha and Jewish History

In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. (All) praise is (due) to Allah, Lord of the worlds. The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. Sovereign of the Day of Judgement. It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path. The path of those upon whom you have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked (Your) anger or of those who have gone astray.

Surah Fatiha

This is the first surah in the Quran and the cornerstone of the 5 daily prayers. It is repeated over 17 times a day by millions of practicing Muslims. A supplication of this importance shouldn’t be taken lightly. What is being asked? What exactly do the last two lines imply? Guide us to the straight path…not the path of those who evoked (Your) anger or those who have gone astray. Who are those who have gone or were led astray and what did they do to stray from the straight path?

According to Quranic exegesis (tafsir commentary), “those” are the Jews and the Christians. If Muslims are asking, actually pleading, not to follow in their footsteps, and repeat their misguidance, then studying Jewish history should be at the forefront of Islamic studies. Jewish history is Islamic history.

A brief overview of Judaism and Islam:

The Torah (Pentateuch) constitutes the first five books of the Bible, and is regarded by Christians as The Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

According to traditional Judaism there were two Torahs given to Moses. The Written Torah revealed by God to Moses on Sinai and the Oral Torah, explanation of the Written Torah and how to implement its laws and instructions.

Orthodox Jews believe the Oral Torah, now called the Talmud, was passed down generation to generation in an unbroken chain of oral transmissions. It was committed to writing following the Second Temple destruction (70 CE) to unify Judaic theology in the Jewish diaspora. They also believe the Written Torah is impossible to understand or interpret without the Oral Torah. Without the oral tradition, the rabbis believed the Torah would simply be abstract ideas, not specific to the a certain people, Israel. The Oral Torah was updated as new laws, not connected with the Written Torah, were introduced. The Oral Torah, or Talmud, connects the life and times of Moses, his exodus, and the people of Israel with the Written Torah. The Written and Oral Torah together constitute the Judaic Law.

  • Muslims believe Allah revealed the Quran to Prophet Mohammad along with Its explanation and how to implement Its laws and instruction (hadith). The Prophet’s hadith are said to be passed down generation to generation in an unbroken chain of oral transmissions compiled and written over 200 years following the Prophet’s death. The hadith books served to unify Islamic theology throughout the growing Islamic Empire. Muslims also believe that it is impossible to understand or interpret the Quran without the explanations contained in the oral traditions. Without hadith, the Quran would be abstract ideas, unconnected in time to a certain people. The hadith connects the life of the Prophet, his migration (exodus), and the people of Mecca/Medina to the Quran.
  • The Quran and sunnah (derived from hadith) constitute Islamic Sharia Law. This oral tradition allowed for amendments and supplements to the Quranic statutes. For example, the punishment for blasphemy is not in Quran, it is introduced into Sharia Law through hadith.

The Talmud (Oral Torah) contains the mishnah and the gemara and is traditionally called the Shas, Hebrew abbreviation for the six orders of the Mishnah. The six books of the mishnah were compiled in the third century to keep up with the increasing number of laws that were not mentioned in the Written Torah. Such as the ritual purity laws and what constitutes kosher.

  • Islam has the Kutub al-Sittah, Arabic for the six books. These books (each having numerous volumes) were compiled by six sunni Muslim scholars in the ninth century. They allowed Islamic scholars to introduce new legal rulings and instruction not mentioned in the Quran. A few examples are the halal method of slaughter, instruction on prayers, and ritual purity.

The second part of the Talmud, the gemara, is the detailed commentary and analysis on the mishnah by Jewish authorities, the rabbis.

  • The books of tafsir, or exegesis, are a detailed commentary and analysis of the hadith and Quran by Muslim scholars.

The midrash further expands on the mishnah’s exegesis. The Jews in the Hellenistic period were quite familiar with Greek mythology, and the midrash was considered by some as Jewish mythology. It is a behind the scenes commentary on the lives of the prophets. It also allowed rabbis to introduce new laws, such as details of the Sabbath.

  • The hadith and tafsir literature, like the midrash, fills in the blanks not mentioned in the Quran. For example, the personal life of the Prophet, how many wives, their names etc… It also allowed for new laws to be introduced into the Sharia by Islamic scholars such as the rituals behind the five pillars of Islam; how to pray, how much zakat, how to perform hajj etc…

In Arabia, Jewish folklore (Talmudic stories) eventually crossed over to take guise as Islamic folklore, hadith. In Haddithu ‘an bani isra’ila wa-Ia haraja, the Prophet is claimed to narrate there is no sin in sharing the stories of bani Israel (people of the Israel). This opened the doors for Jewish tradition to enter into Islam. reference

  • The midrash and hadith both tell the same story of Abraham’s sacrifice. The Talmud says the sacrificial son was Isaac, while the son in the Islamic guise of the story is Ishmael.

The Torah and Talmud have a pattern of humans arguing with God. Abraham, Job, and Moses are among the prophets mentioned to have argued with God. Among the many discourses between Moses and God, Moses successfully persuades God to change His mind about destroying the people of Israel for making the golden calf.

  • In the hadith of Isra and Miraj, the Prophet’s night journey to heaven, Moses directs Prophet Mohammad to go back again and again to bargain with God to reduce the number of daily prayers from 50 to 10 then finally to 5. This literary parallel with the Torah and Talmud should not go unnoticed. Moses, as in the Talmudic discourse, is the wise sage who has more experience in talking to God and arguing, bargaining, or persuading Him to change His mind. Is this an authentic hadith narrated by the Prophet? Or is it folklore influenced by Judaism?

Back to the verses in question:

Guide us to the straight path…not the path of those who evoked (Your) anger or those who have gone astray.

Judaism and Islam not only cross paths, they share a parallel path. History illustrates that Muslims have followed in the footsteps of those who have evoked (Your) anger and those who have gone astray, all the while asking to be saved from this very path.

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