There is a special relationship between Muslims and Jews. Both are what is termed in Arabic ahl-e kitab or ‘People of the Book’. Both hold the Prophet Abraham, who is the father of all the prophets, in high esteem.
There are three what are often called ‘Semitic’ religions. In terms of seniority, the first of these is Judaism, followed by Christianity and then Islam. The Prophet Muhammad gave a special position to all the Semitic religions. There are several references in the Quran and the Hadith that testify to this special position.
The Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God in 610 CE. And after his wife Khadijah, the first person he shared this experience with was a Christian scholar, Waraqah ibn Nawfal. At that time, there were no Jews in Mecca, but there were many in Medina. When the Prophet migrated to Medina, he gave a very special position to the three Jewish tribes who lived there. For instance, for several months he adopted their qiblah or prayer-direction, praying in the direction of the Jerusalem, which was the qiblah of the Jews.
Another illustration of this special position that the Prophet Muhammad gave the Jews was the sahifat ul-madinah or the Madinah Declaration that he issued, which had a clause that said Lil-yahud dinuhum wa lil-muslimin dinuhum, that is, ‘For Jews their religion, for Muslims their religion.’
One day, the Prophet was seated and he saw the funeral procession of Jewish person pass by. On witnessing this, he stood up, in respect. Thereupon, one of his Companions who was surprised at this action of the Prophet mentioned to him that the deceased had been a Jew (and not a Muslim). To this the Prophet replied, “Was he not a human being?”
Here you can see that the Prophet established a point of commonality between himself and the deceased Jew. This is something very important.
One day, it is said, a Muslim and a Jew began to quarrel. The Jewish man claimed that Moses was superior to all the prophets. The Muslim man, for his part, insisted that the Prophet Muhammad was the greatest of the prophets. This heated exchange led them to approach the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet’s response is really very instructive. He said: “On the Day of Judgment all people will be struck unconscious and I will be the first to regain consciousness. Behold! There I will see Moses [already] holding on to one of the pillars of God’s throne. I will wonder whether he became conscious before me, or if he was exempted altogether [from becoming unconscious], because of his becoming unconscious [previously] at the Mount Tur [on the earth].” (Source: Sahih al-Bukhari)
All these many references clearly show that Islam gives a very special position to the Jewish community, as well as to the Christian community. Now, I do know that there are some differences between Muslims and Jews, essentially about the land of Israel or Palestine, but it is very important to note here that these differences are political, and not religious, in nature.
These are political problems that can very easily be solved. Today, we live in the age of the United Nations. The best way to solve the Israel-Palestine issue is for the parties to the dispute to accept the UN as arbitrator and to willingly accept whatever decision it may come up with.
There is a verse of the Quran (5:21) in which Moses addresses the Children of Israel in these words: “O my people! Enter the holy land which God has assigned for you.” This means that God has given Palestine as an assigned land to the Jews. This means just the same thing as what the Bible says about Palestine being the promised land for the Jews. So, I say to Muslims and to the Arabs: “Accept the Jewish people as your neighbours. Don’t take them as enemies or rivals. You and they have to live together in the Holy Land as good neighbours, with no rivalry or enmity.”
(Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a leading New Delhi-based Islamic scholar, heads the Centre for Peace and Spirituality [www.cpsglobal.org] This essay is based on Maulana Wahidddin Khan’s interaction with a group of members of the well-known Jewish organisation B‘nai B‘rith in October 2015. You can watch a video recording of this interactive session on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WtsK3mrkEQ)