Humanity of the Lost Holy Land
While we watch the spread of anger and bitterness consume the lands once known as ‘Holy’, it’s worth pondering the underlying malady which contains the root of this thousand-of-years-old pandemic and its possible remedy.
Recently, I posted the 1st Article of The Declaration of Human Rights. It is significant in the context of human consciousness and its connection to natural law. Unlike the Ten Commandments, it doesn’t mention the worship of God, but it does sanctify the freedom to do so.
As a child born after the war, I witnessed the after-effect of that unprecedented global disaster shape the modern mind and structures of human politic thereafter. The 2nd World War indeed made us more aware that the earth we live on was only one world, and all were subject to the outcome of the reverberations and events that take place upon it. The Declaration reminded us of that, and of the rights and responsibilities of being human.
When looking at the conflict we see today in the land which was once Holy, we’re going to hear the same argument which formed the secular proposition: that it is ‘Religion’ that causes wars. Oh, really? Was it Religion that caused the deaths of 75 million human beings, the greatest amount of killing by far ever seen on Earth during one single conflict? Or was it actually the opposite: Fascism and belief in one’s pre-destined, racial superiority?
I believe it is the lack of true faith and actions of goodness—which it is intended to bring about—that causes most of humanity’s greatest failings. This brings me to the point I want to make: if Religion does not make you a better human being then it is not to be used as a cover-up or excuse to pretend that you are better or more worthy than anyone else. To the Last Prophet was sent this verse, “Surely the noblest, most honourable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God.” (The Qur’an, 49:13)
Before you condemn me for quoting the Prophet and delving into the back storage to retrieve and build those ancient barricades of prejudice again, let me tell you something else. I also carried serious doubts about Islam and Muslims. Being a child brought up of Christian parents, and having gone to a Roman Catholic school for all of my most impressionable and culturally formative years, I was certainly no fan of Muslims.
But years later, on my search for a brighter, peaceful and truthful existence, I was given the chance to learn more. What I discovered, and what many Muslims may have forgotten, is that the Faith of Abraham (because in essence that is what Islam asserts to be) is the same faith that all true messengers of God taught. When Jesus, peace be upon him, was asked, what is the greatest commandment? He replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew, 22: 36-40)
Well now, is that belief really the underlying cause of so many wars and conflicts in the world? Do me a favour, please.
And so, after learning more about Islam directly from the Qur’an (and not from what people perceive it to be according to the Book of Others), whenever I looked at scripture again after that, everything became much more transparent. The consistency was crystal clear, Morning had broken one might say. Returning to the aforementioned quote of the Prophet, peace be upon him, here is is the whole verse to be found in the Qur’an:
“O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another. Surely the noblest, most honourable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (The Qur’an, 49:13)
Now, another thing we need to mention is the status of the Children of Israel. The Qur’an mentions them repeatedly reminding of the favours granted to them by God.
“O Children of Israel, remember My favour which I have bestowed upon you and fulfil My covenant [upon you] that I will fulfil your covenant [from Me], and be afraid of [only] Me.” (The Qur’an, 2:40)
And so we ask ourselves about this ‘favour’ which was especially but not exclusively granted to the Children of Israel (the Twelve Tribes that were generated from the twelve sons of Jacob—also known as ‘Israel’). Well, there is primarily the gift of freedom and escape from the tyranny of Egypt’s Pharaoh, followed by the culmination of God’s favour in the imparting of Laws to the Prophet Moses on Mount Sinai, peace be upon him.
Those were the 10 Commandments I learnt in primary school. Still engraved on my young heart; a reminder of what it means to be ‘good’. Actually, the laws tell us what we need to know to make us more just and human too, because they were not just meant to be a gift for the Children of Israel, but a code for the balance and guidance of humanity as a whole. With that Divine gift came a great responsibility to live according to that knowledge and share it with the rest of humanity; being good to your neighbour surely means exactly that—equal consideration for all.
Now, as we measure those grand universal laws against the behaviour of those now creating havoc, while claiming the Divine right of inhabitance in the land once known as Holy, we soon realise that the righteousness demanded by God for accommodation in His Sacred City demands a lot more than a mere claim and ownership to a printed passport.
When I read the commandments, I am reminded of the profound message of unity and human brotherhood which religion, when understood for its true transformative and charitable nature, can produce, “What can be the reward of good but good” says the Qur’an (55:60). During the Last Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage he spoke these words:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a White has no superiority over a Black nor a Black has any superiority over a White except by piety and good action.”
The Qur’an taught me to respect and honour all the prophets and messengers of God and make no discrimination between any of them. Islam was the only complete Religion I found which encompassed and mentioned previous revelations, explaining the Oneness of Spirit which linked through all of them. The same cannot necessarily be said about previous scriptures and sacred texts, even though predictions of the ‘Prophet to come’ do exist.1
“Say, ‘We believe in God and what He has revealed to us and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and their descendants, and what was revealed to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among them and to God we have submitted ourselves.’” (The Qur’an, 2:136)
It was that all embracing message of Islam that I understood when I walked through the door of the Al-Aqsa Mosque back in 1977 as Cat Stevens. That was historically the first prayer I ever made in congregation.
“Say to them: “O people of the Book, you have no ground (for argument) until you follow the Torah and the Gospel and what has been revealed to you by your Lord.” But what has been revealed to you by your Lord will surely increase rebellion and unbelief in many; so do not grieve for those who do not believe.” (The Qur’an, 5:68)
These days the Children of Israel are celebrating the festival of Shavuot, marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. You may also be interested to know that the Last Prophet used to observe fasting on Ashura, commemorating the day that Moses and the Israelites were saved from Pharaoh by God creating a path in the Sea. On that day most Muslims—including myself—continue to practice that.
Yes, I still believe in the Peace Train.
Joseph (the unwanted brother)
17 May 2021
*Image: Mount Sinai in Egypt, where Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) received the 10 Commandments.
1The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. (Genesis, 49:10)
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (Deutronomy, 18:15-22)
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor know Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in; you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John, 14: 16, 17, 26)