Monday, October 4, 2010

Banu Qurayza and Peace In The Muslim Word (part II)

In our previous post we discussed the massacre of the Jews of Banu Qurayza by the army of Muhammad. This elicited a thoughtful response (see below), in which similar acts of violence in the Old Testament were cited. My critic is correct; the Koran is not the only religious text which justifies acts of violence, but they are overlooking some essential facts and context:

1) In this day and age, the majority of religiously inspired violence originates in the Islamic World, not with Jewish, Christians, Buddhists or Hindu communities, hence it is far more pertinent to address negative elements in Islamic text and theology than it is to address these elements in other religions.

2) Furthermore, a significant portion of Islamic violence is occurring between different factions of the Islamic world, such as the suicide bombings and massacres committed by Sunni Muslims against Pakistan's Shi'a and Ahmadiya minorities. This makes self reflection and reform in the Islamic World even more essential.

3) Conversely, over time, Jews and other groups have been able to develop theological or social mechanisms to minimize the negative elements in their texts. For example, the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is filled with exhortations to execute people for minor offenses like breaking the Shabbat. However, in the Talmud a multitude of restrictions were placed on the death penalty, so much so that Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azariah stated that a Sanhedrin (Jewish Court) that put a man to death even once in 70 years is considered destructive. (Mishnah, Makkot 1:10). And the great Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan said "the rules of evidence and other safeguards that the Torah provides to protect the accused made it all but impossible to actually invoke these (death) penalties." To further increased reform and humanization of Judaism, Jews have created Conservative, Reform and Reconstructions branches. Unfortunately similar efforts by thoughtful Muslims have barely scratched the surface of the Islamic World.

They attacked Midian just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed all the men. All five of the Midianite kings – Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba – died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. Then the Israelite army captured the Midianite women and children and seized their cattle and flocks and all their wealth as plunder. They burned all the towns and villages where the Midianites had lived. After they had gathered the plunder and captives, both people and animals, they brought them all to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and to the whole community of Israel, which was camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho.

Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. "Why have you let all the women live?" he demanded. "These are the very ones who followed Balaam's advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD's people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves. Numbers 31:7-18, Torah

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