By Shahul Hameed (ReadingIslam.com)
Many Jews may be surprised to learn that Islam as preached by Muhammad, may the mercy and blessing of God be upon him, was the same religion preached by Abraham, as well as of all other prophets mentioned in the Torah and the Bible. Muslims honor all the prophets of the Jews – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon among others – as their own prophets.
Here is how God ordered Muhammad to follow the religion of the Patriarch Abraham:
“And lastly, We have inspired thee, O Muhammad, with this message: Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God.” (Quran 16:23)
In fact, the most important belief that unites Muslims and Jews is the faith in the One God as the Creator, Sustainer and Law-Giver of the universe. Both religions teach the need for establishing the Law of God on earth, so that there will be peace and harmony flourishing everywhere.
As Muslims have a Shariah (Law) to live by, the Jews have their Halakha (a compendium of laws, based on the Torah).
It is particularly noteworthy that in the Quran, there is no story that is recounted as many times and with as much emphasis, as the story of the bondage of the Children of Israel and their subsequent deliverance from Egypt’s Pharaoh. The Quran quotes Moses as saying to his people:
“O my people! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, and made you your own masters, and granted unto you favors such as He had not granted to anyone else in the world.” (Quran 5:20)
It was Moses, with the help and guidance of God Almighty, who led them out of Egypt towards a land of promise. God in the Quran says what means:
“O children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favored you above all other people. And guard yourselves against a day when no soul will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be received from it, nor will they be helped. And remember the time when We saved you from Pharaoh’s people, who afflicted you with cruel suffering, slaughtering your sons and sparing only your women — which was an awesome trial from your Sustainer; and when We cleft the sea before you, and thus saved you and caused Pharaoh’s people to drown before your very eyes.” (Quran 2:47-50)
The story is narrated elsewhere in the Quran, where we may read these verses:
“We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit to God.” It was said to him: “Ah, now? But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! and thou didst mischief and violence! This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou may be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!”
We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, and provided for them sustenance of the best: it was after knowledge had been granted to them, that they fell into schisms. Verily God will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment.” (Quran 10:90-93)
The torments inflicted on the Children of Israel by the Pharaoh were continuous and harsh; and so God sent His prophets Moses and Aaron (peace be upon them) to warn the tyrant that he should stop the oppression of the Children of Israel and free them.
But he was arrogant and refused to free the Jewish slaves, until the last of the plagues God sent as punishment. The first-born of both man and beast were destined to fall down dead on that fateful night. Pesach, or Passover, means protection in Hebrew, and the name refers to this last of the plagues sent by God to the Egyptians. While the Egyptians suffered this plague, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites. To protect themselves, the Israelites had marked their homes with lamb’s blood so that the angel of death could easily “pass over” their homes.
Under guidance from God, the Israelites fled Egypt; while the Pharaoh and his men pursued them. It seemed like their journey would end at the Red Sea which prevented their escape.
But a miracle happened when Moses struck the water with his staff: The waves of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites hurried along the passage between the parted waves. Pharaoh and his soldiers followed; but by the time the Israelites reached the other shore, the sea closed in engulfing their pursuers. Thus the Israelites were delivered from bondage, and the Pharaoh and his people perished.
Muslims are in sympathy with the Jewish celebration of the Pesach, as the fast on Ashura amply demonstrates. When the Prophet Muhammad came to Madinah on the tenth of the lunar month of Muharram, he found that the Jews there were fasting.
“The Prophet asked them why they were fasting on this day, and they explained that it was the day that God saved the Children of Israel from the Pharaoh, and that Moses fasted in thanks on this day. The Prophet said, “We have more claim to Moses than you.” He fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on the day.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
About the Author:Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant to the Reading Islam Website. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.