The Palestine Time
A Muslim’s Point-of-View for Visiting Christian Theologians
at St. George College, East Jerusalem
I am a Muslim Palestinian. I believe in the unity of God, which is the hallmark of Islam. There is no God but Allah (this is our personalized Arabic name for God). This belief liberates my outlook, for I see the whole universe belonging to the same Allah, God, that I belong to. My love and care go unconfined to any sphere or group anywhere. This belief produces in me the highest self-esteem for the person who believes in the greatness of Allah (God), who never bows his or her head in homage to any of His creatures or who stretches out his hand to anyone else in symbolic worship. Islam imparts to my heart the consolation, the determination and the bravery to resist unjust circumstances.
This is the Islam I know and have comprehended from the Qur’an and the authentic Islamic literature; I learned about equality from Surat (chapter) Al-Hujurat:13 (verse): “O mankind, We’ve created you from a male and a female and have made you nations and tribes that you may know and interact with each other. The noblest of you in the sight of Allah (God) is the best in conduct.”
In the authentic Islamic literature, Prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him) gave us the basis for our relationship with others in the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), “You are not considered faithful in the sight of Allah (God) unless you like for your brother what you like for yourself.” These ideas are based on love and care.
Many people within the Islamic world speak in anger toward the West and do not behave according to the dictates of our Qur’an. Why? For the last century, the Islamic world has been suffering from repetitive atrocities perpetrated by the West: colonization; mandated governments not fully supportive of the rights of the indigenous people; Western-supported Arab secular and religious dictatorships; and direct and indirect interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic or Arab nations. The utmost of those aforementioned atrocities is represented by the superpower’s open financial and moral support of Zionism and the Israeli occupation in Palestine.
In reaction to such atrocities, few who follow Islam have adapted their sentiments and beliefs to those that do not fit with the lessons we were taught from the Qur’an or the other essential Islamic guide, the Hadith.
Just as some Christians can find amazingly violent justifications for perceived evils, but which we abhor today in the first five books of the Bible, some Muslims can seek out and select teachings from the Qur’an and Hadith that are easily taken out of context and used to advance their own ideology. This use of our ancient, God-given literature to support atrocities or to relate God’s will to what’s happening to us because of the modern “isms”, such as communism, nationalism, Zionism, socialism and capitalism, is not limited to East or West, Muslim or Christian. When the chips are down, people look to God’s will for justification or for relief of pain.
As an example that is relevant to our situation here in Palestine, the father of Revisionist Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, told those he sought to influence in 1923, “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can continue or develop only under the development of a force—an iron wall which the native population cannot break through.”
It isn’t surprising that some Islamists reacted to such a statement by throwing up a natural defense system. Perceiving people like Jabotinsky to be the enemy of Islam and of Palestinian Arabs—Christian or Muslim—they felt justified in fighting back.
So, the name-calling began. Those seeking to protect themselves in the name of God, the Almighty, began to say that, “It is America who has become the mother of evil. America gives the Zionists military support and finances immigration of Jews from all over the world to our land. It is America who forced the United Nations to set aside our land, illegally, for the State of Israel. It is America who consistently vetoed UN resolutions that further reduced our potential for productive lives. Surely this is aggression against the Arab and Islamic world.”
Jews and Christians alike became Zionists and Crusaders respectively in the eyes of some Islamists. Dreams about and real accounts of the European Crusades became very real in some Muslim psyches. They knew what jihad (Holy War) had meant to Richard the Third and his army of God, so it didn’t take much to turn the tables and declare jihad against the West.
Just as Christian Crusaders left their Christian values and their manners at home when they invaded the Middle East, particularly Jerusalem, many Muslims find it easy to forget the ethics of Islam and Jihad. After all, what we do in war is the result of human beings’ struggle for survival, regardless of the religious or ethical rules we learn through religious teachings.
When any group, Muslim or Christian, declares war against a people, they violate their respective religion’s doctrine of personal responsibility. The Qur’an I read says it this way, in Surat Al-Ana’am:164, “Every soul takes responsibility for his or her acts on none but himself or herself. None of us are expected to bear the burden of another.” This teaches us to be fair and not to lump a whole community as being collectively guilty for the sins of one member of that community. If someone commits a crime, it is he who has to pay for it, not anyone else from his family or from his religious or national group.
I want to share with you our part of the story: 19 Septembers ago, in 1982, I was six years old. I came downstairs for breakfast and found my parents holding the newspaper and weeping. Of course, I felt concern. Why would Mom and Dad be so upset?
“With the support and prodding of an Israeli command, Lebanese Christian forces massacred thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla.” Father read this to me, quietly and flatly, directly from the newspaper.
I didn’t quite understand the implications of my parents’ concerns on that sad morning. I really didn’t know what “massacred” meant. The words Israelis, Palestinians, Christians and refugees were not part of my vocabulary. All I knew at age six was that something really horrible had happened and that my parents grieved about it. I have always remembered that morning, although many more violent episodes have befallen us closer to home since. I remember the tears; the “why” came much later.
In September, an unspeakable horror struck the world again. But this time it wasn’t our refugee camps. This time it was the great Twin Towers World Trade Center and the proud American Pentagon that were targeted. Again, terrorism claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.
In contrast with the shock that overwhelmed the world on 11 September, Sabra and Shatilla were tucked away and mentioned only in hushed, although persistent, voices until the man who led the perpetration of those evils became Prime Minister of Israel with the support, as usual, from the United States. I ask you, has America voiced a willingness to allow Osama bin Laden to survive so that one day he may become Prime Minister of his native Saudi Arabia or his adopted country, Afghanistan? Do you see what we see when we talk about duplicity and double standards? We were not powerful enough to react at the time of Sabra and Shatilla, but we’ve held that moment in our hearts. We cannot accept the premise that ‘might makes right’, especially in terms of our Islamic gift of self-respect.
We, Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East, watch in pain and disbelief the double standards and the hypocrisy of the world. So does it really surprise you that this region is a Petri dish of festering fanatics?
President George W. Bush tells us that the world must be “With us or with the terrorists;” Bin Laden responds with the same rationale: “With Islam or with America.” Bush speaks in a Godly manner about the “Crusades”, “the infinite justice” and “leading the world to victory.” Bin Laden responds, “I swear to God, America will not dream of peace before it becomes a reality in Palestine.”
Once again the warlords of the world, ours and yours, are stirring the pot of hatred and splitting humanity into two. It will take all of our religious leaders to finally stand up and show the world what God’s Will really is, to act upon the idea that we must love our neighbours as we love ourselves and become our brother’s keepers.
Pondering on this global horror, here in Palestine, we feel the apprehension of the world’s fingers pointing at us. After all, we lived with our cries for independence and freedom for more than 50 years. We live in a place where wars, possession and repossession, taking and killing, have existed for a long time. Of course, we’re terrified.
Over the last year, the world has witnessed another flare-up of the Israeli/Palestinian violence, our chronic disease. Our ever-oppressed people against the oppressors borne of determination to occupy our land and take it for themselves through the methods Jabotinsky spelled out in 1923. Never, however, in all these dark years of occupation, have we Palestinians perceived our enemy to be Judaism or Christianity. We know that our conflict isn’t about God; it is about modern imperialism, the arrogance of taking another people’s land.
Israeli determination to endlessly expand occupation leaves us in harm’s way caused by those who take and those of us who are taken from. No matter what we do, we cannot stop the onslaught that kills us and dehumanizes us. Our homes are demolished and our land confiscated while Zionists brag to us that they have “22 other Arab countries to go to.” Now we live in mass community prisons; we walk along an extension of the Via Dolorosa through checkpoints, up and down ditches, round and about iron gates. We stare wide-eyed as the Israeli’s justify their actions saying, “Good fences makes good neighbours.” The lies of politics easily extend into the false view of the lessons our religions teach.
We Palestinians are Muslim, Christian and indigenous Jews and other religions, too, Ba’hai or Druze, for example. We have arms and legs and flesh and blood just like Americans and Israelis. Some of us have blond hair or blue eyes. We’re not all darkly mysterious. We love our children and each other and others who are not like us at all. We like planting our olive trees and harvesting our oranges. We want life in our desert community, not death. But as we face the aggression of occupation, what choices do we have? Some of us are motivated by religion, others by nationalism, others by sheer determination not to give up. One of the greatest incentives we face is the world’s indifference to us. That brings out the most destructive motivations of the fiercest few. So, while the resistance of occupation is a right for all, Palestinians, Muslims or non-Muslims, we fall into a mode of “Jihad.”
We do not wish to take this all over the world. All we want is the peace that Jerusalem is supposed to stand for. Just as Jesus of Nazareth, may peace be upon him, used a whip on the merchants wrongly marketing in his father’s house, God does not suggest that we Muslims fall prey to aggression and not defend ourselves. The Qur’an calls for us to act peacefully to gain justice, but to resist our oppressors. Allah, our God, tells us that we must not take what does not belong to us.
Let me say this as clearly as I can; Islam is not the enemy in our human struggles; only Mankind can lower themselves to be each other’s enemy. The Qur’an is written not specifically for those of Arab heritage, and the Islamic teachings are very similar to the ethics and morality spelled out for Jews and Christians in their Holy Books.
As missiles in Afghanistan often miss their mark, unable to distinguish between terrorist and peace-loving citizen, as American weapons are used around the world by those who defy the meaning of freedom and democracy and yet kill children along with freedom fighters, I want to ask you all something. If you had been able to actually see what was happening in the First and Second World Wars as they were occurring, would you have tried to put an end to the struggle sooner? Had that been the case, maybe the Holocaust would not have happened and we wouldn’t be in the predicament we’re in today. Our political wars are Godless and mindless, too. Let us work together to defend our religions from our instincts—our human greed and political motivation—and let our actions be our prayers.
* Samah Jabr is a physician and a life-long resident of East Jerusalem.
This piece is a summary of a lecture given by Samah at St. George’s College,