Islam as the relgion of Hesed

Dr Avraham Elqayam is head of the Shlomo Moussaieff Center for Kabbalah Research and professor of Kabbalah at Bar Ilan University. A number of years ago he wrote an article in the journal of the Torah veAvodah movement called “The Religion of Mercy: Encounters with Islam” Deot 19, (2004) 6-8 (It is a late night freehand translation). I am not sure of his current opinion but it is a very interesting three page article. He does not draw broader implications than those presented here.

In the article, he discusses the clash of civilization that puts Jews on the side of Western civilization. He demurs:

But are Jews part of the flesh of the flesh of Western Civilization? I am astonished! My family lived under the Muslim world in Spain and afterward in a small community in Gaza City. They lived submersed in the midst the Arabic Muslim civilization.

On the identification of Judaism and the West:

The question is – do we have to continue in this direction until we reach opposition or do we need to go in another direction? The Torah recounts how Isaac and Ishmael went together to bury Abraham. It is valid to ask on the role of Yishmael in the Jewish spiritual tradition. Our modern philosophers, especially [Franz] Rosenzweig betrayed us. I will turn, therefore, from the world of philosophy to the world of mysticism and Kabbalah. Perhaps there we will find a path and a direction.

Elqayam finds three approaches in Jewish mysticism to Islam. Kabbalah, Jewish Sufism, and Sabbatianism.

In Kabbalah- the world is all symbolic of the divine realm, therefore

When you contemplate about Islam, think about Ishmael in the parashah [Hayai Sarah] Ask what is being symbolized, what is the allusion in the world of divinity. It is surprising to reveal that the Spanish kabbalists saw the essence of Islam as connected to the power of the sefirah hesed. Abraham our patriarch represented hesed and Ishmael comes from Abraham, therefore Islam represents hesed.

In its inwardness, Islam is a religion of hesed  This is the self-consciousness of the Muslims themselves. Muslims are called in Arabic a religion of tolerance. This opinion appears in the writings of Yosef Gikitilla….The destiny of the Islamic nation amidst the humanity is to represent Divine hesed.”

Rabbi Abraham Maimoni was influenced by the Sufi mystical schools. He quoted the learning of Sufis, and praised their use of music, body posture, and prostrations.

Rabbi Abraham Maimuni saw Sufism as a form of meta-religion that bridged between Islamic spirituality and prophetic spirituality. His intention was understandably to imitate the prophets and not the Muslims, except according to his opinion, only the Muslims preserved the path of prophecy. We have seen in him the spiritual possibility within Judaism that preserves the Jewish identity but which expresses the spiritual world of Islam- the Jew lived in the culture of Islam, drawing leaven from the Muslim world yet making a synthesis between the worlds as a Jew.

Shabbatai Zevi converted to Islam and his followers created a synthesis that mixed both religions, they were Muslims who also kept Jewish practices including the Jewish holidays. [He gives several examples of the syncretism]

He conlcudes:

We need to reconnect the fine threads and the gleanings– that bring us to our brothers Ishmael, that are almost lost to us. It is possible that the time has already passed but we are required at least to try. It is incumbent upon us to begin afresh to build a spiritual bridge between Judaism and Islam, to this I desire.

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