Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes

It has been an annual sighting in the newspapers for the last four years, several Muslim appreciations of Passover. This holiday and the exodus from Egypt is discussed in the Koran. These human interest pieces allow modern Muslim to show their interfaith and tolerance credentials. The first is one of the best on the web, the second is the one that came to my attention as this year’s syndicated version, the third is a famous one from an Egyptian author 2007 that made the Israeli papers.

Out of Egypt By Prof. Shahul Hameed

Many Jews may be surprised to learn that Islam as preached by Muhammad (peace 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 Allah 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.] (An-Nahl 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 Shari`ah (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.] (Al-Mai’idah 5:20)

It was Moses, with the help and guidance of God Almighty, who led them out of Egypt towards a land of promise. Allah 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] (Al-Baqarah 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 Allah.” 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 Allah will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment.] (Yunus 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. (Al-Bukhari)

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.

StarTribune.com March 23, 2010
Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes By Zafar Siddiqui

This past Sunday, I attended an interfaith Seder at the Temple of Aaron synagogue in St. Paul. It was a beautiful event. By the end of the Seder meal, I could not but come to a conclusion that the story of Moses (peace be upon him) and his followers’ struggle against the tyranny of the Pharaoh will continue to inspire countless people, communities, and countries in seeking the freedom and dignity that God bestowed on the children of Adam.

It may come as a surprise to a lot of people that Muslims observe the fast of ‘Ashura to commemorate the day when God delivered Moses (peace be upon him) and his followers from slavery. The day of ‘Ashura falls on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram.

Moses is called Musa in Arabic. He is also called “Kalim Allah” (One who spoke with God). He is the most mentioned prophet in the Qur’an. The Muslim narrative about the exodus story is detailed and has a strong parallel to the Biblical narrative. Some excerpts from the Qur’an are given below.

Moses’ Childhood
“And We had already conferred favor upon you another time, when We inspired to your mother what We inspired, [Saying], ‘Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’ And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.

[And We favored you] when your sister went and said, ‘Shall I direct you to someone who will be responsible for him?’ So We restored you to your mother that she might be content and not grieve. And you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you with a [severe] trial. And you remained [some] years among the people of Madyan. Then you came [here] at the decreed time, O Moses.” (20: 38-41)

The Burning Bush
“And has the story of Moses reached you? – When he saw a fire and said to his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance. And when he came to it, he was called, “O Moses, indeed, I am your Lord, so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Tuwā. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed [to you]. Indeed, I am God. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” (20: 9-14)

Moses and his brother Aaron confront Pharaoh
“So go to him and say, ‘Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace will be upon he who follows the guidance.” (20:47)

Moses and his duel with Pharaoh’s magicians
“They said, “O Moses, either you throw or we will be the first to throw.” He said, “Rather, you throw.” And suddenly their ropes and staffs seemed to him from their magic that they were moving [like snakes]. And he sensed within himself apprehension, did Moses. God said, “Fear not. Indeed, it is you who are superior. And throw what is in your right hand; it will swallow up what they have crafted. What they have crafted is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will not succeed wherever he is.” So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said, “We have believed in the Lord of Aaron and Moses.” (20: 65-70)

Freedom at last
“And We had inspired to Moses, “Travel by night with My servants and strike for them a dry path through the sea; you will not fear being overtaken [by Pharaoh] nor be afraid [of drowning].” So Pharaoh pursued them with his soldiers, and there covered them from the sea that which covered them.” (20: 77-78)

As I was going through the Haggadah at the Seder, these parallel narrations came to my mind. In a world where injustices, occupations, and wars abound, the story of Moses gives us hope that God will never let any injustice thrive for long. The challenges may seem like the veritable sea in front of us, but, as a follower of Moses, I believe that nothing is impossible for God. Peace is inevitable.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN). He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press).

And here is a link to one from 2007 that made the Israeli papers because it acknowledged the plight of Arab Jews and the Jewish lineage of many current Arabs.

In an article on the Arab reformist websites Aafaq (April 9, 2007) and Middle East Transparent (April 8, 2007), Egyptian author Hisham Al-Tuhi rejects the view that Muslims should not convey holiday greetings to non-Muslims on their holidays, reviews the history of Jews in Arab countries in the 20th century, and wishes Jews still living in Arab countries a happy Passover.

The Jews Who Remain “Still Celebrate Their Holidays in Silence, Forgotten… Is Not the Least We Can Say to Them: Jewish Arabs Happy Passover!?”

“Despite this despite the nationalization, the expulsion, the banishment, the bombings, the racism, the enmity, and the marginalization; despite their being reviled with the ugliest abuse in the prayers of the Muslims, in all of the Arab mosques and in some of the churches; despite their being called infidels and cursed, and being accused of treason, in the books, the newspapers, and the TV stations, [both] governmental and private despite all this, they still live in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, and in other countries of the Arab Middle East!

“And they still celebrate their holidays in silence, forgotten. And they still passionately love their countries who treated them cruelly, and will no accept any substitute [for them].

“Is not the least we can say to them: Jewish Arabs happy Passover!?”

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