At the end of June, the Cathedral of the Rockies sponsored an interfaith panel discussion on the role and place of Moses in the three Abrahamic faiths. Rabbi Dan Fink, the Rev. Duane Anders and I took turns discussing this important character in each of our scriptures. Notwithstanding the importance of Moses in Judaism, this prophet also plays an important role in both Christianity and Islam.
Indeed, Moses is mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other figure from the Old Testament, and he is mentioned a record 136 times by name in the Quran.
The Arabic name for Moses is Musa. This biblical name and others such as Aaron/Harun, Joseph/Yusuf, etc., are often given to Muslim children to honor these prophets. Moses, in particular, is revered in Islam as “The One who talked to God.” Muslims believe that God spoke directly to Moses (Quran 4:164). In the Torah as well as in the Quran, God speaks to Moses near the holy ground of the Burning Bush after he is asked to remove his sandals (Quran, 20:12-13). Moses then asks to see God but his request is not granted (Quran 7:143).
Moses is an important role model among the prophets in Islam for several reasons. First, he is revered as one of five strong-willed prophets: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Second, there is a strong parallel between the exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt on the one hand, and the migration or “Hijra” of the early Muslims from Mecca to Medina on the other. This event, which occurred around A.D. 622, is so critical in Islamic history that it is commemorated as the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
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Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the interaction of Pharaoh and Moses is one of freedom and liberation from the yoke of oppression. At the Burning Bush, God charges Moses with a mission to go to Pharaoh and demand that he free the Israelites from bondage. God sends Moses and his brother Aaron with a stipulation to use mild language with Pharaoh (Quran, 20:43-44). This is an important lesson on how to deal with tyrants and oppressors using nonviolence.
Growing up, I was taught that saying “a word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler” is one of the most commendable acts a Muslim can perform. It is an act of courage which involves putting everything on the line for what is right while relying and trusting in God at the same time. This tradition of nonviolent resistance against tyrants and oppressors has been effectively promoted in the recent past by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
More recently, the words of Mr. Khizr Khan at this year’s National Democratic Convention resonate in my mind as a word of truth directed at a presidential candidate acting more like a schoolyard bully than a serious political contender.
There are some differences in the stories and the characters in the Torah and the Quran. In the Quran, for example, only seven of the 10 plagues of Egypt are mentioned (Quran, 7:130-131). Another difference is that the Torah emphasizes Pharaoh’s daughter as helping Moses while the Quran emphasizes Pharaoh’s wife. There are also stories in the Quran which are not found in the Torah. For example, the Torah does not relate the story of Moses and his encounter with Khidr, a mystical person described in Chapter 18 of the Quran as a righteous servant of God possessing great wisdom and mystic knowledge.
According to Rabbi Allen S. Maller (rabbimaller.com), these differences are not necessarily differences. He bases his judgment on a narration of the prophet which is reported in two of Bukhari’s collections of narrations, namely in Volume 9, Book 92, Number 460 and again in Volume 9, Book 93, Number 632: Narrated by Abu Huraira: “The people of the book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s apostle said to the Muslims: `Do not believe the people of the book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’ ”
In other words, the discrepancies in the stories and the characters in the Torah and the Quran are not necessarily errors, but different perspectives of looking at these stories with new lessons to be learned by juxtaposing both scriptures. These lessons enrich our souls and remind us of God’s omnipresent truth which cannot be encapsulated in one scripture alone.
If you are interested in attending interfaith panel discussions at the Cathedral of the Rockies, please contact Jenny Willison at firstname.lastname@example.org for a schedule of events.
Dr. Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.