On Jewish and Muslim Holidays, A Reminder of Commonalities
By Robin Wright
By Robin Wright
The world’s Jews begin marking the holiest time of their year Friday in Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement, which begins at dusk, is observed with reflection, repentance for sins of the past year, and fasting.
Also Friday, Muslims around the world begin marking the holiest day on their religious calendar. The Day of Arafat, the most important part of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, is a time of atoning for past sins and praying for forgiveness. Many Muslims who are not in the holy city of Mecca often fast from afar.
It is no accident that the two faiths share common history and common prophets. For Jews, Abraham was the first of their faith, its literal father. His life is chronicled in the Old Testament.
For Muslims, Abraham is the father of all three monotheistic religions beginning with Judaism. The Eid al-Adha, part of the Haj immediately after the Day of Arafat, marks Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to prove his love and loyalty to God. His life is chronicled in the Koran.
For all their rivalries, the two faiths have played important roles in each other’s past–in positive ways. The Ottoman empire formally invited Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal to immigrate in the late 15th century. Sultan Beyazid II reportedly said, “Ye call Ferdinand a wise king, he who makes his land poor and ours rich!”
During World War II, Morocco’s King Mohammed V decreed that the 200,000 Jews in the predominantly Muslim country should not wear the yellow star, as they did in Nazi-occupied France. “There are no Jews in Morocco. There are only subjects,” he said.
One of Judaism’s most important rabbis was Maimonides, who was appointed court physician by Saladdin, one of history’s most powerful Muslim leaders. Maimonides’ philosophical works were recognized in both the Islamic and Jewish worlds.
The two religions share many practical traditions too: Their traditional calendars are lunar, based on the cycles of the moon instead of the sun. The observant practice the same dietary laws of no blood, carrion, or swine. The observant require modest dress of women, including hair covering, and beards and a prayer cap for men. They both believe in the core daily struggle to faithfully observe the faith.
The two religions have much more in common, even their greetings: Shalom in Hebrew, Salam in Arabic. Both mean peace.