Friday, November 27, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

The Muslim Feast of Sacrifice

Originally Published on January 2, 2007

Eid al-Adha, sometimes called the Festival of Sacrifice is an important festival for Muslims around the world. It occurs in connection with the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, serving as the conclusion to the (at least once in a lifetime) required journey for all Muslims.

The point of the festival is to remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. Some suggest that Eid al-Adha is the most important festival in Islam because God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, who was ultimately replaced by a ram, was Abraham’s greatest trial and triumph. Abraham obediently took his son, placing him on the altar (Qur’an: on his forehead) and as he raised the knife, the angel directed him to replace his son with a ram that was nearby.

Whether the Festival of Sacrifice is the most important or not, the symbolism demonstrated in the festival activities is quite powerful. For me, the most memorable activity of the festival is the sacrificing of animals: camels, goats or sheep. And this might be the most memorable for many. In fact, for some 1400 people in Turkey in 2006, the sacrifice will be the most memorable part because they all ended up in the hospital emergency room as a result of wounding themselves in the process.

Sometime last year (2006) while preparing for a lecture on Islam that I was to give, I was reading the Qur’an and stumbled upon a very interesting (to me) discovery. I was reading Surah 37, as-Saffat, when I came upon the detailed story of Abraham sacrificing his son, which was mixed in with stories of several prophets. Eight to be exact.

The names of those prophets named in Surah as-Saffat are: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, Elias, Lot, and Jonah. You will see that Ishmael’s name is missing. Why is this important? Because Muslims, during the Festival of Sacrifice, are commemorating the near sacrifice of Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac as the Bible teaches. When I discovered the absence of Ishmael’s name, it was one of those explosive moments when one thinks, “I can’t be reading this right.” That being the case, I re-read the passage and Ishmael’s name was still absent. Then, I got a pencil and re-read the chapter, writing down the list of people named in as-Saffat. And, my first reading was still correct: Ishmael isn’t named. In fact, he isn’t named as (almost) being sacrificed anywhere in the Qur’an.

This has surprised every Muslim I have asked about it. Usually, the encounter goes something like this:
Me: Does the Qur’an say that Abraham attempted to sacrifice Ishmael?
Them: Yes.
Me: Do you know where it is written that Ishmael is the object of sacrifice?
Them: It must be in Surah Ibrahim. Let me find it. Hmmm, it’s not here.
Me: Perhaps you can look at Surah as-Saffat.
Them: Yes, here’s the story. Here it tells about Ibrahim who went to sacrifice his son.
Me: Does it say Ishmael there?
Them: Well…his name isn’t here, but it’s him. It must be written somewhere else. Let me look for it.
Me: I’m sure you will not find it because it isn’t there. Does it bother you that Ishmael’s name isn’t actually mentioned in a story so important to Islam?
Them: Well, I’m sure it’s somewhere else in the Qur’an.
Me: But it’s not.
Them: It must be…
It isn’t and I find that very interesting. Especially since one of the main places Muslims say the Bible has been corrupted is here, where Abraham agrees to sacrifice his son. The Bible says that son was Isaac, Islam disputes that. But the Qur’an doesn’t specifically name Ishmael within the story itself. I wonder why?

One gentleman that I spoke with asked his imam to call me and answer my question. When I posed the question to the imam, he said that I was correct: Ishmael’s name isn’t found in the Qur’anic version of this story. The understanding that Ishmael was the intended sacrifice is Islamic tradition, which is binding upon Muslims to believe. Therefore, all Muslims believe that even though not specifically named, Ishmael was the son whom Ibrahim prepared for sacrifice.

My question: What happens when tradition seems to go against the text? “Which is more authoritative,” I asked the imam. His answer: “Neither. It doesn’t work like that in Islam. The Qur’an is the Qur’an and the Tradition is the Tradition. They go together.”

For those wondering: NO, I wouldn’t embrace the Qur’anic version of this story if Ishmael’s name were specifically mentioned. I fully believe the Bible’s version and simply use this “irony” as a conversation starter with Muslims.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Tools of the Trade

I recently met a Jewish scribe in the Old City, and here is a picture of his desk. As you can see there are a couple of cups of coffee remnants as well as various shapes/sizes of pens and edging tools. I would like to stand and watch him work, but so far he hasn't agreed.

I was a little surprised at how messy his desk appeared, but was reminded of my own work bench when I was a jeweler. I think people might have been surprised at how messy my bench was considering that I was handling their priceless family treasures.

Here's a photo from 20 years ago:

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Gift of Bread

A wealthy foreign, Muslim donor has generously provided bread for needy families through a coupon redemption program in Jerusalem's Old City.

Bakeries throughout the Old City have been enlisted to supply 10 or 20 pitas for each coupon redeemed. The bakeries are then reimbursed monthly according to the number of coupons they have fulfilled.

The baker that I spoke with about this program said its a good program, but he doesn't like participating because he doesn't feel comfortable that people divert their eyes from him because they are embarrassed by using the coupons.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tools of the Trade

During the recent tensions related to the Temple Mount - specifically Jews ascending and allegedly praying in the mosque, and the Muslim youth's potential violent response - the police monitoring each gate were prepared with riot shields.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This Made Me Smile

I was going through my files and ran across this valentine that Grace made for me this year. It made me smile.

She signed her name right to left with reversed letters, which shows the influence of her Hebrew studies.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Public Word of Thanks

Colleen, my wife, is in Houston, Texas helping her mother who is undergoing radiation treatment. Colleen has been gone for 6 days now, and every day it becomes more clear to me how much we need her here.

Colleen, thank you for being a "taker carer." (I don't think that was a word until now.) Thank you for helping take care of Meema, and thank you for taking care of us. I'm sure I don't realize the full extent of how you take care of us and our home, but I want to thank you for all that I'm more aware of at this moment.

Grace and I miss you and wish that you were here right, right, right now. 

All our love,
Craig and Grace

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jimmy Swaggart in Jerusalem

I saw Jimmy Swaggart in Jerusalem this morning . . . on television. As I was sitting in the coffee shop, I noticed that Jimmy Swaggart was being broadcast on the large, flat screen television.

He and other preachers were being beamed in from Cyprus via Middle East Television's satelite broadcast. No one but me noticed since the sound was turned down and the subtitles were in Arabic.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

They May Look Intimidating . . .

. . .  but they are here for your protection. In this photo there are both civilian policemen (blue) and military border guards (green). I took this photo during a particularly tense period, so they were dressed a little more heavily than they might be on calmer days.

I particularly like the shin guards the border policeman is wearing. I have a photo of a Jordanian motorcycle cop wearing a batting helmet. Perhaps I'll dig it out and post it side by side with the Israeli border police with shin guards for a "police in baseball gear" photo exhibit.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Kid's Delight

The owner of all this candy is a man named Isaac. He's not proud that he owns it all. In fact, he would be happy to help you become the owner of this delicious delight. Not the store. Just the candy, which he sells by weight.

He was surprised when I greeted him in Arabic, and was all too happy to let me take pictures of his candies and to help me with my Arabic. His question was the same as some of my readers: "Why do you want to learn Arabic." My answer wasn't what another Arab man later in the day incorrectly suggested: "That's CIA Arabic."

Here's my real answer: "I want to learn Arabic so I can speak with Arabs in their language." The gospel is that important.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arabic: Can You Read That?

As my Arabic studies progress, I catch myself trying more and more to pick out identifiable words from inscriptions around the city. While on the Temple Mount, I focused on the script that goes around the octagon building that supports the Dome of the Rock.

It is a particularly difficult script (for me), but I was able to identify a few things.

"Can you pretty easily read the script going around the Dome," I asked. "Yes, because I have it memorized. We start memorizing it in first grade" was the answer I received.

That struck me.

First, memorizing the script on the Dome gives local Muslims a heart connection to the Dome of the Rock; or more correctly, the whole of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. And that is particularly true when it is done at an early age. The social and political implications of such a connection are worth consideration as the issue of control of and entrance to the Temple Mount makes its way to the front page of the news cycle.

The second thing that struck me about children memorizing that particular script is that I know from talking to others that that script isn't a stand alone memory verse for Muslims. Many Muslims around the world strive to and succeed at memorizing the Qur'an, which is about the size of the New Testament.

I don't personally know any Christians who have memorized the New Testament. I've heard of not more than a handful who have done it, but I don't know them. I'm familiar with various children's ministries that "focus" on Bible memorization, but most of them focus on isolated verses. Which is to say, very few Christians memorize large sections of either the Old or New Testaments. Why is that?

I do have a few friends who have been an encouragement to me to do much better in Bible memory; they have endeavored to memorize whole chapters, even whole books. May their tribe increase, and may they continue to challenge me in Bible memory.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

He's An Evangelist for Islam

A very close member of this guy's family recently started to witness the glories of Islam to me. He described to me the emotion of going on the pilgrimage to Mecca and standing before the Kaaba. "Here and here," he said as he tapped his head and heart, looking heavenward. "There really is power in the soul when you stand before the holy place."

After that, he began to tell me of all the Christians who are converting to Islam, "even Baptists," he added as a final push. Well, I didn't say the Shahada. Why would I, when I already know the glory of Christ and his cross (Galatians 6:14)? What a treasure!

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Balfour Declaration

November 2 is remembered by some Israelis as Balfour Day, since the "Balfour Declaration" was drafted on that day in 1917.

Last week that day came and passed without much fanfare, though the declaration was mentioned to me by an Arab friend as he rewrote some Middle East history for me.

"The Balfour Declaration called for a Jewish home in Uganda" he informed me. In fact, the Balfour Declaration calls for the establishment of a Jewish homeland "in Palestine." (Click on the image to see a larger, more easily readable image.)

That he missed this one so wildly, makes me wonder how accurate he is in reporting what happened at this or that conflict point as he keeps me up to date on what's happening in the local struggle between the Jews and Arabs.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Problem for Old City Settlers

I noticed the pejorative “settler” intentionally used in a brochure advertising tours of settler communities inside the Old City. The intention of the tour obviously was to negatively highlight the growing presence of Jews in both the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City.

I didn't participate in that tour – though I would like to do so one day – but I did tag along on a tour that was intended to positively highlight both the historical and currently growing presence of Jews in the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City. In other words, it was intended to be the polar opposite of the “settler” tour.

On this tour I easily noticed the anger of Arab shopkeepers (of all ages) as our guide led us through the market. I also noticed that the younger the shopkeeper, the more likely he was to verbalize his anger toward these Jewish interlopers. And thus was born the idea to stop by one of the “settler” shops in the Muslim Quarter and talk with the owner.

A few days later after my Arabic class, I stopped by a “settler” shop and visited with the owner to see what it was like for him to open his business in the midst of people who despise his existence in that spot. I wanted to know how he gets along in this neighborhood. What he told me surprised me.

Our conversation was conducted only in Hebrew, which took some dogged determination on my part since I was in Arabic immersion mode. I thought speaking in Hebrew (rather than English) would help him feel more comfortable with my questions; and I thought accidentally dropping an Arabic word in the conversation would be unhelpful.

He was a very friendly guy whose name slips me at the moment. His religious and political identifications were “provocatively” and openly displayed from the front door to the back wall of his shop, so there was no need to ask if he was Jewish. So, after a bit of small talk, I was easily able to move into the questions that interested me.

“What's it like to have your business here? Do you have problems with the neighbors?” I asked, wasting no time getting to the heart of my interest. He seemed to dismiss my serious question with a question of his own: “Who doesn't have problems?” I know everybody has problems, but I wanted to know about HIS problems as an orthodox Jew setting up shop in the midst of Muslim shopkeepers in the Muslim Quarter!

“The problems aren't the problem," he continued, "the solution to the problems is the problem.” Now, that may take some time to digest, but it is definitely worth thinking on. This statement moved our conversation in another more philosophical direction, but at this point, I was along for the ride.

While we were talking, I was watching the neighbors to see how they reacted toward him. And though I didn't really notice any obvious signs of distaste, I didn't notice any warmth toward him either. Perhaps they had just decided to ignore him. (I think I'll try to visit the Muslim shopkeepers next.) He tried to persuade me that he doesn't have any issues with his Muslim neighbors. At least nothing new. That's an interesting thought.

And then, the surprising statement: “Our problems with the Muslims aren't as serious as our problems with the Christians.” I didn't respond; I just waited for him to explain, which he did: “Our problem with Muslims is physical. When a finger is cut off, it's a problem, but it's only physical.” “Okay, . . . continue” I thought to myself as I nodded to prod him along. “Our problem with Christians is spiritual. Taking my finger is a problem, but taking my soul is much worse. And we've had this problem for 2000 years; much longer than our problems with the Muslims” he explained.

That thought isn't foreign to me. In fact, any mention of Christian missionaries, Jews for Jesus, or Messianic Jews in the Jerusalem Post or Arutz 7 is sure to draw similar statements in the comments forum. It's not uncommon to hear religious Jews say (or write) “missionaries are worse than Hitler. He only wanted to kill our bodies.”

What may be surprising to some of my readers, especially those who see themselves as Zionists, was that this “settler” who lives in the midst of daily tensions (social and political) about his presence among Muslims, was so quick to dismiss those problems and highlight what he sees as a far more serious problem: the Christians and their message.

We talked more about the Bible and the messiah, and when he was ready to get back to work, he drew our conversation to a close with this witty thought: “Do you know what Jews say when we're talking about the messiah with Christians?” Yes, but I thought I would let him deliver the punchline: “When messiah returns, we'll ask him if it is his first or second visit. Then we'll know for sure.”

With that, he shook my hand and went back to work.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A New Window for the Mosque

On a recent visit to the Temple Mount, I had the good fortune of meeting the glazier for the mosque. Sometimes we don't think about religious buildings needing repairs (of all types), but they clearly do. As you can see in the photo, the mosque has many windows, and some of them are being replaced.

The glazier was a nice enough fellow, particularly when he invited me to see his work more closely. This is the window he is currently crafting to replace one of windows in the above photo.

Though I've been inside the mosque a few times, I didn't remember the windows being stained glass. But, when I showed the photo to a number of Muslim friends (without explanation), they all immediately said, "That's from the mosque, how did you get that picture?" I smiled and said, "I just used the Arabic that I'm learning."

From outside, it's hard, if not impossible, to see that the inner windows are stained glass because each unit has a second, clear outer glass and the source of light is from the outside, which causes a reflection. 

The glazier was very proud of his work, which appears to be of a high quality. He also seemed satisfied to be the glazier for the "third holiest sight" within the Islamic system. And, I guess that might give one reason to be satisfied. 

I'm scheduled to go on a special visit to the mosque in the near future, so I'm looking forward to seeing these windows from the inside.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


A variety of postcards are available throughout Israel. Some fun. Some serious. Some religious. Some touristy. Something for everyone.

When I first came to Israel in 1990, I made my own postcards out of Kellogs Corn Flakes boxes. Some of them made it to the US, others didn't because they weren't the official size and type of postcards.

All these in the photo are official size, so you can expect them to arrive at their intended destination . . . assuming they have proper postage.