Commonalities: Islam and Haredi Judaism

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“It’s a pleasure to meet you! Please excuse me,” I said with a smile, “I can’t shake your hand because I’m fasting today…” If she had asked me more about the nature of my fast, I would have explained to her that I can’t have any physical contact with women I’m not married to… but she didn’t.As she extended her arm to introduce herself with a handshake, thoughts raced through my mind. “What’s the best way to put this?” I thought to myself. I quickly reacted by slightly stepping back with my hand placed across my chest.

In any case, the above scenario may resemble something you or someone you know has experienced, especially as a follower of the Qur’an and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). In Islam, there are laws which Muslims are required to live by. Living by these laws unleashes the potential for achieving the purpose of human existence.

Also important to realize is that God has always – from the time of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) to our time – sent the “divine prescription” for physical and metaphysical success. It’s not surprising, therefore, to discover that some forms of Judaism have similar rules to those in Islam. It is not difficult to imagine that the original message of Judaism was the divinely revealed message of Islam.

Here’s some food for thought. In describing a woman from the Haredi Orthodox Jewish community, BBC’s Erica Chernofsky says: “Like all Haredi women, she dresses very modestly, covers her hair with a wig or scarf, and will not allow physical contact of any kind with any man other than her husband.”

In Haredi Judaism, there are dress code requirements for both men and women. As in Islam, the underlying concept behind the dress code is modesty. In Haredi communities, men usually wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts, and women wear blouses with sleeves below the elbow and skirts which cover the knees.

Furthermore, men and women are separated during synagogue services and other public religious gatherings. As in many mosques, some Orthodox synagogues fulfill the separation requirement by having a balcony for the women’s section.

Interesting, right? The following is an excerpt from the aforementioned article on BBC’s website: “If I go on a trip with my family, I can’t eat just anything, I can’t go mixed swimming, and I’m constantly thinking ‘what is the proper thing to do now?’ As Haredim we don’t just live, but we live with a purpose.”

With regards to the eating concerns, Judaism also shares some ritual slaughtering practices with Islam. Take, for example, Shechita, or the ritual slaughter of animals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws. This is performed by cutting the animal’s throat by means of a sharp knife and allowing the blood to drain out. Islamic Dhabihah is done in a similar way. As in Islam, Judaism also considers the consumption of pork to be a sin.

States the article in regards to the aforementioned “purpose”, “That purpose, as she defines it, is to fulfill the Torah and mitzvoth by bettering herself as well as the world around her, and in so doing striving to become closer to God.”

I don’t know about you, but I think if you just switch the words “Torah” and “mitzvoth” with the words “Qur’an” and “Ahlul Bayt”, you’ll get a pretty Islamic-looking statement.

Let’s take a look a bit further. In describing a man from the same community, the same BBC author writes: “Mr. Eliahu says Israel and the world need the ‘positive energy’ that comes from learning Torah. ‘This sounds funny to the western ear – what can a man learning in a yeshiva all day possibly give back to the world?’ he says. ‘Torah learning that we do is the hidden code of the physical existence of all mankind, and if for one single second there is no Torah learning in the air, all the world would go back to chaos.'”

It seems that even this concept has some great resemblance to certain Islamic beliefs. Think of the followers of Ahlul Bayt and the Imams. Our belief in the living Imam – the living Qur’an – is not only one of a political leadership. Rather, we believe that if the Imam did not exist, then the entire system of existence would break down. The Imam is an essential part of the perfect system Allah has created, and if the Imam is not in the picture, then the perfect system ceases to exist. Indeed, it has been narrated that, “If it were not for the Proof (Imam), then the world would melt with its inhabitants (along with it).”

From a legal perspective, Orthodox Judaism shares many commonalities with Islamic jurisprudence. Haredi Jews believe that in addition to the Torah (“Written Law”), there is an “Oral Law” which is relayed by the scholarly and other religious leaders of each generation. Islamic law’s reliance upon the Qur’an and the Sunnah (as transmitted through Ahlul Bayt) may parallel this in some respects.

As for circumstances when previous authorities do not provide a religious ruling, a Jewish legal scholar, known as a Posek, may extend a law to new situations. Within Haredi Judaism, each community may look to one Posek as the “Posek of the present Generation.” The concepts of Ijtihad and Taqleed in Islam seem to have a similar basis – as an intellectual practice, the laypersons refer to the most qualified of the experts.

If anything, the similarities mentioned above should serve as an awakening to the reality that the commandments of the Prophets sprout from Divine Wisdom, applying to the lives of human beings throughout the ages. A comparison between Islam and Haredi Judaism may not yield interesting results when looking through idle eyes. But a scratch beneath the surface reveals signs from the Almighty to those who ponder.

“And say (unto them): Act! Allah will behold your actions, and (so will) His messenger and the believers, and ye will be brought back to the Knower of the Invisible and the Visible, and He will tell you what ye used to do.” (Qur’an 9:105)

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