An Inter-Religious Vision of Peace for Israel/Palestine
Preliminary remark: This vision of peace is not intended as a blueprint to be implemented literally, just as it stands. By projecting images of a possible solution I hope to stimulate new thinking and a complete reappraisal of the situation, because the imagination and feelings of people on both sides need to get unstuck if the present deadlock is to loosen up. Only once that has happened will the parties be able to find a solution that suits both sides.
By establishing a Jewish state within what Muslims regard as traditional Islamic territory, a conflict was started that has resisted all attempts to find a solution and has even escalated into something close to a new East-West-conflict.
After decades of involvement with the religions of the Middle East I came to the conviction that political attempts alone will never heal the conflict, because in its innermost core this conflict is not political. It is a conflict of identities, which encompass the entire history of peoples, along with the accompanying narratives; and thus it runs far deeper than any ideology ever could. It is far more of a religious issue than people think – something to consider, especially for those who see themselves as nonreligious. Lastly, it is an internecine conflict between competing religious filiations of the children of Abraham, the common father of Muslims, Jews and Christians.
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The Holy Sites in Jerusalem between Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif and Holy Sepulcher
This strife within the family of Abraham finds its focal point in the ownership dispute over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which seems to be the symbolic heart of the entire Middle East conflict. As it is tied to the identities of hundreds of millions of people, the explosive fuel in this locus of conflict is virtually inexhaustible. And, in my eyes, as long as this dispute is not settled the entire Middle East will not find rest.
Starting from these insights, I found a solution that takes the value of the Temple Mount / Haram ash-Sharif for Jewish and Muslim identities into consideration: it involves a pan-Abrahamic sanctuary which includes a new Temple for the Jews.
Some Jews may say: we don’t need a New Temple, we don’t even want one, to which I would reply that it is not the Jews who need a new Jewish Temple, it is the Muslims. Ever since the Jews returned to their Biblical homeland, Muslims have feared for their sanctuaries at Haram ash-Sharif / the Temple Mount. They know that Jews pray every day for a new Temple and that even many non-religious Jews want a New Temple now. So Muslims fear, it may be only a matter of time until their sanctuaries are taken away from them.
A New Temple could free them of that fear.
My vision of peace points to a way in which the longing of the Jews for a New Temple could be fulfilled without taking anything away from the Muslims. Thus all three Abrahamic religions can emerge victorious from the conflict.
And the world can breathe freely again, because what the “war against terror” could not accomplish can in this way be achieved: easing of tension and peace.
The first prerequisite is that the Jews need to make clear to themselves how they can under the circumstances facing them, fulfill their calling to be “God’s Chosen People”. A truly chosen people will seek to heal the world – and this task is indeed enjoined by the Jewish tradition.
In the process of striving to become healers, Jews will perceive and acknowledge that Muslims are zealously laboring to meet the aim of their father Abraham and to accomplish peace by surrendering to God. With that realization, they will recognize that Muslims are their genuine brothers and sisters.
With Christians they will encounter a similar experience, for they too strive to follow God’s calling. They too are the Jews’ authentic brothers and sisters.
These deep insights will lay a new task upon “God’s Chosen People”: they will want to bring together all the children of Abraham.
And that opening will lead to a total transformation of their vision of a New Temple. Since their task will now be to mediate between the children of Abraham, they will see the possibility of a new location for their Temple: not on the Temple Mount, as for the previous Temples, but as a physical bridge between the sanctuaries of the Muslims at Haram ash-Sharif and the ancient Christian sanctuary, the Holy Sepulcher – or above the Muslim shrines – or at a completely different location, at Mount Zion, which is still largely undeveloped.
And once the Jews recognize the Muslims as their true spiritual kinsmen, they will even be able to hand over the Temple Mount as a gift to their Muslim brothers and sisters – and with that light a beacon of hope for the whole world.
The Muslims will perhaps be moved by this great gesture on the part of the Jews. This will lead them to review their relationship with them and start to review their old Sharia law, which requires members of other religions to subordinate themselves to Islam. They will look to the Qur’an and find that Sura 5,49 urges “a competition in virtue” between the members of the religions of the book, and welcomes the God-given diversity of three Abrahamic religions – even within traditional Islamic territory. And that opens up a new prospect: lasting peace with Israel will become a true option.
In their wish to practice that competition in virtue, Muslims might even want to present the main part of the original site of the Temple to the Jews by offering to move the Dome of the Rock and to re-erect it South of the Al Aqsa – at the same level of height it has now. Technically, today, this would pose no problem. The task of the Jews in this scenario would be to honor all those places on the Temple Mount which are of importance in the narrations of the Prophet’s Night Journey.
If the Temple is to be erected at any site other than the Temple Mount the Muslims will have to fulfill another very important task: In order to restore the New Temple in its main function, namely to have the capacity to house the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, it needs to be linked, according to Halacha, to the previous Temples. To accomplish that the (huge) foundation stone, which marks a certain spot under the Holy of Holies, needs to be excavated from the Temple Mount, and precisely inserted at the new location. – From the magnitude of that action the world will see that the new location of the New Temple is now permanent and that the sanctuaries of the Muslims are secure once and for all.
But the turning point will already have been reached with the decision of the Jews to become healers. Since the new Temple will in any case serve as a bridge between the children of Abraham peace will be at hand. Its construction will create a great pan-Abrahamic sanctuary, thereby confirming the spiritual unity of the three religions and simultaneously demonstrating their wonderful diversity.
But what about the nonreligious members of the three cultures?
Our time has only added to the historical record of how calamitous, even murderous religiously defined identities can become, when they regard themselves alone as valid.
But Abraham, the forefather of all three cultures can dispel this danger: he left his family, his country and his entire tradition to set out, entirely on his own, in search of the truth about life in foreign territory and under utterly hazardous circumstances. Non-religious members of the three cultures show a similar skepticism and trust in their inner guidance. They too have lost confidence in their tradition because they too have suffered from its deformations, and they too are searching for the truth on their own. In this respect, they too are true to the example of the father of the three traditions. – Of course, the non-religious are no saints, and many of them will also build dangerous identities. But the non-religious do play an important role in showing that this new sanctuary must be a place of awareness, not only a place for consolidating a tradition. The new pan-Abrahamic sanctuary will surely be such a place of awareness, for it will bring together the different traditions of Jews, Christians and Muslims – and will even find a place for those who have departed from these traditions in order to discover truth on their own. This great sanctuary will thus be a place of being fundamentally human and a source of true salvation.
In other words, it will correct those who come to it in the same way as a good doctor corrects his patients – by healing them.
At present each one of the Abrahamic traditions is in danger of becoming a narrow self-centered way and those who follow these paths are in danger of merely indulging their pain and their pride, blaming the members of other traditions for their own shortcomings. But at the place where all these pathways meet, at the great new pan-Abrahamic sanctuary, all will see their common origin and thus the way to live together in peace.
Gottfried Hutter, Theologian, Historian, Munich
Tel. +49-89-4471 8971
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