Islam and the “Chosen People”


In trying to understand the origins of Islam, we may have to consider the consequences of the close tribal relationship of Jews and Arabs, and that the Arabs might have felt offended by the claim of their ethnic cousins, the Jews, of being chosen by God. Given the conditions of tribal rivalry a majority of Arabs might not have been able to embrace the insights revealed to the other branch of their family. That could also explain, why Christianity gained hardly more than a foothold among Arabs – after all, the Christians took over the complete  Jewish Bible without any changes.

Anyhow, the interest of the greater part of the Arabs in the revelation to the Jews was aroused only after a prophet had arisen in their midst, Mohammed, who felt the divine order to reformulate the entire treasury of Biblical wisdom from an Arab perspective. Since the new revelation which he received from the archangel Gabriel was an Arabic one, the Arabs were now not merely at eye level with the Jews, they were even favored.

Thus the entire essence of Biblical wisdom became fully available to the Arabs. It was now a wisdom given to them. As such, they could pass it on to others, as the Christians had done before them. However,  they could accept only the Arabized Koranic versions of the Biblical narratives as being truly revealed; the Jewish-centered Biblical versions appeared to them to be at least partly “falsified”. Not so for Christians. They had no reason to question the truth of the Bible, because Christianity grew up in an environment in which tribal rivalries did not matter.

For the Arabs this was completely different. The conflict between Jews and Arabs might therefore very well be, at least in part, rooted in the ancient rivalry between two closely related tribes. An indication of that rivalry is to be found in the Biblical story of the expulsion of the ancestor of the Arabs, Ishmael, and his mother Hagar, from the lands of patriarch Abraham (Gen 21,10ff.).

Tribal rivalries are about leadership and tribute. The stronger tribe always demands the clear surrender of the weaker one and enforces its claim by all available means, but leaves off fighting immediately if the weaker one submits to its domination.

All these characteristics are featured in the Sharia commandment  that adherents of “the religions of the book” must subordinate themselves under the rule of Islam. Under such conditions Muslims could tolerate Christians and Jews for many centuries.

When Israel was implanted into a part of the ancient  Biblical territory, which had long since become Muslim territory, this demand of Sharia was ignored. Meanwhile, however, the requirement of Islamic superiority had become deeply rooted in the identity of many Muslims. And that could very well be one of the basic factors in the Middle East conflict down to this very day. Moreover, this effect could reach far beyond Palestine because this same demand of Sharia has also been ignored in many other countries within the realm of Islam, a fact which is often seen as a relic left over from colonization.

If you pay attention to this demand for subordination, you may also recognize in it the roots of Al Qaeda, since Al Qaeda sees itself as the radical spearhead of Muslims, who regard themselves as threatened in their seemingly self-evident superiority by people who refuse to subordinate themselves.

In subtle symbolic form this conflict might also be surfacing in the conflicting claims to ownership over al Haram ash Sharif, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is in the possession of the Muslims, but which is claimed by the Jews as the site of their past and future Temple.

At this point, tribal rivalry might even affect the basic question of the truth of the respective revelations. Enforcement and success have always been regarded by many as proof of truth. Especially for this, among other reasons, it might be seen as very important for Muslims that their control of these important sanctuaries at this specific site should triumph over the claims of the Jews.

For this reason the conflict over the Temple Mount could even lead to a future Armageddon. Some day this age-old rivalry might be fought out militarily, with all the world powers unwittingly involved, while at its core the issue would be solely that of settling whether the Arab tradition, symbolized by Mohammed and the Qur’an, is superior to the Jewish tradition.

Today, however, there is a potential for a solution that did not hitherto exist. With the spread of Islam far beyond the territory of the Arabs, this religion has acquired a new quality. The old tribal rivalry no longer has coercive force. Its claim to truth is no longer inextricably tied up with political dominance. Mutual recognition is, in principle, possible. And the Arab Spring might open up a pathway in this direction.

Whatever the case, the question of the correct site for the Third Temple of the Jews will have to be settled if peace is to prevail.

For that purpose the appended inter-religious vision of peace might prove a suitable instrument.


You will find more about that vision at