Real Questions on Jewish Thought Answered
An Occasional Series – 56
By Rabbi Chaim Ingram OAM
IS JUDAISM THE SOLE MONOTHEISTIC FAITH?
Dear Rabbi Ingram. Last week you wrote that Christianity and Islam “share our adherence sort of to monotheism”. While I understand your ambivalence about Christianity with its trinity and “god-incarnate” theology, I had always thought that Islam was purely monotheistic like Judaism, despite our deep ideological differences. So why “sort of”? And what about Sikhism which you don’t mention? I would appreciate your comments. Thanks so much. Naomi G.
I received your question prior to the furore surrounding the remarks of Indian senior political figure Nupur Sharma allegedly insulting Muhammad. In the light of this mega-news story, your question takes on a heightened topicality and relevance.
I too used to think that Islam was purely monotheistic. I began to have my doubts following the publication in 1988 of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses which led to a fatwa being issued against him for allegedly “blaspheming” Muhammad. My doubts were reinforced in 2007 with the infamous “Sudanese teddy bear” case. A British schoolteacher, Gillian Bibbons, was convicted of insulting Islam by allowing her class of six-year-olds in a school in Khartoum to name a teddy bear Muhammad. She was spared the maximum sentence of forty lashes with a bamboo cane but was made to spend fifteen days in gaol before being deported. 10,000 protestors took to the streets, some waving swords and machetes demanding Bibbons’ execution after imams denounced her during Friday prayers.
Of course there would be absolutely nothing amiss if a Jewish girl would name her teddy bear Moses or Moishe! No doubt many have done! At issue once again was the perception that Bibbons had blasphemed their prophet by giving a teddy his name. In Judaism, blasphemy can only be perpetrated against G-D. If a human prophet can be “blasphemed”, the adherents of such a religion are placing the prophet on a par with G-D. That indicates to me that Islam is not pure, unadulterated monotheism.
My conviction that Muhammad is seen by the Muslim faithful as a demi-god was further strengthened with the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015. While I in no way condoned the cartoonish lampooning of religion in that satirical rag, the murder and maiming of 23 staff members in the magazine’s office by two fervent Islamists was a horribly extreme reaction borne of moral indignation against a “blasphemous” insult to their prophet.
The Nupur Sharma character-assassination, carried out on a mass scale, has confirmed my suspicions.. The most extraordinary thing about the story is that it is almost impossible to discover from any media source what Ms. Sharma actually said.. No news report deigned to print it! I thought it must have been too terrible for words!
Eventually, I uncovered from a very obscure You-Tube video, that Ms. Sharma merely regurgitated a detail of Muhammad’s life that is accepted as historically accurate by most Muslims and cited in traditional sources, namely that he married a six-year-old bride, Aisha, and consummated the marriage when she was nine.
Of course, Islam is not alone in having condoned unions of adult males with pubescent girls in earlier centuries, notwithstanding that it is regarded with abhorrence today in most societies. In the Islamic world it is still not unheard of. So it is difficult to grasp what should be so offensive to Muslims about Nupur Sharma’s statement, unless we appreciate that, for many adherents of the Islamic faith, it is unacceptable to attribute carnal urges to “the Prophet”. Indeed I find it startling and a little frightening that in every report I have seen, Muhammad is described as “the holy Prophet” replete with a capital P. It should be noted that neither Moses nor any Jewish prophet would ever be thus described . This reporting was, no doubt, initiated by the Qatar-owned news agency Al-Jazeera and, unthinkingly, or perhaps cravenly, reproduced verbatim by other news outlets.
It is, in my view, the height of irony that in today’s world, while a Christopher Hitchens can write that “G-D is not great” and a Richard Dawkins can peddle “the G-D delusion” without an eyelid being batted, a mortal human being can be elevated to quasi-divine status and be thought of as faultless and beyond reproach while anyone daring to impute human failings to him is in danger of losing his or her career, freedom of movement or even earthly existence!
How refreshingly different is our Judaism whose faith in the One G-D is absolute and whose great men and women are never deified but, on the contrary, held to account for their faults and whose Torah commentators will not hesitate to read between the lines and find additional imperfections, albeit minor, in our great leaders, over and above those spelt out in the Scriptural text!
As for Sikhism: at first glance, it does appear to present as monotheistic; however, on further examination, it is seen to take, if not a pantheistic approach to G-D, at least a panentheistic one (where G-D is seen to reside in everyone and everything). More concerningly, Sikh gurus (saints) are regarded as equivalent to G-D!
Conclusion: Judaism is the only known truly monotheistic world faith in the universe!