We are brothers aren’t we?

Few days ago my child asked me about why do the Jews and the Arabs hate each other.

Well…. I am not going to venture into the reasons that caused the child to notice it, nor for that matter, will I dispute whether such hate actually exists. I will tackle only my responsibility as a parent to explain what my child observed. Here I must clarify also that by “Jews” was meant practitioners of Judaism and not anyone of Jewish origin, and by Arabs what the child really meant was practitioners of Islam. The reason I am making this clarification is because I myself was wondering if I am observing some germinating seed of racial prejudice or a generalized observation of behavior among people who self-identify to belong to one of these particular groups. So in the end the question boils down to why practitioners of Judaism and Islam harbor ill will towards each other.

At first, I decided to best my grandmother (bless her soul) who, when faced with a difficult question, would simply respond: ‘God only knows.’ But after ranting and explaining to my kid long enough that his eyes begun to glisten and a yawn pierced his fading attention span, I realized that I was saying the same thing my grandmother used to, just with many, many more words.

So without any further ado, allow me put you to sleep with the journey of discovering the brotherly relation between the Muslims and the Jews.

As you might recall, it all goes back to the Old Testament, the book of Genesis and the birth of Ishmael. Chapter 16,17, 21 and 25 to be exact, deal with this interesting story which can be abbreviated so: Abraham was promised by God, that his seed will be as numerous as dust of the Earth, so Abraham decided to help God a bit. The good book does place the blame on Sarai, who originally came up with this idea, but if Sarai suggestion is allowed to be so powerful, then men have no actual authority, and we are just blameless sheep led to slaughter by these superior females. Although I am positive that such an outlook would be welcomed by some women activists, I am quite of the opinion that this ‘blame’ was written in just to exonerate the ‘wonderful’ father of the Hebrew nation.

At that point lets indulge ourselves in the intricate setup to help God, as devised by Abraham and Sarai. Genesis 16: 3-4 (KJV)

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

Ok, before we go any further with that:   notice that Sarai gave her (Hagar) to be his (Abraham’s) wife. So the initial intent by the writer seems bearable: Hagar becomes Abraham’s second wife, which in those times and in that culture was considered acceptable. Then why do we have Hagar despising Sarai, once she became pregnant? The writer turns the table and makes Sarai the victim here when she says: And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee. But anyone can see, that the slave girl was simply given up for rape. She was never married to Abraham, or at least no one mentions it, and later she is treated and sent away like a dog.

If you know anything about rape victims, especially about victims of repeated sexual abuse, you will realize that a Stockholm syndrome is very likely and therefore the victim will find enmity with the situation, circumstance or person who perpetuates such situation, rather than the perpetrator himself.   Also in cases where Stockholm syndrome did not take root, the victim will rationalize that the perpetrator is not the only culprit, but those who aid and abet him are as responsible as the perpetrator.

So there should be no wonder that Hagar would despise Sarai, the problem here is that Sarai knowing that Hagar is pregnant, fears that her own status might suffer, so she begins the process of removing Hagar from her path.

At first, Abraham gives the fate of Hagar to Sarai. If she were one of his wives, he would have not done so, but once again his actions shine light on this situation. Hagar is just a slave and has no status. Sarai deals harshly with the girl and Hagar flees. (Gen 16:6) but then a messenger from God pops in and tells Hagar to return and be meek: Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands (Gen 16:9). In exchange he promises to make her descendants countless. She returned and gave birth to a son: Ishmael.

Years later when Ishmael was thirteen, Sarah gave birth to a son named Isaac. Again Sarah started concocting against Hagar and her son and eventually demanded that Abraham send them away. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac (Gen 21:10). Here the good book mentions that Ishmael was mocking, but does not go into details. Guess mocking was a terrible and unforgivable crime that deserved a great punishment.

Here Abraham has a second though, he got used to Ishmael as his son, but God intervenes and says it’s OK to chase the boy and his mother away into wilderness. Abraham was such a wonderful man, that he trusted that God will take care of them. Strangely he did not trust God that much before he slept with Hagar, or when he mocked God for promising him a son when he was about a hundred years old. Please notice that Abraham mocking God was not punishable in any specific way while Ishmael mocking someone that was not even mentioned, got him kicked out from his home.

Hagar giving Ishmael water from the Miraculous Well in the Desert. Charles Paul Landon (1760-1826). Oil on canvas, 75 x 103cm.

 

Again an interesting piece comes mentioned: God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah’s advice (Gen 21:12) to chase the boy away. This is the second time Abraham is exonerated of making a bad decision, and a woman steps in his place, this time backed by God. So there should be no qualms that the writer of this text made sure Men are not to be blamed for any bad decisions.

What strikes me in this story is what follows in Genesis 22. Here Abraham is tested for his faithfulness and ordered to sacrifice, Isaac. When he complies, God intervenes and stops the sacrificial murder.

The reason this is so striking, is because I have not mentioned God’s responsibility in this whole fiasco. It is easy to blame Sarah while trying to exonerate Abraham, but what did God do or did not do to make things happen. First, God communicated with Abraham and gave him his covenant, he made his promises (of multiple progeny) and he promised him a land. He intervened when Hagar escaped from Sarah, the first time and the spoke with Abraham taking Sarah’s side to kick Hagar out. God also intervened to save Hagar and Ishmael in the desert and to stop Abraham from killing Ishmael. But somehow, somewhere God was absent when Sarah gave Hagar to be raped by Abraham.

When Sarah mocked God’s messenger and his promise of a child, He heard it and reprimanded her. But When Sarah concocted her plan on Hagar, no one stopped her.

The author of this text was so concerned with explaining enmity between the two groups, while keeping his people blameless that he missed implicating his own God as a culprit. And since according to the book, God was a culprit in this situation, therefore it is correct to state that: only God knows why.