Judaism and Islam – two monotheistic religions that are so different and yet so similar. How do they relate to each other? Muslims display a rationally unfounded hatred of Jews. They claim that it stems from what is written in the Koran. O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends one of another. And whosoever of you takes them for friends, he is himself among them. (…) Thou shalt surely find that the people most vehement in their enmity against those who believe – are the Jews and the idolaters. (Sura V, The Table Set). Muhammad at first believed that he had come to the Jews as their expected Messiah, while the Jews did not recognise Muhammad’s teaching and never considered him a prophet. Nor did they agree to participate in his plunderous conquests. The Jews experienced a feeling of horror when they listened to Muhammad’s first sermons. For them, it was a profanation of their religion. Muslim hatred of Jews could manifest itself in a pure form of racism – for example, in 807, the caliph Harun al-Rashid made it compulsory for Jews to wear yellow on their clothing (a comparison with what Adolf Hitler did almost twelve centuries later). In describing the mood between representatives of the two religions, it is impossible not to mention the Israeli-Arab conflict, which has been going on for more than half a century in the Middle East. This dispute is not only religious but also ethnic and territorial. Some of the main flashpoints in this conflict are the non-acceptance by members of the Arab League of the existence of the Jewish state of Israel in Palestine, the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and the status of Jerusalem: one city – two capitals, the holy city of three monotheistic religions.
Traditionally, Judaism did not regard itself as a religion, but rather as a set of teachings and commandments, the fruit of God’s Covenant with Israel. Today, there is considerable prejudice within the Jewish community when it comes to referring to Judaism as a religion, because in its view this detracts from its importance.
According to the biblical account of the creation of the world, man is the most important of all created beings. And God finally said: Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. Let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over the earth, and over all the beasts that creep upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. After which God blessed them, saying to them: Be fruitful and multiply, that you may populate the earth and make it subject to you; that you may rule over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over all the animals that creep on the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). The idea of man’s privileged position is linked to human responsibility and duties towards God and the created world.
Man is different from all creatures and cannot find a companion among them. And so man gave names to every cattle, to the birds of the air and to every beast of the field, but no help suitable for man was found. Then the Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he slept he took out one of his ribs and filled the place with flesh. Whereupon the Lord God built a woman out of the rib he had taken out of the man. And when he had brought her to the man, the man said, This one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! This one shall be called woman, because she was taken from a man. Therefore it is a man who leaves his father and his mother and unites himself to his wife so closely that they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20-24). It is the definitive duty of every Jew to marry and have children. The age for marriage was commonly considered to be eighteen, but it is known that there are exceptions – a boy could do so as early as thirteen. A large family is a religious ideal among Orthodox Jews, as well as a social reality. It is not unusual to put pressure on a bachelor who has reached the appropriate age to find a wife. Remarriage is also recommended for divorced and widowed couples, even if they have children from a previous relationship. The only acceptable rationale that would justify lifelong celibacy is to devote one’s life to Torah study, but only if this involves the assurance of being able to control one’s own sex drive. Nevertheless, celibacy is not recommended. A Jew who has not tried to start a family is regarded as one who has diminished the image of God and caused God to cease to be present in Israel.
If a man marries a woman and becomes her husband, but does not hold her in kindness because he has found something repulsive in her, he will write her a letter of divorce, hand it to her, then send her away from him. If she, having left his house, goes and becomes the wife of another, and the latter also hates her, he will give her a letter of divorce and remove her from the house, or if the second husband who married her dies, her first husband, who sent her away, will not be able to take her again as a reprobate wife. For this is an abomination to the LORD, and thou shalt not allow such iniquity in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee possession. (Deuteronomy 24:1- 4). The granting of divorce is the privilege of the husband. It is done by personally handing his wife a document, called a get. It is traditionally drawn up in Aramaic. This letter should be signed by two witnesses. No formal error can be made during the preparation of the get, as this would prevent the woman from marrying again. The validity of a get prepared by one rabbi was questioned by another clergy. Many important divisions within the Jewish communities also arose because of this. A wife could apply for divorce on the grounds of infertility, for example, husband, his impotence, infidelity, irreligence, when she is treated with cruelty and is deprived of her livelihood. If it is the wife who initiates the action, the divorce decree is not valid until the husband issues a divorce letter. If, on the other hand, she herself does not consent to it, the decision is made by a rabbinical court called a beit din. Since in Judaism the purpose of marriage is considered to be the production of offspring, a reason such as impotence is as legitimate a ground for divorce as possible. If there is no mutual agreement to divorce, one of the parties has the right to apply to a Jewish court called the Beit Din to pressure the spouse on the matter Unfortunately, at present, the Jewish authorities have no way of forcing a reluctant husband to comply with a Beit Din ruling. The exception is the current state of Israel, where an uncooperative husband can be thrown into prison. Sometimes a wife is forced to pay a substantial sum of money to her o husband in order for him to hand her the get and thus free her. A woman whose husband refuses to agree to a divorce or has disappeared cannot remarry. The inequality of the rights of a man and a woman during a traditional divorce is one of the main points of contention between the progressive and orthodox factions of Judaism.
In contrast, the majority of Muslims live in countries where the applicable family law is Sharia, a law based on religious sources, especially the Koran. According to the Koran, the holy book of Muslims, men, and women are equal before God, which means that after death they will be held accountable for their deeds in the same way. Unfortunately, this does not translate into mortality.
The Muslim family is patriarchal – power within it belongs to the men. Their guardianship should give the woman a sense of security, but in reality, this is at the expense of freedom, rights, and the ability to make her own decisions and choose her own path in life. The duty of men is precisely to maintain the family. Consequently, marriage is inadvisable if a man is in extreme poverty and his situation has no chance of improving in the future. The head of the family is the head of the family, who takes the most important decisions, including the management of the property. The eldest woman, the so-called “mother of the family”, heads the household. In general, marriage in Islam is recommended because failure to marry increases the chance of committing the very grave sin of adultery. Descent is inherited in the male line and the woman moves into her husband’s house after marriage. In most Muslim countries polygyny, or polygamy, is allowed for men to have up to four wives. Therefore, marry the women who are agreeable to you – two, three or four. But if you fear that you will not be fair, then marry only one, or those whom your right hands have captured. It is more suitable for you that you should not have acted unjustly. (Sura IV/3). An absurd curiosity: in Saudi Arabia, it happens that a man wants to marry for the fifth, sixth, and so on (it is allowed to have a maximum of four wives). In such a situation, he usually divorces one of his older wives and marries a new one, then divorces another one and takes another one as his wife again. Example: Osama bin Laden’s father had 22 wives and 54 children (Bin Laden was the 17th child).
Marriage in Islam is a kind of contract, as the woman is represented by her guardian: father, uncle or brother. In contrast, it is not a sacrament, as in Christianity, for example. Marriage is traditionally arranged by the family. Preferably partners belonging to the same tribe are chosen. The husband should provide his wife with a material status no worse than she enjoyed in the parental home. For the man, on the other hand, it is very important that his wife has respect for him. It is the wife’s responsibility to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs sufficiently to enable him to lead a moral life and have offspring from this relationship. In a mixed marriage if the wife does not convert to Islam she loses the right to inherit from her husband. Children born of a Muslim father are always treated as Muslims, even if they were baptised. They are obliged to follow their father’s religion.
In Shi’i Islam, a so-called temporary marriage – mut’a – is permitted. Such marriages are usually concluded for the duration of a journey or an extended trip. They last, for example, for a month, a week or even a day. According to this practice, after the consummation of such a marriage, the man should give the ‘temporary wife’ a salary. If a child was born of such a union, the man was obliged to contribute to its upkeep.
The wedding ceremony usually lasts several days. It is a very important event especially for the woman, as she then passes from her family to her husband’s family. The wedding ceremony is presided over by a Muslim judge called a kadi. The terms of the marriage are agreed beforehand. After a prayer, the young couple is asked three times if they agree to the marriage. If they give their consent in the presence of witnesses and sign the marriage contract, they are declared husband and wife.
Marriage can be dissolved by the husband (talaq) or at the request of the wife (khul). The husband has the right to dismiss his wife by repeating the words ‘you are abandoned’ three times in the presence of two witnesses – Muslims. There is then no reason to go to court for a divorce. O Prophet! When you are seeing off your wives, see them off at the proper time for them. Observe this term and fear Allah, your Lord. Do not drive them out of their homes and let them not go out at all, unless they have committed manifest lewdness. Such are the limits of Allah! And whoso transgresseth the bounds of Allah, he doeth injustice to himself yourself. You do not know: Perhaps, God will cause something new to happen. And when their time comes, either keep them in a dignified manner or part with them in a dignified manner. And call witnesses, two righteous ones among you, and establish a testimony before God. By this is admonished him who believes in Allah and the Last Day. And to him who fears Allah, He will prepare a way out. Divorce in Islam from a legal point of view is easy, but in the Qur’an it is considered the worst of the permitted things. The Qur’an only allows divorce as a last resort, e.g. when relations between spouses are so damaged that it is impossible to continue living together or to maintain peace in the home. The wife may request a divorce, but only in designated situations, but this is not as easy as for a man. Relevant grounds include the husband suffering from a venereal disease or another contagious ailment, failure to honour the marriage contract, the man’s failure to support the woman, and when the husband no longer wishes to be the husband. Some of the more absurd reasons include: a woman’s lack of care for her appearance and cleanliness, bad attitude towards her husband, and disobedience to him, A woman should not be kept in marriage against her will. If it is the man who decides to divorce, he pays the wife the entire mahr, which is the wedding gift the bride receives from the man, at the time of marriage. It is intended to provide financial security for her. If, on the other hand, it is the woman who decides to divorce, she gives the mahr to the abandoned husband. However, there are known cases where the wife is not obliged to return the mahr despite the husband’s disagreement. As a rule, women rarely decide to divorce, as their social status then falls and it is very badly judged.
In summary, in both Judaism and Islam there is a push to marry and start a family – contrary behaviour is often met with a kind of scattered sanction in society. The situation of women in Islam is much worse than in the first monotheistic religion I mentioned above. In both faiths, tradition plays a fairly important role, abortion is (at least as a rule) forbidden and the family occupies a central place in God’s plan. An important difference is the number of spouses one can have – in Judaism, as a rule, it is one person, whereas in Islam there is polygamy.
Christian Michael, Muslims, Islam and Me, Memoirs of an Algerian Co-op (1986-1990), Vigil, 2007, ISBN 978-83-89675-39-2.
Marek Agata, Basic information about Islam, Warsaw, Vox Humana, 2006, ISBN 83-923207-1-9.
Unterman Alan, Jews: faith and life, 2nd edn, transl. Jerzy Zabierowski, Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 2002, ISBN 83-05-13248-x.
During the writing of the paper I also used the Qur’an and the Old Testament