Throughout the Qur'an, God tells us the stories of exemplary human beings, prophets of God who bear a message to humanity, and the message is always, in its core, the same. It is a message in which the prophets stand as representatives for a relationship between humanity and the Maker of humanity. In example after example, whether we are talking about Adam, Noah, Joseph, Moses, David, or Solomon, the Qur’an portrays the relationship between these prophets and their Lord, setting an example to humanity at large as to what their attitude about existence ought to be, and the basic norms that should guide the morals and ethics of humanity at large.
In the Qur'an, for these prophets, it is not about a chosen race. It is not about a cursed or blessed progeny. It is not about the blood of the Prophet Noah, for example, and whether some of Noah's progeny are blessed while others are cursed. In the Bible, the progeny of Noah's son, Shem, from which comes the word Semites, are said to be blessed by God, while the progeny of Ham, another of Noah's sons, are said to be cursed. Of course, the progeny of Ham are dark-skinned people, and the progeny of Shem are light-skinned people. In the Bible, we read about wars over kingship even to the extent that although David is a prophet, he is described as a king, and although Solomon is a prophet, he is also described as a king.
In the Qur’an, the narratives about the rise and fall of nations have a very critical element that we do not find in the Bible. It is, in fact, center stage in the Qur'an. In the Qur’an, these prophets do not represent a particular tribe, ethnicity, or bloodline. The prophets stand for humanity at large. What guides their relationship to their Maker can be summed up in the word “humility.” Pious humility, the humility that is necessary for justice, the humility that tempers all causes with the realization that God is just, God is fair, God does not play favorites, and God will hold people accountable for their misdeeds and acts of injustice.
Go through the supplications of the prophets in the Qur'an. See how, when they speak to the Lord, they beg the Lord for forgiveness, for mercy, and for guidance. What is clear is that these prophets embody an idea about the very nature of humanity, and what it means for humanity to be virtuous and Godly. Mercy, forgiveness, humility, fairness, equity, and justice are always there.
These same prophets are almost unrecognizable in the Bible. In the Biblical narratives, these prophets stand for and represent bloodlines, and God is with these bloodlines, for better or worse. God orders His kings/prophets to punish people for their wickedness, and the punishment for people's wickedness in the Bible is, indeed, wicked. The punishment for people's wickedness, time and again, throughout the Bible, is slaughter, extermination, and mass death. There is a near tribal sense of egoism and arrogance. Even the Jebusites, who gave safe haven to the Prophet Abraham, are ordered to be exterminated to the last man, woman, and child. Solomon does not represent humanity in the Bible. David does not represent humanity in the Bible. Joshua does not represent humanity in the Bible. Isaiah does not represent humanity. It is not about humanity, humility, or virtue.
The irony in the Biblical discourse is that although God tells His soldiers to exterminate and to lay waste to the enemy, God's chosen people are themselves pretty wicked. According to the Biblical narrative, they constantly offend God. They constantly oppress other people. They constantly worship the wrong deities, and they constantly commit obscene infractions. According to the Biblical narrative, there is a dynamic of a chosen people who consistently offend against God, and God consistently gives them chance after chance. They keep disappointing and offending God, time and again, but God keeps forgiving them, offering them chance after chance, and they never lose their chosen status. Other than the chosen bloodline, however, there is no mercy. There is no quarter. There are no second chances.
Muslims, along with so many in the Global South, often stand puzzled and confused. How could a people fail to see the duplicity in their standards? How could a people fail to see, time and again, the fact that while they speak of lofty principles, and consistently claim these lofty principles for themselves, they are also, at the same time, capable of horrendous injustices against others? These others could be the indigenous populations of South America that were exterminated, their languages destroyed and their customs eradicated. How could the same people that speak of such lofty principles demolish and destroy the populations and indigenous cultures of America, those who had been living in what we call the United States for thousands of years, and who had built customs and cultures that were nuanced and sophisticated? How could they claim to “discover” lands in Africa, nations that had existed for hundreds of years before Europe could be entered into the annals of history? How could there be this duality or contradiction in the psyche and consciousness of the colonizer?
We see repeatedly that the colonizer becomes convinced, not just in real life but also in the Biblical narrative, that the subjugated are a wicked people. Test it for yourself. Pick up the Bible. No one notices it because those who read the Bible always assume that they are among the group whom God likes. They always assume that they are among those to whom God gives endless opportunities for salvation and repentance. But that is never extended to the other side, which is the object of extermination. It is a world apart.
But the contradictions that plague the narrative of the colonizer do not stop there. Like we saw when Netanyahu cites Isaiah's promise at the beginning of the genocide against Gaza, Netanyahu does something that we have seen time and again in the past 300 years. References to God and God's promises are cited even when everything about the society that cites this promise says, "God is not part of our equation, and God is not part of our life." So, not only will a secularist like Netanyahu cite Isaiah's promise, but even yesterday on Israeli TV, Israeli intellectuals were discussing whether Palestinians are descendants of the Jebusites or the Canaanites. The same Israeli intellectuals have a long record as secularists, even atheists. I nearly fell off my chair as I listened to them say, “The Jebusites are a wicked people because God said so in the Bible. The Canaanites are a wicked people because the Bible said so. So if the Palestinians want to claim that they are the descendants of these two groups of people, then, in fact, they are conceding that they are a wicked people, because they descended from a wicked people." The only basis for calling them a wicked people and, as such, deserving of extermination is the Bible. But if you are a secularist who does not care about God's law, or if you are an atheist who does not even believe in the sacredness of the Biblical narrative, then there is nothing that supports your argument. From the perspective of pure history, in fact, it is the Israelites who are a wicked people because they fought wars of extermination against the inhabitants of this land.
The Canaanites, the original inhabitants of this land, inhabited this land some 3,500 years before Christ. The Prophet Abraham, who descends from the line of Shem, son the Prophet Noah, existed before Judaism and before the Israelites have ever existed. Abraham eventually settled a part of the land of Canaan because the followers of Abraham were not numerous enough to have complete dominance over the land of Canaan, which is today's Palestine. But Abraham, some 1,800 years before Christ, comes onto this land and is met by the very king of the Jebusites, the "wicked" people, and is helped to settle. Now, the Bible shocks us by saying that God does not advise Abraham to be grateful for the hospitality and cooperation shown to him by the Jebusites. Quite the contrary. According to the Biblical narrative, God tells Abraham that the land from the Nile to the Euphrates is his land. This is although Abraham does not have the followers to fill even a city in Palestine, and his followers would fill nothing more than a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which at this point belongs to the Jebusites. It is very shocking, and it deserves serious pause.
What type of god says to Abraham, "From the river to the river is yours. You have the right to conquer and vanquish. God authorizes you to cleanse all the people from the river to the river"? Abraham does not establish a state in Palestine, but from the progeny of Abraham we have Ismael, who settles in Arabia and intermarries with Arab tribes, and we have Isaac, who settles in Palestine. The Bible makes a big deal about what it describes as the disaster and calamity of the descendants of Isaac and, later on, the descendants of David intermarrying and mixing with indigenous cultures. The Bible is insistent on ethnic and bloodline purity. We know, of course, that after Isaac we have Jacob, and we know the story of the sons of Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. We know that because of a famine, the sons of Jacob migrate from Palestine to Egypt, where they join Joseph. And the sons of Jacob settled in Egypt for about 450 years.
Relations between the descendants of Jacob and the Egyptians sour during the course of 450 years, and God then sends Moses—who, again, in the Biblical narrative, only cares about a bloodline and is not vested in the idea of tawhid—to liberate the Israelites. According to the Bible, Moses is exclusively interested in the descendants of Jacob, and upon saving the Israelites from the land in which they became persecuted after living there for 450 years, Moses tells them, "Let us go back to the land from which you came 450 years ago."
In the Bible, there are imperial promises. In the same way that God tells Abraham, "from the river to the river," God also has genocidal fantasies. God tells Moses to lead the Israelites back to Palestine with, quite literally, genocidal fantasies. Now, of course, over the 450 years, the number of Israelites has considerably increased. But it is not Moses and Aaron, his brother, who lead the Israelites out of the desert of Sinai back to the land of Palestine. It is the figure known in Arabic sources as Yusha bin Nun, or, in Biblical sources, as Joshua. Joshua leads the Israelites out of the desert, and this is around 1,200 years before Christ. The Bible tells a story of Joshua returning to a land that is already inhabited with people, but the narrative of the Bible is oblivious to the fact that there are human beings living there, because it tells Joshua to do one thing, that is, to conquer and exterminate. God talks about the populations living there as if they are vermin, insects to get rid of. It is only after Joshua that Jews finally managed to establish two kingdoms for themselves, these being the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Yehuza. Neither manages to cover the entire territory of historical Palestine. Despite the Bible's genocidal fantasies, the Israelites and the people from the kingdom of Yehuza never managed to ethnically cleanse Palestine of all the ethnicities that were not descendants from either the sons of Shem or the sons of Solomon.
Two points here. It is only because we blindly accept the engineered narrative of the West about itself that we are shocked by the wars of extermination, entitlement, and racial superiority. In fact, that is the rule of thumb when it comes to the West. It is not the exception. The irony is, as secular as the West claims to be, time and again, throughout the annals of history, in every genocidal campaign, whether led by the British, the French, the Dutch, and now the Americans and Israelis, what creeps in is the Biblical genocidal influence against native and indigenous populations. It is a racist narrative. “You are God's chosen bloodline.” It has nothing to do with your ideas, beliefs, or practices. It has everything to do with your blood. Because you are God's chosen bloodline, you have the right to exterminate other bloodlines if you wish, or if you believe that God commanded you to do so. And that is precisely what colonialism has done, time and again.
As I watch Israeli TV, I hear Israelis cite the example of Native Americans to justify what they are doing to Palestinians. I do not think even the people citing this example realize how staggering this is. No amount of window dressing can overcome that the theology of extermination against Native Americans was very much a Biblical theology. It is, again, a highly sanitized history we tell that ignores all the references to the Bible and how these were “damned” and “primitive” people who did not know the light of God. These Israeli commentators do not realize the extent to which they are condemning themselves, condemning their entire civilization, condemning the entire identity, philosophy, and logic. With every commentator so far whom I have heard citing the example of indigenous Americans, they have said, "Look, they stopped resisting. They gave up." But they ignore a key fact. The U.S. had no choice but to give Native Americans, as oppressed as they are, citizenship and full rights. In theory, if the Native Americans become a majority of the population, then, legally speaking, there is nothing the U.S. can do to stop them from rising to power, from filling the seats of the Senate, et cetera.
This is not what Israel has done with the Palestinians. The comparison is flawed. If the comparison is that both colonizers are genocidal, that is right. But the algebra of subjugation that we see in the U.S. vis-a-vis Native Americans is not the same as what we witness in Israel. In Israel, there is a formal apartheid system in which subjugated people are kept at arm's length. They can never attain representation or anything under the law resembling equal rights. That is different from the status of Native Americans who, at least legally speaking, have legal rights under the Constitution. They have the right to carry and travel on a U.S. passport. Legally speaking, they have the right to claim all the privileges and rights of citizenship. Now, if Israel wants to give the Palestinians citizenship in the West Bank and Gaza, that is something else. But that is not what we are talking about.
The Israelis, along with the entire world, know well that Palestine was already fully inhabited 3,500 years before Christ. Everyone knows that when the Israelites come to Palestine and establish their first political state, their first kingdom, this is 1,800 years before Christ. Everyone knows that their kingdoms were limited political entities. They were not expansive. They were not like the Babylonians or Persians, for instance, who conquered huge plots of land.
What we have in the Biblical narrative are genocidal fantasies that read like the fantasies of a defeated and conquered people fantasizing about slaughtering the people who, in their mind, did them wrong. The problem, though, is that this is not just interesting trivia. The problem is that this paradoxical relationship to humanism is at the heart and soul of Western civilization. On the one hand, the Western civilization was able to tap back to the Greek civilization to claim and build upon humanitarian ideas that led to things like the four Geneva Conventions on the law of war, laws that clearly state that what Israel is doing is criminal. There can be no doubt about it. You cannot bomb ambulances and hospitals, kill United Nations personnel, starve people to death, cut off water, and basically put them in a huge death camp and then say, "Well, it is all because we are fighting terrorists." But that side coexists with another part of the Western psyche, and that other part is bound to bloodlines. It is racist. There is a long history of saying, "The sons of Shem are okay, while the sons of Ham are cursed." In fact, the very skin color of the sons of Ham, dark skin, is said to be cursed by God. The Bible cares about Shem’s bloodline. The Bible constantly declares the enemies of the favorite bloodline not just to be wicked people, but people who, because of their wickedness, lose the right to exist. Killing the children of these people is not a crime.
That duality, that tension, that dialectic, that paradox has always been there in the Western personality. One face talks of lofty ideas, the right to life, the right to self-determination, the right to property, the right to liberty, while the other face exterminates people who have different bloodlines, i.e. people of different races.
Meanwhile, time and again, the prophets of the Qur'an, David, Jacob, and Solomon, are saying, "We are a part of humanity. We are a blessing unto all humanity. We invite all humanity to meet and recognize its Lord." Nowhere in the Qur'an will you find an excuse for extermination and genocide. Do you see the extent to which our intellects are colonized? Everything I have said is obvious, but it is always Muslims who are put on the defensive.
Yet there is another lesson to learn from all this, and it is a very difficult lesson. It is the lesson to be learned from the heroic stand of the Palestinian people. The entire world has seen the Palestinian people lose everything, and the world has seen that what they hold onto is, quite simply, “Alhamdulillah.” None of the violence, the ugliness, and the sheer horror shakes their relationship with God. I have seen so many videos of people bewildered by the strength and heroism of the Palestinian people. People have even started reading the Qur'an to understand where this strength comes from. How could it be that people who do not have painkillers or even the most basic elements to save the lives of the injured continue saying, “Alhamdulillah, we are with God. We do not doubt God”.
This points to one of the most difficult lessons of history. Remember that Christians were persecuted for over 300 years until a Roman emperor happened to have a wife who became Christian, and convinced her husband that Christianity would be good for his imperial rule. Suddenly, the fortunes of Christianity changed. But what upheld the Christian message, during the course of these 300 years, was countless stories of sacrifice and heroism. Not military victories. Not conquering and vanquishing. But sheer strength, resilience, and faith in adversity.
Keep in mind that nations take hundreds of years to rise. Subjugated people take hundreds of years to overthrow subjugation. The greatest betrayal any Muslim can commit is to despair in our Lord just because it has been 70 years. The worst thing is to say, "Why is God allowing this travesty to happen?" Maybe, when Muslims get to the point where they can truly testify to the truth of God, when they can look back at their oppressors right in the eye, and say, "You have a fundamental contradiction, an axiom, a paradox in your consciousness. We are not the people who are flawed. We are not the people who somehow need fixing. You need to take a deep look into yourself because of your racism, because of your genocidal ethic against the outsider, not us," maybe, when we get to this point, things will start to change. Maybe we will start overthrowing subjugation and our oppression.
In the meanwhile, however, all is lost if you do not pay careful attention to the real victory of the Palestinians. As far as I am concerned, the Palestinians have already won this war. They won the war not because of the number of Israelis they killed. They won the war of morality and ethics through their sheer strength and resilience. I am telling you that the power and strength of Palestinians will, indeed, be the means through which many people will come to Islam. And I am telling you that if Muslims understand this ethical and moral lesson well, this victory can truly become the downfall, in due time, of the racist regime and racist ideology in Israel.
History is not just the story of the powerful, the conqueror, and the conquered. History is also the story of heroes, those who break the norm and what is anticipated and expected of human weakness, and who display feats of superhumanity. The heroism of the Palestinian people is a true game changer of everything, if Muslims can learn the lesson and absorb what God is telling us through the testimony and dynamics of history. Reflect upon that.