Arab Muslims who want Peace: A case study

In a previous post, there was much discussion of the elusive (some would say imaginary) phenomenon of Palestinian Muslims who want to live in peace alongside an independent Jewish state. I post here a blogpost by Ralph Dobrin, an Israeli, on a conversation he had with an Arab construction worker at his home.

Jihad is really a way of life

July 12, 2009

Jews can learn from it

By Ralph Dobrin

My wife and I recently renovated our bathroom. It’s amazing how much work such a small project involves. It took a lot of hard physical labor, resoluteness and intelligence on the part of the workmen who made it all possible. Three men did most of the work: a pumber called Danny, who brought two other men, both of them Arabs from suburbs in the eastern part of Jerusalem. There was Yusuf, who helped Danny strip away the walls and floor tiles and dismantle the pipes, which were old and corroded; and Hassan laid the floor and wall tiles.

And what a huge effort it was on their part! True, they were paid for their efforts, but nevertheless, I had to appreciate that for a few days of their lives they dedicated their strength, intelligence and and experience to me personally. For a while these three men became a central part in our life. So we cared for them. We cared that they were drinking and eating enough; that they were sufficiently rested from their grueling work from time to time. We weren’t just being nice. After all, if you expect people to do a good job for you, you’ve got to care about their physical well-being.

From time to time we would chat with them. Sometimes we praised their work and occasionally we would ask them to pull out a tile that hadn’t been placed absolutely straight. Each time they obliged very willingly. Yusuf spoke Hebrew fairly well, while Hassan had a little difficulty. My wife and I once had a fairly basic command of Arabic. So we practised our rusty Arabic with them. They seemed very happy that we could converse, albeit very haltingly, in Arabic.

Every day I prepared lunch which we ate together, while chatting about work, family, health and the Israel-Arab conflict. About this latter issue, they said a few things that I didn’t agree with, and I countered calmly, to which they responded calmly.

The fact that they are part of a nation with which my nation is locked in a desperate, mortal struggle, seemed to have no bearing on the degree of amiability in our relationship, even though I made it clear that nationalistically I have views that place me more Right Wing than Avigdor Lieberman.

I had noticed that Hassan took himself to a corner a few times a day and prayed. Sitting down to have dinner with him on the evening that he finished his work, I touched on the subject of religion.

“Religion is an important part of your life?” I asked rhetorically.

He nodded.

I continued: “I saw you praying.”

His expression seemed to say, “So what?”

I proceeded: “A lot of people in Jerusalem are religious. Isn’t that so? There are Muslims, Jews, Christians.”

“We all have the same rab” (master of the universe), he replied.

I reckoned that we were on friendly enough terms for me to be able to say: “You undoubtedly know that many people all over the world are worried about Islamic fanaticism.”

He just stared at me impassively. His docile manner emboldened me and I continued: “A lot of people are acting like crazy madmen in the name of Allah. Hamas, Hizbollah, El Khaida. They kill thousands of innocent people. They kill Jews and Christians. They kill Muslims and they even kill themselves.” I smiled to try and maintain a friendly discourse. After all, the man had helped make a marvelous bathroom for us and he was now sharing a meal with me and my wife at our dinner table. But it is not every day that I can engage a devout Muslim in a conversation on this crucial issue.

He responded: “The people who do all this killing are so badly mistaken. The Koran is against such acts. That is not really religion. The people who do these things are not real Muslims.”

“I had the impression that they are very dedicated Muslims,” said I. “And they call what they do Jihad,”

“That’s not jihad,” he responded.

I replied cheerily: “Oh, I thought that jihad was waging war in the name of Allah.”

He was cautious with his words. Slowly, in his imperfect Hebrew, interspersed with Arabic words that we happened to understand, he explained: “Jihad is not just making war to defend Islam. Jihad is really service to God. I serve God through humility, modesty and the way I support and raise my family. I do this by trying to be honest, hardworking and productive. And the way that I can support my family and be productive is by laying floor tiles and wall tiles in people’s homes. This is myjihad. That’s why I work as cheerfully and as well as I can. That’s why I take care to lay every tile as straight and as perfectly as I can. At the end of the day I want to be able to say that I did a good day’s work. That, for me, is jihad.”

How can anyone not be impressed with this outlook, I concluded. Later I checked the Wikipedia and in different words it more or less confirmed what Hassan had said.

All this leads me to recall conversations that I have had with Haredim. Quoting freely from the Scriptures and Sages, they always give me the impression that they reckon that everyone else is out of step and that only they have the right answers. And I bet that Hassan, like the Haredim or like any other religious group, thinks that his religion is the only right way to commune with God.

But the main difference between Hassan and a very large part of the Haredi men is that for Hassan and his peers, working hard for a living is part of their credo. And they are the ones who build Israel’s cities, grow the produce, fix the cars, repair the plumbing, work in our factories and clean our streets. Without their hard work, Israel couldn’t function as an orderly state. On the other hand, while some of the Haredim do work – like the rest of the Jewish population in Israel, but mainly in jobs that don’t require too much muscle, sweat or soiled hands and clothes – to a large extent many Haredim make a lifestyle out of sponging off the rest of society, using Torah study as a reason.

Now I bet that Hassan is no less devout to the rab (it has the same meaning in Hebrew) as any resident of Meah Shearim, Bnai Brak, Betar Ilit, etc. He prays five times a day. He does so quietly. Some of the content of his prayers is similar to Jewish prayer. But he spends little time on his duvenning. Most of his time is dedicated to being as decent and trustworthy a human being as possible. And as productive!

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to promote Islam. Some of the nastiest, most evil scoundrels in the world are those who intone “Allah hu’akbar!” five times a day.

But as a way of life, Hassan’s personal take on Jihad, which can be summed up briefly as “be a real mensch,” is what the rabbis should be emphasizing to their communities and to the students in the yeshivot. They should be drumming into their heads the importance of productive labor in order to earn their living; not to be too proud to dirty their hands in the course of an honest day’s work; to strive for perfection in whatever they do; to practise humility; and for God’s sake, not to expect hand-outs from the rest of society.

Surely, that’s how they would come closer to tikun olam (repairing the world.) And surely, as Hassan said, that is how one really serves the rab. Indeed, all Israeli Jews should digest that.

Before I propose Hassan as an example of someone who a) would prefer peace with Israel to its destruction, and b) willing to stand up for that position among his people, I’d like to know some of the details of his political positions. Like the man who shrank to the point where his cat ate him, it’s not clear whether, were he, as a good Muslim, in position to reduce Ralph and his co-religionist to Dhimmi status, he wouldn’t feel compelled, as a commandment from the rab, to do so. His amiability is in no way a guarantor of his sincerity or his intentions.

On the other hand, he represents what I call “demotic religiosity” — that is a form of religiosity accessible to all in which, among other things, the individual cultivates his own personal relationship with God, engages in productive labor proudly, and believes that all people should be treated fairly. Hasan’s definition of “jihad” accords well with the saying in The Sayings of the Fathers, 4:1:

    Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions, as it is written (Proverbs 16:32) “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.”

This is the “great Jihad,” declared by Muhammad after the taking of Mecca: the struggle against one’s evil inclination.

Of course, Jihad translated into German give Kampf, so the term can, in a sense, easily become victim to the very evil inclinations it supposedly opposes. And certainly key players in the Islamic scene don’t seem to have taken this alleged “abrogation” of the “little Jihad” very seriously after the death of the prophet.

22 Responses to Arab Muslims who want Peace: A case study

  1. Cynic says:

    And they are the ones who build Israel’s cities, grow the produce, fix the cars, repair the plumbing, work in our factories and clean our streets. Without their hard work, Israel couldn’t function as an orderly state.

    An exaggeration at best in true Roger Cohen style.
    From the above one wonders if the Jews do anything.
    The last sentence, given the general work ethic observed in the work place, my home and in the street, is oxymoronic.

    The writer obviously is unaware of what is preached in the Mosques every Friday and equally ignorant of the contents of the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira and their importance for one praying 5 times a day.

    But as a way of life, Hassan’s personal take on Jihad, which can be summed up briefly as “be a real mensch,”

    does not quite jibe with what is prescribed in the holy books.

    is what the rabbis should be emphasizing to their communities and to the students in the yeshivot. They should be drumming into their heads the importance of productive labor in order to earn their living; not to be too proud to dirty their hands in the course of an honest day’s work; to strive for perfection in whatever they do; to practise humility; and for God’s sake, not to expect hand-outs from the rest of society.

    So the collective guilt is applied to the whole community to assuage certain emotions?
    Funny how one when truly involved in life gets to meet the haredi working for the police, the haredi Ph.D in Electrical Engineering doing important research.
    The religious working for private companies in IT, actuarial, accounting etc.

    But he spends little time on his duvenning. Most of his time is dedicated to being as decent and trustworthy a human being as possible. And as productive!

    The exact opposite of what I observed in the factories I worked in.

  2. oao says:

    b) willing to stand up for that position among his people … in position to reduce Ralph and his co-religionist to Dhimmi status, he wouldn’t feel compelled, as a commandment from the rab, to do so. His amiability is in no way a guarantor of his sincerity or his intentions.

    at best he would not actively participate, but rather let others do it and benefit from it.

    as to sincerity, the culture is such that lying has become a form of sincerity. they truly think what they tell you and then change and still think it. it’s not lying anymore but a way of life and survival.

  3. oao says:

    An exaggeration at best in true Roger Cohen style.

    there was some of that prior to arafat’s takeing over.
    my sense that it’s been much less since.

    The writer obviously is unaware of what is preached in the Mosques every Friday and equally ignorant of the contents of the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira and their importance for one praying 5 times a day.

    he prefers to not want to know. and hassan is sufficiently smart to know to not mention that if he wants to feed his children.

    does not quite jibe with what is prescribed in the holy books.

    all holly books are subject to interpretations. and the most effective aspect of religion is the ability to choose whetever interpretation you want whenever it is suitable.

    So the collective guilt is applied to the whole community to assuage certain emotions?

    so what he says about haredim is NOT statistically accurate?

    Funny how one when truly involved in life gets to meet the haredi working for the police, the haredi Ph.D in Electrical Engineering doing important research.

    as i keep saying, there are always exceptions, but exceptions are not the rule. and the exceptions are often dismissed if not worse by the collective as haveing abandoned god.

    i had my own experiences with haredim and they did not parallel yours.

    The religious working for private companies in IT, actuarial, accounting etc.

    The exact opposite of what I observed in the factories I worked in.

    on that, agreed. note that it’s harder to misbehave in the context of a kablan with 2 people than in a factory and keep your job.

    the religious are not the same as the haredim. that’s why the latter have a specific name, which better applies to how they want others to behave rather than to themselves.

  4. [...] original post here: Augean Stables » Arab Muslims who want Peace: A case study Tags: a-large-extent, and-clothes, but-mainly, large-extent, Lifestyle, much-muscle, [...]

  5. oao says:

    http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2009/07/palarabs-tilting-back-against-hamas.html

    i don’t trust these surveys for reasons already discussed many times here. but if you choose to accept this one, prepare to see western legitimization of hamas. it happens like clockwork when they’re down.

    that probably explains why mubarak wants to force abbas to accept legitimization of hamas in the wake of the failure of talks.

  6. Eliyahu says:

    oao, Guy Bekhor, a fairly well respected analyst here of Arab affairs, claims that neither Egypt nor Jordan really want a panamanian state. it would cause big trouble for both of them, since it would want to expand whatever happened to Israel and the Jews, and it wouldn’t mind “liberating” territory now ruled by dear Arab brethren.

  7. oao says:

    neither Egypt nor Jordan really want a panamanian state. it would cause big trouble for both of them

    yes, that’s what logic would lead me to. yet, both egypt and jordan keep pushing the acceptance of hamas and they tend to do it more seriously when hamas is down, just like the west.

    this could be explained: they usually know better the pal reality than the west. they may know better how weak fatah is and that when it’s down hamas may try to take over in the wb and succeed just as it did in wb, at which point jordan and egypt may be in worse situation. so perhaps it is beter to legitimize them in ghaza and avoid expansion. this is more about the weakness of fatah, not the strength of hamas.

    i’ve read some reference that mubarak is tired and ill, depressed about his nephew’s death and may not finish his reign. and jordan is full of militant pals who are dangerous if not appeased.

  8. Tom says:

    Sure enough, let’s believe him. Now ask him what

    “War is ordained by Allah, and all Muslims must be willing to fight, whether they like it or not. Quran 2:216″

    means. There are no limitations to this statement, and all schools accept it to mean that to wage war is every muslim’s duty.

    Let’s see him talk himself out of that one.

    And note that this is a relatively polite translation. The word used for war is the same one that was used in papers for what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds. It is, in fact, used to describe what Hitler did to the Jews (when they’re not denying it).

    It is most certainly not the word for “striving”. The word “islam” itself is very, very close, in arabic, for words like “occupation”, “repression” and so on. It would be a mistake, perhaps, to translate islam as “repression”, but not a big one.

  9. Jonathan Levy says:

    The main question here is – is Hassan telling Ralph what he thinks Ralph wants to hear, or is this what he really thinks? Since he knows Ralph is a right-winger, and surely Hassan wants to get keep this job, I’m not sure how freely he was speaking.

    On an unrelated note, I believe the most accurate translation of ‘Islam’ is ‘Submission’. Of course, all men have difficulty distinguishing between submission to a creed and submission to its apostles.

  10. oao says:

    I’m not sure how freely he was speaking.

    how unsure are you?

    the question is what he says to his fellow arabs. and if it’s different, which version is more likely to be his true one?

    Of course, all men have difficulty distinguishing between submission to a creed and submission to its apostles.

    that’s particularly difficult in islam, which lacks a hierarchy and there are tons of fatwa-issuing self-appointed apostles.

  11. [...] […] Pingback by Augean Stables » Arab Muslims who want Peace: A case … See more here: Augean Stables » Arab Muslims who want Peace: A case study Share and [...]

  12. cindy says:

    what else is he going to say to a Jew, who is paying for his work, while he sits at a Jew table and eats the Jews’ food..

    BUT -the first rule of islamic comportment, is to be polite

    ……..that is the muslim strength, and the Israelis’ weakness

    “The Prophet (mohammede) is reported to have said: “Indeed, gentleness adds more beauty to the atmosphere it reposes therein.”

    Actually, nothing is more needed now, in making dawah, than correct knowledge, gentleness and wisdom. The reason for this is to dispel all the superstitions and lies spread against Islam. All this needs wisdom, patience and perseverance, and such polite methods brings quick results and has rapid effect on the audience.

    Consider the wife of Abu sufyan, Hind and her saying to Muhammad, peace be upon him, after she came to Islam; “I never wanted to see anyone on the face of the earth to be put down more than you and your family. But now, I do not see anyone on the face of the earth more honored than you and your family.”

    This is a clear example of the prophet’s effect on people’s hearts and minds through his behavior and manners. Callers to Islam must follow this great example in their efforts to share the message of Islam instead of turning them away.”

    the first impression of the manners of the poorest muslim, goes a long way

  13. Eliyahu says:

    Cindy, dearest, you do do your da`awa in the loveliest way. So refined, so understanding, so genteel. Maybe you could help those folks at the Hamas TV station in Gaza do their Da`awa. They are sweet fellows, aren’t they? But they can’t help seeming crude sometimes with their accusations that Jews and Israelis put aphrodisiac in chewing gum to corrupt the virginal teenage Arab children in Gaza. Those charges are so 20th century. Now, we are modern aren’t we, sweetie? We wouldn’t want to do da`awa in an old fashioned medieval way. We want to help Hamas rewrite its charter so that Article 7 no longer says that Muslims are supposed to murder Jews on Judgment Day. That would only be good da`awa with Nazis, n’est-ce pas? It’s not that we don’t want to murder Jews, sweetie, but it might be better da`awa if we didn’t say so. Don’t you think so?

    We do so much want to appear civilized, don’t we? Please tell all your friends in the Ikhwan [the Brotherhood] that up to date da`awa is moving into the brave new 21st century. Bye bye. See you in al-Jannah [= Paradise]. Who knows, you might be one of my black-eyed maidens. Or one of my 72 white raisins. Who knows? Stay as sweet as you are.

  14. oao says:

    naivity and ignorance does a lot of damage.

  15. Crash Course on the Arab Israeli Conflict

    Here are overlooked facts in the current Middle East situation; these were compiled by a Christian university professor. It makes sense and it’s not slanted. Jew and non-Jew –it doesn’t matter. Thank You.

    1. Nationhood and Jerusalem. Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C.E., two thousand years before the rise of Islam.

    2. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

    3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 B.C.E., the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.

    4. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 C.E. lasted no more than 22 years.

    5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.

    6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.

    7. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.

    8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.

    9. Arab and Jewish Refugees: In 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.

    10. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.

    11. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same.

    12. Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugeegroup in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own peoples’ lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey.

    13. The Arab – Israeli Conflict: The Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians.

    There is only one Jewish nation.

    The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost.

    Israel defended itself each time and won.

    14. The P.L.O.’s Charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under the Palestinian Authority, and has supplied them.

    15. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths.

    16. The U.N. Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel.

    17. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel.

    18. The U.N was silent while 58 Jerusalem Synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians.

    19. The U.N. was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

    20. The U.N. was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

  16. Humaira Nazeer says:

    Assalamu Aalikum ,
    I am Humaira Nazeer from Muslim family and I have completed my all Islamic study from Islamic Institution of Toba Tek Singh . Today I have visited your website.Its realy wonderful work.I have desire to become the part of your Organization . I am able to do translation work.If you have translation work this is my request kindly contact with me. I am able to do Translation and recording work in some Pakistani Languages.
    Our National Language is Urdu and some other Provinces Languages. I do Islamic Translation work in Low and proper rates in Urdu, Punjabi , Sindhi ,Arabic and Saraikie.I am also able to do Recording work
    I see on your site that you have working on different Languages in different countries.
    Hopefuly you will Contact with me soon.
    Thanks.
    Humaira Nazeer
    [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>