By Hamid Dabashi
20 September 2018
Shia pilgrims gather between the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines
during the religious festival of Ashura in Karbala, Iraq, on October 1, 2017
[Reuters/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen]
On the Gregorian calendar (so named after
Pope Gregory XIII) this September, two of the holiest Jewish and Islamic high
holidays coincide. On September 10, Jews around the world began their high
holidays by commemorating Rosh Hashana which continues for 10 days until
September 19, Yum Kippur. It is on that day that Muslims in general, and Shia
in particular, commemorate the sacred day of Tasu'a and then a day later -
Ashoura - the 9th and 10th of the Islamic month of Muharram respectively.
Both the Jewish and Islamic calendars are
lunar while the Gregorian calendar on which they are being cast is solar. The
lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar and for that reason, though
stable on their own respective calendars, Jewish and Islamic holidays appear to
"roam" aimlessly on the Christian calendar.
None of this is "the fault" of
either the Jewish or the Islamic calendar. Given the way in which the Christian
calendar has been imperially universalised, the other two may look erratic and
confusing, but Jewish and Islamic high holy days are perfectly logical,
routine, and regular.
The Twain Have Met
Both Jewish and Muslim observers have
noticed this proximity between Yom Kippur and Ashoura. On the occasion of the
two holidays coinciding in 2016, Rabbi Allen S Maller noted how "both holy
days occur on the 10th day of the month, Muharram for Muslims and Tishri for
By way of explanation, he adds: "In
ancient times the two branches of Abraham's house followed the same lunar-solar
system of intercalating an additional month 7 times in a cycle of 19 years.
Thus, the 7th Jewish month of Tishri coincided with Muharram; and the 'Ashura
(10th) of Muharram synchronized with the 10th of Tishri, the Jewish Day of Atonement
- a day of fast."
On the occasion of a similar concurrence in
2015, Haroon Moghul , a Muslim American writer and a fellow at the Institute
for Social Policy and Understanding, wrote in a piece for CNN: "If you're
wondering why Muslims would celebrate a Jewish holiday, that's because neither
[Prophet] Mohammed nor the Early Muslims saw themselves as part of a new
Both Maller and Moghul cite an authentic
prophetic hadith, according to which Prophet Muhammad once encountered Jews in
Medina fasting on the 10th of Muharram/Tishrei and joined them in their fast.
Thus the origin of this overlap in
tradition is traced back to the time of the Prophet himself.
Thinking In Judeo-Islamic Terms
The similarities, correspondences and
affinities of such aspects of Islam and Judaism are only strange or bizarre to
those who have fallen into the trap of falsely projecting the Zionist colonial
adventurism in Palestine backwards onto history and positing an entrenched
hostility between Jews and Muslims.
Like Christianity, Islam is deeply
influenced by Judaism and has an even stronger proximity to its theological
monotheism. This is not a matter of opinion or ideological position. It is a
matter of historical fact.
The infamous statement of former US
president Barack Obama that "The Middle East is going through a
transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that
date back millennia," is typical of the ahistorical gibberish that
manufactures hostility between Islam and Judaism, and perforce between Jews and
Muslims. By making such declarations, Obama projects his own criminal role in
prolonging the Palestinian suffering under Zionist occupation to some distant
past that never was.
Much of the confusion and conflation of
Judaism and Zionism, and particularly the false and pernicious extension of the
charge of anti-Semitism against Muslims, have the same roots as this forced
approximation of both Jewish and Islamic calendars to the Gregorian calendar -
where Jews and Muslims are forced to see each other in Christian terms.
Zionism is the condition of Jewish
alienation from Judaism, precisely in the way militant Islamism is the
condition of self-alienation for Muslims.
Contrary to "the Judeo-Christian"
concoction (contested and contradicted by a long history of Christian
anti-Semitism), the idea of Judeo-Islamic tradition is not based on any
political or ideological project but evident in the most robust period of
Jewish and Islamic philosophies that is unrivalled in any other tradition.
Consider the fact that saying these Jewish
and Islamic holidays is on such and such days in September is entirely
meaningless to both Jews and Muslims and the inner rhythm of their own
respective calendars. We are forced to do so because we are writing in English
(as opposed to Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, etc.) and using what is
called "Common Era," or "Civic Calendar".
Both of these expressions are actually
nervous and futile attempts to disguise the fact that we are all forced to use
an imperial Christian calendar, which is ipso facto a distortion of the time
and narrative of both Jews and Muslims and which approximates them to a
dominant Christian temporal order.
As a European colonial project, Zionism was
formed in a decidedly Christian context and its endemic anti-Semitism - most
violently evident in the course of the Crusades - of endless pogroms and,
ultimately, the Holocaust.
But before and beyond the Zionist abuse of
Judaism (similar to the Islamist abuse of Islam in Iran and Saudi Arabia, or
colonial abuse of Christianity in the US, the fundamentalist abuse of Hinduism
in India, or the nationalist abuse of Buddhism in Myanmar), there is an
enduring and historically grounded proximity to the Judeo-Islamic heritage
which started even before the Golden Era of Andalusia.
From Saadia Gaon (882-942) to Yehuda Halevi
(1075-1141) to Maimonides (1135-1204), the leading luminaries of Jewish
philosophy were in enduring conversation with their Muslim counterpart -
Avicenna (980-1037), Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and Averroes (1126-1198).
This Judeo-Islamic philosophical tradition
was real and not created out of any political convenience or necessity. Today,
militant Zionism, puritanical Islamism and evangelical imperialism are
collectively invested in concealing these historical facts and either denying
or else catapulting the profound heritage of Judeo-Islamic philosophy back into
Political Islamism, Militant Zionism,
Racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic
anti-Semites like Steve Bannon (a strong advocate of Israel) now use the term
"Judeo-Christian tradition" as a subterfuge to fabricate a common
religious foregrounding for anti-Muslim bigotry. There is an entire bloody
history of Jewish suffering defying that hyphenated delusion of
How could a racist, Christian-Zionist
anti-Semite lay a claim on any "Judeo-Christian" heritage - except as
a ridiculously transparent Islamophobic trope?
The fact of the Judeo-Islamic tradition,
however, is far more potent historical evidence than semi-literate propaganda
officers like Bannon and his ilk can even fathom, let alone contest.
Three complementary ideological fanaticisms
are chiefly responsible for the sustained bifurcation manufactured today
between Islam and Judaism - all of them handmade by European colonialism, all
of them invested in denying and dismissing the legacies of the Judeo-Islamic
tradition. Militant Islamism, fanatical Zionism and Christian imperialism are
the triangulated foregrounding of fear and fanaticism that has wreaked havoc in
our world and systematically and consistently distorted the clarity of our
Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, militant Shi'ism
in Iran, and Zionism in Israel are today the identical ideological by-products
of European colonialism. In opposition to European colonialism, militant
Islamism (both the Sunni and Shia versions of it), stripped Islamic
intellectual history of its factual pluralistic and cosmopolitan character,
reducing it to a singular site of resistance to European colonialism. In the
same vein, Zionism, extending the racist logic of European colonialism into the
heart of the Arab world, stripped Judaism of its equally worldly moral
Fanatical Islamism, settler colonial
Zionism and imperial evangelicalism are chiefly responsible for this
manufactured rift between Judaism and Islam against the historical grain of
their proximities. And precisely for that reason, any legitimate criticism of
Zionism as a racist colonial project that spills over into a racist attack on
Judaism and Jews is falling fast into the Zionist trap and by definition is anti-Semitic.
Of course, what has historically
exacerbated the mutual impacts of Islamism and Zionism is the course of
Christian imperialism, now best represented in the racist malignancies of the
likes of Steve Bannon. His brand of evangelical imperialism now actively
presides over and exacerbates both militant Islamism and fanatical Zionism.
Steve Bannon, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Naftali Bennett are all cut from the
Retrieving A Lost Cosmopolitan Culture
To state and repeat the obvious: not all
Zionists are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists. Christian and now even Muslim
and Hindu Zionists are among the wealthiest and most powerful, sustaining the
calamitous course of the colonisation of Palestine.
That is the end of the false and deliberate
Zionist conflation of their violent state ideology with Judaism - precisely on
the model of the abuse of Islam and Muslims by Islamist ideologies now ruling
in Iran and Saudi Arabia. In their mutual hostilities against each other, they
are in fact steadfastly united with each other in robbing Judaism, Christianity
and Islam of their shared legacies, blinding the world to reason and sanity.
The idea of a much closer proximity between
Islam and Judaism than now deliberately clouded by the Zionist colonial project
does not mean historically there has not been a relation of power between the
two world religions.
From its very inception, Islam has been
definitive to multiple and successive world empires - in which (from the
Umayyads and the Abbasids to the Safavids and the Ottomans) Zoroastrian,
Jewish, and Christian communities have lived. There could not have possibly
been any equality between the ruling elite of the powerful Muslim empires and
these small minorities in their domains.
That in these dynastic and imperial Muslim
contexts there has been a Judeo-Islamic philosophical tradition unrivalled
anywhere else in the world is a testimony to the presence of potent
intellectual thrusts among Muslim and Jewish philosophers responding to the
mighty heritage of Greek philosophical tradition they shared.
The fates of both Judaism and Islam have
been pitted against each other in the context of European colonial conquests in
Arab lands, giving almost simultaneous birth to militant Zionism and
triumphalist Islamism - one as a colonial and the other as an anti-colonial
project of violent state-formation.
Militant Islamism and bellicose Zionism are
coterminous with the Christian imperialism that frames them both. All these
three triumphalist ideologies are morally bankrupt projects.
The task at hand is how to save Islam,
Judaism, and Christianity - as three world religions and concurrent frames of
our moral imagination - from the claws of so many decades of epistemic abuse.
The concurrence of Yom Kippur and Ashoura
this September is a gentle reminder of a much different history than the one
mandated in Palestine and beyond by the malignant disease of European
There is nothing wrong with Muslims
celebrating a Jewish holiday while commemorating their own most sacrosanct
days. There is nothing wrong with Jews looking at a Muslim holiday and seeing
the distant mirror of their own ancient beliefs. If either of those two
sentences sounds odd today, we need to overcome both fanatical Zionism and
militant Islamism, upend Steve Bannon's Christian imperialism, so we can
remember and retrieve a history of the world now hidden under the heavy
smokescreen of fanaticism, ignorance and greed.
The views expressed in this article are
the author's own