Many may not know this, but Muslims also commemorate the Exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt by fasting the ninth and 10th day of the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The event is called Ashura, stemming from the Arabic word for "ten."
While this may be surprising to non-Muslims, it's important to understand that Moses figures prominently in Muslim belief. The Exodus story is a happy one for Muslims; it is a tale of bitter bondage and hardship and the glory of God's deliverance from that hardship. The Qur'an speaks a great deal about Moses and his dealing with Pharaoh. In fact, about 73 passages--many encompassing several verses at a time--deal with Moses. More verses mention Moses by name than Muhammad (peace be upon them both).
The Qur'an tells of two miracles--Moses' staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing when he places it under his arm--that God permitted as proof of Moses' prophethood. It details the plagues that were unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and set the Hebrews free: "We (God) then sent upon them the flood, and locusts, and lice, and frogs, and blood as manifest signs; [as a result] they became arrogant and were a people steeped in crime" (7:133). The Qur'an then speaks about a great affliction that befell the Egyptians and led them to finally let the Hebrews go. The text does not go into what sort of affliction it was; perhaps it was the death of every Egyptian first born, but this is speculation. My favorite part of the story, the splitting of the Red Sea, is mentioned at least twice in the Qur'an as well.
Thus, I am happy to fast on Ashura to commemorate this event.
Yet, as I think about Passover and Ashura, I lament. I lament the tension that exists between the American Muslim and Jewish communities. In fact, UCLA Islamic law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl said that requests for his participation in Jewish-Muslim dialogue last year "just vanished." I have also seen many a Jewish-Muslim dialogue fizzle. In February of 2002, Jews and Muslims in southern California had a misunderstanding over a translation of the Qur'an which contained commentary that was derogatory toward Jews. The translation was later withdrawn, but the incident still highlighted the palpable tension between both faith communities.
The strained Jewish-Muslim relations in America sadden me a great deal. I suspect it has a lot to do with the still-festering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Even though this tragic conflict has yet to be resolved-and I pray that it gets resolved as soon as possible-it should not have an adverse effect on the relationship between American Muslims and Jews.
The two have much in common. Both espouse a staunch monotheism. A great number of Hebrew prophets, whom Muslims love dearly, are mentioned in the Qur'an and highly honored. Muslims and Jews both trace their faith origin to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). These commonalities far outweigh and outnumber any differences there may be, and they should serve to bring both communities closer together.
I sincerely believe that peace can come to the Middle East, and both Israelis and Palestinians can live together side by side. Muslims and Jews have lived together in peace before; the greatest example of this was in Muslim Spain where Moses bin Ma'mun (Maimonides), the great Jewish physician and philosopher, was high advisor to the Muslim Sultan. I pray this golden age may yet come again. Working together, Muslims and Jews, along with other faith communities, can help bring make America a better place, bring peace to the Middle East, and to the world in general. Failure cannot be an option.