My Turn

Opinion: Shared 2017 New Years, language reflect two faiths' roots


This last September, the Islamic New Year, called Ras Al-Sanah, and the Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashanah, fell around the same time.

This serves as a beautiful reminder that these two faiths are more connected than the mainstream news, and people in general, believe them to be. Indeed, Jews and Muslims have a rich shared heritage that is worth viewing and publishing, especially at a time when the media portrays them as enemies.

One of the main connections between Jews and Arab Muslims is language. Both the Arabic and Hebrew languages belong to the Semitic language family. This was the language of the people who descended from Shem, the son of Noah. Examples of similar words between Arabic and Hebrew are:

Arabic | Hebrew | Meaning

Salam | Shallom | Peace

Bent | Bat | Girl

Shams​ | Shemsh | Sun

Walad | Yeled | Boy

Youm | Yom | Day

In addition to language, Jews and the Muslims share a myriad of other similarities.

Both religions are monotheistic (worshipping one God); believe in the Angels Gabriel and Michael; believe in Judgment Day and in Hell and Heaven; perform male circumcision; have a set number of prayers each day; have dietary rules and regulations (Kosher for Jews and Halal for Muslims); rely on the lunar calendar, and consider Al-Quds/Jerusalem as a holy city.

Another commonality between these two faiths is that they believe that God ordered Ibrahim to sacrifice his son. Jews believe this son to be Isaac, and Muslims believe this to be Ismael. However, Dr. Muhammad Shahroor, an Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Damascus and a prolific author of works on the Quran and Islamic jurisprudence, argues that God did not order Ibrahim to sacrifice either of his sons. He reasons that during this time period, it was common practice among cultures to sacrifice humans to appease their gods. For example, people performed human sacrifices when rivers flooded, when wars were lost or after the completion of temples and bridges.

Dr. Shahroor argues that the practice of human sacrifice had such a great effect on the subconscious of Ibrahim that it was manifested in his dreams. In the Quran, Ibrahim tells his son Ismael, "Son! I see that I sacrifice you in my dream."

Shahroor concludes that since the verse in the Quran uses the word "I see" and not "I was ordered," it suggests that it was actually Ibrahim's own desire to please the God he loves by sacrificing his beloved son.

People like to focus on how Muslims and Jews differ on who they believe God asked Ibrahim to sacrifice, but Dr. Shahoor's argument shows that the subject of God's command is not what matters. Ultimately, what matters is the extent of Ibrahim's love for God, a love that he ingrained in both his sons, a love that lives on today in both Muslims and Jews as they worship the same one and only God.

Even though the media focuses on the issues that divide Muslims and Jews, these two faiths have lots of shared heritage that unite them and are worthy of celebrating. Together, Isaac and Ismael continued to build upon the work of their father, Ibrahim. And together, they buried him respectfully and peacefully at the end of his life. Today, Ibrahim's grandchildren continue to lead similar lives and follow in the steps of their fathers, Isaac and Ismael. Peace and love has always been at the core of the legacy of Abraham and his sons.

The Jews and Muslims of today need not forget that.

Heyam Khweis has a bachelor's degree in American and English literature from Al-Quds (Jerusalem) University. She worked as a teacher for the United Nations school in Palestine. She owns the local Taos food business, Arabian Nights Foods and works as a Title 1 E/A math tutor at Taos High School.