Monday, February 14, 2011

Muhammad, Christians, and Afghan Antisemitism

I have been able to have many great conservations with Afghans dealing with religion.  Unlike places in the Middle East, where the furthest I ever got was being told I should be Muslim (translation: I like you but you are a dirty infidel), Afghans seem much more open to discuss religion with non-Muslims.  Perhaps this is because in Afghanistan Christianity is a distant "other" rather than a close, potential threat that many in the Middle East see it as.  I cannot say for sure why Afghans are more open but both Shia Sufis and Sunnis have been more than interested in hearing me talk about Catholicism, Protestantism, similarities between Sufi and Catholic saints, and what I know about Islam.

It was during one of these talks that I was told a story which offers deep reflections into Afghan cultural schooling of both Christianity and Judaism.  One elder asked me if I knew the story about how a priest saved Muhammad's life.  I knew of several early encounter stories of Muhammad and Christians including the Nestorian or Arian monk Bahira and Muhammad's relative, the Ebionite priest Waraqah ibn Nawfal, but I had not heard the story of a priest saving Muhammad's life.  So I asked to hear the story.

A Priest Saves Muhammad (Paraphrased by me)

When Muhammad was born his father had already had died.  His mother gave him to an Arab Bedioun tribe as was the custom of Meccan Arabs, in order for Arab children to start off their lives growing strong.  When Mohammad was a baby a Christian priest told Halimah bint Abi Dhuayb, his foster mother, to take care of the children because he was special and destined for great things.  The priest made special note telling Hamlimah to beware of Jews who would be looking for the child.

Later, when Mohammad was still very young, a group of Jews came to the Bedouin camp and started asking questions about young children who demonstrated "signs."  The Jews found Halimah and began telling her how they believed Mohammad was the "one they were looking for."  The Jews then asked where the boy's father was.  Hamlimah, remembering what the priest had told her, pointed to her husband and said he was the boy's father.  The Jews then sighed and said Mohammad seemed to be the one they were looking for but the child they were looking for had a deceased father.  Hamlimah could tell the Jews were there looking for Mohammad in order to kill him.

The Afghans I was with all nodded while the story was being recited and one even told me he had learned the story while in school.

I have tried researching the story but I can find it no place else.  It seems to combine elements of a version of Bahria, who warned adults to protect Muhammad from the Jews, and extra-Biblical stories about Jesus' childhood and signs of his greatness.  The story also plays Christians in a good light, God-fearers who are looking for the truth.  While I have had access only to a select portion of Afghans, all of them have made points to remark on the shared values of Christians and Muslims, something which Muslims in the Middle East that I have encountered to do not mention.  There, I have been told Christianity is corrupted truth and that only Islam holds the answer.

The saddest part of the story is the antisemitism.  Nearly five hundred years had passed between the destruction of organized, Temple Judaism and the birth of Muhammad.  Sadly, the complete lack of Judaism's ability to pull off the logistics required to do any giant "hunt down the chosen one" operation does not enter anyone's mind here.  Instead, stories about how bad Jews are continue.  When I tried mentioning my doubts about an organized Jewish plot against Muhammad the elder just started listing off prophets killed by "the Jews."

My conservations with Muslims have been very rewarding.  They have asked to have parts of my Bible and works by Saint Josemaria Escriva translated so they can "read God's word and works to others."  However, for all these good moments it is disheartening to see dark hates lurk in the hearts and minds of good religious people.


Jerod in North Texas said...

I just discovered your site from Chicagoboyz and I also remember your posts on Coming Anarchy. Excellent site. This anecdote in particular was all new to me and intriguing. Keep up the good work..

Catholicgauze said...

Thanks Jerod! If you have any questions on Afghanistan be sure to ask and I'll blog you the answer!

Anonymous said...

I am trying to research who may have taught Muhammad the old testament in the 500's or 600's and failed to to teach him of Christ also, obviously Jewish. I am trying to understand the differences of theology that causes so much strife in our world. Even though the basis of these three most prevalent Religions other than Hindu are so close in relation.Though I do see the moral values of Hindu is fundamentally similar.

Catholicgauze said...

Hi anonymous,
Muhammad did know of Jesus Christ. He denied the divine elements of Jesus and it does seem he was heavily influenced by his misunderstanding of Nestorian theology, which emphasized the human nature of Jesus above the divine nature.