Many Jews supported Prophet Muhammad (s) when he arrived in Madinah. One of them was Rabbi Mukhayriq, who according to Ibn Ishaq, the first major biographer of Prophet Muhammad (s): “Recognized the Apostle of Allah by his description, and by what he found in his (Torah) scholarship. However, (since) he was accustomed to his own religion (Judaism), this held him back (from converting to Islam)”.
Rabbi Mukhayriq, a learned leader of the tribe of Tha’labah, an Arab tribe that had become largely Jewish over the previous century, fought and died alongside Prophet Muhammed (s) in the battle of Uhud on 19 March, 625 CE. That day was Saturday; the Jewish Sabbath. Rabbi Mukhayriq spoke to his congregation asking them to join him to help Prophet Muhammed (s).
His tribe’s men declined because Jews should not fight on the Sabbath unless they were under direct attack. So Mukhayriq told his congregation he would fight along side Prophet Muhammad (s); and if he died in battle his wealth should go to Prophet Muhammed (s) and distributed as charity.
But the majority of the Jews in the three Jewish tribes living in Madinah, who did support Muhammad (s) as a prophet for the pagans, were hesitant to fully support him because they were afraid that after his death, Muhammad’s (s) ex-polytheist followers would return to polytheism, and turn Muhammad (s) into a son of God, just as the majority of the ex-polytheist, non-Jewish followers of Prophet Jesus (a) had done.
Then those ex-pagan trinitarians persecuted Jews for centuries; because Jews would not accept Jesus (a) as the Son of God. No Jews wanted to see that happen again.
Perhaps Rabbi Mukhayriq scholarship led him to believe that Prophet Muhammad (s) was not only a Prophet, but was also one of God’s Anointed; who with his Arab followers would enable and facilitate the Jewish people’s return to the land of Israel as is predicted in the Bible; just as the Persian King Cyrus the Great (who is called one of God’s Anointed by Prophet Isaiah) had enabled and facilitated the return of Jews to Israel eleven centuries earlier.
The fact that the Persians had just a few years previously (614 CE) captured the Land of Israel from the Eastern Roman Empire may, in the rabbi’s mind, have stimulated this belief. This event is mentioned in the Qur’an: “The (Roman) Byzantines have been defeated in the nearest land (Syria and Israel). But they, after their defeat, will overcome (their enemies) within three to nine years. To Allah belongs the command before and after.” (30:2-4)
Thus, this unorthodox rabbi viewed fighting alongside Prophet Muhammad (s) as his personal voluntary fight in support of monotheism as well as a witness to his faith in the arrival of one of God’s Anointed Messiahs (everyone knows of the final Son of David (a) Messiah, but the rabbis also speak of a Son of Joseph (a) Messiah who will precede the Son of David).
Rabbi Mukhayriq also knew of the fifth century rabbinic text named Sifei Debarim,, that interpreted the three mountains mentioned as a source of written revelation in Deuteronomy 21:21 as Sinai-Hebrew, Seir-Greek and Paran-Arabic; a clear reference to the Jewish, Christian and future Islamic sacred scriptures.
Of course, when Rabbi Mukhayriq made the decision to risk his life fighting along side Muhammad at the battle of Uhud, much of the Qur’an had not yet been revealed. But since the chapter Al-A’raf had already been revealed in Makkah, this unorthodox rabbi may also have been inspired by the Qur’an’s statement:
“Moses said to his people: “Pray for help from the Lord, and (wait) in patience and constancy: for the Land is his, to give as an inheritance to whoever He wanted”. (7:128) and “We made people, who were considered weak (oppressed slaves like The Children of Israel), inheritors of lands in both east and west, – lands whereon We sent down Our blessings. The fair promise of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel, because they had patience and constancy”. (7:137)
The Qur’an’s words “inheritors of lands in both east and west,” refers to the Children of Israel, as well as other nations that Allah has liberated, as a Hebrew prophet, declares: “Aren’t you people of Israel like the people of Ethiopia to me?” declares the LORD. “I brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7)
The only verses in the Quran that mentioned God giving land to a people as an inheritance are the ones just quoted and this specific statement: “Thus it was, but We made the Children of Israel inheritors of it [the Land of Israel]”. (26: 59)
Unfortunately, Prophet Muhammad (s) died just four years before the Muslim conquest of the Land of Israel. Although Jews were then able to settle in Jerusalem, there was no equivalent of King Cyrus’s decree supporting rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.
I first studied Islam as a student at UCLA 60 years ago, Then again in Rabbinical school. Over the years I continued to read the Qur’an and other Islamic books. I read these books as Prophet Muhammad (s) taught his followers in a Hadith “not as a believer, and not as a disbeliever”. What does that mean?
The Qur’an, of course, is sacred scripture for Muslims. A companion of Muhammad (s) named Abu Huraira related, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’”
Following Muhammad’s (s) teaching I also neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur’an. If I believed in the Qur’an I would be a member of the Muslim ummah. But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur’an because I believe that Muhammad (s) is indeed a prophet; and I respect the Qur’an as a kindred revelation, first revealed to a kindred people, in a kindred language.
In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth.
Thus, I feel that I am a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. Reform Jews are now the largest of the Jewish denominations in the US. In the UK, Reform Judaism is called Liberal Judaism; in Europe it is called Progressive Judaism.
As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Prophet Abraham (a), the first Jew to be a Muslim, and I submit to be bound by the covenant and the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.
As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Rabbis should modify Jewish traditions to prevent them from making religion too hard to practice. This important teaching in the Qur’an (7:157) was taught by Prophet Muhammad (s) 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century Germany.
As Abu Huraira related: The Prophet said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” (Bukhari book 2 #38)
When Rabbi Mukhayriq told his congregation he would fight to protect Muhammad (s) from his enemies among the pagan Arabs of Makkah; he also stated that if he died in the battle he wanted his estate to go to Prophet Muhammed to be distributed as charity, and Prophet Muhammed (s) did inherit seven date palm gardens from Rabbi Mukhayriq and used this wealth to establish the first waqf (a charitable endowment) of Islam.
It was from Rabbi Mukhayriq’s endowment that Muhammad helped many poor people in Madinah.
I hope the legacy of Rabbi Mukhayriq’s waqf-endowment will result in Jews and Muslims in our own generation learning to understand and appreciate each other better. May the faithful believers of all religions commit themselves to this holy goal.