Interview with Dr. Walid Mustafa

Dr. Walid Mustafa is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at the La Sallian school Bethlehem University of the Holy Land. Since 2004 Dr. Mustafa has been Dean of Faculty of the Arts. Previously he was Dean of Students at the same university. Dr. Mustafa received his Ph.D. from Kiev State University in the Ukraine. He has authored or co-authored seven books and numerous articles about various aspects of history, society and politics in the region. Bethlehem University of the Holy Land, or simply Bethlehem University, is located in the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank area of the Palestinian state.

Gary Dale: Dr. Mustafa, I appreciate the opportunity to interview you and I am very happy to have the chance to gain more background about some of the incredible claims in Alberto Rivera’s account of how the Roman Catholic Church allegedly helped to “create” Islam. Can you begin by telling me a little bit about the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula who were contemporaries of the prophet Mohammed?

Dr. Mustafa: The Jews who lived in this land were of Arab origin. They spoke Arabic and they had Arab names. Their traditions were those of the Arabian Peninsula. Judaism, like Islam and Christianity, is not a nationality. Nor does it mark tribal or national affiliation as is known. A man may be Buddhist and still belong to his homeland India, Thailand, or China. Similarly, a man may belong to Judaism and have an Arab, Russian or French nationality.

Gary Dale: Can you provide a little background on where these Jews came from? What was their history?

Dr. Mustafa: When Moses and his followers in Judaism emigrated from Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the present holy land, archeological studies, including the Israeli’s, that is critical of the Torah-historical school, proved that the number of those who emigrated from Egypt was limited and that that emigration did not take place in thousands. Therefore, Judaism gradually spread to a part of the Canaanite tribes living in those lands. The proof for this is that the state established by Shaoul, David and Solomon did not come into being at once but after about three centuries after the emigration of the followers of Moses to the holy land. Had the emigration been in thousands, when population of the holy land ranged between 50 and100 thousand, the Jewish state would not have taken that long to be established. The facts of archeological studies show that this Jewish state was a part of small political entities, known as city states or tribal cities that were established in the Canaanite land in the 11th century BC. These small states came into being simultaneously in the Canaanite land, namely Philistia, Phoenicia, Aram, Amon, Adom, and the kingdom of Judea, which soon was divided during the reign of Rahba’am (Solomon’s son) into the kingdoms of Judea and Israel. Those six “states” shared their origins, dialects (Semitic languages) and cultural standard. It is difficult to distinguish between the archeological and cultural remains of those states. In other words, the Jewish kingdom was not an alien body, established by aliens in the land but it was established by a group who lived in this region and constituted a part of its history. Consequently, there exists no nationalist ties between the Jews of the world and the kingdom that was established in the 11th century. In fact, the ties between them are spiritual, similar to those that link the Christians with Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth in the holy land and the Muslim with Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. No Christian or Muslim in the world can claim that he has nationalist ties with Saudi Arabia or Palestine, which give him the right to citizenship, dominion or sovereignty. This land has its nationals that are attached to it historically and nationally.

Gary Dale: You just mentioned that the Jews were emigrating back from Egypt over a long period of time and gradually built up their state. How then did they get so spread throughout the Holy Land as well as outside of the region after that?

Dr. Mustafa: Some citizens in this state, as was the case in other kingdoms, spread in the adjacent regions through what was known in that era, the ten centuries before Christ, as captivity. The victorious or conquerors from Mesopotamia or the Nile used to capture the most beautiful, skilled strongest among the defeated nation and take them to Babel and other capital of the conquering nations, in order to participate in rebuilding, developing and serving those capitals. Some of those used to return home later on or remain in the new country. This happened with the Jews, who were taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century before Christ.

Gary Dale: This is how Jews got to Mesopotamia. Alberto Rivera speaks specifically of Jews in Saudi Arabia. Could you elaborate a little about how the Jews got to Arabia?

Dr. Mustafa: A part of the followers of Judaism who lived in the Holy Land during the Greek and Roman reigns moved to the adjacent regions in the Northern Arabian Peninsula (the city of Yathrib, including the Khaibar village) and to the Southern Peninsula (Yemen), due to the tyranny of the new regimes that did not accept Judaism as a competitor to the official religion of the ruling government. Some of them my have moved of their own will in search for new more favorable means of living in an area other than the homeland, as was the case of the nations of that epoch. This helped in the spread of Judaism in one way or another among the nations of the new regions, which were of Arab origins, to which the Jews emigrated.

Gary Dale: How about Mohammed’s relations with the Jews? Was he known to have contact with Jews in the Arabian Peninsula?

Dr. Mustafa: After the severe ordeal experienced by Prophet Mohammad and his followers at the hands of the leaders of Mecca, he accepted the invitation extended to him and his followers to emigrate to the city of Yathreb, which lies to the south of Mecca and which was considered the second city in importance in the Peninsula at that time. The Jews of Yathreb and Khaibar participated in welcoming Mohammad and his compatriots. However, the establishment of the Islamic state in Yathreb later on and its growing stronger in power led to conflict with the commercial and social interests of the Arab Jewish leaders in Yathreb, which led to eruption of armed struggle with the two parties and the defeat of the Jews. This forced a number of them to leave the North of the Arabian Peninsula, heading to the holy land, Iraq, Yemen and Egypt, either by force or willingly. After the completion of the victory of the Islamic state in the Arabian Peninsula, a law was issued, which forbade followers of other religions to live in the cities of Mecca and Yathreb. They could reside in the other cities and regions of the Peninsula.

Gary Dale: The assertion by Alberto Rivera through Jack Chick’s tract comic “The Prophet” claims that the Vatican used Islam to extinguish Jews and rival Christian, non-Catholic, denominations. Can you give us some back ground as to how the Christians, and Jews, were treated in the area as Islam became the dominant religion of the area?

Dr. Mustafa: When Islam spread in what is called the Middle East at the beginning of the 7th century, the followers of Judaism and Christianity living in that region were clearly protected. Their religious places and properties were also protected. Use was made of their experiences in administrative matters, the sciences, translation and literature. Followers of Judaism and Christianity lived in peace and cooperation with the new Islamic state and many of them were distinguished as men of politics, science, literature and art.

Gary Dale: And how about North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula?

Dr. Mustafa: When the Muslim Arabs conquered northern Africa and the Iberian peninsula (Andalusia), the Jewish Arabs moved with them and emerged as a part of the political entities that were established in that land. When the Arab Muslims were defeated in Andalusia at the end of the 15th century AD, the Muslim, Jewish and Christian Arabs moved to the northern part of Africa and other regions of the Ottoman state. Some Jews lived in the northern part of Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya), forming a large Arab Jewish community there. Some others moved to Egypt, Turkey, Greater Syria and Iraq, joining the Jews who were originally living there.

Gary Dale: And so a good part of the Jewish Diaspora started part and parcel with the spread of Islam, rather than the claims that Jews and Christians were “put under the sword”, so to speak. In the Rivera story this doesn’t fit because he claims that there has been animosity stirred between the Jews and the Arabs by the Vatican since basically the birth of Islam. Can you elaborate on when and where you believe the animosity arose?

Dr. Mustafa: It should be noted that throughout history, Jewish communities moved to Europe via the Persian and Caucasian lands and that community contributed to the spread of Judaism among the different European nations. Arab Jews enjoyed continued living in peace and cooperation with their fellow Christian and Muslim Arabs in most of the Arab countries until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, when the tragic events that befell the Palestinian people, who paid a heavy price that led to the emigration and evacuation of more than 750,000 Palestinians out of their villages and cities on which Israel was established. That led to spread of an atmosphere of suspicion and hatred, which were used by the Zionist movement, which conducted a wide propaganda campaign that led to the emigration of the vast majority of the Arab Jews from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The number of Jews of Arab origin is estimated to be between 30 and 35% of the population of Israel at present. A visitor to Israel can notice the clinging of those Arab Jews to the customs, traditions and culture that they carried with them from the Arab countries out of which they emigrated. Those residents may serve as a bridge that leads to the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace between Arabs and Jews.

Gary Dale: If you don’t mind, I would like to turn our attention now to Waraqah, who is sort of portrayed as an agent of the Roman Catholic Church. Can you give me some background on him?

Dr. Mustafa: Waraqah was the uncle or cousin of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, the first wife of the Prophet. Waraqah witnessed their wedding.

Gary Dale: Can you give me an idea of Waraqah’s religious background?

Dr. Mustafa: Waraqah ibn Nawfal was a Christian. He didn’t inherit this from his parents but reached this out of personal conviction. He traveled to Damascus, met there a number of Christians and then followed this religion. Before Islam, Waraqah was known by the Arabs as a member of a group named “Hanafiyeen”, who refused to worship idols and searched for God in creeds other than those of their fathers and forefathers.

Gary Dale: Were there many other Christians in Arabia at the time?

Dr. Mustafa: No evidence exists in history that proves that there was a big Christian community in Mecca and Waraqah was not a Bishop of Mecca. The explanation for that was that Mecca was an important commercial center in the Arabian Peninsula, in whose worship, rituals and trade, many tribes which were living in the Peninsula were united. Each tribe preserved its worship, rituals and gods and sent samples to the noblest of places in Mecca, Al-Kaaba, in which were preserved samples of the gods of Arab tribes. Special festive seasons were devoted there to perform pilgrimage and visit these gods. Therefore, it was no coincidence that the political and trade leadership in Mecca fiercely opposed the new call of Islam. When they could not overcome it, they joined it.

Gary Dale: The Chick Publication claims that Waraqah had lots of influence in Mohammed’s theological development. Can you briefly address this?

Dr. Mustafa: We sometimes read in several historical sources of Christian inclination to exaggeration, in my opinion, of the role played by Waraqah in the formation of the Islamic creed of Mohammed. Doubtless, Mohammed was influenced by the teachings of both Judaism and Christianity. Islam considers itself a continuation and completion of the two religions. Historical Muslim sources prove Waraqah ibn Nawfal’s welcoming of Mohammed’s prophet hood. However, anyone who is deeply knowledgeable about the Islamic teachings notices differences between Islam and the other two religions as there were differences between Christ’s teachings and those of Judaism. Prophet Mohammed lived in a different age and environment and was distinguished by genius that qualified him to bring new things too. Had Waraqah been the mentor and revelation for Mohammed, why didn’t he himself call for it, as he had a status, reputation and roots that were not unequal to Mohammed’s.

Gary Dale: It seems to me far fetched that Waraqah would have even been able to have had anything to do with the Catholic Church as Alberto Rivera claims in his tale of conspiracy. No one knows for certain what faith Waraqah followed. Could you possibly shed any light on the matter?

Dr. Mustafa: Waraqah lived in the second half of the 6th century and beginning of the 7th century AD. He adopted Christianity at the hands of religious men in Damascus. The Damascene church was attached to Constantinople, or the eastern church. Therefore, I think it is unlikely that Waraqah was a Catholic. Moreover, I agree with you that talking about Islam as if it were a Catholic conspiracy for the control of Jerusalem is far-fetched and daring fantasy of interpreting history, which is the result of economic, social and political conditions and not the result of conspiracy.

Gary Dale: Near the end of Alberto Rivera’s story he says that the miracles witnessed in Fátima, Portugal, were all aimed at getting Arabs to convert to Catholicism. I have laid out reasons in my text why this couldn’t be true, but let’s entertain the idea that it was true. I still don’t see any Arabs converting en mass to Catholicism. Can you offer a few words on this subject?

Dr. Mustafa: I think that the present phase of relationship between religions in the world, especially the three monotheistic religions, is characterized by the awareness and conviction of the followers of each of these three religions of their beliefs. The relationship that connects the followers of these religions is tolerance, recognition of the other and respect for the differences among them. Therefore, I think that conversion is rare and if it occurs, there would be narrow material interests behind it. Religion in the Arab world constitutes an essential component of the social fabric and it has deep impact on customs and traditions. It is also part of the essence of human activities, such as marriage, holiday observance, occasions and others. Consequently, conversion is not easy. And if it happens, it leads to the isolation and distancing of the converter from his family and group. On the basis of my general observations, I don’t see a conversion movement. Even moving from one sect to another is rare for the same reasons, e.g., a Sunni becomes a Shiite or an Orthodox Catholic. Moving to a sect may occur in order to get support or financial or educational assistance and not more.

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