Once, after a class about Judaism that I was teaching at a Catholic University in Los Angeles; a young man asked me which of the three Abrahamic religions is the easiest?
I replied that all three had easy parts and all three had difficult parts. Christianity was easy for many people because there were only a few dietary restrictions; and the most important thing was just to believe that Jesus was the Divine Son of God. But, that belief in the Christian trinity, although easy for many people, was not only difficult for many Christians, it was impossible for Jews and Muslims.
Islam and Judaism were easy because it has always been evident to me and many others, that the world had just one creator; and that creator should never have an associate of any kind; or be worshiped with a statute or painting.
The hard part for many Jews was believing that the Jewish People had been chosen by God to play a special role in humanity’s religious development; and the hard part for many Muslims was to believe that God will never send any more prophets to help further humanity’s religious developments.
Prophet Muhammad said that Islam is an easy religion and that is correct. Muslim religious services are much shorter, and the dietary laws are much fewer, than Orthodox Jewish services and dietary laws. However, I am a Reform Rabbi, and Reform Judaism is in some ways closer to early Islam than it is to Orthodox Judaism.
Reform Judaism is easy for me because it is reasonable; and I have always felt a strong connection to God and the Jewish People with its long history of surviving great challenges.
As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we received at Mount Sinai.
These are lessons that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century Germany. Although most Jews today are no longer Orthodox, if the Jews of Muhammad’s time, had followed these teachings of prophet Muhammad, Reform Judaism would have started 1,400 years ago.
I believe that Muhammad was a prophet of Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Jews of his day; although he was 1,200 years ahead of his time. During the six centuries between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of Muhammad in Yathrib, the city of Jews (Medina), almost all Jews became Orthodox Jews.
Orthodox Rabbis added many extra prohibitions to Jewish law and everyone became increasingly strict in the observance of the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut (dietary restrictions).
Orthodox Rabbis did not follow the example of Muhammad as narrated by his wife ‘Aisha: Whenever Allah’s Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was sinful to do so, he would not approach it.
‘Aisha also said: Whenever Allah’s Apostle ordered the Muslims to do something, he used to order them to do deeds which were easy for them to do.
Although the Torah of Moses prohibits adding to the commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1) over the centuries Orthodox Rabbis added many restrictions to the laws of prohibited activities under the theory of building a protective fence around the Torah’s laws.
Also, whenever Orthodox Rabbis were in doubt if an animal had been slaughtered correctly according to Jewish law, or if one could eat a new species of bird, it was ruled prohibited.
They were not guided by Muhammad’s principle as narrated by Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas: The Prophet said, “The most sinful person among the Muslims is the one who asked about something which had not been prohibited, but was prohibited because of his asking.”
The Torah also teaches:”When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, do not come near her for seven days; she is taboo for her menstrual period ” (Leviticus 15:19).
Orthodox Rabbis extended the period from seven to about twelve days and demanded no physical contact at all during that period. Muhammad supported the Torah’s ban on sex during a woman’s period, but opposed the additional restrictions enacted by Orthodox Rabbi.
As Thabit narrated it from Anas: “Among the Jews, when a woman menstruated, they did not dine with her, nor did they live with them in their houses (they slept in separate beds). The Companions asked The Apostle, and Allah, the Exalted revealed: ‘They ask you about menstruation; say it is a pollution, so keep away from woman during menstruation and do not approach until they are pure again.’ (Qur’an 2: 222). The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do everything except intercourse’.
(Orthodox) Jews heard that and said: This man does not want to leave anything we do without opposing us in it.”
Reform Rabbis today would advocate that a Jewish couple behave in a way much closer to that of Muhammad than to that of the Orthodox Rabbis.
The student then asked me why I do not become a Muslim? I replied that I think of myself as a Reform Rabbi who is a Muslim Jew. Actually I am a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi.
As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Muslim Jew, and I submit to the covenant and its commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. My close connection to the Jewish People makes it easy for me observe, study and teach the Torah that God gave to Israel at mount Sinai. And my Torah study and Reform Judaism philosophy make me able to view Muhammad as a prophet of Reform Judaism.