Some questions for Muslims

Apparently the Hamas Charter says: “The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.’ ” Is this true? I don’t mean does the Hamas Charter say it. Translations differ in a few details but they all agree that the relevant part of Article 7 reads in essentially the same horrifying way; the version above from the Cornell University Library ( st/hamas.htm) declares itself “A verbatim reproduction of the Palestinian Hamas Movement’s own English version of its covenant.” Clearly Hamas believes, and says, that the Prophet said it.

What I am asking is whether other Muslims think Hamas is right on this point. I know enough to know this passage is not in the Koran, and that in Islam nothing else approaches the Koran in terms of authority. What Hamas is citing is alleged to be a hadith, one of the many sayings (plural ahadith, I believe) traditionally attributed to the Prophet. But beyond that I need some help.

To begin with, is it supposedly a hadith? And is there one set of ahadith that all Muslims consider authoritative, verbatim or with small variations? Is there one set accepted by Shia, another by Sunnis, and still others by Ismailis or Sufis, and if so how large are the variations? Or is there no such thing as a canon with respect to such things?

Since 9/11 we’ve been hearing a lot about the need to reach out to Muslims, to understand Islam and so forth. I think it is sound advice. I’m doing it now. Right after the election of Hamas, former U.S. president Bill Clinton warned against rising anti-Muslim sentiment. And since statements like the one above from the Hamas Charter could potentially contribute to such sentiment, I would welcome clarification from Muslims, especially imams, religious scholars and spokespersons for Islamic organizations within Canada. This passage from the Hamas Charter has been quoted in the National Post and the Citizen and I have not heard its authenticity or applicability challenged. (Regrettably, the Canadian Islamic Congress did not respond to requests for comment.)

I note that there is currently a huge outcry in the Islamic world over some cartoons published in European newspapers, with ambassadors recalled, bomb threats and gunmen storming an EU building in Gaza. If the troubling saying above is not considered authentic, I would expect Muslims to be at least as upset with Hamas. So is it, or is it not, theologically orthodox for various branches of Islam to believe the Prophet said something very much along these lines?

If it is, I have another question: Do Muslims believe it is true?

I mean that literally. Many people seem to regard theology as a bizarre, private, insubstantial hobby these days. Not me. I think people believe their beliefs.

So when Hamas claims the Prophet said the day of judgement will not come until the very stones of the earth exhort Muslims to kill Jews, and provide helpful directions on where they can be found and exterminated, I want to know whether most Canadian Muslims think he said it and, if they do, whether they think it will happen. And I want to know whether they are in favour of it.

If elected Christian politicians claimed that Jesus or the Pope had said something of this sort about Jews, or Muslims, we would demand an explanation from them and other Christians. For that matter, the Bible gives a very explicit picture of end times including, for instance, the moon turning to blood and it is fair to ask Christians whether they really think it will (liberal churches might claim it will just be water with red food dye or something) and whether they want it to. Now the Apocalypse, as part of the Bible, is more authoritative for Christians than anything not in the Koran is for Muslims. So perhaps there is some accepted theological reason this hadith, even if genuine, is not to be taken literally. I don’t know. But I want to.

I confess to some concern. Do significant numbers of my fellow Canadians think the Hamas version of Armageddon will happen? Do they look forward to it? And are there politicians seeking to solidify their support in major urban centres by telling such voters they share foreign policy views, while stridently warning the rest of us that their partisan foes are narrow-minded bigots?

These are sincere and serious questions. I would very much like to be told this saying is not regarded as authentic and that it is outrageous for Hamas to claim it is. Adherents of a religion of peace, tolerance and understanding among people, tragically misrepresented by a few demented fanatics, should have no trouble shouting such a thing from the rooftops. Yet this passage has sat undenounced in Hamas’ Charter since 1988.

Stones and trees? Did I hear that right?

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson