by Gottfried Hutter Reviewed by Dr. Eugene Fisher
This thoughtful and engaging book will enlighten and deepen the understanding of all readers who may be interested in interreligious relations and in how a way forward toward peace in the Middle East may be pursued by Muslim and Jewish leaders. The author is a Catholic theologian who has also studied political science and is a practicing psychotherapist. He spent a year in Cairo, Egypt, which he spent largely with a Sufi master who taught him to understand Islam. He then moved to Munich, where he taught Catholic theology and also became involved in and learned from the Jewish community about Judaism. After 9/11 he came to believe that Muslims, Jews and Christians, the Abrahamic communities, needed to come together and search for a way to peace between our communities. And he believed that these three faiths, in their essences, had and have the means to motivate their leaders to do so, and to provide them with the means to come together for the benefit of all.
The book has two main sections, dealing with the religious perspective and the political perspective, which are, in the authors point of view, deeply intertwined. Therefore, in his view, the way to a political resolution must rely on the teachings of the religions involved. Hutter singles out the biblical story of Jacob/Israel and Esau as a model for reconciliation between brothers. Judaism and Islam are both religions descended from their one father, Abraham. In the biblical story Jacob “steals” his father’s blessing by going to th,e blind old man and pretending to be his older brother, Esau, since the eldest son would receive the inheritance of the land of their father. Esau vows to kill him and Jacob flees, earning a fortune during his exile. While in exile, Jacob is approached by an angel of God with whom he wrestles to a standstill. Hence the name of Israel, he who wrestled with God. Enlightened by this experience Jacob/Israel vows to return to his home and make peace with his brother, who still wishes to kill him for what he has done. Approaching Esau, Jacob/Israel prostrates himself on the ground seven times to indicate his sorrow and repentance for that he did to his older brother. Moved, Esau helps Jacob/Israel to his feet and the two embrace in brotherly love.
Using this as a paradigm, Hutter discusses at length how Jews/Israelis and Palestinians/Muslims might come together to solve the deep rift between them. First, Israel/Jews should acknowledge the deep hurt that happened to the Muslim ummah/people when the Jews, under the auspices first of Great Britain and then the United Nations, returned to the ancient biblical land of their ancestors and created a country of their own. For Muslims this was a tearing away of land that had for centuries been theirs. It was a land deemed sacred by them since the prophet Muhammed had gone there and from there ascended into heaven. Israelis, Hutter insists, need to come to understand the deep hurt inflicted upon Muslims by taking this admittedly small parcel of land from them.
For their part Muslims must come to understand the even deeper painful reality of the Shoah, the murder of six million Jews. Only then will Muslims understand the importance of the Holy Land, the State of Israel, as a place of refuge for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and a place where Jews can live freely and secure safe lives for themselves and their children for generations to come.
If Jews and Muslims can have the empathy to understand the pain, grief and hopes of each other, then they can face each other honestly and openly as Jacob/Israel and Esau finally did in the biblical account. What is needed on both sides is the central teaching of the Quran and the Bible, the need to understand the other and to have compassion for their pain and for their hopes for the future. Since compassion for others is central to both Judaism and Islam, Hutter believes, it is possible for Jews and Muslims to make it central to how they approach each other.
Hutter narrates several ways in which this compassion for each other can be expressed in the present, both international and within the Land which both religious traditions revere as Holy/Sacred to their religious traditions. This is especially true on the Temple Mount, the Haram al Sharif, where they can perform the necessary ceremonies and create a place where they can worship in common with each other and with Christians, who also hold that place as central and sacred to their religious traditions. One can see the very real possibilities of this working out in the real world. One can hope and pray that this reconciliation of the brothers, Israel and Islam, will take place. It is realistic and will need people from other faiths to come together to work together to make it happen.