Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Should Muslims Care About The Three Weeks?

At this time of year, from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av, a period of the three weeks known as “Between the straits” “ observant Jews decrease their happiness and observe a partial state of mourning. We fast at least the first day and the last, we refrain instrumental music, during the last 10 days we refrain from meat and wine (traditional foods of “pleasure”) and do not bathe for pleasure. The last day, the 9th of Av which commemorates the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem is the saddest day of the year. We sit on the floor, we cry, we lament our state of physical and spiritual exile. Mourning the loss of the temple, of this vital connection with God is absolutely fundamental to Jewish thought and to Jewish life. There are those who arise in midnight every night to lament its loss. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov suggested that this is, in fact, the main service of the Jew, to yearn for its loss and long for the restoration of our relationship with God.

  Why should a Muslim care?

 The Qur’an mentions the two destructions of the temple in Jerusalem in a beautiful verse: [And said], "If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, [you do it] to yourselves." Then when the final promise came, [We sent your enemies] to sadden your faces and to enter the temple in Jerusalem, as they entered it the first time, and to destroy what they had taken over with [total] destruction. ~Al Qur’an 17:7

Ibn Kathir draws from the beginning of the verse a very fundamental principle: It may be that your Lord may show mercy unto you, but if you return (to sins), We shall return (to Our punishment). And We have made Hell a prison for the disbelievers.)

 This message is precisely the Jewish message of the Three Weeks. The brokenness of the world is OUR responsibility. If we continue to experience punishment and exile its because we continue to sin in the very same way as those who went before us. We have a choice. We can do good and we can do bad and we will face the consequences of our deeds. God may indeed be merciful to us but our job is to fix our deeds. The message is simple. The message is shared. The message is vital for all humanity. 

This message is echoed in the Qur'an in a powerful call to action which makes explicit the transformative collective power of change: For each one are successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by the decree of Allah . Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. ~Al Qur’an 13:11 

The Three Weeks are an invitation to reflect on the past, not as an exercise in historical commemoration or nostalgia but for the sole purpose of identifying what we need to change in our condition. We are called to discover what we need to do to create the opening for God to change us both individually and collectively.

 The point of fasting is never to cause suffering but to awaken us to repentance, to help us experience enough of our own fragility to turn us back to God. The connection to the events of the past is not just "commemorative" but a reminder that the mistakes of the past are still with us today, and we have to repair them TODAY. Though the events are long over, the spiritual wrongs that created them are still with us. The tree may have died but the roots are alive and still creating shoots. The goal of today and of the Three Weeks to come is to identify those trends and wrestle with them, repair them in the hopes that the ultimate destruction of the 9th of Av will not come and instead of fasting, we will this year have a day of rejoicing.

 Today on 17th of Tammuz we commemorate 5 events and address their spiritual roots. Here is a review. (based partially on Rabbi Moshe Weinberger)

 1) The first tablets of the law were destroyed when Moses descended the mountain to see Bnai Yisrael worshipping the golden calf. – We address all of our missed opportunities, our continued failure to create and maintain a committed solid love-based relationship with our Creator

 2) The daily offerings at the temple were disrupted- Connection to God requires constant effort, daily, consistent disciplined acts that reinforce our relationship with God and establish our humility in relation to Him. We are inconsistent in our efforts.

 3) The walls of Jerusalem were breached - Destruction always begins with a weakening of our spiritual defenses. Little cracks in our ability to stand up to pressures of the world put our entire mission in jeopardy.

 4) The Torah was burned. - We are told that when R. Chaninah ben Tradyon was burned in a Torah he saw the parchment burn but the letters fly up to heaven. The spiritual part of the Torah was separated from the physical. Every time we fail to study, engage in idle conversation when the Torah is read in synagogue, or regard the Torah as “just another book” we “burn the Torah” by letting the spirituality of the Torah fly away.

 5) An idol was placed in the temple- Our hearts and minds were created to be a sanctuary to Hashem (Allah swt) What have we placed there instead? Love of money, love of celebrity, obsession with worldly position and knowledge? In the midst of our “enlightened” world, the spirit of idolatry is alive and well and as strong as ever.

The message is clear enough. "If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, you do it to yourselves." The destruction of the temple stands for us as reminder of the ultimate power of human responsibility, of God’s great mercy and our capacity to truly return to him.

The Jewish tradition adds that the 17th of Tammuz was the day that Noah (the Prophet Nuh, pbuh) sent out the dove which would eventually return to him with the olive branch, the symbol of salvation from the flood.  Though the world appears to be in chaos, submerged in confusion, we must never despair. God's mercy is beyond our comprehension. Even though we sometimes feel like we are drowning,  our rescue is already being prepared.

 It is my privilege to share with my Muslim brothers and sisters a shared message. May this little bit of information bring us a bit closer to inspiring one another and encouraging one another in the service of God. It is also my privilege to share this with my Jewish brothers and sisters, that as we struggle through the Three Weeks, we should know that Muslims can understand and appreciate our efforts.

  Master of the World! Please help the discomforts of these Three Weeks be transformed into an awakening to return to You. Help us to repair the mistakes of the past that linger in our present and to put You and only You always at the center of our world.


  1. Inspirational! Thank you so much for sharing and making the connection with the teachings of The Qur'aan. The message and symbolism of the Three Weeks is particularly apt as they coincide with the start of Ramadan in 11/12 days - whose themes resonate with the ones you have shared.

  2. Lee - can you please tell us more about the main Jewish beliefs about the restoration of the temple in the future. Will it happen and what does that mean for the rest of us non Jews?


    1. It will happen, Eliakim will do it and he will be a Muslim. cheers.

  3. Greetings to Lee and others,

    Thank you for this thoughtful reminder; it was particularly timely as we all prepare to begin (in less than 2 weeks) an annual month long struggle to change our individual conditions.



  4. Thanks so much for sharing that. When it comes to Muslim-Jewish relations, in the mainstream media these days, so much of the focus is on politics and current affairs that the whole area of spirituality is completely neglected. Yet we actually have so much in common, and if we could all focus on those shared aspects – rather than the differences – I think many (though not all) of our problems would be reduced as we recognise the same, basic humanity in each other and strive to live together in peace and respect.