“[T]here are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man.” —Viktor E. Frankl
A Few Words about Why Exodus 1:15-21 Is Important to Jews & Christians
The following story, from Exodus, tells about the midwives Shiphrah and Puah and their refusal to carry out a Pharaoh-ordained plan of genocide against male newborns of the Hebrew women. Many Jewish congregations give out Shiphrah and Puah awards to recognize non-Jews who have helped the Jewish community to overcome problems born of anti-Semitism. Christian rescuers, for example, who helped Jews escape the Holocaust in German-occupied Europe, have been recipients of such awards. Christian congregations also find the story meaningful, especially with respect to the midwives’ response to fear by doing what is right and choosing fear of Nature’s God over fear of Egypt’s Pharaoh. This story is the ultimate love-your-neighbor story, providing important lessons for adherents of ethical monotheism. The text is provided below, after which footnotes and exegesis follow.
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Judeo-Christian Love-Your-Neighbor Principle
15 “And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives (probably Egyptian midwives to the Hebrews1), of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah (meaning beauty), and the name of the other Puah (meaning young girl)2; 16 and he said: ‘When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women (as opposed to Egyptian women), ye shall look upon the birthstool (literally two stones, the place where women in labor squatted while the midwife worked to deliver the baby): if it be a son, then ye shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.’ 17 But the midwives feared Nature’s God3, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive. 18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them: ‘Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive?’ 19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh: ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are like animals4, and are delivered before the midwife come unto them.’ 20 And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. 21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He established houses5 for them.” —Exodus 1:15-21
1The king of Egypt speaks to the midwives as if they are Egyptians, outsiders to the Israelites. 2The names Shiphrah and Puah are Semitic names, possibly used for the purpose of serving among the Israelites in the intimate setting of childbirth. 3The Hebrew word Elohim refers to the feminine aspect of God that is associated with nature. The midwives fear to rebel against what they feel it is in their nature to do—to birth healthy babies. The phrase yir at Elohim (the fear of Elohim—Nature’s God) is the closest the Hebrew of the Torah comes to a term for religion. 4The word normally translated here as vigorous or lively actually means, in Hebrew, like animals, which is why the king of Egypt believes the midwives’ excuse—it confirms in his mind his own view that the Hebrews are subhuman—or animalistic—in nature. 5To establish houses means to bless with families.
An important lesson from this story, taught in many places of worship, is that Shiphrah and Puah were likely Egyptian women who feared Nature’s God more than Pharaoh. This would mean not all Egyptians are evil, just because Pharaoh behaves wickedly. For this reason, Jews and Christians are not allowed to prejudge outsiders to their faiths, because no one can be certain whether an outsider might be descended from Shiphrah or Puah. Thus, the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, found in Leviticus 19:18, also applies to strangers. And, in Exodus 22:21, God tells the Israelites, “Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt.” In Matthew 22:39, as well as Mark 20:31, Jesus also affirms the commandment to love your neighbor.
An Islamic Verse about Loving Your Neighbor
“O people, We created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous. Allah is all-knowing, aware.” —Koran 49:13
Moderation versus Fundamentalism
Many Muslims see this verse as indicating the common humanity of all people. These same Muslims construe the meaning of this verse to indicate that, coming from the same source, we are all—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—brothers and sisters who should love one another. This view is typified by its proponents as an example of “moderate” Islam.
There are, however, Muslims who believe this verse actually is about people being two distinct genders and being distinct ethnically. The difference is to make us interesting to each other, so that we shall be encouraged to learn from and compete with one another. Fundamentalists are more likely to see this verse as a judgment in favor of the righteous, who are believers in Islam. These fundamentalists are wont to interpret the Koran and its more favorable sayings as applying to Muslims only, and not to unbelievers.
More Islamic Love of Neighbor
The Koran also says this: “O, people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than Allah. If they turn back, say: Bear witness that we at least are Muslims submitting to Allah.” —Koran 3:64
People of the Book are Jews and Christians, who share many similar religious tales, although versions differing from Islam. This verse asks Jews and Christians to “come to common terms” with Muslims by converting and asks that nobody pray through any partner—such as Jesus. The last sentence is an exhortation to Allah to witness that attempts were made to convert unbelievers and that those making the attempt are trying their best to submit to Allah. Moderate Muslims point to this verse to demonstrate that they do not force others to read the Koran. Their urging others to convert is peaceful. Non-converts are allowed to “turn back.”
There is another, darker school of thought in the more fundamentalist arena that seemingly dominates Islam, which says that People of the Book are not to be forced, but that, nevertheless, their failure to convert dooms them to a jizya tax (like protection money paid to organized crime) or a jihad killing (a religious slaying of a non-Muslim person).
The Verse of the Sword: Are Outsiders to Islam Really Neighbors?
“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Unbelievers wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of warfare; but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them, for Allah is forgiving and most merciful.” —Koran 9:5
Some more recent Muslim scholars have written that this Verse of the Sword only applies to Muslims already under attack by non-Muslims. These interpretations, however, run counter to traditionalist notions. Most orthodox Muslims invoke the verse as a justification for all-out warfare against the non-Muslim world.
It would appear that Islamic ethics of fair dealing apply only to other Muslims, and that the sword verses, numbering more than a hundred, actually mean what they say, when it comes to the majority opinion of devout Muslims.
An Islamic Culture War
Some in the umma—the Islamic community—claim a culture war is going on within Islam. This struggle for the soul of Islam is being fought between moderates and fundamentalists. Some acts of individual courage by moderates do exist. A Muslim employee saved the lives of Jews at the kosher market in the recent Paris attack. General al-Sisi, knowing full-well his predecessor Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood, demanded in a speech that a more moderate Islam be taught at Islamic religious institutions. But publicly courageous Muslims seem all-too-few in number. Many more are needed, if the culture war in Islam is to be decided in favor of moderates who are willing to take a more global view of what it means to love your neighbor.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com