Prophet Muhammad and Medina’s Jews
Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Did some of Medina’s Jews believe that Muhammad was not only a prophet for polytheists throughout the world; but also for Jews, a pre-Messianic figure like King Cyrus of Persia?
Is that why the Jews of Medina told Muhammad on his arrival in Medina: “This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh.”?
Ashura (the 10th day of Muharram) was originally designated by Prophet Muhammad in the summer of 622 CE, soon after the Hijra, as a day of fasting from sunset to sunset, similar to the Jewish Day of fasting: Tisha (9th) B’Av (which in that year, like this year-August 14 2016), was observed on the 10th of Av because the 9th fell on Shabbat, when Jews are forbidden to fast).
Almost six centuries after the second destruction of Jerusalem and its holy temple in the year 70 CE, the Shiite Muslim community began its annual religious memorialization of the massacre of Muhammad’s grandson Husain, his family and his few followers on Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram, a Shiite fast day with many similar rules and ceremonies to Tisha (the 9th) of Av.
According to Sahih Bukhari – Hadith: 261 Volume: 6 Book Subject: Prophetic Commentary on the Qur’an, Ibn Abbas narrated that the Ashura Fast was being observed by Medina’s Jews the day Prophet Muhammad arrived in Medina and he ordered Moslems to adopt that fast: “When Allah’s Apostle arrived at Medina, he found the Jews observing the fast on the day of ‘Ashura’ (10th of Muharram). The Prophet asked them (about it) and they replied, “This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh.” The Prophet said (to the Muslims), “We are nearer to Moses than they, so fast on this day.”
Six years from now, in the year 2022, the Muslim fast of Ashura (Muharram 10th) will again coincide with the Jewish fast of Tisha b’Av (Av 9th) as it did 1400 solar years previously in 622 CE, the year Muhammad escaped from Mekka’s persecution and settled in Medina.
The two dates will overlap because many Muslim scholars say that the 9th or the 11th of Muharram should also be observed, and the Rabbis say if Av 9th falls on Shabbat, as it does this year, it should be observed on Av 10th.
In addition, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakki, who escaped from the besieged city of Jerusalem shortly before it was captured by the Romans in 70 CE says that mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple should be observed on Av 10th because, while the Temple was set on fire on the 9th, it was not totally destroyed until the 10th.
So why did the Jews of Medina tell Muhammad: “This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh.”?
Because they knew that Prophet Muhammad was born (in 570 CE) exactly 500 years after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Holy Temple (the far sanctuary).
And because they knew the Jewish tradition that the Messiah was/will be born on Tisha B’Av. This rabbinic midrash teaches us that very good things like monotheism, can with God’s help, grow out of very bad things, like the many years of Muhammad’s rejection and persecution by the polytheistic, idol worshipping Arabs in his home town of Mekka.
Medina’s Jews must have believed that just as Prophet Moses overcame Pharaoh after a decade of plagues; so too would Prophet Muhammad overcome his hometown enemies in Mekka and purify the Kab’a of its 360 idols.
Rabbi Maller’s web site is: www.rabbimaller.com