In the heat of the moment, people say lots of things for which they are sorry later on. We need to watch these individuals carefully, and respond forcefully when they actually begin to act on their harmful words.
In the Hebrew Bible, we find a strong admonition not to admit the Moabites and Ammonites into the congregation of the Lord, not even their descendants until the tenth generation (Deut. 23: 4). Yet, we know that Boaz, an Israelite, married Ruth the Moabite. Similarly, the Koran teaches, “Do not take the Jews and Christians for friends. They are friends to one another” (Sura 5: 51; transl. by Pickthall). Yet, Islamic scholars are quick to remind us that throughout history many Muslims befriended Jews and Christians. Medieval Spain is a good example of that. Some evangelical Protestants are adamantly opposed to the Catholic Church for religious reasons, yet in interfaith dialogues you see many priests and ministers working together in harmony. More than what we say, it is what we do that really matters. This does not mean that words are insignificant but that acts speak louder.
We are not sure under what circumstances were the original statements quoted above in the Bible or the Koran formulated. The Rabbis justify the marriage of Ruth to Boaz by saying that the prohibition was against a Moabite, not a Moabitess!!!(See, for ex. BT Yeb. 77a). Some Koranic scholars point out that the term “friends” mentioned in Sura 5:51 should really be understood as “patrons” not “friends” (cf. Sami Zaatari).
What we need to do is to look at the historical record, and see how was the law implemented. During peace, people tend to be kinder to one another; during contentious times, relationships between social groups become tense and the divide gets wider.
Today, as we survey humanity as a whole, we see more and more strife among many social groups. Hindus hate the Muslims living in India; Palestinians and Israelis exchange curses after major conflagrations; the Shiites and Sunnis can’t stand one another; ISIS kills non-Muslims just because they do not share their religious outlook etc.
There are extremists in almost every religious camp. We must carefully watch what these fanatics say and boldly defend ourselves against them when they begin to act, because many of them have no regard for human life (e.g., ISIS today) and are eager to slaughter the other in the name of what they think is God’s word.
No one has the ultimate truth. So, why can’t we get along, with mutual respect for one another?
R. Sonsino, Ph.D