A Muslim Defense Of Jews on Trial

By Hesham Hassaballa

Published September 12, 2003, issue of September 12, 2003.
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I thought the class-action obesity lawsuit against McDonalds was the silliest thing to hit a courtroom until I read about an Egyptian scholar’s plans to take the Jewish people to court for an alleged crime committed several millennia ago (“Egyptian Scholar Planning Lawsuit Over Exodus Gold,” August 29).

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, Nabil Hilmy announced in the weekly Al Ahram, the Egyptian paper of record, that he and an Egyptian legal team are planning to sue the “Jews of the world” over gold allegedly stolen just before the famous Exodus out of Egyptian bondage.

While the news made me laugh, Hilmy, a professor of international law and human rights at Zagazig University in Egypt, was not joking. He is reportedly seeking to collect trillions of dollars from “the Jews of the world” and the “Jews of Israel in particular.” Perhaps as a goodwill gesture, he has offered to reschedule the debt over 1,000 years with “the addition of cumulative interest during that period.”

When asked by the Forward to comment on the case, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz replied, “I’d be happy to defend the Jews.”

So would I, and I am not even a lawyer — nor Jewish.

A Muslim defender of the Jews? Absolutely.

Do not be surprised, for Moses, you see, figures prominently in Muslim belief. He is one of the five mightiest Messengers of God, along with Noah, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad. The Koran says that God bestowed His grace upon Moses and Aaron (37:114), that he was “specially chosen” by God (19:51) and that God bestowed on Moses “wisdom and knowledge” (28:14) as a reward for doing good. In addition, the Book of Moses is described by the Koran as a “Light and Guide” (6:91). At least 73 Koranic passages — many of them encompassing several verses at a time — talk of Moses. In fact, more verses mention Moses by name than Muhammad.

The Koran tells of two miracles —Moses’ staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing when he places it under his arm — that God permitted as proof of Moses’ prophethood. It details the plagues that were unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and set the Hebrews free (7:133). My favorite part of the story, the splitting of the Red Sea, is mentioned at least twice in the Koran (2:50, 26:52-68). The entire Exodus story is a happy one for me; it is a tale of bitter bondage and hardship and the glory of God’s deliverance from that hardship.

I was so intrigued by the whole idea of a lawsuit over the Exodus that I did some research. The good Egyptian scholar might be surprised to learn that the Koran does not contain any reference to the Hebrews’ taking gold and silver from the Egyptians.

So I went to the book of Exodus: “And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment; And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:35-56). No evidence of “theft” whatsoever.

In fact, according to Exodus, it was God Himself who made the Egyptians look upon the children of Israel with favor so that they could take said gold and silver. If Jews are defendants in Hilmy’s suit, then is God an unindicted co-conspirator?

This entire case is ridiculous, laughable and absolute rubbish. The winds of peace in the Middle East have all but died, and more blood is shed every day in the Holy Land.

This land — so holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews — has been desecrated for far too long by the intransigence of extremists opposed to peace on both sides. This land, which God has blessed for all time, has cried out in desperation and anguish for far too long. This land, upon which the holy footsteps of the Prophets have tread, is being poisoned more and more by the blood of innocents.

Now is the time for bold courage and tenacious determination, skills desperately needed to overcome the forces of hatred and bring peace to the Middle East. This is hardly the time for frivolous lawsuits over ancient texts and time periods.

Hesham Hassaballa, a Chicago physician, is a columnist for Beliefnet.com and co-author of “Taking Back Islam” (Rodale, 2002).

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