Omar al-Abed murdered three members of a Jewish family recently: Yosef Salomon, his daughter Chaya and his son Elad. The murders took place in the settlement of Halamish, land disputed by Israelis and "Palestinians" since the War of 1967.
After reading that the murderer had survived and had been taken to hospital, I wanted to speak to him -- in part, just to tell him how counterproductive and futile his action had been. But I also thought it worth trying to address him in language he would understand, by referring to Islamic matters, by quoting the Qur'an and sacred Traditions known as Hadith. The letter below might be translated into Arabic and shared with other young men. In it, there is mention of my background as a teacher of Islamic Studies, in the hope he and others might see I am not coming out of antagonism for either him or his faith -- a faith that he and they are committed to following. I wanted to raise moral questions that seldom if ever occur to Palestinian Muslims, especially when they are roused by false rumors about al-Aqsa or other sites they consider sacred.
It is important to stress that Jews are the only religious people alongside Muslims who believe in the absolute unity of God. After all, it was from the Jews that Muhammad learned to preach that "there is no god but God". I write to Omar al-Abed that he had no right to proclaim jihad, for an individual may not do that. Even though there are provisions in shari'a law that permit an individual to use violence if he believes Islam is under attack. I wanted him to know that the individuals he murdered had not attacked him and that the Israelis actually protect al-Aqsa and that it is not even slightly under attack. I quote Qur'anic verses about loving one's enemies, even though many later verses say the opposite. But if the Qur'an for him is the Word of God, surely he cannot simply ignore the earlier verses.
The letter is just a way to try to open some eyes by speaking in terms that someone who regards you as an enemy, especially if you are not one, may grasp, and that may serve as an outreaching of hands. 'Umar al-'Abed will only change if, over the long life he will spend in prison, he has time to reflect and to use those parts of his religion that call for peace. Who knows what can happen in a lifetime?
A Facebook post by the murderer Omar al-Abed, hours before he murdered three members of the Salomon family in Halamish.
Perhaps the exercise is worthless. I am not a Muslim, and no doubt that makes a difference. I am not a Jew, but I have tried to say that, in my long experience, Jews are good people and the people he killed so brutally were good people who, like him, believed in one God.
Here is the letter:
Ya 'Umar, Ya Abu Zayd,
I have just read your Arabic will and testament. After the bismillah and salutations upon your prophet Muhammad, whom you extol as ashraf al-khalq wa'l-mursil, the most noble of mankind and the prophets, I came to your words:
I am young, not even twenty-years old, I had many dreams and many aspirations. But what life is this in which our women and our young are murdered without any justification? They are desecrating the al-Aqsa mosque and we are sleeping, it is an embarrassment that we are sitting idly by.
"أنا شاب لم يتجاوز عمري العشرين، لي أحلام وطموحات كثيرة، كنت أعلم أنه بعون الله ستتحقق أحلامي، كنت أعشق الحياة لرسم البسمة على وجوه الناس، لكن أي حياة هذه التي تُقتل فيها نساؤنا وشبابنا ظلما ويدنس أقصانا مسرى حبيبنا ونحن نائمون.
You, those who have a gun and who are worn out, you who only bring out your gun at weddings and celebrations, are you not ashamed of yourselves? Why are you not declaring war for Allah? Here they are closing the al-Aqsa mosque and your gun is silent. All that I have is a sharpened knife, and it is answering the call of al-Aqsa. Shame on you, you who preach hatred. God will take revenge on you and will make it count. All of us are the sons of Palestine and the sons of al-Aqsa. You, sons of monkeys and pigs, if you do not open the gates of al-Aqsa, I am sure that men will follow me and will hit you with an iron fist, I am warning you.
'Umar, I cannot come to your bedside in the hospital where your wounds are being treated by the people you have been taught to hate. If you had a knife, perhaps you would murder the doctors and nurses who are now saving your life.
I have taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at a British university; I have many Muslim friends and have written much about Islam, a religion I know well. Much of my life has been spent in its study. I have read the Qur'an and the Hadith in Arabic, and love Islamic art, calligraphy and poetry, and can well understand why you love the Masjid al-Aqsa, the Qubbat al-Sakhra and all of the Haram al-Sharif. Many of the most beautiful buildings ever created have been mosques. There is no bitterness in my heart.
But I do write with mingled sorrow and rage for what you have done. I know a great many Jews; they are good people who have suffered, and, like Muslims, millions of them have been slaughtered.
Jews, like all Muslims, say the equivalent of la ilaha ill'llah -- there is no god but God -- in their holiest book. God has mentioned the Torah, al-Taurat, sixteen times in the Qur'an.
In al-Taurat, you will find the words: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one". Are these not like the words pronounced by the first Mu'adhdhin of Islam, Bilal ibn Rabah, when he was tortured by his master for having abandoned idolatry and said repeatedly ahad, ahad: one, one. The Jews and the Muslims are the greatest worshipers of a single God.
Did it ever occur to you that you did something evil? You took the lives of a family of believers in one Deity.
You destroyed their lives: a father, his son, and his daughter. You gravely injured the mother who, like you, is in hospital, fighting for her life. And when she is conscious she will be told that you have taken her husband, her son and her daughter. All the members of that family are today in grief, a grief from which they will never recover.
And you have destroyed your own family. Have you not read in the Qur'an, in Surat al-Isra, that speaks of the Prophet's Night Journey to the Masjid al-Aqsa, when speaking of God's command "God has decreed that you worship none but him"? It continues: "And be virtuous to your parents. Whether one or both of them reaches old age, say not to them 'Uff' nor chide them, but speak unto them a noble word". Now, your father and mother have lost a son who might have protected them in their old age. Another son, your brother has been arrested. Today or tomorrow, soldiers will demolish the home in which your family lived. Is that what God would wish?
You write, calling on your fellow Muslims, "Why are you not declaring war for God?" What war can that be if not jihad? But what right do you have to issue a call to jihad? Do you not know shari'a law and what it says about the call to jihad? Have not the 'ulama and the fuqaha stated that "Qital or fighting can only be declared when there is an Islamic State and the leader or Amir of this Islamic State is the only one who can declare this Holy War."
"The matter of jihad is in the hands of the ruler and his ijtihad, and the people must obey him in whatever he sees fit with regard to that". -- Al-Mughni (10/368).
"It is not permissible for the army to set out on a campaign without the permission of the ruler, no matter what the situation, because the ones to whom the command to fight and engage in jihad is addressed are the rulers, not individuals. Individuals have to follow the decision-makers. So it is not permissible for anyone to fight without the permission of the imam." -- Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah.
Perhaps you thought that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has given permission to kill Jews. But the Palestinian Authority is not an Islamic state and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Mahmoud Abbas is the head, is a secular body and will never be the basis even for a future Islamic state.
Today, there is no Islamic state in Palestine, nor is there an Amir with authority to issue a call to jihad. You have been greatly misled in this. Above all, no one has the right to take up arms, even a little knife, and go out as a mujahid on his own volition. Such a man would not die a martyr, for he will have acted at his own command. Doubtless there is permission for an individual to fight if Muslims are attacked. But the people you killed had not attacked you. You attacked them. They were defenseless. You did not even ask them to convert to Islam, which, under shari'a, is the first thing to be done before an attack.
You say, "Here they are closing the al-Aqsa mosque" and claim you are acting to open it. But no one had closed the mosque. It is open to all Muslims to pray there, as it has been since 1967, when the Israelis handed authority over it to the waqf authority in Jordan. Did you not know that? The Masjid al-Aqsa is built on a high place that is the holiest place in the world for Jews and has been holy to them long before the angel Jibril delivered Allah's message to Muhammad. Jews would never wish to commit acts of violence on a spot they regard as so holy, nor would they wish to destroy a mosque because that is forbidden under their own laws, which were written to protect all holy places, something they have done and do to this day.
If your purpose was to "open the mosque", tell me how has the slaughter of a God-loving family brought a solution closer? Muslims have killed Jews many times before, and that has not advanced the Islamic cause or religion in the slightest. The Jews have endured much, yet not a single death Muslims have suffered has achieved prosperity or peace for the people of Islam. You know that the Jews will never leave the land Allah gave to them, as promised by the prophet Musa in Surat al-Ma'ida, aya 21: "O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has prescribed for you, and turn not back in your traces, to turn about losers."
When you kill believers in the one God, you harden their hearts against you. Again and again, the people of Israel have offered the Muslims of Palestine peace and prosperity, and each time you have turned their offers down and brought calamity upon yourselves. That is not wisdom. That will not bring good lives to you, your family, your village or your young people born to hatred and anger. The Jews do not hate you: they hate the slaughter you have brought upon them for almost one hundred years. The Jews are commended in the Qur'an and in the books of Islamic law as "People of the Book". That is because they received a revelation from God. Yet you slaughtered them as though they were idolaters.
In Syria, war is raging and Muslims are killing Muslims in many thousands, and millions have been dispossessed and forced into exile. But even now, Israeli Jews are working in special hospitals in Syria, clinics they have built, bringing in injured men, women and children for treatment by skilled doctors and nurses. Would they do that if they hated Muslims? People from Gaza and the West Bank have been treated in Israeli hospitals in their thousands, just as you are being treated now. Would the Jews give that help if they had hatred in their hearts for your people? Yet you and others like you have nothing but hatred for them.
Have you not read the sound Hadith:
None of you has faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. (Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 13, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi)
Do you not remember the words spoken by the Prophet in his Final Sermon: "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you"? And even if you think the Jews have done wrong to you, have you not read the words of Allah in Surat al-Fussilat, aya 34:
And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. (Sahih International)
I have heard some Muslims say that you will prevail because the Jews love life and you love death. You went out on their holiest day of the week because you boasted you were happy to die. But in their love for life the Jews have brought great advances, healing, knowledge, and prosperity to the world. And in your preference for death you have brought nothing but hatred and despair and hard lives for yourselves.
You will go to prison and you will stay there until you die. You will achieve none of your ambitions, your hopes, your aspirations, a life that would bring pride and dignity to your family and your fellow Muslims. You will never become a doctor and heal the sick, a noble calling. You will never become a lawyer or a judge and deliver justice, another godly way of life. You will never become a Muslim scholar, an 'alim, a preacher, an imam, all holy callings. You will never marry, never have children, never become a great man who might have enriched the world and your own people. There are men and women in the world whom you might have summoned to Islam, but who, hearing of the evil things you have done, will reject Islam for the rest of their lives. Your name will go down in history along with names like Adolf Hitler and Pharaoh, who killed and enslaved Jews against God's will. And I fear that in the next world, if there is a world to come, you will share eternity in the company of murderers and tyrants.
You may think that killing Jews is a noble thing, that others will praise you and hold you a hero, a brave man, a batal, a true believer. Yet what you did was not brave, but cowardly. People will tell you that the slaughter you performed was heroic and that you took up arms to bring freedom for your fellow Muslims. But today, millions around the world detest what you did and call it by its proper name, a Satanic act. If you had gone into that house with an open hand and a smiling face, I assure you that the family would have welcomed you, shaken your hand, and invited you to share their meal. But you chose not to do that. Instead, you took the lives of grandparents and parents, ruining the future for their little children. How can anyone be proud of that?
I am addressing this letter to you in the hope that somewhere, today, tomorrow, or many years from now, you may see what you have done for what it is and feel shame. You have brought dishonor on your people. Perhaps in that, you will find a way to explain to your fellow believers, to young Palestinians like yourself, that, despite what they may hear to lure them into killing, they are on a path to their ruin. Arabs have fought six wars against the Jews and lost each time. You have fought intifadas to dislodge the Jews from the land God gave them, and they have survived and prospered. They have offered you everything you need to grow in peace and prosperity. They have guarded you so you can worship freely, attend your mosques, and preach your sermons, even when you have preached hatred for them. Are these not signs that Allah has protected them, given them the strength to survive, and blessed them?
It is time to seek another way, to turn your knives to ploughshares, to make peace, not war, and to put an end to the sacrifice of your young people and elderly that brings nothing but wretchedness to the Palestinian Muslims. If you alone, one man, could come to understand that peace is close as soon as you want it and work for it. Allah says in Surat al-Waqi'a, ayas 25-26, about the people of Paradise: "They hear no idle talk there, nor words that call to sin, for only the words 'Peace, Peace!' are spoken there."
Peace be upon you. Al-salamu 'alayka.
Denis MacEoin, who earned a PhD in Islamic Studies, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.