Anti-Semitism in the Quran and Sunnah

On one hand we have a group of people that claims God chose them out of all people on earth (Judaism) . On the other hand you have a religion (Islam) that claims that God hates those same group of people more than almost anyone else. 

The Quran and Sunnah are full of harsh criticism against the Jews.  This has translated into deep antisemitism in many of today’s Muslim community.

I wrote this article for a couple of reasons.  Some of my best friends are Jews and they are honest decent people.  Many of my friends have Jewish background but are not religious.  It really bugs me that Muslims think that God in his infinite power has a personal vendetta against this small group of people – the Jews.  And that two that Muslims claim that Jews are just liars who were too arrogant to accept Prophet Muhammad.   This all comes from the Islamic account.

I think Prophet Muhammad originally wished for the Jews to accept him as their leader.  As time went by this did not happen and he started to become more and more antagonistic against them.  The Quran and Sunnah are full of verses claiming that the Jews are liars,they are too arrogant to accept it, and that Allah is angry with them and cursed them.  It is also full of references where they “admit” their guilt. These values have become internalized in much of the Muslim community.  At the end of this article I have some examples of how I was called a Jew on Facebook as an insult.

 

This article does not try to address the historical reality of how Jews were treated by Muslims after Muhammad’s time.  It simply shares an apparent reading of the primary texts.

Anti-semitism is usually defined as “hostility to or prejudice against Jews.” which is the meaning I am applying to it here.

Let us start with this:

Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab:
I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim. (MuslimTirmidhi and others)
He eventually kicked them out and took Fadak (in its entirety, the land, the houses, everything) entirely for himself:

The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, had said, ‘Two deens shall not co-exist in the Arabian Peninsula,’ and he therefore expelled the jews from Khaybar.”

Malik said, ”Umar ibn al-Khattab expelled the Jews from Najran (a Jewish settlement in the Yemen) and Fadak (a Jewish settlement thirty miles from Madina).

When the Jews of Khaybar left, they did not take any fruit or land. The Jews of Fadak took half the fruit and half the land, because the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, had made a settlement with them for that.

So Umar entrusted to them the value in gold, silver, camels, ropes and saddle bags of half the fruit and half the land, and handed the value over to them and expelled them.” (Malik)

That is the end of the story.  Now lets go to the beginning, where Muhammad tried to appease the Jews but eventually this became an antagonistic relationship after they refused to accept him.

The Muslims used to pray towards Jerusalem but eventually  Al-Tabari mentions that when Muhammad heard the Jews were making fun of them praying this way he prayed for it to be changed.

In the hadith literature we find quotes stating that Jews recognized Muhammad as “a true prophet” but really out of arrogance rejected him.  Of course this is completely untrue and an easy excuse to insult and slander the Jews who probably saw right through him.

The Quran states,

Those unto whom We gave the Scripture recognise (this revelation) as they recognise their sons. But lo! a party of them knowingly conceal the truth. (2:146)

Ibn Kathir the well respected sunni scholar in his famous exegisis of the Quran (1300-1373 CE) states regarding this verse:

The Jews know that the Prophet is True, but they hide the Truth. 

According to Al-Qurtubi, it was narrated that `Umar said to `Abdullah bin Salam (an Israelite scholar who became a Muslim), “Do you recognize Muhammad as you recognize your own son” He replied, “Yes, and even more. The Honest One descended from heaven on the Honest One on the earth with his (i.e., Muhammad’s) description and I recognized him, although I do not know anything about his mother’s story.”

Ibn Kathir was deeply anti-semitic and the one thing that stood out to me when I was reading his work even as a Muslim was how often he would insert “May Allah curse the Christians and Jews” in his text.

The Quran is full of quotes attacking the Jews.

The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray. (Fatiha verse 7).

This is interpreted by many to be attacking the Christians and Jews.  Muhsin Khan translates it as follows:

The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace , not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).

Ibn Kathir says about the last verse of Surah Fatiha:

These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why `anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as `led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians. Those who know, but avoid implementing the truth, deserve the anger, unlike those who are ignorant. The Christians want to seek the true knowledge, but are unable to find it because they did not seek it from its proper resources.

This is why they were led astray. We should also mention that both the Christians and the Jews have earned the anger and are led astray, but the anger is one of the attributes more particular of the Jews. Allah said about the Jews,

مَن لَّعَنَهُ اللَّهُ وَغَضِبَ عَلَيْهِ (Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath) (5:60).
(Tafsir of 1:7)

Also, you are not allowed to befriend Christians and Jews

O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people. (5:51)

You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. (5:82)

Other relevant verses from the Quran:

You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah… (5:82)

And they say: Our hearts are covered. Nay, Allah has cursed them on account of their unbelief; so little it is that they believe. (2:88)

Those to whom We have given the Book read it as it ought to be read. These believe in it; and whoever disbelieves in it, these it is that are the losers (2:121)

Of those who are Jews (there are those who) alter words from their places and say: We have heard and we disobey and: Hear, may you not be made to hear! and: Raina, distorting (the word) with their tongues and taunting about religion; and if they had said (instead): We have heard and we obey, and hearken, and unzurna it would have been better for them and more upright; but Allah has cursed them on account of their unbelief, so they do not believe but a little. (4:46)

But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places and they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; and you shall always discover treachery in them excepting a few of them; so pardon them and turn away; surely Allah loves those who do good (to others). (5:13)

Other relevant verses:

  • 4:47 Allah threatens to twist up their faces turn them backwards and curse them
  • 3:110 Most of the people of the book are perverted transgressors
  • 9:29 Fight the people of the book until Jizyah is established upon them
  • 5:64 Allah has put enmity between the Jews until the day of judgement

There is also this Hadith was also collected claims even the Jews “admit” Allah is angry with them and cursed them:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:

Zaid bin ‘Amr bin Nufail went to Sham, inquiring about a true religion to follow. He met a Jewish religious scholar and asked him about their religion. He said, “I intend to embrace your religion, so tell me some thing about it.” The Jew said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you receive your share of Allah’s Anger.” Zaid said, “‘I do not run except from Allah’s Anger, and I will never bear a bit of it if I have the power to avoid it. Can you tell me of some other religion?” He said, “I do not know any other religion except the Hanif.” Zaid enquired, “What is Hanif?” He said, “Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian, and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)” Then Zaid went out and met a Christian religious scholar and told him the same as before. The Christian said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah’s Curse.” Zaid replied, “I do not run except from Allah’s Curse, and I will never bear any of Allah’s Curse and His Anger if I have the power to avoid them. Will you tell me of some other religion?” He replied, “I do not know any other religion except Hanif.” Zaid enquired, “What is Hanif?” He replied, Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)” When Zaid heard their Statement about (the religion of) Abraham, he left that place, and when he came out, he raised both his hands and said, “O Allah! I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Abraham.” (Bukhari)

Also apparently for the horrible sin of selling fat they were cursed some more:

I heard `Umar saying, “May Allah Curse so-and-so! Doesn’t he know that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘May Allah curse the Jews for, though they were forbidden (to eat) fat, they liquefied it and sold it. ” (Bukhari)

And there’s this hadith that comes to mind that says eventually the stones will turn again the Jews:

I heard Allah’s Apostle [Muhammad] saying, “The Jews will fight with you, and you will be given victory over them so that a stone will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew behind me; kill him!’ (Bukhari, more versions here)

In my personal experience, the most common “insult” I received from the Muslim community after coming out is that I am actually a Jew, or sponsored by a Jewish agency:

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As you can see, many Muslims are deeply anti-Semitic and suspicious of Jews and think there is a global conspiracy against Islam done by the Jews.

There is also the slaughter of Banu Qurazya (Wikipedia) which is a controversial order made by Prophet Muhammad to kill all the men of the tribe of Banu Qurayza for their betrayal of the Muslims that should be reviewed.

At the end of his life Muhammad cursed the Jews at his death bed:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) as saying: Allah’s curse to be on the Jews, they made the graves of their Prophets mosques. (Abu Dawud)

As well, the Quran makes mistaken claims about the Jews.  It says they call Ezra the son of Allah.

The Muslim community may have treated the Jews well. I am not sure.  But it seems the Quran and Sunnah are very hostile to them in its apparent reading.

Further reading:

4 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism in the Quran and Sunnah

  1. I m atheist..when i defend gay muslim say i m gay..same when i defend jew..they aten t lot but they see them everywhere:)

  2. You have rightly called out anti-semitism in mainstream Islam, and its sources. I applaud you for standing up against racism, bigotry and prejudice. You also (almost) identified that the source of it is not the Quran, but the interpretation of the Quran by people. The interpreters impose their biases and prejudices into the Quran, and they become so finely ingrained in our psyche that we are not able to read the Quran without taking off the blinders of tradition.

    I invite you to do the same thing you are seeking to advocate. Study the Quran without the prejudices we have inherited through Ibn Kathir, Umar Ibn Al Khattab or the like, that you have quoted. It takes time and patience, but worth the journey, especially when it is one that leads to our salvation.

    The Quran has to be understood on the basis of the Quran itself, and its universalist message. “Islam” does not mean a “label” that a certain section of organized religion has appropriated for itself, but a state of an individual being at peace with God. You don’t get salvation by having that “label”, but by being in that state of submission or peace. Anybody can be a “muslim” by this description in the Quran, including a Jew, Christian or anyone else, provided they submit to God alone.

    Indeed the faithful, those who are Judeans, the Nazarenes, the Converts, __anyone__ who believes in God, the Last Day and leads a righteous life, then their reward is kept for them at their Lord, they have nothing to fear nor will they grieve. [Quran 2:62]

    The Quran does not stereotype or generalize the Jewish community. It praises those who are righteous, devout and upright, and highlights them as a good example for us. It also calls out and criticize those who were not, and they serve as bad examples for us not to follow. Many references are specifically to the Jewish tribes in Madina who were contemporaries of Muhammad, and not referring to Jews of today or of all time. The verses you quoted illustrate this balanced perspective, but you chose to focus on the criticism of specific behaviors or specific groups of people to make it appear that Quran demonz.

    Some examples from your quotes ..

    * Sura Fatiha, you yourself observed that the text does not say this. Ibn Kathir’s anti-semitism projected into the Quran is irrelevant.
    * Those whom We have endowed with the scripture recognize it as they recognize their own sons. However, a group of them surely conceal the truth while they know. [2:146]

    This is an amazing verse, saying that only a “group” of them conceal the truth when they know it. It did not generalize at all.

    * Those who are given the scripture and they recite it as it should truly be recited, they believe in it. As for those who disbelieve in it; then they are the real losers. [2:121]

    Again, God acknowledges one group who read their own scripture the way it should be recited, and are able to see its true message. And criticizes the others who disbelieve in this message. This is expression of the reality that there are good and bad in every community.

    * 2:88, 4:46, 5:13 etc. … are specifically addressing specific attitudes / behaviors displayed by specific people and correcting that. God corrects and clarifies.
    * 5:51, 5:82 … these are a statement of historic realities specific to the time of Muhammad. When the followers of Muhammad were evicted from Mecca, the first people who gave them refuge was the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia under Negus. By and large, the tribes that identified as Nazarene (Nasara) were more tolerant and less hostile to Muhammad’s message than the Quraysh and tribes that identified as Judean (Yahood). Yet, as the Quran repeatedly emphasizes over and over, there were good and bad people among them. You cannot ignore the positive references and pick on the negative references to make a claim that it is anti-semitic.

    Understanding the pluralist, universalist message of the Quran requires shedding our own prejudices and reading the Quran sincerely. And we will be guided to its real message. I invite you to do the same.

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