During the years that responding to Islam has been a significant concern for me in Christian ministry, I have been repeatedly struck by two seemingly contradictory facts: the reality of Islamic anti-Semitism on the one hand, and its denial on the other.
1. There can be no doubt that anti-Semitism is hard-wired into Islam's sacred history. The Qur 'an and hadi ths ( t radi t ions of Muhammad) have numerous passages which proclaim enmity towards the Jews. Jews are declared to be deceivers, malevolent, and killers of Muhammad (by poisoning him).
Islam's foundational texts express hostility to four religious groupings: Jews, Christians, pagans, and Muslim renegades. Jihad is mandated against all four of these groups, and whereas the rules of war are the more merciless against the pagans and Muslim renegades - only Jews and Christians being allowed to keep their faith after conquest - of the two 'Peoples of the Book' it is the Jews who attract the most intense expressions of hatred. There is less anti- Christian sentiment in the Qur'an and hadiths than there is anti-Jewish sentiment, and in Muhammad's biography his dealings with the Jews of Arabia - leading to a genocide in Medina, and the bloody conquest of Khaibar - loom much larger and are much more negative than his dealings with Christians.
The Islamic daily prayers include repeated recitations of al-Fatihah, the first chapter of the Qur'an. In these few verses, every Muslim prays that he will be guided on the straight path, not like the Christians ('those who have gone astray') or the Jews ('those who incur Allah's wrath'). This simple contrast, that whereas Christians have lost their way, Jews have fallen under the anger of Allah, neatly summarizes Islam's attitude to the Jews. The celebrated commentator Ibn Kathir, whose translated ‘tafsir1’ is popular among English-speaking Muslims, explains the distinction in his discussion of al-Fatihah:
These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them.… the Jews abandoned practising 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, 'Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath' (Sura 5:60). The attribute that the Christians deserve most is that of being led astray, just as Allah said about them, 'Who went astray before and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right path' (Sura 5:77).
Here Ibn Kathir is explaining that, whereas Christians are merely ignorant, Jews know the truth but deliberately reject it, thus making themselves objects of Allah's wrath.
That this libel is repeated in every observant Muslims' obligatory prayers, seventeen times a day, shows that Islam's rejection of the Jews is not peripheral in Islam. Many years ago I was personally surprised to discover hatred of Jews among the Muslims of Indonesia, a country which has had virtually nothing to do with Jews in its history. When Amrozi, the Balinese bomber, cried out threats against Jews at his sentencing in a Balinese courtroom, this was not because he had ever met a single Jew. His hatred was purely theological.
2. The other reality is that denial of Islam's anti-Semitic legacy is so persistent and tenacious, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Even some Jews, who should know better, deny it:
The historian Bernard Lewis confidently declared in his 1984 book The Jews of Islam, that, unlike Christian anti-Semitism, Islam's ill treatment of Jews had no theological basis: it was merely the 'usual attitude of the dominant to the subordinate'.
Iranian Jewish philanthropist and art-collector David Khalili, when asked on Australian radio whether his remarkable achievements as a collector of Islamic art might change Muslims' attitudes to Jews, responded that the idea that Jews are inferior would never have 'crossed any Muslim's mind'.
In the light of these two considerations - Islamic anti-Semitism and its baseless denial - I strongly encourage readers to familiarize themselves with the work of Andrew Bostom, who has recently published The Legacy of Islamic Anti- Semitism. This brilliant and courageous book is a landmark study of the subject.
My friend Dr Daniel Shayesteh was one of the Iranian founders of Hezb’allah, but became a Christian after he fled from the Ayatollah's murderous regime. He explains in his testimony of the hatred of Jews which he absorbed as part of his Muslim upbringing in Iran, and the intention of the Iranian revolutionaries to destroy Israel. The visceral hatred which shaped Hezb’allah’s dreams of conquest and destruction has not died out, and continues to plague the world. The urgency of this threat leads me to recommend one of Andrew Bostom’s recent postings, on Hezb’allah’s intentions re-published in this issue of CETF on pages 8-9 .
About the Author
MARK DURIE holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in the language and culture of the Acehnee (people from Aceh, Indonesia). He is vicar of St Mary's Caulfield (Melbourne) and writes regularly on matters of comparative theology. Although he was called as an expert witness in this case, the famous case of Islam v. the two Dannys, His Honour did not allow his testimony into evidence.