This (relatively) brief presentation is unsparing of germane details which pertain to Islamic doctrine and history. You may find the material somewhat dry, when it is not disturbing. I ask your indulgence, and urge you to bear in mind Albert Einstein’s admonition, If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.
“Understanding the Islam in Islamic Antisemitism”
A very dear Catholic neighbor—well aware of my writings on Islam—was kindly trying to lift my gloomy spirits of late, so he sent me some hackneyed Jewish humor, including,
Short summary of every Jewish holiday [consider Passover]:
“They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat.”
But the next example was more apposite to what I will discuss this afternoon:
Jewish telegram: “Begin worrying. Details to follow.”
The only Marxist philosopher I appreciate—Groucho—once observed,
Beside a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it is too dark to read.
Now I will cast light on subject matter long relegated to silent darkness.
Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders’ brief, powerful documentary film Fitna simply holds up a mirror to Islamic societies by including examples of how various Koranic verses are used by Muslim clerics and political leaders to incite Muslim populations to violence. And Fitna is entirely faithful to classical, mainstream Islamic exegesis on the Koranic verses cited in the film, regardless of what cultural jihadists, and their witting or unwitting apologists and abettors, may claim.
Perhaps more disturbing than the images of jihadist carnage—and their Koranic incitement—portrayed in Fitna, was an example of how even young children are inculcated with these genocidal beliefs, and coached to repeat them for additional public consumption. Fitna included a May 2002 segment broadcast on Iqraa, the Saudi satellite television station, which claims at its website, “to highlight aspects of Arab Islamic culture that inspire admiration … to highlight the true, tolerant image of Islam and refute the accusations directed against it.” Iqraa’s The Muslim Women's Magazine program featured an interview of a three-and-a-half-year-old “real Muslim girl” about Jews. When the little girl was asked whether she liked Jews; she replied, “No.” Asked why not, she replied that Jews were “apes and pigs.” The moderator then asked. “Who said this?” And the child answered, “Our God.” “Where did He say this?,” asked the moderator. “In the Koran,” this three-and-a-half-year-old girl replied. At the close of the interview, the moderator stated approvingly: “No [parents] could wish for Allah to give them a more believing girl than she... May Allah bless her and both her father and mother.”
Tragically, this 3-and-a-half-year old girl’s Koranic reference is accurate—Koran 5:60 refers to the Jews as apes and pigs; Koran 2:65 and 7:166, as apes, only. These verses and both their classical and modern exegesis by the most authoritative Muslim Koranic commentators are meant to inspire sacralized Jew hatred.
For over a thousand years, since its founding in 792 C.E., Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, has served as the academic shrine—much as Mecca is the religious shrine—of the global Muslim community. Al Azhar University (and its mosque) represent the pinnacle of Islamic religious education.
A front page New York Times story published Saturday January 10, 2009, included extracts from the Friday sermon (of the day before) at Al Azhar mosque pronounced by Egyptian-government appointed cleric Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef. Referencing well-established Antisemitic motifs from the Koran (citations provided, below), Sheikh Youssef intoned,
Muslim brothers, God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at [Koran 1:7] and whom he cursed [Koran 5:78] so he made monkeys and pigs [Koran 5:60] out of them. They killed prophets and messengers [Koran 2:61 / 3:112] and sowed corruption on Earth. [Koran 5:33 / 5:64] They are the most evil on Earth. [5:62 /63]
Indeed the Koran’s overall discussion of the Jews is marked by a litany of their sins and punishments, as if part of a divine indictment, conviction, and punishment process. The Jews’ ultimate sin and punishment are made clear: they are the devil’s minions (4:60) cursed by Allah, their faces will be obliterated (4:47), and if they do not accept the true faith of Islam—the Jews who understand their faith become Muslims (3:113)—they will be made into apes (2:65/ 7:166), or apes and swine (5:60), and burn in the Hellfires (4:55, 5:29, 98:6, and 58:14-19).
The Koranic curse upon the Jews for (primarily) rejecting, even slaying Allah’s prophets (verses 2:61/3:112), including Isa/Jesus (or at least his “body double” 4:157-4:158), is updated with perfect archetypal logic in the canonical hadith: following the Muslims’ initial conquest of the Jewish farming oasis of Khaybar, one of the vanquished Jewesses reportedly served Muhammad poisoned mutton (or goat), which resulted, ultimately, in his protracted, agonizing death. And Ibn Saad’s sira account maintains that Muhammad’s poisoning resulted from a well-coordinated Jewish conspiracy.
It is worth recounting—as depicted in the Muslim sources—the events that antedated Muhammad’s reputed poisoning at Khaybar.
Muhammad’s failures or incomplete successes were consistently recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews. The Muslim prophet-warrior developed a penchant for assassinating individual Jews, and destroying Jewish communities—by expropriation and expulsion (Banu Quaynuqa and B. Nadir), or massacring their men, and enslaving their women and children (Banu Qurayza). Just before subduing the Medinan Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza and orchestrating the mass execution of their adult males, Muhammad invoked perhaps the most striking Koranic motif for the Jews debasement—he addressed these Jews, with hateful disparagement, as “You brothers of apes.” Subsequently, in the case of the Khaybar Jews, Muhammad had the male leadership killed, and plundered their riches. The terrorized Khaybar survivors—industrious Jewish farmers—became prototype subjugated dhimmis whose productivity was extracted by the Muslims as a form of permanent booty. (And according to the Muslim sources, even this tenuous vassalage was arbitrarily terminated within a decade of Muhammad’s death when Caliph Umar expelled the Jews of Khaybar.)
Thus Maimonides (d. 1203), the renowned Talmudist, philosopher, astronomer, and physician, as noted by historian Salo Baron [from Baron’s essay entitled, “The Historical Outlook of Maimonides,” in Proc of the Amer Acad for Jewish Res, vol. 6, 1934-35, p. 82], emphasizes the bellicose “madness” of Muhammad, and his quest for political control. Muhammad’s mindset, and the actions it engendered, had immediate, and long term tragic consequences for Jews—from his massacring up to 24,000 Jews, to their chronic oppression—as described in the Islamic sources, by Muslims themselves:
Following an apparently prevalent usage [Maimonides] calls the founder of Islam a “madman,” [meshugga] with both religious and political aspirations, who failed to formulate any new religious ideas, but merely re-stated well-known concepts. Nevertheless, he attracted a large following and inflicted many wrongs upon the Jews, being himself responsible for the massacre of 24,000. Following his example the Muslims of the subsequent generations oppressed the Jews and debased them even more harshly than any other nation.
Muhammad’s brutal conquest and subjugation of the Medinan and Khaybar Jews, and their subsequent expulsion by one of his companions, the (second) “Rightly Guided” Caliph Umar, epitomize permanent, archetypal behavior patterns Islamic Law deemed appropriate to Muslim interactions with Jews. George Vajda’s seminal analysis of the anti-Jewish motifs in the hadith remains the definitive work on this subject. Vajda concluded that according to the hadith stubborn malevolence is the Jews defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to Islam out of jealousy, envy and even selfish personal interest, lead them to acts of treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature: “...sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.” These archetypes sanction Muslim hatred towards the Jews, and the admonition to at best, “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination,” as dhimmis, treated “with contempt,” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”
Two particularly humiliating “vocations” that were imposed upon Jews by their Muslim overlords in Yemen, and Morocco—where Jews formed the only substantive non-Muslim dhimmi populations—merit elaboration.
Moroccan Jews were confined to ghettos in the major cities, such as Fez (since the 13th century) called mellah(s) (salty earth) which derives from the fact it was here that they were forced to salt the decapitated heads of executed rebels for public exposition. This brutally imposed humiliating practice—which could be enforced even on the Jewish Sabbath—persisted through the late 19th century, as described by Eliezer Bashan:
In the 1870's, Jews were forced to salt the decapitated heads of rebels on the Sabbath. For example, Berber tribes frequently revolted against Sultan Muhammad XVIII. In order to force them to accept his authority, he would engage in punitive military campaigns. Among the tribes were the Musa, located south of Marrakesh. In 1872, the Sultan succeeded in quelling their revolt and forty-eight of their captives were condemned to death. In October 1872, on the order of the Sultan, they were dispatched to Rabat for beheading. Their decapitated heads were to be exposed on the gates of the town for three days. Since the heads were to be sent to Fez, Jewish ritual slaughterers [of livestock] were forced to salt them and hang them for exposure on the Sabbath. Despite threats by the governor of Rabat, the Jews refused to do so. He then ordered soldiers to enter the homes of those who refused and drag them outside. After they were flogged, the Jews complied and performed the task and the heads of the rebels were exposed in public.
Yemenite Jews had to remove human feces and other waste matter (urine which failed to evaporate, etc.) from Muslim areas, initially in Sanaa, and later in other communities such as Shibam, Yarim, and Dhamar. Decrees requiring this obligation were issued in the late 18th or early 19th century, and re-introduced in 1913. Yehuda Nini reproduces an 1874 letter written by a Yemenite Jew to the Alliance Israelite in Paris, lamenting the practice:
…it is 86 years since our forefathers suffered the cruel decree and great shame to the nation of Israel from the east to sundown…for in the days of our fathers, 86 years ago, there arose a judge known as Qadi, and said unto the king and his ministers who lived in that time that the Lord, Blessed be He, had only created the Jews out of love of the other nations, to do their work and be enslaved by them at their will, and to do the most contemptible and lowly of tasks. And of them all…the greatest contamination of all, to clear their privies and streets and pathways of the filthy dung and the great filth in that place and to collect all that is left of the dung, may your Honor pardon the expression.
And when the Jews were perceived as having exceeded the rightful bounds of this subjected relationship, as in mythically “tolerant” Muslim Spain, the results were predictably tragic. The Granadan Jewish viziers Samuel Ibn Naghrela, and his son Joseph, who protected the Jewish community, were both assassinated between 1056 to 1066, and in the aftermath, the Jewish population was annihilated by the local Muslims. It is estimated that up to four thousand Jews perished in the pogrom by Muslims that accompanied the 1066 assassination. This figure equals or exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade. The inciting “rationale” for this Granadan pogrom is made clear in the bitter anti-Jewish ode of Abu Ishaq, a well-known Muslim jurist and poet of the times, who wrote:
Bring them down to their place and return them to the most abject station. They used to roam around us in tatters covered with contempt, humiliation, and scorn. They used to rummage amongst the dung heaps for a bit of a filthy rag to serve as a shroud for a man to be buried in...Do not consider that killing them is treachery. Nay, it would be treachery to leave them scoffing.
Abu Ishaq’s rhetorical incitement to violence also included the line,
Many a pious Muslim is in awe of the vilest infidel ape
Moshe Perlmann, in his analysis of the Muslim anti-Jewish polemic of 11th century Granada, notes,
[Abu Ishaq] Elbīrī used the epithet “ape” (qird) profusely when referring to Jews. Such indeed was the parlance.
The Moroccan cleric al-Maghili (d. 1505), referring to the Jews as “brothers of apes” (just as Muhammad, the sacralized prototype, had addressed the Banu Qurayza), who repeatedly blasphemed the Muslim prophet, and whose overall conduct reflected their hatred of Muslims, fomented, and then personally lead, a Muslim pogrom (in ~ 1490) against the Jews of the southern Moroccan oasis of Touat, plundering and killing them en masse, and destroying their synagogue in neighboring Tamantit. An important Muslim theologian whose writings influenced Moroccan religious attitudes towards Jews into the 20th century, al-Maghili also declared in verse, “Love of the Prophet, requires hatred of the Jews.”
Here is but a very incomplete sampling of barely known pogroms and mass murderous violence against Jews living under Islamic rule, across space and time, all resulting from the combined effects of jihadism, general anti-dhimmi, and/or specifically Antisemitic motifs in Islam: 6,000 Jews massacred in Fez in 1033; hundreds of Jews slaughtered in Muslim Cordoba between 1010 and 1015; 4,000 Jews killed in Muslim riots in Grenada in 1066, wiping out the entire community; the Berber Muslim Almohad depredations of Jews (and Christians) in Spain and North Africa between 1130 and 1232, which killed tens of thousands, while forcibly converting thousands more, and subjecting the forced Jewish converts to Islam to a Muslim Inquisition; the 1291 pogroms in Baghdad and its environs, which killed (at least) hundreds of Jews; the 1465 pogrom against the Jews of Fez; the late 15th century pogrom against the Jews of the Southern Moroccan oasis town of Touat; the 1679 pogroms against, and then expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Sanaa, Yemen to the unlivable, hot and dry Plain of Tihama, from which only 1,000 returned alive, in 1680, 90% having died from exposure; recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence—including pogroms and forced conversions—throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which rendered areas of Iran (for example, Tabriz) Judenrein; the 1834 pogrom in Safed where raging Muslim mobs killed and grievously wounded hundreds of Jews; the 1888 massacres of Jews in Isfahan and Shiraz, Iran; the 1910 pogrom in Shiraz; the pillage and destruction of the Casablanca, Morocco ghetto in 1907; the pillage of the ghetto of Fez Morocco in 1912; the government sanctioned anti-Jewish pogroms by Muslims in Turkish Eastern Thrace during June-July, 1934 which ethnically cleansed at least 3000 Jews; and the series of pogroms, expropriations, and finally mass expulsions of some 900,000 Jews from Arab Muslim nations, beginning in 1941 in Baghdad (the murderous “Farhud,” during which 600 Jews were murdered, and at least 12,000 pillaged)—eventually involving cities and towns in Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Aden, Bahrain, and culminating in 1967 in Tunisia—that accompanied the planning and creation of a Jewish state, Israel, on a portion of the Jews’ ancestral homeland.
Unfortunately, contemporary manifestations of the jihad against Israel, linked intimately to Islamic Jew hatred, and deemed “radical”—for example Hamas’ doctrine—are entirely concordant with the views espoused by the most authoritative religious educational institution within Sunni Islam—Al Azhar University, in Cairo, Egypt. Consider a fatwa written January 5, 1956—at the height of so-called secular Arab nationalism—by then Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Hasan Ma’moun, and signed by the leading members of the Fatwa Committee of Al Azhar, and the major representatives of all four Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence. [English translation from State Department Telegram 1763/ Embassy (Cairo) Telegram 1256 D441214] This ruling elaborated the following key initial point: that all of historical Palestine having been conquered by jihad, was a permanent possession of the global Muslim umma (community), “fay territory” (booty/spoils), to be governed by Islamic Law. The January, 1956 Al Azhar fatwa’s language and arguments are indistinguishable from those employed by Hamas (in its Covenant), revealing the same conjoined motivations of jihad, and conspiratorial Islamic Jew hatred:
Muslims cannot conclude peace with those Jews who have usurped the territory of Palestine and attacked its people and their property in any manner which allows the Jews to continue as a state in that sacred Muslim territory.
[as] Jews have taken a part of Palestine and there established their non-Islamic government and have also evacuated from that part most of its Muslim inhabitants… Jihad… to restore the country to its people.. is the duty of all Muslims, not just those who can undertake it. And since all Islamic countries constitute the abode of every Muslim, the Jihad is imperative for both the Muslims inhabiting the territory attacked, and Muslims everywhere else because even though some sections have not been attacked directly, the attack nevertheless took place on a part of the Muslim territory which is a legitimate residence for any Muslim.
Everyone knows that from the early days of Islam to the present day the Jews have been plotting against Islam and Muslims and the Islamic homeland. They do not propose to be content with the attack they made on Palestine and Al Aqsa Mosque, but they plan for the possession of all Islamic territories from the Nile to the Euphrates.
At present, the continual, monotonous invocation by Al Azhar clerics of Antisemitic motifs from the Koran (and other foundational Muslim texts) is entirely consistent with the published writings, and statements of Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi—Grand Imam of this pre-eminent Islamic religious institution since 1996. Tantawi’s case illustrates the prevalence and depth of sacralized, “normative” Jew hatred in the contemporary Muslim world. Arguably Islam’s leading mainstream cleric, Grand Imam Sheikh Tantawi, embodies how the living legacy of Muslim anti-Jewish hatred, and violence remains firmly rooted in mainstream, orthodox Islamic teachings, not some aberrant vision of “radical Islam.”
Tantawi’s Ph.D. thesis [Banu Israil fi al-Quran wa-al-Sunnah] Jews in the Koran and the Traditions was published in 1968-69, and re-published in 1986. Two years after earning his Ph.D., Sheikh Tantawi began teaching at Al-Azhar. In 1980 he became the head of the Tafsir [Koranic Commentary] Department of the University of Medina, Saudi Arabia—a position he held until 1984. Sheikh Tantawi became Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1986, a position he was to hold for a decade before taking on his current post, first assumed in 1996, as the Grand Imam of Al Azhar.
My book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism includes extensive first time English translations of Tantawi’s academic magnum opus. Tantawi wrote these words in his 700 page treatise, rationalizing Muslim Jew hatred:
[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [Koran 2:61/ 3:112], [and see Sheikh Saqr’s Koranic citations, above] corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people’s wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness…only a minority of the Jews keep their word…[A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [Koran 3:113], the bad ones do not.
Tantawi was apparently rewarded for this scholarly effort by being named Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in 1996, a position he still holds. These are the expressed, “carefully researched” views on Jews held by the nearest Muslim equivalent to a Pope—the head of the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam, which represents some 85 to 90% of the world’s Muslims. And Sheikh Tantawi has not mollified such hatemongering beliefs since becoming the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar as his statements on “dialogue” (January 1998) with Jews, the Jews as “enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs” (April 2002), and the legitimacy of homicide bombing of Jews (April 2002) make clear.
Tantawi’s statements on dialogue, which were issued shortly after he met with the Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, in Cairo, on December 15, 1997, provided him another opportunity to re-affirm his ongoing commitment to the views expressed about Jews in his Ph.D. thesis:
…anyone who avoids meeting with the enemies in order to counter their dubious claims and stick fingers into their eyes, is a coward. My stance stems from Allah’s book [the Koran], more than one-third of which deals with the Jews…[I] wrote a dissertation dealing with them [the Jews], all their false claims and their punishment by Allah. I still believe in everything written in that dissertation. [i.e., Jews in the Koran and the Traditions, cited above]
Unfortunately, Tantawi’s antisemitic formulations are well-grounded in classical, mainstream Islamic theology. However, understanding and acknowledging the Koranic origins of Islamic antisemitism is not a justification for the unreformed, unrepentant modern endorsement of these hateful motifs by Tantawi—with predictably murderous consequences. Within days of the Netanya homicide bombing massacre on a Passover seder night, March 27, 2002, for example, Sheikh Tantawi issued an abhorrent sanction (April 4, 2002) of so-called “martyrdom operations,” even when directed at Israeli civilians.
And during November, 2002 (“Tantawi: No Antisemitism” Associated Press 11/19/2002), consistent with his triumphant denial, Sheikh Tantawi made the following statement in response to criticism over the virulently antisemitic Egyptian television series (“Horseman Without a Horse”), based on the Czarist Russia forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”:
Suppose that the series has some criticism or shows some of the Jews' traits, this doesn't necessitate an uproar…The accusation of antisemitism was invented by the Jews as a means to pressure Arabs and Muslims to implement their schemes in the Arab and Muslim countries, so don't pay attention to them
Last January 22, 2008, it was reported that Tantawi cancelled what would have been an historic visit to the Rome synagogue by the imam of Rome's mosque (Ala Eldin Mohammed Ismail al-Ghobash). The putative excuse for this cancellation was Israel’s self-defensive stance—a blockade—in response to acts of jihad terrorism (rocket barrages; attempted armed incursions) emanating from Gaza. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, commenting aptly about these events, observed that the cancellation proved, “…even so called Muslim moderates share the ideology of hate, violence and death towards the Jewish state.” Al Azhar, Corriere della Sera, further argued, which constituted a “Vatican of Sunni Islam,” had in effect issued “a kind of fatwah.” The paper concluded by noting that “What the Cairo statement really means is that Muslim dialogue with Jews in Italy is only possible once Israel has been eliminated.”
Syrian psychiatrist Wafa Sultan’s riveting new book, “A God Who Hates” includes her written exchange with an Iraqi judge who she characterizes as “broadminded” and “cultured.” Thus Wafa notes her surprise when this man warned her against discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lest she be accused of conspiring with Jews and Zionists. Wafa Sultan wrote back to the judge,
…thanking him for his advice, though declining to take it, and explained to him that I was utterly convinced that the reasons for the conflict were religious, and stemmed from the Prophet Muhammad’s hostility toward the Jews.
In one of my messages to him I reminded him of the Koranic verse (i.e., 5:64) that reads (she cites the verse—here is the Arberry translation), “The Jews have said, ‘God's hand is fettered.’ Fettered are their hands, and they are cursed for what they have said. Nay, but His hands are outspread;…We have cast between them enmity and hatred, till the Day of Resurrection. As often as they light a fire for war, God will extinguish it. They hasten about the earth, to do corruption there; and God loves not the workers of corruption.”
I asked him, “Is that reasonable. What do you tell your son when you read that verse to him? [parenthetically, as the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas did, citing Koran 5:64 during an inflammatory speech in the West Bank during January 2007, which culminated in his call for Palestinians to aim their rifles at the Israelis] How can you convince him that our problem with the Jews is their occupation of Palestine rather than Islam’s attitude to them fourteen centuries before that occupation began?”
And Wafa Sultan concludes,
Islam’s general attitude toward the Jews helped Muslims construct their conspiracy theory and use it as a weapon against anyone who tried to cast doubts upon the credibility and morality of Islamic teachings. With the aid of this weapon, they have been largely successful in attaining their objective.
The intellectually honest assessment and understanding of Islamic antisemitism, and the anti-Jewish violence it begets must begin with an unapologetic analysis of the motifs of Jew hatred contained in the foundational texts of Islam (i.e., Koran, hadith, and sira), while identifying those, like Sheikh Tantawi—the Sunni Muslim Pope—who continue to preach and sanction this religious bigotry, regardless of their “stature.”