The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Islam and anti-Semitism

See anti-Semitism for etymology and semantics of the term. This article is concerned with the relationship between Islam and anti-Semitism. It covers:

  • The prevalence of anti-Semitism amongst Muslims - and whether it is more or less common than amongst people of other religions.
  • The positions of the various branches of Islam on anti-Semitism and Jews.
  • Accusations of anti-Semitism made against Islam, and their consequences

1 Historic events of Muslim persecution of Jews

2 See Also
3 External links


The Quran on Jews

The Quran refers to Jews and Christians (and some other religions) as "people of the book". Muhammad had uneven relations with the Jews and they are condemned several times. The Quran also condemns those Jews who committed grave sins and turned away from the message revealed to them.

The Quran states that "Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was an upright man who had surrendered (to Allah), and he was not of the idolaters." (III - The house of Imran 67). This verse asserts that the biblical patriarch Abraham was not a Jew, but that he was a "Muslim" in the word's etymological sense of "one who has surrendered (to God)". Many Jews consider this to be anti-Semitic, arguing that it creates a historical anachronism that usurps the founding patriarch of Judaism, for the purpose of promoting a different religion. Muslims argue that calling him a Jew is itself anachronistic; if Abraham was an ethnic Jew, then the Arabs, as his traditional descendants through Ishmael, would equally have to be called Jews, and Judaism as we know it did not take shape until many centuries later. Many sceptics would argue that even if Abraham existed at the time, monotheism did not.

Islam mandates a limited level of tolerance for both Jews and Christians, as long as they did not challenge the superior status of Islam. Early verses in the Quran limit religious disputations with them to those occurring in a fair manner.

"And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, 'We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).'" (XXIX: The Spider: 46)

After Muhammad's efforts to convert all Jews and Christians to Islam failed, the sura "Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-Fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures. Those who have faith and do righteous deeds,- they are the best of creatures" (XCVIII: The Proof: 6-7) was revealed, and became part of the Quran.


When Muslim armies conquered nations, they did not force people of the Book (a category including Jews) to convert to Islam. Under Sharia law they were given the status of dhimmi, which gave them certain rights, as well as certain responsibilities. As dhimmis, Jews faced a greater level of tolerance under Muslim rule than under Christian rule. Dhimmis were provided with limited autonomy, and allowed to practice their religion. They had to pay the Jizya tax, but were exempted from the Zakat (alms) tax. The exact treatment of dhimmi varied greatly from place to place, although they were generally regarded as second-class citizens.

The constitution of Medina, one of the earliest documents of the Muslim community in Medina, which was transmitted by Ibn Hisham states: "The Jews of Banu Awf [phrases are repeated for the different Jewish communities] are a community along with the believers. To the Jews their religion and to the Muslim their religion."

For Jewish tribes which had treaties with the Muslim umma, the constitution of Medina states: "A Jew who follows us has a right to the same help and support as the believers, so long they are not wronged by him and he does not help others against them."

Views based on the Quran

Using verses from the Quran, some Muslims hold that, although a Muslim must be friendly with Jews and Christians, one should avoid befriending or initializing a friendship with them. This view is still held by many Muslims today. However, Muslims do consider Judaism as one of the divine faiths; a great number of their prophets are of the tribe of the Children of Israel (Bani-Israel):

"We gave him Isaac, and Jacob: all We guided and before him, We guided Noah, and among his progeny David, Solomon, Ayub, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron: Thus do We reward those who do good. And Zakariya and Yahya, and Jesus and Elias: all in the ranks of righteous. And Isma'il and Elisha and Jonah (Yunus) and Lut. And to all we gave favour above the nations." <Qur'an 6:84-86>

Many other prophets are considered to be the descendants of the tribe.

"Bani-Israel" itself means the children of Israel and more or less concerns those of Jewish faith. Those who the Bani-Israel tribe consisted of were regarded as "the preferred ones", as mentioned in the Qur'an:

"O Children of Israel! Call to mind My favour which I bestowed on you and that I preferred you to all others (for my Message)" <Qur'an 2:47>

However, according to Qur'anic verses, the particular tribe showed constant ungratefulness towards God and did not obey the command of their great prophets.

"Indignity is put over them wherever they may be, except when under a covenant (of protection) from God, and from men; they have drawn on themselves the Wrath of God, and destruction is put over them. This is because they disbelieved in the Ayats (evidences) of Allah and killed the Prophets without right. This is because they disobeyed (God) and used to transgress beyond bounds (in God's disobedience, crimes and sins)" <Qur'an 3:112>

However, Muslims are obligated to respect those who believe in the same God.

Historic events of Muslim persecution of Jews

Around 1000 CE the clinically insane Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim in Egypt ordered the killing of many Jews. Soon after its foundation by Yusuf ibn Tashfin , the Almoravid dynasty attempted to expel all Jews from Morocco in 1107; this effort soon petered out, and in fact one of their own military leaders was Jewish. However, its successor and overthrower the Almohad dynasty, founded by Ibn Tumart , was notoriously intolerant of all other religions, and indeed all other sects of Islam. In 1148, they offered Christians and Jews the choice of conversion or expulsion; in 1165, one of their rulers ordered that all Jews in the country convert on pain of death (forcing Maimonides to flee the country.) This policy was reversed by the succeeding Merinid dynasty in 1212.

Islamic claims that certain Jews had been transformed into lowly animals

Al-Jahiz (d. 869), a ninth century Islamic zoologist and belles-lettriste who authored The Book of Animals, writes that the mouse, cheetah, eel, white ant (termite), and lizard were originally sinful Jews. (See Al-Jahiz, Omar bin Bahar, Kitab Al-Hayawan. Cairo: Mustafa Al-Bai Al-Halabi and sons (1943), Col. I, p. 309.)

Qur'an 7:163 says that God told a group of Sabbath-breakers living by the sea "Be ye apes, despised and rejected" to punish them for breaking the Sabbath. This verse (interpreted to mean that they were turned into apes) is sometimes used by hostile groups to mock the Jews, on the grounds that these must have been Jews, since the Sabbath is a commandment which (according to Islam) God demanded of Jews but not of his other followers. Thus Hamas says:

"Allah did not mete out the punishment of transformation on any nation except the Jews. The significance of it is actual change in the appearance of the Jew and perfect transformation from human to bestial condition... from human appearance to the form of genuine apes, pigs, mice, and lizards..." (Source: The Hamas monthy publication Falastin Al-Muslima (London), September 1996, series of articles by Ibrahim Al-'Ali, pp. 54-55.)

Similarly, the following quotes are excerpted from a sermon broadcast on Palestinian TV by Dr. Mustafa Najem, Dec. 6, 2002:

"The Jews...are the brothers of monkeys and pigs...Allah has warned us against their evil and their arrogance, and has said: 'You will find that the most brazen among mankind, with hatred towards the believers, are the Jews and the Idolaters.' [Koran, 81,5]...The Jews are Jews, and we are forbidden to forget their character traits even for a moment, even for a blink of an eye. O Servants of Allah! The Jews are those who tried to murder your Prophet in order to expunge the call (to Islam)....Prayer and blessing to the Imam of the Jihad fighters, Mohammed, who waged a Jihad against the Jews...The Jews...are Idolaters, heretics, whose faith is false."

In the Islamic Aghlabid dynasty (9th through 11th century, North Africa) Jews were forced to wear a patch that had an image of a monkey, and were also forced to affix said image to their homes. (For Christians, the image was of a pig.) (F. Viré, "Kird," Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition.)

20th century anti-Semitism by Islamic clerics

Anti-semitic statements are particularly common amongst Muslim clerics in the Middle East; this may be reasonably ascribed to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created much anger and polarized religious views in the region. However, it should be remembered that only 25% of the world's Muslim population live in the Middle East. Therefore, such views are not representative of "Islam", but rather of the Muslim communities and political contexts that produce them.

The following sermon was delivered at the Sheik 'Ijlin Mosque in Gaza, Palestinian Authority, The speaker was Sheik Ibrahim Madhi, and it was broadcast on Palestinian Authority television. August 3, 2001

"We must all seek a role in the Jihad and the battle. We said and we still say: 'Even if we, the entire (Palestinian) people, stood in line and signed for the Jews that we want peace, they would not accept it. The Koran is very clear on this: The greatest enemies of the Islamic nation are the Jews, may Allah fight them...'
"All spears should be directed at the Jews, at the enemies of Allah, the nation that was cursed in Allah's book. Allah has described them as apes and pigs, the calf-worshipers, idol-worshipers.
"Whoever can fight them with his weapons, should go out [to the battle]; whoever can fight them with a machinegun, should go out; whoever can fight them with a sword or a knife, should go out; whoever can fight them with his hands, should go out; This is our destiny. The people who are the most hostile toward the believers are the Jews and the Polytheists... The Jews have exposed their fangs. Nothing will deter them, except the color of their filthy people's blood; nothing will deter them except for us voluntarily detonating ourselves in their midst. They have nuclear power, but we have the power of the belief in Allah..."
"The Prophet [Muhammad] said: 'The Jews will fight you, and [Allah] will establish you as rulers over them...' We blow them up in Hadera, we blow them up in Tel Aviv and in Netanya, and in this way, Allah establishes us as rulers over these gangs of vagabonds.
"Blessings for whoever assaulted a soldier... Blessings for whoever has raised his sons on the education of Jihad and Martyrdom; blessings for whoever has saved a bullet in order to stick it in a Jew's head."

The following sermon was also delivered at the Sheik 'Ijlin Mosque in Gaza, Palestinian Authority, The speaker was Sheik Ibrahim Madhi. June 8, 2001. In the name of Islam the speaker calls for suicide bombers to destroy not only all Jews, but also the United States and Britain.

"Allah is almighty. Had He wanted - He would have beaten them. But He tests you in suffering. We must prepare the ground for the army of Allah that is coming according to the [divine] predetermination. We must prepare a foothold for them. Allah willing, this unjust state will be erased - Israel will be erased; this unjust state, the United States, will be erased; this unjust state, Britain, will be erased - they who caused this people's Nakbah [the 1948 'catastrophe']..."
"Blessings to whoever waged Jihad for the sake of Allah; blessings to whoever raided for the sake of Allah; blessings to whoever put a belt of explosives on his body or on his sons' and plunged into the midst of the Jews, crying "Allahu Akbar, praise to Allah, There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger....Just as the building collapsed over the Jews in their sinful dancing floor [referring to the collapse of a wedding hall in Jerusalem] - I pray to Allah that this oppressive Knesset will collapse over the heads of the Jews."

The following sermon was delivered at the Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan mosque in Gaza. The speaker was Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya , an appointed member of the Palestinian Authority Fatwa Council, and is former acting Rector of the Islamic University in Gaza .

"Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill the Jews, the Americans, who are like them, and those who stand by them. They are all in one trench against the Arabs and the Moslems. ... It is forbidden to befriend Israelis or to aid them. Don't love them or enter into agreement with them, don't help them or sign accords with them. Anyone who does this is one of them. This is the word of Allah, blessed be He. They, they are the terrorists. They should be slaughtered. They should be murdered. Such is the word of Allah."

Jewish-Muslim dialogue

There are a number of projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs; many of these include Jewish-Islamic theological dialogue. One of their goals is to reduce anti-Semitism.

Muslim denunciation of Anti-Semitism

Muslim organizations like the US based Muslim Wake Up! (MWU) have explicitly denounced anti-semitism.

See Also

External links

  • My fellow Muslims, we must fight anti-Semitism
  • The Problem of Muslim Anti-Semitism
  • Islamic Anti-Semitism as a Political Instrument, Yossef Bodansky, Freeman Center For Strategic Studies, 1999
  • Palestinian Media Watch

Last updated: 02-19-2005 06:12:59
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01