by Ibn Warraq (Foreword to The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, by Andrew Bostom,
Is Islamic antisemitism only a modern phenomenon? What of the so-called Golden Age of Islamic tolerance, above all as depicted in Islamic Spain? Here the willingness to accept the clichés of the Romantics is palpable. And those whom we expect to have done their own research and not merely to accept, and pass on, these clichés, so often disappoint.
Consider the case of Amartya Sen, a celebrated economist, and winner of the Nobel Prize. Sen has in recent years written on subjects outside his normal area of research. Unfortunately, he seems not to have bothered to check his history, something which would have been easy given the resources available to him.
Here is how Amartya Sen treats, for example, the Myth of Maimonides. Amartya Sen tells us twice in his book Identity and Violence that when “..the Jewish Philosopher Maimonides was forced to emigrate from an intolerant
…this will not do as history. Maimonides, born in 1135, did not flee “Europe” for the “Arab world”: He fled his native Córdoba in Spain, which was then in the grip of religious-political terror, choking under the yoke of a Berber Muslim dynasty, the Almohads, that was to snuff out all that remained of the culture of conviviencia and made the life of Spain’s Jews (and of the free spirits among its Muslims) utter hell. Maimonides and his family fled the fire of the Muslim city-states in the Iberian Peninsula to
Moses Maimonides [1135 -1204], Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher, was fleeing the Muslims, the intolerant Almohads who conquered
Maimonides’s The Epistle to the Jews of Yemen 3 was written in about 1172 in reply to inquiries by Jacob ben Netan’el al-Fayyūmi, the then head of the Jewish community in
You write that the rebel leader in Yemen decreed compulsory apostasy for the Jews by forcing the Jewish inhabitants of all the places he had subdued to desert the Jewish religion just as the Berbers had compelled them to do in Maghreb [i.e.Islamic West]. Verily, this news has broken our backs and has astounded and dumbfounded the whole of our community. And rightly so. For these are evil tidings, “and whosoever heareth of them, both his ears tingle (I Samuel 3:11).” Indeed our hearts are weakened, our minds are confused, and the powers of the body wasted because of the dire misfortunes which brought religious persecutions upon us from the two ends of the world, the East and the West, “so that the enemies were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side.” (Joshua 8:22).
Maimonides points out that persistent persecutions of the Jews by the Muslims amounts to forced conversion:
…the continuous persecutions will cause many to drift away from our faith, to have misgivings, or to go astray, because they witnessed our feebleness, and noted the triumph of our adversaries and their dominion over us…
He continues: “After him arose the Madman who emulated his precursor since he paved the way for him. But he added the further objective of procuring rule and submission, and he invented his well known religion.” Many Medieval Jewish writers commonly referred to Muhammad as ha-meshugga’, Madman—the Hebrew term, as Norman Stillman notes, being “pregnant with connotations.” 4
Maimonides points to one of the reasons for Muslim hatred of Jews:
Inasmuch as the Muslims could not find a single proof in the entire Bible nor a reference or possible allusion to their prophet which they could utilize, they were compelled to accuse us saying, “You have altered the text of the Torah, and expunged every trace of the name of Mohammed therefrom.” They could find nothing stronger than this ignominious argument.
He notes the depth of Muslim hatred for the Jews, but he also remarks on the Jewish tendency to denial, a feature that he insists will hasten their destruction:
Remember, my co-religionists, that on account of the vast number of our sins, God has hurled us in the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us, as Scripture has forewarned us, ‘Our enemies themselves shall judge us’ (Deuteronomy 32:31). Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they …. Although we were dishonored by them beyond human endurance, and had to put with their fabrications, yet we behaved like him who is depicted by the inspired writer, “But I am as a deaf man, I hear not, and I am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth.” (Psalms 38:14). Similarly our sages instructed us to bear the prevarications and preposterousness of Ishmael in silence. They found a cryptic allusion for this attitude in the names of his sons “Mishma, Dumah, and
During the last fifteen years, certain Western scholars have tried to argue that, first, Islamic antisemitism, that is hatred of Jews, is only a recent phenomenon learnt from the Nazis during and after the 1940s, and, second, that Jews lived safely under Muslim rule for centuries, especially during the Golden Age of Muslim Spain. Both assertions are unsupported by the evidence. Islam 1, that is, the Islam of the texts, as found in the Koran, and Hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet and his Companions) and in the Sira (the biography of Muhammad, which obviously overlaps with the Hadith), and Islam 2, that is the Islam developed or elaborated from those texts early on by the Koranic commentators and jurisconsults, and then set in stone more than a millennium ago, and even Islam 3, in the sense of Islamic Civilization, that is, what Muslims actually did historically, have all been deeply antisemitic. That is, all have been anti-Infidel so that Christians too are regarded with disdain and contempt and hatred, but the Jews have been served, or been seen to have merited, a special animus.
ISLAM 1. Koran, Muhammad, Hadith, and Sunna.
Muhammad set the example for antisemitism. The oldest extant biography of Muhammad, that by Ibn Ishaq as transmitted by Ibn Hisham, is replete with the Prophet’s evident hatred of Jews. He had individual Jews assassinated if he felt that they had somehow insulted or disobeyed him. When Muhammad gave the command “Kill any Jew that falls into your power,” 5one of his followers, Ibn Mas’ud, assassinated Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant. Other followers of Muhammad were happy to obey similar orders from their leader: “Our attack upon God’s enemy cast terror among the Jews, and there was no Jew in
Here are two additional examples of Muhammad’s attitude to Jews; first from Ibn Sa‘d’s sira:
Then occurred the “sariyyah” [raid] of Salim Ibn Umayr al-Amri against Abu Afak, the Jew, in [the month of] Shawwal in the beginning of the twentieth month from the hijrah [immigration from
“Salim Ibn Umayr who was one of the great weepers and who had participated in Badr, said, “I take a vow that I shall either kill Abu Afak or die before him. He waited for an opportunity until a hot night came, and Abu Afak slept in an open place. Salim Ibn Umayr knew it, so he placed the sword on his liver and pressed it till it reached his bed. The enemy of Allah screamed and the people who were his followers, rushed to him, took him to his house and interred him. 12
The second example comes from al-Bukhari’s canonical hadith collection:
Bani An-Nadir and Bani Quraiza fought, so the Prophet (Muhammad) exiled Bani An-Nadir and allowed Bani Quraiza to remain at their places. He then killed their men and distributed their women, children and property among the Muslims, but some of them came to the Prophet and he granted them safety, and they embraced Islam. He exiled all the Jews from
Muhammad’s intolerance of other religions is well-attested: “ …I was told that the last injunction the apostle [Muhammad] gave [before his death] was in his words ‘ Let not two religions be left in the Arabian peninsula’;” 14or as Abu Dawoud put it: “The Apostle of Allah said,“I will certainly expel the Jews and the Christians from Arabia.” 15
After September 11, 2001, many Muslims and apologists of Islam glibly came out with the following Koranic quote to show that Islam and the Koran disapproved of violence and killing: Sura V.32: “Whoever killed a human being shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind.” Unfortunately, these wonderful sounding words, which come from a pre-existing Jewish text [Mishnah, IV Division], 16 are being quoted out of context. For the very next verse offers quite a different meaning from that of V:32. Here is V:33:
That was why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being , except as a punishment for murder or other villainy in the land , shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as though he had saved all mankind. Our apostles brought them veritable proofs: yet it was not long before many of them committed great evils in the land. Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country.
The supposedly noble sentiments of the first verse, taken from a Jewish source, are entirely undercut by the second verse, which has become a murderous menacing by Muhammad of the Jews. Far from abjuring violence, these verses aggressively insist that any who oppose the Prophet will be killed, or crucified, mutilated and banished.
As for the intolerance against Jews and Christians, and their inferior status as dhimmis we have IX verses 29–35:
Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden , and do not embrace the true faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.
The Jews say Ezra is the son of God, while the Christians say the Messiah is the son of God .Such are their assertions, by which they imitate the infidels of old. God confound them! How perverse they are!
They make of their clerics and their monks, and of the Messiah, the son of Mary, Lords besides God; though they were ordered to serve one God only. There is no god but Him .Exalted be He above those whom they deify besides Him!….
It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters may dislike it
O you who believe! Lo! many of the Jewish rabbis and the Christian monks devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar men from the way of Allah; they who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings of painful doom ….
The moral of all the above is clear: Islam is the only true religion, Jews and Christians are devious, and money-grubbing, who are not to be trusted, and even have to pay a tax in the most humiliating way: Koran: 17
II.61: Wretchedness and baseness were stamped upon them [that is, the Jews], and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah’s revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression.
IV.44-46: Have you not seen those who have received a portion of the Scripture? They purchase error, and they want you to go astray from the path. But Allah knows best who your enemies are, and it is sufficient to have Allah as a friend. It is sufficient to have Allah as a helper. Some of the Jews pervert words from their meanings, and say, ‘We hear and we disobey,’ and ‘Hear without hearing,’ and ‘Heed us!’ twisting with their tongues and slandering religion. If they had said, ‘We have heard and obey,’ or ‘Hear and observe us’ it would have been better for them and more upright. But Allah had cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few.
IV.160-161: And for the evildoing of the Jews, We have forbidden them some good things that were previously permitted them, and because of their barring many from Allah’s way. And for their taking usury which was prohibited for them, and because of their consuming people’s wealth under false pretense. We have prepared for the unbelievers among them a painful punishment.
ISLAM 2. Koranic Commentators.
Baydawi [died c.1316], in Anwaar al-Tanziil wa-Asraar al-Ta’wiil, provided this gloss on Koran II:61: 18
…“humiliation and wretchedness” covered them like a dome, or stuck to them like wet clay to a wall—a metaphor for their denial of the bounty. The Jews are mostly humiliated and wretched either of their own accord, or out of coercion of the fear of having their jizya doubled….Either they became deserving of His wrath [or]…the affliction of “humiliation and wretchedness” and the deserving wrath which preceded this.
Ibn Kathir [died 1373], emphasized the Jews’ eternal humiliation in accord with Koran II:61: 19
This ayah indicates that the Children of Israel were plagued with humiliation, and this will continue, meaning it will never cease. They will continue to suffer humiliation at the hands of all who interact with them, along with the disgrace that they feel inwardly.
ISLAM 3. Islamic Civilization.
Here are examples of the persecution of Jews in Islamic lands: the massacre of more than 6000 Jews in
In Kairouan [
Fouad Ajami in his review of Sen’s book spoke of “the culture of conviviencia,” what others have called the Golden Age of Tolerance in
..that fair and unrivaled civilization in which the children of Ishmael rewarded the children of
Ever since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Western intellectuals, from Pierre Bayle to Voltaire and Montesquieu, had used the putative tolerance of Islam with which to belabor Christianity and her relative intolerance. Against a background of a rise in the pseudo-scientific racism of the nineteenth century, Jane Gerber has observed that Jewish historians looked to Islam “…for support, seeking real or imagined allies and models of tolerance in the East. The cult of a powerful, dazzling and brilliant Andalusia in the midst of an ignorant and intolerant
The aristocratic bearing of a select class of courtiers and poets, however, should not blind us to the reality that this tightly knit circle of leaders and aspirants to power was neither the whole of Spanish Jewish history nor of Spanish Jewish society. Their gilded moments of the tenth and eleventh century are but a brief chapter in a longer saga. No doubt, Ibn Daud’s polemic provided consolation and inspiration to a crisis-ridden twelfth century elite, just as the golden age imagery could comfort dejected exiles after 1492. It suited the needs of nineteenth century advocates of Jewish emancipation in Europe or the twentieth century contestants in the ongoing debate over Palestine….The history of the Jews in Muslim lands, especially Muslim Spain, needs to be studied on its own terms, without myth or countermyth. 23
And that is exactly what Andrew Bostom has done, provide a history of the Jews in Muslim lands, without myth. Bostom provides the necessary corrective to the idealized portraits of the golden age or the absolute tolerance of Ottoman Turkey. Patiently and methodically, he shows the real situation of Jews against a background of the institution of dhimmitude, which relentlessly persecuted all non-Muslims and reduced their lives to a misery, lives which were further punctuated with massacres and pogroms, all grimly recorded by him. Bostom also takes into account the discoveries of the Cairo Geniza, which forced even the great historian Shlomo Dov Goitein (d. 1985) to revise his ideas about the situation of Jews in Islamic lands. While the West has recognized her own shameful part in the slave trade, and antisemitic persecution, and has taken steps to make amends where possible, the Islamic lands remain in constant denial. Until Islamic countries acknowledge the realities of anti-Jewish persecution in their history, there is no hope of combating the continuing hatred of Jews in modern times, from
1 Amartya Sen. Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny.
2 Fouad Ajami: “Enemies, a Love Story.A Nobel laureate argues that civilizations are not clashing. The
3 Moses Maimonides, Moses Maimonides’ Epistle to
4 Norman Stillman. The Jews of Arab Lands. A History and Source Book. 1979,
5 The Life of Muhammad, p.369.
12 Ibn Sa‘d Kitab al-Tabaqat trans. S.M.Haq, 2 Vols.,
13 Sahih Al-Bukhari trans. Dr. M .Muhsin Khan ,
14 The Life of Muhammad , p.689.
15 Abu Dawoud Sunan, 3 Vols; Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi 1997, Vol.2 Hadith No. 3024, p.861
16 Mishnah. trans. by Jacob Neusner. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988, The Fourth Division: The Order of Damages, Sanhedrin 4:5.J.: “Therefore man was created alone, (1) to teach you that whoever destroys a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had destroyed a whole world.” p. 591.
17 Here are some more quotes from the Koran:
IX.29-31: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture [Jews and Christians] as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah has forbidden by His Messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute [poll-tax] readily, and are utterly subdued. The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah,” and the Christians say, “ The Messiah is the son of Allah.” Those are the words of their mouths, conforming to the words of the unbelievers before them. Allah attack them! How perverse they are! They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords besides Allah, and so too the Messiah son of Mary, though they were commanded to serve but one God. There is no God but He. Allah is exalted above that which they deify beside Him.
IX.34: O you who believe! Lo! many of the [Jewish] rabbis and the [Christian] monks devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar [men] from the way of Allah. They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings of a painful doom.
V.63-64: Why do not the rabbis and the priests forbid their evil-speaking and devouring of illicit gain? Verily evil is their handiwork. The Jews say, “Allah’s hands are fettered.” Their hands are fettered, and they are cursed for what they have said! On the contrary, His hands are spread open. He bestows as He wills. That which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase the arrogance and unbelief of many among them. We have cast enmity and hatred among them until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they light the fire of war, Allah extinguishes it. They hasten to spread corruption throughout the earth, but Allah does not love corrupters!
V.70-71: We made a covenant with the Israelites and sent forth apostles among them. But whenever an apostle came to them with a message that did not suit their fancies, some they accused of lying and others they put to death. They thought no harm would follow: they were blind and deaf. God is ever watching their actions.
V.82: Indeed, you will surely find that the most vehement of men in enmity to those who believe are the Jews and the polytheists.
V.51: O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who takes them for friends is one of them.
V.57: O you who believe! Choose not for friends such of those who received the Scripture [Jews and Christians] before you, and of the disbelievers, as make jest and sport of your religion. But keep your duty to Allah of you are true believers.
V.59: Say: O, People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians]! Do you blame us for aught else than that we believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed aforetime, and because most of you are evil-doers?
V.66: Among them [Jews and Christians] there are people who are moderate, but many of them are of evil conduct.
XXXIII.26: He brought down from their strongholds those who had supported them from among the People of the Book [Jews of Bani Qurayza] and cast terror into their hearts, so that some you killed and others you took captive.
V.60: Say: ‘Shall I tell you who will receive a worse reward from God? Those whom [i.e. Jews] God has cursed and with whom He has been angry, transforming them into apes and swine, and those who serve the devil. Worse is the plight of these, and they have strayed farther from the right path.
18 Baydawi. ed. Fleischer, H. O. Commentaius in Coranum. Anwaar al-Tanziil Wa-Asraar al-Ta’wiil. 1846—48. Reprint Osnabrück 1968, p. 63. English translation by Michael Schub.
More quotes from Baydawi:
…“because they disbelieved and killed the prophets unjustly” by reason of their disbelief in miracles, e.g. the splitting of the sea, the clouds giving shade, and the sending of the manna and quails, and splitting of the rock into twelve fountains/or, disbelief in the revealed books, e.g. the Gospel, Qur’an, the verse of stoning, and the Torah verse in which Muhammad is depicted; and their killing of the prophets like Shay`aa [Isaiah], Zakariyyaa, Yahyaa, et al., all killed unjustly because they considered that of these prophets nothing was to be believed and thus they deserved to be killed.
In addition [God] accuses them of following fantasy and love of this world, as he demonstrates in His saying [line 14] “this if for their transgression and sin” i.e. rebelliousness, contrariness, and hostility brought them into disbelief in the signs, and killing the prophets. Venal sins lead to serious sins, just as small bits of obedience lead to larger ones….God repeated this proof of what is inveterate [in the Jews], which is the reason for their unbelief and murder, and which is the cause of their committing sins and transgressing the bounds God set.
19 Ibn Kathir. Tafsir Ibn Kathir,
“Al-Hassan commented, “Allah humiliated them under the feet of the Muslims, who appeared at a time when the Majus (Zoroastrians) were taking the jizya from the Jews. Also, Abu Al-‘Aliyah, Ar-Rabi bin Anas and As-Suddi said that ‘misery’ used in that ayah means ‘poverty’. ‘Atiyah Al-‘Awfi said that ‘misery’ means, ‘paying the tilth (tax)’. In addition, Ad-Dahhak commented on Allah’s statement, “and they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah,” ‘They deserved Allah’s anger.’ Also, Ibn Jarir said that, “and they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah” means, ‘They went back with the wrath. Similarly, Allah said, “Verily, I intend to let you draw my sin on yourself as well as yours” (Qur’an 5:29) meaning, ‘You will end up carrying my and your mistakes instead of me.’ Thus the meaning of the ayah becomes, “They went back carrying Allah’s anger: Allah’s wrath descended upon them; they deserved Allah’s anger.’
Allah’s statement, “That was because they used to disbelieve in the Ayat (proofs, evidence, etc.) of Allah and killed the Prophets wrongfully,” means ‘This is what We rewarded the Children of Israel with: humiliation and misery.’ Allah’s anger that descended on the Children of Israel was a part of the humiliation they earned, because of their defiance of the truth, disbelief in Allah’s Law, i.e., the Prophets and their following. The Children of Israel rejected the Messengers even killing them. Surely there is no form of disbelief worse than disbelieving in Allah’s ayat and murdering the Prophets of Allah.”
20 Robert Wistrich. Antisemitism-The Longest Hatred. Schocken Books,
22 Jane Gerber. Towards an Understanding of the Term: ‘The Golden Age’ as an Historical Reality in ed. Aviva Doron, The Heritage of the Jews of Spain, Tel Aviv: Levinsky College of Education Publishing House, 1994, p.16.
23 Ibid., pp.21-22.
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