Anti-Semitism in Islam–Not Decreed By Heaven

Haim Watzman

There he goes again—Benny Morris is giving the battle against Islamic anti-Semitism a bad name.

But then he’s not alone in fray. Nearly every passionate participant in the battle—Pipes, Horowitz, you name it—would make the angelically tolerant Roger Williams, the great American founder of religious toleration, go apoplectic.

In one of the perverse juxtapositions for which it is famous, the previous issue of The New Republic (the back section of which I just got around to reading last weekend) offers us a wonderful essay on Roger Williams by Martha Nussbaum, and then follows a few pages later with an embarrassing and ugly screed against Islam by Morris called “The Darker Side.”

Morris uses what he admits is a bad anthology of anti-Semitic Muslim texts as an excuse for pages of innuendo against Islam as a whole. He quotes the standard Quranic verses and hadiths about the Jews being apes and pigs and deserving death, and adduces the pogroms and persecutions of Jews in the Islamic world that we hear about again and again these days from the West’s holy warriors against the diabolical faith of the Orient.

One would think that, during these centuries of Islamic persecution, Jews were safe and admired everywhere in the world where Islam did not hold sway.

Morris forgets to mention that the Muslims were simply in step with the international fashion of the time. Jews were slandered and persecuted and murdered nearly everywhere they lived during this long, dark era.

Morris would have us believe that his catalog of Islamic holy texts that vilify the Jews means that Islam is uniquely stained with a tradition that makes toleration impossible. But one could easily put together a similar catalog of sacred Christian writings.

As any modern, thinking religious person of any faith knows, texts on their own determine nothing. Texts are supremely important, but in every great religion the same texts can be used to justify the most heinous of crimes, or to inspire people to superhuman acts of charity, self-sacrifice, and selflessness. The choice between the way of intolerance and violence and the way of peace and justice is not determined by the holy texts, but by how the believer chooses to read, understand, and live those texts.

The fact that large and powerful currents in modern Islam have chosen the path of intolerance and anti-Semitism is indeed horror that must be denounced. These groups must be fought. There is no reason not to believe that they are not as sincere about their threats to destroy the Jewish people than were the Crusaders, the Inquisitors, and the neo-pagans of Nazi Germany.

But there is nothing inherent in Islam, not in its holy texts, not in its fundamental beliefs, and not in its history and tradition, that makes a tolerant and charitable Islam impossible. And in fact such currents in Islam exist.

Keep in mind that Christian anti-Semitism is hardly a thing of the past, and that Christian humanism with regard to the Jews is a relatively modern phenomenon.

According to Roger Williams, religion does not determine what the conscience feels. One may be a good Jew or a bad Jew, a good Christian or a bad Christian, a good Muslim or a bad Muslim. No matter what a person’s faith, God has given him the ability, and the responsibility, to choose what to do with his religion. Sacred texts and traditions will not prevent him from being a slanderer and a murderer if his conscience is faulty; neither will they will force him to be an anti-Semite if his conscience tells him that God’s will is that he respect and help his fellow human beings.

So let’s offer no quarter to Islamic anti-Semitism. But let’s not slander Islam and call for its destruction. That makes us into the kind of people we should rightfully hate.

19 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism in Islam–Not Decreed By Heaven”

  1. Haim,

    Great post. This does not get talked about enough.

    Allow me to go a step further:

    The Quran also states some positive things about Jews. For example:

    (1) Muslims may marry Jews. You’d think if we were truly an odious people, they would not allow this.

    (2) We can “eat from the same plate”, referring to the fact that both of our diets our similar. If a Muslim cannot find Hallal meats, Kosher will do.

    (3) Jews, if pious, get entry into Islamic heaven. Mohammed (PBUH) stated “On the day of Armageddon, pious people of the book should have nothing to worry about (paraphrasing)”. Elsewhere in the Quran he disqualifies Christians, since they put Jesus on equal footing with Allah.

    Yes, there are some nasty things written about Jews in the Quran. But there are also some nasty things written about Arabs. I don’t have my copy of the Quran with me, but I recall them being written off as ignorant at one point by the Prophet.

    Finally, I would like to juxtapose all of this with Nevi’im, or the Book of Prophets, which is the book in the middle of our T’nach. If you have read this book, you know about the countless diatribes the prophets made against the Jews of that time. It gets downright nasty at points.

    Neither books are anti-Semitic in the stricter sense of the word; the term “anti-Semitism” is regulated to the post-emancipated European/American world. Since both Jews and most of the world’s Muslims are Semites, this word should not be used. Anti-Judaic? Perhaps.

    But I digress.

    My point in all this: If I were to read both the Quran and Nevi’im without context to these Western Holy Warriors, they would probably ban the latter and not the former.

  2. This post makes it sound as if the contents of the holy texts (and their traditional, authoritative interpretations) are irrelevant; that it is all a matter of how contemporary people choose to interpret them, and so they are all completely amenable to being interpreted in ways that are consistent with modern humanistic values. This, of course, is completely antithetical to the traditional beliefs of all of the text-based religions. These are, quite obviously, not liberal texts. They are full of genocide and racism and sexism and all the rest. The only way to get them to look like liberal texts is to cease to take them seriously. Thankfully, some Jews and Christians have done just that, and one hopes that Muslims will soon follow suit. But it’s simply not true that the content of the texts doesn’t matter. Religious texts *cause* people to do horrible things; the worse the texts, the worse the things they cause people to do (where are all the Buddhist suicide bombers?). This ceases to be true only when the religion’s adherents have ceased, for all practical purposes, to be religious.

  3. People need to differentiate between what the religion itself teaches (ANY religion) as opposed to how its teachings are interpreted by those who wish to hijack it for their own purposes.

    I’ve read enough recently (of course I can’t find the cites right now) to know that many of the “Koranic statements” quoted in English in the blogosphere are either taken wholly out of context or are just plain wrong. For example, the “apes and pigs” deserving death remark was not Jews generally–it was a particular group of non-Torah-observant Jews who offended the Moslem leadership by failing to honor the Word of G-d.

    Today we don’t kill people for being nonobservant, but in those days it was considered a sacred duty. Times change (except in Mea Shearim–sorry, couldn’t help myself).

    My own sneaking suspicion is that the “jihadist” wave of violence right now in the Islamic world is a money-maker for those who promulgate it and those who fight it, so both have an interest in propagandizing their positions and keeping the violence alive.

  4. “amen” to David Balan’s post.

    If we can pick and choose from a text then we make rejections even as we select. If we can interpret as we wish, then where is the divine authority in the text? With our interpretation, we are in a real sense re-writing it. If God has equipped us to choose, why can we not choose to ignore the text and practice good behavior without it?

    If we can agree that parts of sacred texts are heinous and cannot be defended no matter how we might interpret them, then the only fallback short of dismissing the divinity of the books is that it that they are the word of God and it is not given to us to understand it – which makes no sense if we have previously said we CAN interpret and choose how to live based on other parts of the same text.

    Haim, I would edit your sentence – “No matter what a person’s faith, God has given him the ability, and the responsibility, to choose what to do with his religion.” so that it would read: No matter who a person is, that person has the ability and the responsibility to choose what to do.

  5. Aaron-you consider having Muslims marry Jewish women a “positive” thing for the Jews? This is simply a recipe for a silent genocide of the the Jewish people. According to Muslim law, the child of such a union is a Muslim, period. Thus, Jewish women who marry Muslims are lost to the Jewish people forever.

  6. I’m sorry, Y. Ben-David, when you call a Muslim man marrying a Jewish woman a recipe for “silent genocide” – this is just offensive. Think of our brothers and sisters who died in a real genocide. The word “genocide” should not be twisted out of all meaning in order to be used to denounce intermarriage.

  7. Echoing Rebecca, there is nothing more twisted than referring to things like intermarriage as “genocide” or “holocaust.” It shouldn’t be necessary to point this out, but someone being “lost to the Jewish People” because they freely chose to assimilate into another culture is pretty darn different from them being lost because they were burned up in an oven. The only way that these two things look the same is if you value religious solidarity and nothing else, including life itself.

  8. Rebecca-
    Intentional eradication of the Jewish people is a crime, whatever you want to call it. This is not simply intermarriage. In America, those non-Jews who are marrying Jews are not doing so out of an ideological or religious motivation to eradicate Judaism. In Islam, there is definitely such a motivation, whether or not the individuals involved are conciously doing it for that reason or not.

  9. Y, if your interpretation of Sharia is correct, the child of a Muslim man may be Muslim, but the child of a Jewish woman is also Jewish, as you know. Doesn’t genealogy survive all bickering, and can’t we just defer to the self-identification of the child, once it’s grown up? And if the child wants to be a Muslim, a Zoroastrian, or a worshipper of UFOs, what skin off your nose is it?
    The child of a Muslim and a Jew is a human being, period.

    “In America, those non-Jews who are marrying Jews are not doing so out of an ideological or religious motivation to eradicate Judaism. In Islam, there is definitely such a motivation, whether or not the individuals involved are conciously doing it for that reason or not.”
    Christianity, the dominant religion in the US, is very much a missionary religion, it aims to bring all people everywhere on the globe to Jesus. So, according to you, an American Christian who marries a Jew may not be aware of it, but he’s also doing his part to “eradicate Judaism”.

    You’re placing the survival of your tribe above the bona fide religious identity of an individual, and with that you reduce religion to a tribal branding.

  10. Clif-
    A person who converts to Judaism is a Jew. A marriage between a born Jew and a convert is NOT an intermarriage. It is a Jewish marriage.

    Haim calls Morris’ article an “ugly and embarrassing screed”. Please show us something he says that it incorrect. He does not claim that Islam was more intolerant than Christianity. There was a common myth that started in the 19th century that says Islam was more “tolerant” to the Jews than Christianity. From what I understand this is not correct. Yes, there were tolerant rulers, just as there were tolerant Christian rulers, but then there were intolerant ones as well. Muslims generally considered rulers who treated their dhimmis (Jews and Christians) well as BAD rulers for not favoring their Muslim subjects.
    If Islam was so tolerant, why is the Middle East, in which Christianity was once the dominant religion pretty much emptied out of Christians today?

    In the New York Times article to which Yisrael Medad provided the link, it is stated that Egyptian Muslims attribute many if not most of their troubles to the Jews. Do you really expect people who think like this to support real peace with Israel (as oppposed to a limited, temporary cease-fire as the Arab countries who have agreements with Israel present them)?
    This happened in Europe in the 20th century as well…there was a continent-wide agreement that the Jews had to be gotten rid of once and for all, and they found that the Germans were willing to do the dirty work, and the rest sat back (including democratic countries like France, Holland, Belgium and Norway) and let them do it. Once the level of hate gets so high as it did then in Europe, and as it is in the Muslim world today against Jews and Israel, it will explode, unless we defend ourselves, something we couldn’t do then.

    Again, Haim, if you think Morris said something that isn’t true, then show us. Otherwise, I think his article is an important contribution to ending the culture of lies the Israeli “peace camp” has been spreading for decades claiming that “peace is at hand” if only we Israelis want it, and that there will be peace if we make enough concessions. The falsity of these claims has been proven over and over and yet the “peace camp”, like a gambler who keeps losing and throwing good money after bad, keeps these falsehoods alive.

  11. Y, you really can’t talk about a religion by it self as being “tolerant”, “intolerant”, “liberal” or “conservative”. A religion is just whatever people make out of it. Religion can’t exist without the followers who breathe life into it.

    When you talk about the absence of middle eastern Christians, that’s the result of people. It may historically be the result of coercion, true, but religion is hardly the only source violence in the world. Also, you never asked “where are all the indigenous European religions?” You never asked about the worshipers of Zeus and Thor. Their fate was probably much the same of mid-east Christians and the religions that preceded it.

    Europe and it’s offshoots have, for whatever reason, advanced a little ahead of the middle eastern countries. If you don’t believe me you should read up on some of the things Martin Luther wrote about Jews just a few hundred years ago. About burning their synagogues and pillaging their villages and such. But no one today thinks that such dogmas are inextricable parts of protestantism.

    I think because you’re ultra- orthodox and have such a ridged view of the world, you believe that other religious adherents must be equally dogmatic and intolerant. I’m here to tell you that that’s simply not the case.

    As for the factual accuracy of Morris, I don’t know much about what he wrote, but I’ll just say that just because everything say is true doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re telling the truth.

  12. But YBD, I didn’t say that Morris wrote falsehoods. I wrote that his article is ugly and embarrassing because 1) he presents Islamic anti-Semitism out of context, as if it were unique and 2) he presents Islamic anti-Semitism as being determined irrevocably by Islamic sacred texts and history. Yet the history of Christianity disproves 1 while the transformation of a significant part of Christianity in the modern age into a religion tolerant of the Jews–despite its texts and its history–disproves 2. I should point out that similar textual and historical arguments have been used by anti-Semites from ancient times to modern to vilify Judaism and to argue that the Jewish people are by nature corrupt. Morris, in his recent writing, has joined this dishonorable tradition.

  13. Morris is not writing a scholarly work about Islamic Judeophobia. He is writing a review of a book that explains why the Arab/Muslim world is, at the moment, so virulently hostile to Israel and world Jewry as a whole. You are quite right, significant parts of the Christian world (but not all of it, particularly the Eastern churches) have come to grips with their history of antisemitism. But this occured after the Holocaust and World War II. During the war, classical Christian antisemitism was used to justify what was happening. The change occurred AFTERWARDS. Same with today and the Muslims. I would like to believe that they too can change, but it hasn’t happened yet. Judeophobia is an intergral part of Islam (the Encylopedia Judaica which came out in 1970 said the Islamic views of Jews is “generally unfavorable”). Of course you are also right that one can not base a view of a religion solely on its original texts, which is certainly the case with Judaism, but the Qur’an has a lot of negative things about Jews in it which are used today by Muslim theologians to justify killing Jews.

    The importance of what Morris says and the person who wrote the book he reviewed, in addition to other scholars like Bat Ye’or are teaching us is that the Arab/Israeli conflict is not a simply a conflict between two national groups over where the border between them will lie. One group (the Arabs) refuses to acknowledge the very existence of the other side (Israel) and views peace agreements merely as tactical partial and temporary cease-fires which will be abrogated when it suits them. Both Arafat and Sadat said these things openly. Israeli Leftists for decades have been deceiving themselves and everyone else by denying this.

    If you read the recent article by Michael Slackman in the New York Times about how Egyptians believe outlandish conspiracy theories about the Jews and Americans being behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He says clearly that most Egyptians blame the Jews for many or even most of their problems. You can see this far trancends merely a Israeli/Palestinian “border conflict”. The Muslim theologian most respected by the Islamic extremists groups that support terror was the Egyptian Said Qutb. He says plainly in his commentary on the Qur’an in the suar “Al-Baqqara” (The Cow) that the “Jews have been constantly conspiring against the Muslims since the time of Muhammed”. That includes YOU, Haim as well as me and the rest of us Jews. That is contributing to the fear and hate the Egyptians and other Muslims have for us, not just the situation in Judea/Samaria. This is the reality of a significant part of the Muslim world TODAY and it is based on theologies of the past. We ignore them at our peril.

  14. Y. Ben-David,

    Thanks for your reply. I see we have opened a can of worm of sorts on this thread.

    I wanted to comment on your post earlier, but did not have my copy of the Quran on me. I wanted to make sure I came correct.

    My translated copy reads: “Lawful for you are the believing woman and the free women from among those who were given the Book before you, provided that you give them their dowries and live in honor with them, neither commiting fornication nor taking them as mistresses (5:7, Book of the Table).

    Although “people of the Book” usually refers to both Jews and Christians, the translator notes that in this instance it only refers to Jews.

    Now whether mass marriage of another culture is the same as genocide is a debate others have had on this forum, but I won’t get into that here.

    What I would like to note is that the verse simply tells the Muslim that it is legal for him to take a Jew as a bride, not that he *should* do it in order to spread the religion. This is not a call to arms, but a permission slip. Why I think this should be included as a positive comment is explained in my original post.

  15. Only Muslims men may marry Jewish women. Jewish men cannot marry Muslim women. The idea of this came from the enslavement and genocide of the Jews of Arabia by Muhammad, who genocided the Jews, enslaved the Jewish women and children.

    Muhammad had two Jewish ‘wives’ – both of whom he took in battle after he annihilated their families. Is that is the sort of ‘intermarriage’ that you guys think is good?

    Read the hadiths – Muhammad commanded the Muslims to kill all the Jews, wherever they find them. Persecution of Jews as dhimmis is allowed until such time.

    Read this to see the Islamic mindset regarding Jews.

    http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP68304

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