05.07.07

Anti-Semitism in the Holy Koran

Posted in Islam, Politics at 11:49 am by Haider

Many readers of the Holy Koran are left with the bitter taste of anti-Semitism in their mouths. The majority of the stories in the Holy Koran recount the stories of Prophet Moses (peace be on him) and the problematic “children of Israel.” There are verses that directly condemn “the Jews” for a number of reasons, and seem to express hostility and enmity towards them.

While it is true that many Muslims are anti-Semitic, and they support their racist opinions with Koranic verses, or the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his family), I would like to offer an alternative interpretation to these verses and sayings, and present the true message that is being conveyed by them.

 Impressions Mould Interpretations

One of the reasons why people readily accept that the Holy Koran is promoting anti-Semitism stems from their impression of Islam as being anti-Semitic. Since they already assume that Islam promotes anti-Semitism, they interpret the Holy Koran according to their impression. The catalyst that is popularizing such an impression of Islam is the ongoing Middle East conflict, where “Muslims” are fighting against “Jews.” Most Westerners are not clear as to why there is a conflict in the first place, but they are fed the reason that it is hatred of Jews – the age-old problem of anti-Semitism. Since this problem does exist, and the world is well-aware of its devastating consequences in Europe, it doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to accept that Muslims – and, therefore, Islam – is anti-Semitic.

Muslims, on the other hand, are also fed the belief that Jews are the arch-nemesis of Islam and the Muslims. Many Muslim scholars and Islamic groups use the verses referring to the Jews to prove that God has condemned the Jewish people, and that the present conflict testifies to their “wickedness.”

To combat the misinterpretation of these verses, it is necessary to re-visit some Islamic fundamentals, which clearly condemn racism, irrespective of the race in question.

God is not a Racist

While this may disappoint many, but it’s a fact that we have to live with: God is not a racist. This covers both the condemnation of a people based on their race, or the elevation of a race above other races. What seems odd in the problem of anti-Semitism is that it is viciously condemned by Jews as being a racist and hostile creed, only to replace it with the belief that they are God’s “chosen” people, who are regarded in higher esteem above all other races. To condemn racism, we must condemn it in all its forms, and not to be selective in choosing which “racism” to accept, and which to reject.

The reason why Islam rejects racism is because it is in conflict with the belief in God’s justice. One does not choose his race, but he is born with it, irrespective of his personal wishes or efforts to change it. To suggest that God will commend or condemn a person based on his race is to say that God will hold people accountable for something they had no control over. The belief in God’s justice asserts that we will only be held accountable for matters in which we can exercise our free will. We are, therefore, not judged on which nationality we hold, which race we belong to, who our parents are, what we look like, etc.

If we assume that God is a racist (or that God can “do whatever He wants” without any moral direction), we can entertain the idea that Islam promotes anti-Semitism. However, if we completely reject the notion of racism, and assert that God cannot be a racist, we will not even consider the possibility of interpreting the Holy Koran’s verses as anti-Semitic. We are, therefore, left with the question: What possible alternative can there be to the interpretation of the Holy Koran’s condemnation of the Jews?

An Alternative Interpretation:

As I have already noted, Prophet Moses (peace be on him) is the most frequently mentioned prophet in the Holy Koran. But why this obsession with Prophet Moses and his prophetic mission? Has God dedicated Islam’s mission to the condemnation and hatred of the Jews? Or does Prophet Muhammad hold such a strong grudge against the Jews, that he has repeatedly criticised them in his teachings?

Firstly, the fact that Prophet Moses, who is held in high regard in the Holy Koran, is a Jew proves that the condemnation of the Jews in the Holy Koran is not a racial matter. The Holy Koran has stated: “And We have created you into different nations and tribes so that you may interact with each other. Indeed, the most highly regarded in the sight of God is he who is most pious.” Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his family) has reiterated this teaching in his saying: “There is no discrimination between an Arab and a non-Arab, except in their piety.

Therefore, the criteria that God holds in the Holy Koran is not the race of the individuals mentioned, but their piety and righteousness. Prophet Moses and all the Jewish prophets (peace be on them all) have been praised in the Holy Koran for their righteousness, but their communities and followers have been condemned for their immorality and disobedience.

Secondly, it is important to realise that the verses of the Holy Koran were revealed based on the circumstances and events surrounding Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims. The Holy Koran was never intended for campfire chats and bedtime stories. It was not revealed separately from the experiences of the Prophet and the Muslims, where they would be engaged in one problem, and the verses revealed would address a totally different issue. Revelation came as guidance in the face of the adversities the Muslims faced and the inquiries and the experiences the Muslims and non-Muslims had and went through.

Many Muslim scholars have pointed out the similarities between the lives of Prophet Moses (peace be on him) and Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his family). The nature of revelation, as I have explained, proves this similarity, since the Holy Koran was recounting the story of Prophet Moses in the light of the experiences of Prophet Muhammad. What the Holy Koran was essentially saying: “What you are experiencing now, O Muhammad, is what Moses before you has gone through, in such and such an incident.”

The question we should ask now, and which will reveal the purpose for the Holy Koran’s mention of the condemnation of the Jews, is: If the life of Prophet Moses parallels the life of Prophet Muhammad, then who do the Jews represent in the life of Prophet Muhammad?

In their Footsteps

While the Muslims may boast about their superiority over the Jews, since the latter have been condemned in the Holy Koran, little do they realise that the condemnation is equally targeting them! The condemnation of the Jews in the Holy Koran isn’t intended to mark the Jews with the label “Condemned” and, in effect, label the Muslims as “Saved.” All the stories of the Holy Koran regarding the Jews and every other community mentioned are not intended to curse the peoples spoken about, but to act as a warning to the Muslims, that they should not walk in their footsteps.

What the Holy Koran is essentially condemning are the traits the Jews had and the decisions that they made, which are transferable, and can be adopted by the Muslims. In many cases the Holy Koran was giving warnings (e.g. what the Muslims will do in the absence of the Prophet, related to the story of Prophet Moses’s absence) and in many cases it was condemning what they were doing to the Prophet (e.g. disobeying his commands).

Imam Al-Baqir (peace be on him) is narrated to have said: “Had the Holy Koran been limited to the people it was revealed about, it would be dead by now.”

A suitable example of this principle is the verse likening the Jews (or Jewish scholars) to a donkey carrying volumes of books on its back, because of their treatment of the Torah (i.e. they were not making use of its teachings). This condemnation – and analogy – can easily apply to Muslims for not applying the teachings of the Holy Koran to their lives. It is not a condemnation exclusive to the Jews, or targeting the Jews as a people. What is being condemned is the act that they committed.

Prophet Muhammad has several sayings in which he warns the Muslims from following in the footsteps of the religious communities that came before them (namely the Jews and the Christians). Some sayings are not even worded as warnings but as prophecies: “You will follow in the footsteps of those before you…” Of course, such sayings do not mean that the Muslims are destined to repeat the same mistakes as those before them, but that they will default to such actions if they do not resolve to make the right decisions.

There are many parallels between  Muslims today and the Jews condemned by the Holy Koran. Therefore, Muslims should neither boast nor feel assured that they are on the safe side nor consider condemning the Jews, when they are included in the condemnation.

It is important for Muslims to realise that the Holy Koran is a book of moral guidance. We should learn to correct our own actions with every story that is mentioned, and not to project criticisms towards others while pretending that we are free from any faults. The Holy Koran does not teach hypocrisy, and we should not be practicing it. We should learn to follow the example of the prophets and their righteous followers, and to adopt their characteristics; and to cleanse ourselves from the characteristics of their disobedient followers and those who rejected them.

Racism is the the reassurance of the ignorant and the delusional that condemnation is reserved to a particular race, or that praise is reserved for a particular race. God has repeatedly warned the Muslims (and Arabs, in particular) that if we do not live up to our religious obligations, He will replace us with a more obedient group.

It is time that we heed God’s warnings.

14 Comments »

  1. Carly said,

    May 24, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Interesting post. I agree with most of it. Interestingly enough, most people in the US refer to Muslims as being ‘anti-semitic’ while never realizing that Arabs are indeed Semites themselves!

  2. Haider said,

    May 24, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Carly, thank you for visiting my blog, and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

    What’s *really* interesting is that Muslims and Jews share a lot of theology (technically, Judaism is the closest religion to Islam), and Arabs and Jews are blood relatives!

    The thing about the term “anti-Semitism” is that it has been used heavily to refer to Jews, which blurred the actual meaning of Semite. But as far as hatred for Jews goes, a lot of Muslims are very anti-Jew.

    I’m sure you’ve come across many conspiracy theories here in Kuwait that end up with Jews controlling the world…

  3. Carly said,

    May 25, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Hey again,
    Yes, I have seen that disdain for the Jews, and it is disconcerting.
    I realize that Jews and Muslims share a closeness in theology/religion and that Muslims and Christians share a closeness in their love of God. It is interesting that these are the poles that represent the ways that Muslims themselves will go astray. I must say that I have not seen as many astray in their love of God as I have in their love of religiosity.
    I think that the conspiracy theories are merely a way of dismissing personal responsibility and culpability and a reason for apathy, lethargy.
    Thanks for your posts!

  4. Haider said,

    May 26, 2007 at 12:37 am

    Very interesting observations.

    The primary focus of this post was to shift the Muslims’ attention from others to themselves. Rather than place the blame on others, they should accept and fulfil their own responsibility, which – as you pointed out – is what they try to avoid with the conspiracy theories.

    I actually have greater tolerance for being led astray out of love of God than out of love of religiosity. The psychological reasons for why one may exploit “love of God” and “love of religiosity” are very different, but I think the consequences of the latter are more bleak and devastating.

    There are many who “love” God because it is a means by which they can assure themselves that He approves of what they are doing, irrespective of what’s being done. It’s a means to bypass guilt, and justify for one’s self his own actions. This is typical of Christians who wear the cross around their necks and rejoice that they have attained salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus (peace be on him), but they do not observe any of his teachings.

    The love of religiosity is usually expressed by those who have low self-esteem, or think that God simply wants to assert His authority, without there being any wisdom in His commands. They observe, but blindly. And because they think that religion is just a test of whether they will submit to God’s authority or not, they consider reasoning as a means of escaping from “religious duty” and are prepared to commit the most irrational of deeds in the name of true submission.

    This is why killing civilians can be seen as a test of one’s faith, rather than a gruesome crime.

    I think my comment turned into a post!! I’ll stop here and comment further on this topic in a future post :D

    Thanks again for your comments, and I’m glad you liked my posts. I would suspect that most people would stop reading mid-way, or give up before starting once they realise how much the page scrolls down…

  5. Seth said,

    March 18, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Haider,
    I have read your post, as well as your comments, with great enthusiasm. However, I want to broaden the scope of your observations.

    You state that “the psychological reasons for why one may exploit ‘love of God’ and ‘love of religiosity’ are very different.” I agree, and also enjoy your inclusion of psychology in the discussion. I wonder, though, what is your take on the psychological need of humans to have a God or gods in the first place? Why have we for so long looked for a higher form of existence than ourselves, and how does that affect our view on ourselves? I believe we must start here in order to understand why religion and God are more often than not used to justify atrocities (racism, genocide, compulsory taxation, etc.)

    If you have addressed these topics elsewhere in your blog, please leave a link, for I am interested in your thoughts.

  6. Haider said,

    March 18, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Dear Seth, I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post.

    I haven’t covered the issue you raised on my blog, but it certainly deserves a post, rather than a comment.

    But I would say that, in my opinion, the primary reason for why humans gravitate towards the belief in God is to make sense of the world and of ourselves. We want to believe that we are here for a reason (i.e. there is a purpose to our existence), and that the world operates according to a plan. This gives us the assurance that we can lead a life where we are valued (by the deity that created us) and will not face any hardship that is beyond the power of God to fix.

    Accepting the existence of God grants us certainty that we understand the world, know how to act and what our goal is in life. Religion comes into the picture to define what our moral code should be. Many people don’t want to evaluate what they should do for themselves. They believe it’s too strong a burden to bear, and fear that they might make wrong decisions. But give them a set of commandments, and they can follow them without question, extending the certainty they have about the world and their purpose on earth to their actions.

    I personally wouldn’t create a direct connection between the belief in God (or adhering to a religion) and the atrocities you mentioned, but they can have a common outlook.

    If a person who forms an opinion out of faith (such as believing in God, without evidence), he would not entertain discussions, because they can shake his faith. And he would certainly despise knowledge that can undermine his conviction. The easiest thing to do is to nullify what he does not understand, or cannot associate with himself (because it poses a threat to him). Therefore, a man can become racist not because God justifies racism, but because acting on faith will necessitate that he remain ignorant in order not to experience contradictions between his knowledge and his faith.

    There are other consequences to acting on faith, and many other reasons to why people believe in God. I personally believe in God, and think that His existence can be explained rationally, but that’s for yet another post :)

  7. Seth said,

    March 18, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    “I personally wouldn’t create a direct connection between the belief in God (or adhering to a religion) and the atrocities you mentioned”

    Throughout history, God has been used to justify each one. “Jews are God’s chosen people.” the Crusades. “Render unto Caesar….” No, I would not say a belief in God automatically leads you to believe in these things, I believe just the opposite, but we cannot ignore how man’s psychological desire for a deity has been used to exploit him.

  8. Haider said,

    March 19, 2008 at 8:13 am

    I agree. The problem with the belief in God is that “God” as a concept is very empty, if we don’t associate any attributes to God. Is He a malevolent or benevolent God? Does He demand things from us that we cannot fulfill? Does He expect us to wage war or to promote peace?

    The fact is, many people use “God” to represent their own values, rather than the other way around. Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his family) said: “Adopt the attributes of God.”

    But we tend to operate in the opposite way: “Adapt God to your attributes!”

    So if we are racist, we make God racist, if we are violent, we make God violent.

  9. Jeff said,

    September 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Sorry Haider I don’t buy much of what you write.
    Mohammed has said nothing that wasn’t previously spelt out in the Jewish faith. It’s not surprising that the two religions have so much in common, Mohammed was in fact taught by Rabbis for twenty five years.
    Your central premise that the Koran is not implicitly anti-Semitic is weak given it’s clear language of contempt for Jews. Are you telling me that every human being will be a role model as a Muslim – I look around the world now and many Islamists make me wonder if they are indeed human!
    As you say there is one God and he is accepted by Jews, Christians and Moslems, why can’t one Abrahamic faith be enough, rather then two arrogantly claiming superiority over the first?

  10. Haider said,

    September 22, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    Welcome to my blog. :)

    The purpose of this post was to point out that the Holy Koran’s “clear language of contempt” isn’t directed at Jews for their ethnicity, but for some beliefs and practices that they’ve adopted, which conflict with the original message God conveyed to them. Therefore, this “contempt” applies equally to Christians and Muslims who exhibit the same characteristics.

    I’m certainly not telling you that Muslims are role models, and I’m very much against the Islamist worldview (I dedicated a blog category for Islamists because I’m in strong disagreement with them). I don’t approve of acting arrogantly towards any other faith or human being, but encourage open-mindedness in discussing religious matters to arrive at the truth and to promote moral conduct and human happiness.

    I’ve not written on this blog for about 2 years, so I apologize if I haven’t expanded much on the ideas I’ve presented here.

  11. GauharK said,

    October 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Excellent article Mr Haider. I am happy to see that you have tried to dispel the myth of anti-semitism in the Holy Quran.

    Keep on writing. The Muslim blogosphere feels empty without good writers like you…

  12. Haider said,

    October 4, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Dear Gauhar,

    Thank you very much for your feedback, and apologies for the delay in replying.

    Muslims are certainly in need of good writers, and I’m thrilled to be making a positive contribution to the world, and to our community. :)

  13. Ziad El-Hady said,

    April 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    This was awesome! :) Man, that killer punch line just before the “In Their Footsteps” heading was like ‘PING!’ light bulbs :)

    I think one of the most important lessons to draw from this for the modern world (keeping within your analogy) is from Surah Baqara in the Qur’an (2:76-71) – The story when Moses gives the Jews a simple commandment, but they continue to unnecessarily question the details of the command, making the issue more difficult for themselves. This is a big problem among Muslims too. So often we point fingers and ask such detailed questions about the exact nature of legal rulings – length of trousers? brushing teeth while fasting? nature of the beard? etc., It sucks the spirit from the faith. Indeed, these stories of the Jews in the Qur’an are not to condemn them, but to show how all humans make mistakes. The best of us are those who learn from them.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this Haider!

  14. Haider said,

    April 6, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Thanks for passing by and leaving a comment, my good man. :)

    Religious communities tend to exhibit the same divisions and over the same issues. I think it has a lot to do with people’s philosophical outlooks and their psychological tendencies. For example, there are many issues left open in Islam, without any explicit restrictions on them. But some Muslims, afraid of making any mistakes, demand detailed guidelines for them to follow (like you mentioned).

    Every religious community has its literalists who focus on the letter of scripture, rather than relate it to the real world or consider any alternative interpretations.

    I really enjoy seeing how different Muslims interpret Islam differently and the different thinking threads they follow. It helps enrich my own thinking and understanding. :)

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