PJ Media Essay: Maimonides, the Houthi “Motto”, & My Limited Sympathy For War-Torn Yemen


“And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them [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.”—Koran 2:61

“The nation of Ishmael…persecute us severely and devise ways to harm us and to debase us…None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have. We have done as our sages of blessed memory instructed us, bearing the lies and absurdities of Ishmael. We listen, but remain silent…In spite of all this, we are not spared from the ferocity of their wickedness, and their outbursts at any time. On the contrary, the more we suffer and choose to conciliate them, the more they choose to act belligerently toward us.” —Maimonides, Epistle to the Jews of Yemen (1172) [Stillman translation]

“Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam”Houthi motto

Even my eye, jaundiced as it is from studying the chronic plight of Yemenite Jewry under Islam, is not blind, or fully inured to the daily, ongoing Sunni-Shiite sectarian carnage in Yemen. This is a human tragedy, amongst many similar examples within Islamdom, daily unfolding before our collective eyes.

Yet, animated by Islam’s Jew-hating canon, the ugly historical context that I have chronicled—Yemen’s Jews being subjected to a millennium of continuous, grinding Islamic persecution, interspersed with paroxysmal acts of mass Muslim violence—compelled me to recall two very recent, bitter reminders of this specific, living doctrinal, and historical legacy.

Shiite worshippers from Iran’s surrogate minions at the Houthi Al-Hashoush Mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, on March 20, 2015, were engaged in the following exchange just as they were immolated by an ISIS homicide bombing:

Preacher: “Our belief in Allah will increase after today. We will triumph over their deceit and their arrogance. Allah is with us…” Worshippers: “Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam. Allah Akbar.”

Six days after that ghoulish scene of depraved Islamic Jew-hatred, literally in the midst of internecine Muslim sectarian slaughter, Houthi official Khaled Al-Madani, of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, addressed thousands of supporters assembled outside Sanaa’s old city. Al-Madani’s Thursday, March 26, 2015 invective was directed principally against Saudi Arabia. He intoned, “The horn of Satan [i.e., Saudi Arabia] has hired mercenaries to attack Yemeni soil, but Yemen will become their graveyard.” And once again, these comments drew the same response from the gathered Shiite Muslim masses previously uttered by the Al-Hashoush Mosque attendees immediately before their immolation:

Allah Akbar. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam.

A pathognomonic New York Times story from February 18, 2015, entitled, “Persecution Defines Life for Yemen’s Remaining Jews,” noted the ubiquity of this Shiite Muslim motto (i.e., Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam), which

is chanted at all Houthi rallies, broadcast on television and painted on what seems like every blank wall space in areas they control.

Previous Houthi violence—death threats and Houthi jihadists burning down Jewish homes—was directed at the then 200, or fewer, Jews in Saada province, during 2006 to 2007. According to Yemenite Jew Salem Mousa, in 2006, he and his family fled because,

Houthis pursued us everywhere we went. Attacks and even forced conversions were common at that time

More than eight centuries before Salem Mousa’s account of the 2006 Muslim depredations against the Jews of Yemen, including “attacks and even forced conversions,” Maimonides’ The Epistle to the Jews of Yemen was written in approximately 1172, as a response to inquiries by Jacob ben Netan’el al-Fayyumi, then leader  of the Jewish community in Yemen. The Jews of Yemen were experiencing a crisis, as they were being forced to convert to Islam, an effort launched in about 1165 by Abd-al-Nabi ibn Mahdi. Maimonides offered al-Fayyumi and his flock what encouragement and guidance he could. The Epistle to the Jews of Yemen elucidates Maimonides’ views of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, whom he dubbed “the Madman,” and of Islam in general

…October 8, 1983, Bat Ye’or interviewed Yemenite Jews Hannah [Lolou] and Sa’adya b. Shelomo Akiva [Aqua], born respectively at Dhamar and Menakha (Yemen). They left Yemen in 1949, became citizens of Israel, and lived in Nes Ziyyona. Their recorded testimony affirms the additional chronic humiliations and oppressions experienced by Yemen’s Jews, resulting from the application of the sharia, right up until the community was effectively liquidated after the creation of Israel.

Until our departure from Yemen in 1949, it was forbidden for a Jew to write in Arabic, to possess arms, or to ride on a horse or camel. The Jews could only ride on donkeys, both legs on one side [sidesaddle] and were obliged to jump to the ground when passing a Muslim, and had to make detours. Pedestrians went on the left of Muslims. It was forbidden for Jews to enter mosques…The Arabs forbade us to wear shoes, so that we hid them when, as children, we went searching for wood for cooking. When we were far enough away, we put on our shoes; on returning, we took them off and hid them in the branches. The Arabs frequently searched us, and if they found them, they punished us and forbade us to collect wood. We had to lower our head, accepting insults and humiliations. The Arabs called us “stinking dogs.

Jewish children who became orphans before they were fifteen were forcibly converted to Islam. The families tried to save them by hiding them in bundles of hay. Afterward, the children were sent to other villages where they hid with another family and were given other names. Sometimes the children were put into coffins and the Arabs were told that they had died with their parents. Then they were helped to escape.

Georges Vajda’s comprehensive 1937 analysis of the portrayal of the Jews in the hadith remains the definitive treatment of this subject matter…These archetypes, Vajda concluded, in turn justify Muslim animus toward the Jews, and the admonition to at best “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination,” as dhimmis, treated “with contempt,” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”

Vajda (d. 1981) also made these sadly prescient observations in 1968 regarding Islamic doctrines that continue to shape the behaviors of Muslim governments and societies toward any Jewish communities remaining in their midst, no matter how small or unobtrusive, present day Yemen offering a striking illustration:

[I]t seems clear that, unless it changes its principles, goes against the deepest feelings of its coreligionists and calls in question its own raison d’être, no Muslim power, however “liberal” it may like to think itself…could depart from the line of conduct followed in the past and continued de facto in the present [emphasis added], in conferring on Jews anything but the historic status of “protection,” patched up with ill-digested and unassimilated Western phraseology

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism " (Prometheus, November, 2008) You can contact Dr. Bostom at @andrewbostom.org

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