The Koran’s Central Jew-Hating Verse, 5:82, Validated by Sunni Islam’s Current Pope, Al-Azhar Grand Imam al-Tayeb

Earlier this week I was interviewed (6/14/16) by The Rebel’s Tiffany Gabbay on the ancient origins and modern manifestations of Islam’s canonical Jew-hatred as permanently embedded in Islam’s most sacred texts: the Koran itself, the hadith or “traditions” of Islam’s prophet Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community, and the “sira,” or earliest sacralized biographies of Muhammad.

A key segment of our discussion—captured in a ~ 4- minute clip—briefly rivets upon the central Jew-hating verse of the Koran, sura (chapter) 5, verse 82 (5:82), including: an ancient assessment of its relevance to Jew-hatred among the Muslim masses by the 9th century polymath Al-Jahiz (d. 869), through its modern “updated” significance in a 1937 fatwa (available here; free pdf here) against the Jews by Hajj Amin el-Husseini (1895-1974), jihadist founder of the so-called Palestinian Muslim movement; and most importantly, the contemporary pronouncement on Koran 5:82, made in October, 2013, re-affirming its conspiratorial, Jew-hating gloss, by Ahmed al-Tayeb, current Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, and Sunni Islam’s Papal equivalent, who heads Sunni Islam’s de facto Vatican of religious education, Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.

Below the embedded segment I have included additional background materials which elaborate the summarized discussion.

A remarkable essay by the polymath Arabic writer al-Jahiz (d. 869), composed in the mid-9th century C.E. illustrates the anti-Jewish attitudes prevalent within an important early Islamic society. Al-Jahiz’s essay—an anti-Christian polemic believed to have been commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861), who inaugurated a literary campaign against the Christians—explores the reasons why the Muslim masses prefer the Christians to the Jews. This empirical preference (although decried by the author) is acknowledged by al-Jahiz from the outset:

I shall begin to enumerate the causes which made the Christians more liked by the masses than the Magians [Zoroastrians], and made men consider them more sincere than the Jews, more endeared, less treacherous, less unbelieving, and less deserving of punishment. For all this there are manifold and evident causes.

Al-Jahiz offers two primary explanations for this abiding hostility of the Muslim rank and file towards the Jews. First was the “rancorous” relationship between the early Muslim community, exiles from Mecca, relocated among Jewish neighbors in Medina.

When the [Muslim] Emigrants [from Mecca] became the neighbors of the Jews [in Medina]…the Jews began to envy the Muslims the blessings of their new faith, and the union which resulted after dissension. They proceeded to undermine the belief of our [i.e., the Muslim] masses, and to lead them astray. They aided our enemies and those envious of us. From mere misleading speech and stinging words they plunged into an open declaration of enmity, so that the Muslims mobilized their forces, exerting themselves morally and materially to banish the Jews and destroy them. Their strife became long-drawn and widespread, so that it worked itself up into a rage, and created yet greater animosity and more intensified rancor. The Christians, however, because of their remoteness from Mecca and Medina, did not have to put up with religious controversies, and did not have occasion to stir up trouble, and be involved in war. That was the first cause of our dislike of the Jews, and our partiality toward the Christians.

However, al-Jahiz then identifies as “the most potent cause” of this particular animus towards the Jews, Koran 5:82, and its interpretation by the contemporary (i.e., mid-9th century) Muslim masses. It is also worth noting that al-Jahiz (described as a “skeptic”, who harbored “indifferent views toward religion in general”) included these sociological observations which reveal the interface between Islamic religious and indigenous ethnic/racial discriminatory attitudes towards Jews expressed a millennium before any secular Western European antisemitic ideologies would be exported to the Muslim Near East:

Our people [the Muslims] observing thus the occupations of the Jews and the Christians concluded that the religion of the Jews must compare unfavorably as do their professions, and that their unbelief must be the foulest of all, since they are the filthiest of all nations. Why the Christians, ugly as they are, are physically less repulsive than the Jews may be explained by the fact that the Jews, by not intermarrying, have intensified the offensiveness of their features. Exotic elements have not mingled with them; neither have males of alien races had intercourse with their women, nor have their men cohabited with females of a foreign stock. The Jewish race therefore has been denied high mental qualities, sound physique, and superior lactation. The same results obtain when horses, camels, donkeys, and pigeons are inbred.

Al-Jahiz’s contention that the Muslims harbored greater enmity towards the Jews than the Christians is supported by the independent observations of another Arab author active during the beginning of the 9th century in Iraq, the Sufi theologian al-Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 857). He maintained that because the Jews stubbornly denied Muhammad’s truth, they were “…in the eyes of the Muslims worse than the Christians”.

During 1938, a booklet Muhammad Sabri edited, Islam, Judentum, Bolschewismus (Islam, Jewry, Bolshevism), was published in Berlin by Junker-Duennhaupt [Dünnhaupt]. Sabri’s booklet included Hajj Amin el-Husseini’s 1937 declaration—also deemed by some as a “fatwa” (an Islamic religious ruling)—appealing to the worldwide Muslim umma. El-Husseini’s declaration was extracted and reprinted, separately, by the Nazi regime as Islam und Judentum(Islam and Jewry), and distributed to Muslim SS units in Bosnia, Croatia, and the Soviet Union. As I detailed in a 2103 monograph, which provided, and riveted upon, the first full English translation of el-Husseini’s 1937 “religious edict” (“fatwa’) about the Jews (available here; and as a free pdf here), the former Mufti of Jerusalem exclusively invoked traditionalist Islamic themes, familiar to the Muslim masses, to incite their annihilationist Islamic Jew-hatred. Reiterating foundational Jew-hating motifs from the Koran itself, and embodied by the inflammatory words and murderous actions of Islam’s prophet Muhammad (in the “hadith” or traditions, and earliest pious Muslim biographies of Muhammad), el-Husseini’s traditional Islamic Jew-hatred has remained a staple of contemporary Palestinian Muslim religious discourse, through the present.

El-Husseini’s interpretation of the eleven Koranic verses he quotes, directly, comports with their authoritative exegeses, classical, and modern. For example, concluding his litany of Koranic quotations (i.e., 2:109, 59:2, 3:99-102, 5:49, 2:143, 2:144, 4:51, 4:52, & 5:82) appropriately, with Koran 5:82, el-Husseini insists this verse “quite unmistakably characterizes the position of Islam and Judaism.” His assessment is upheld by a continuum of authoritative Koranic exegeses that span over a thousand years, till now. The classical Koranic commentaries on Koran 5:82 by Tabari, Zamakashari (d. 1143), Baydawi (d. 1316), and Ibn Kathir demonstrate a uniformity of opinion regarding the animus of the Jews toward the Muslims, which is repeatedly linked to the curse of Koran 2:61 (i.e., for killing prophets, and transgressing against the will of Allah, repeated at verses including 2:90-91, 3:112, 3:181, and 4:155).

Current Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Ahmad Al-Tayeb, is the Sunni Muslim Papal equivalent. During an interview with Al-Tayeb, which aired on Channel 1, Egyptian TV, October 25, 2013, the Al-Azhar Grand Imam gave a brief explanation of the ongoing relevance of the Koranic verse 5:82 has been invoked—“successfully”—to inspire Muslim hatred of Jews since the advent of Islam, confirming Al-Jahiz’s observations, some ~1150 years ago:

 A verse in the Koran explains the Muslims’ relations with the Jews…This is an historical perspective, which has not changed to this day. See how we suffer today from global Zionism and Judaism, whereas our peaceful coexistence with the Christians has withstood the test of history. Since the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago, we have been suffering from Jewish and Zionist interference in Muslim affairs. This is a cause of great distress for the Muslims. The Koran said it and history has proven it: “You shall find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews…”

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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