Antisemitism in the Hadith and Early Muslim Biographies of Muhammad: Motifs and Manifestations

Robert Spencer has kindly posted the second installment based upon materials from my (imminently!) forthcoming book, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, this time describing the Antisemitic contents of the hadith and sira (earliest pious Muslim biographies of Muhammad.


Underneath the picture (just below) of Georges Vajda (d. 1981)—the greatest scholar of the Antisemitic motifs in the hadith—I have posted the Abstract and Introduction to this essay. The full contents can be read at Dhimmi Watch.



The contemporary  pronouncements of the Islamic Center of Cleveland’s clerical “Imamate”—Fawaz Damra and his erstwhile replacement Ahmed Alzaree—illustrate  an ancient, but continuous tradition of anti-Jewish incitement by Islam’s “popular preachers,” very much alive today. And the historical treatment of Jews in Muslim societies—chronic oppression, punctuated by outbursts of mass anti-Jewish violence, forced conversion to Islam, or expulsion—has been consistent with such sacralized religious bigotry. Promoters of modern jihad genocide from the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin el-Husseini, to contemporary Hamas clerics, have repeatedly invoked Islam’s Jew-exterminating eschatology.


George Vajda’s 1937 essay “Juifs et Musulmans Selon Le Hadit” (“Jews and Muslims According to the Hadith”)—a magisterial 70-page treatise discussed at some length herein—remains the definitive study of Jews and their relations with Muhammad and Muslims, as depicted in the hadith. Vajda’s research demonstrates how Muslim eschatology highlights the Jews supreme hostility to Islam. Jews are described as adherents of the Dajjâl—the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Christ—and as per another tradition, the Dajjâl is in fact Jewish. At his appearance, other traditions state that the Dajjâl  will be accompanied by 70,000 Jews from Isfahan, or Jerusalem. When the Dajjâl is defeated, he and his Jewish companions will be slaughtered— everything will deliver them up except for the so-called gharkad tree. Thus, according to a canonical hadith—incorporated into the 1988 Hamas Charter (article 7)—if a Jew seeks refuge under a tree or a stone, these objects will be able to speak to tell a Muslim: “There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him!”


Vajda also emphasizes how the notion of jihad “ransom” extends even into Islamic eschatology casting the Muslims’ sins upon the Jews. And in the corporeal world, Vajda observes, “distrust must reign” in Muslims relations with the rebellious Jews. But it is the Jews stubborn malevolence, Vajda further notes, that is their defining worldly characteristic


Jews are represented in the darkest colors. Convinced by the clear testimony of their books that Mohammed was the true prophet, they refused to convert, out of envy, jealousy and national particularism, even out of private interest.  They have falsified their sacred books and do not apply the laws of God; nevertheless, they pursued Mohammed with their raillery and their oaths, and harassed him with questions, an enterprise that turned to their own confusion and merely corroborated the authenticity of the supernatural science of the prophet.  From words they moved to action: sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.  


Vajda concludes that these archetypes, in turn, justify Muslim animus towards the Jews, and the admonition to at best, “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination”, as dhimmis, treated “with contempt”, under certain “humiliating arrangements.”


Hartwig Hirschfeld’s detailed analyses of Muhammad’s interactions with the Jews of Medina as depicted in the earliest pious Muslim biographies of Muhammad (sira; sirat)  describes the “mutual disappointment” that characterized their relationship, and the predictably disastrous results for the Jews.


The Jews, for their part, were singularly disappointed in their expectations.  The way in which Muhammad understood revelation, his ignorance and his clumsiness in religious questions in no way encouraged them to greet him as their Messiah.  He tried at first to win them over to his teachings by sweetness and persuasion; they replied by posing once again the questions that they had already asked him; his answers, filled with gross errors, provoked their laughter and mockery.  From this, of course, resulted a deep hostility between Muhammad and the Jews, whose only crime was to pass a severe judgment on the enterprise of this Arab who styled himself “God’s prophet” and to find his conduct ridiculous, his knowledge false, and his regulations thoughtless.  This judgment, which was well founded, was nevertheless politically incorrect, and the consequences thereof inevitably would prove to be disastrous for a minority that lacked direction or cohesion.     


Muhammad’s failures or incomplete successes were consistently recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews. Thus Muhammad developed a penchant for assassinating individual Jews, and destroying Jewish communities—by expropriation and expulsion (Banu Quaynuqa and Nadir), or massacring their men, and enslaving their women and children (Banu Qurayza). Subsequently, in the case of the Khaybar Jews, Muhammad had the male leadership killed, and plundered their riches. The terrorized Khaybar survivors—industrious Jewish farmers—became prototype subjugated dhimmis whose productivity was extracted by the Muslims as a form of permanent booty. And according to the Muslim sources, even this tenuous vassalage was arbitrarily terminated within a decade of Muhammad’s death when Caliph Umar expelled the Jews of Khaybar.


Muhammad’s brutal conquest and subjugation of the Khaybar Jews, and their subsequent expulsion by one of his companions, the (second) “Rightly Guided” Caliph Umar, epitomize permanent, archetypal behavior patterns Islamic Law deemed appropriate to Muslim interactions with Jews.


Historical and contemporary examples are briefly adduced to illustrate the ongoing relevance of archetypes from the hadith and sira as sources of Islamic antisemitism, past and present.




Fawaz Damra [1], the former Imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, was touted as a promoter of  interfaith dialogue even after [2] evidence of his participation in fundraising events for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) [3], was produced, along with a videotape of the Imam telling a crowd of Muslim supporters in 1991 [4] that they should aim “…a rifle at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews.” Convicted in 2004 for lying to immigration officials about his links to the PIJ, Damra, who was born in Nablus in 1961, was subsequently deported [5] back to the West Bank in January 2007.


And just this past October 30, 2007 it was announced [6] that Imam Ahmed Alzaree—the first permanent successor to Damra—resigned as the new “spiritual leader” of the Islamic Center of Cleveland three days prior to officially beginning the job. Alzaree, who at one stage of the vetting process expressed the unusual reservation that “he would not come to Cleveland because a reporter was inquiring about his background” [7], ostensibly accepted the position as noted on October 26, 2007, then pre-emptively resigned a few days later [8], after the contents of “khutbahs” (sermons) he had delivered on March 7, 2003, were revealed. [9]


Alzaree’s March, 2003 sermons were in fact far worse than had been portrayed by the Cleveland media. [10] One assumes that either they were not read at all, or at best only perused, and those reading these sermons, by and large, had no idea about the virulently Antisemitic motifs in the Qur’an and hadith (i.e., the words, deeds, and even physical gestures of Muhammad as recorded by pious Muslim transmitters). Moreover, these sermons were also virulently Christianophobic, invoking combined anti-Christian/Jew-hating motifs from the Qur’ran [11] (for example, Qur’ran 4:157-159), as well as anti-Christian eschatology (linked explicitly to Jew-hating eschatology) from the hadith, particularly with regard to “Jesus,” or to be precise, the Muslim simulacrum of Jesus, “Isa,” as characterized in Islam’s foundational texts. Alzaree simply recounts Islamic doctrine (as per the Qur’an and hadith) regarding “Isa”—the Muslim Jesus [12]—which emphasizes the Jews overall perfidy, especially their gloating (but unknowingly “false”) claim to have killed Isa.  According to this sacralized Islamic narrative, Isa is merely a Muslim prophet whose ultimate “job description” includes the destruction of Christianity.  Thus Alzaree’s sermon invokes the canonical hadith [13] that this Muslim Jesus—who was never crucified—the perfidious Jews prodding the Roman’s to kill Isa’s “body double” [14]—will return as a full-throated Muslim to break the cross, kill the pig, and end the payment of the deliberately humiliating Qur’anic (9:29) poll-tax demanded of Christians (i.e., the jizya). This hadith states, “He [Isa] will fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizya” [15]—because Christians will be converted to Islam (and thus exempt from the jizya), or eliminated—“Allah will perish all religions except Islam.” Alzaree concluded the second sermon with an apocalyptic canonical hadith [16]—repeated in the 1988 Hamas Charter, article 7 [17]—stating if a Jew seeks refuge under a tree or a stone, these objects will be able to speak to tell a Muslim: “There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him!”


Thus the blatant Jew-hatred expressed by Damra and reiterated (in tandem with anti-Christian motifs) by Alzaree—this erstwhile “Imamate of Cleveland”—was fully sanctioned by—indeed they were merely quoting directly from—the core religious texts of Islam, i.e. the Qur’an, hadith, and early Muslim biographies of Muhammad.


More than four decades ago (in 1964), Moshe Perlmann the pre-eminent scholar of Islam’s ancient anti-Jewish polemical literature, observed [18],


The Qur’an, of course became a mine of anti-Jewish passages. The hadith did not lag behind. Popular preachers used and embellished such material.


In an earlier study (published 1948) of 11th century Muslim Spain [19]—idealized, falsely,


as the paragon of Islam’s ecumenism—Perlmann had described how such polemical tracts and sermons incited the mass violence which destroyed the Jewish community of Granada during the catastrophic 1066 pogrom, with its death toll of some 3000 to 4000 Jews. [20] This figure equals or exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade. [21]


The modern pronouncements of Cleveland’s clerical “Imamate”—Damra and Alzaree—reflect an ancient, but continuous tradition of anti-Jewish incitement by Islam’s “popular preachers,” very much alive today. And the historical treatment of Jews in Muslim societies—chronic oppression, punctuated by outbursts of mass anti-Jewish violence, forced conversion to Islam, or expulsion [22]—has been consistent with such sacralized religious bigotry. Promoters of modern jihad genocide  have repeatedly invoked Islam’s Jew-exterminating eschatology. Hajj Amin el-Husseini,  ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, and Muslim jihadist, who became, additionally, a full-fledged Nazi collaborator and ideologue in his endeavors to abort a Jewish homeland, and destroy world Jewry [23], composed a 1943 recruitment pamphlet for Balkan Muslims entitled, “Islam and the Jews.” [24] This incendiary document was rife with antisemitic verses from the Qur’an, as well as Jew hating motifs from the hadith, and concluded with the apocalyptic canonical hadith [25] describing the Jews’ annihilation. Forty-five years later the same hadith [26] was incorporated into the 1988 Hamas Charter, making clear its own aspirations for Jew annihilation. Sheer ignorance of this history and theology are pathognomonic of much larger and more dangerous phenomena: the often willful, craven failure to examine and understand the living legacy of Islam’s foundational anti-Jewish animus, or acknowledge the depth of Jew hatred that pervades contemporary Islam’s clerical leadership, including within major Muslim communities of the United States.


Having earlier described the antisemitic motifs in the Qur’an [27], as well as their historical manifestations across space and time, the current paper examines in complementary fashion, the antisemitic motifs in the hadith, and earliest pious Muslim biographies of Muhammad, or sira.





3 responses to “Antisemitism in the Hadith and Early Muslim Biographies of Muhammad: Motifs and Manifestations

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