Qur’an 2:61—“And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them 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.”
My colleague and friend, the gifted and remarkably courageous independent scholar Robert Spencer, has kindly posted a long essay of mine, Antisemitism in the Qur’an: Motifs and Historical Manifestations at his indispensable Jihad Watch/Dhimmi Watch website.
For those getting impatient with the delayed release of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism (now due out in late May), this essay derives almost entirely from the book, and as such, provides a preview of the book’s extended introductory survey.
The essential nature of the Qur’ranic “revelation,” as understood by Muslims, was elaborated in 1891 by Theodore Nöldeke (whose seminal 1860 Geschichte des Qorans remains a vital tool for Qur’ranic research): “To the faith of the Muslims…the Koran is the word of God, and such also is the claim which the book itself advances…”And to this day, as the contemporary Qur’anic scholar Ibn Warraq notes, for all believing Muslims, and not merely “fundamentalists, ” the Qur’an remains Allah’s “uncreated” words, “…valid for all times and places; its ideals are, according to all Muslims, absolutely true and beyond any criticism.”
The Qur’anic depiction of the Jews—their traits as thus characterized being deemed both infallible and timeless—highlights, in verse 2:61 (repeated in verse 3:112), the centrality of the Jews “abasement and humiliation”, and being “laden with God’s anger,” as elaborated in the corpus of Muslim exegetic literature on Qur’an 2:61, including the hadith and Qur’anic commentaries. The terrifying rage decreed upon the Jews forever is connected in the hadith and exegeses to Qur’an 1:7, where Muslims ask Allah to guide them rightly, not in the path of those who provoke and must bear His wrath. This verse is in turn linked to Qur’anic verses 5:60, and 5:78, which describe the Jews transformation into apes and swine (5:60), having been “…cursed by the tongue of David, and Jesus, Mary’s son” (5:78). Moreover, forcing Jews, in particular, to pay the Qur’anic poll tax “tribute,” (as per verse 9:29) “readily,” while “being brought low,” is consistent with their overall humiliation and abasement in accord with Qur’an 2:61, and its directly related verses.
An additional much larger array of anti-Jewish Qur’anic motifs build to a denouement (as if part of a theological indictment, conviction, and sentencing process) concluding with an elaboration of the “ultimate sin” committed by the Jews (they are among the devil’s minions [Qur’an 4:60], accursed by God [Qur’an 4:47]), and their appropriate punishment: If they do not accept the true faith (i.e., Islam), on the day of judgment, they will burn in the hellfire (Qur’an 4:55). As per, Qur’an 98:7: “The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures”
After presenting a full spectrum of the major anti-Jewish motifs in the Qur’an, additional illustrations demonstrating their persistent influence on Muslim attitudes (and resultant behaviors) towards Jews, are provided. Four themes are considered, and their historical application illustrated, across space and time, through the present: (I) the Jews being associated with Satan and consigned to Hell (Qur’an 4:60, 4:55, 58:14—19, and 98:6); (II) the imposition of the Qur’anic poll-tax (jizya; Qur’an 9:29) on Jews, specifically, and (III) the related enforcement of the Qur’anic (2:61) “curse” upon the Jews for killing the Prophets, and other transgressions against Allah’s will, meriting their permanent humiliation and abasement; and, last in connection to this curse, (IV) the Jews’ transformation into apes/swine, as punishment (Qur’an 2:65, 5:60, and 7:166).
The contemporary case of Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, author of a 700 page scholarly treatise rationalizing Muslim Jew hatred, Banu Isra’il fi al-Qur’an wa al-Sunna [Jews in the Qur’an and the Traditions], and current Grand Imam of
Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi wrote these words in his 700 page treatise rationalizing Muslim Jew hatred, Banu Isra’il fi al-Qur’an wa al-Sunna [Jews in the Qur’an and the Traditions], originally published in the late 1960s, and early 1970s, and then re-issued in 1986/87: 1
[The] Qur’an describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah, corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people’s wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness…only a minority of the Jews keep their word….[A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims, the bad ones do not. (Qur’an 3:113)
Tantawi was apparently rewarded for this scholarly effort by being named Grand Imam of
…anyone who avoids meeting with the enemies in order to counter their dubious claims and stick fingers into their eyes, is a coward. My stance stems from Allah’s book [the Qur’an], more than one-third of which deals with the Jews…[I] wrote a dissertation dealing with them [the Jews], all their false claims and their punishment by Allah. I still believe in everything written in that dissertation. [i.e., from above, in Banu Isra’il fi al-Qur’an wa al-Sunna]
Tantawi’s case illustrates the prevalence and depth of sacralized, “normative” Jew hatred in the contemporary Muslim world. Even if all non-Muslim Judeophobic themes were to disappear miraculously overnight from the Islamic world, the living legacy of anti-Jewish hatred, and violence rooted in Islam’s sacred texts—Qur’an, hadith, and sira—would remain intact. The assessment and understanding of Islamic antisemitism must begin with an unapologetic analysis of the anti-Jewish motifs contained in these foundational texts of Islam.