Shiite Islam’s Modern Jew-Hating Koranic Kampf

Affirming his continued lofty stature, and relevance, an Iranian national conference was held on May 3, 2012, in Qom, dedicated to “recognizing the interpretative methods and principles used by Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaee [Tabatabai] in [his Koranic] exegesis.” The announcement of this conference was posted by “navideshahed.com” which proudly calls itself, “THE [caps in original] Cultural Website of Martyrdom and Sacrifice.” 

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Shiite Iran’s theocratic “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei, in a video uploaded June 27, 2019 to his website, did not share Jared Kushner’s ebullient appraisal of the Bahrain Conference, organized to advance the Palestinian Muslim territories’ economy.

Khamenei decried the conference as “a grave act of treason against the world of Islam,” and insisted,

The Holy City of Bait al-Muqaddas [Jersualem] will continue to be the capital of Palestine, [and] it will remain the first qiblah [direction of prayer] for Muslims 

Less than a week later, July 3, 2019,  Khamenei issued a brief statement on the Hajj pilgrimage entitled, “Hajj is a political religious obligation,” which declared:

Supporting and defending the oppressed in the World of Islam, like the Palestinian nation, is a political matter, exactly based on Islamic teachings

Four years earlier, on July 31, 2015, expatriate Iranian journalist Amir Taheri revealed the publication of a 414-page work, “Palestine,” by Khamenei, wherein the Shiite theocrat elucidated those “Islamic teachings” at some length.

Not long after Taheri’s revelation, my colleague Daniel Akbari — a former leading Iranian Sharia lawyer credentialed to argue potential death penalty cases in the Islamic State, and now an intrepid human rights activist — procured the full Farsi text, and translated extensive excerpts from Khamenei’s tract.

Largely a compendium of speeches delivered over the previous 25 years, this tract was redolent with the predictable, virulent Islamic Antisemitism one would expect from a so-called “Shiite radical” like Khamenei.

Despite the willful ignorance of too many voluble, alleged “Iran experts”, Khamenei’s glosses on the central Koranic verses underpinning his Antisemitic viewpoints, represent their traditionalist, authoritative Islamic interpretations, both Sunni and Shiite.

Khamenei’s tract riveted upon the 17th Sura (chapter) of the Koran (especially verses  17:45678).

He invokes, verses 17:4-8 (on pp. 41-43), as a clarion call re-affirming “Allah’s Promise” to “Defeat the Jewish People Again.” He avers that the Muslims “should learn from the Koran,” before citing Koran 17:4, verbatim:

And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Scripture, that indeed you would do mischief on the earth twice and you will become tyrants and extremely arrogant! [Surah Al-Isra’ 17:4]

Then Khamenei references recurrent Koranic motifs of the Jews as transgressors against Allah’s will, refusing to follow his path (1:7; see here; here), and inveterate sowers of “mischief” and corruption (5:32335:64). Authoritative classical and modern Koranic exegeses further assert that the Jews are doomed to chronic humiliation (2:612:903:112), and even, as Khamenei emphasizes, repeated bouts of annihilation, including at the hands of the Muslims:

Allah’s soldiers will come to punish you for the corruption you did on Earth. Any nation that walks on the path of Allah — with the weapon of truth and justice — Allah will help him. But any nation that makes mischief, oppresses the people, and ignores humanity will be destroyed and perish.

Khamenei next used a metaphor for Israel’s/the Jews’ corruption that has been repeated uniformly by contemporary Shiite Iranian religio-political leaders regardless of their arbitrary designation as “hardliners” (Khomeini; Ahmadinejad), “moderates” (Khatami; Rafsanjani; Rouhani), or (Soylent) “Green Movement” reformist “heroes” (Mousavi; Montazeri [FBIS, Dec. 1987]): the Jewish State as a cancerous nidus that must be removed:

An Infected Cancer Called “Israel,” Cause of Division Among Muslims [p.42]: Imperialists, the enemy of human beings, planted this infected cancer gland within Islamic-Arabic territory. Today this gland has grown and become the cause of division among Muslim governments. You see how the leaders of Islamic countries who call themselves Muslims do not perform their Islamic duty about the issue of Palestine. Why? Because they have been busied with internal problems. Where their problems have come from? From this infected gland named “Israel” that was created by the superpowers.

Returning to Sura 17, Khamenei cites verse 17:7 in the context of the Muslim Palestinian, and larger global Muslim jihad (“Defeating Israel by Muslims is Pivotal for Muslims’ Salvation in the World” [p.43]) to destroy Israel, and annihilate the Jews, as a prelude to re-establishing full Islamic hegemony.

If you do jihad in the cause of Allah, if you obey Allah’s command and fight against the enemy of humanity and the religion of truth, O Palestinian Muslims, you have done a good thing that benefits you. When we create a glorious Islamic power in the region, this power can punch superpowers in the mouth.

Khamenei’s gloss on these pivotal Koranic verses was not a sui generis interpretation born of his iconoclastic, “Shiite Islamic radicalism.” Rather, Khamenei’s exegesis is entirely consistent with the most authoritative classical and modern Muslim commentators on the Koran, including Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai’s, al-Mizān fi tafsir al-QurʾānThe measure of balance/justly held scales in the interpretation of the Quran,” a 21-volume Arabic opus, which is regarded as the most important contemporary Shiite Koranic commentary. Indeed the mainstream Islamic Studies academy—both Western and Iranian—have designated Tabatabai the leading modern Shiite religious scholar and philosopher, dubbing him a “theosopher.” Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaei [Tabatabai] University, named in honor of this celebrated Shiite authority and “theosopher,” is the largest specialized state social sciences university in Iran and the Middle East, with 17000 students and 500 full-time faculty members. Affirming his continued lofty stature, and relevance, an Iranian national conference was held on May 3, 2012, in Qom, dedicated to “recognizing the interpretative methods and principles used by Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaee [Tabatabai] in [his Koranic] exegesis.”. The announcement of this conference was posted by “navideshahed.com” which proudly calls itself, “THE [caps in original] Cultural Website of Martyrdom and Sacrifice.”

Tabatabai’s enormous, monumental Koranic commentary includes equally (at least) virulent Jew-hating  glosses on many more verses pertaining to Jews than Khamenei’s in the latter’s quite limited sampling of verses from “Palestine.” Accordingly, I have designated Tabatabai’s exegetical “opus,” the true Koranic Kampf of modern Shi’ism on the Jews..

Tabatabai’s authoritative modern Shiite gloss reiterates—and validates—the notion established by a millennium of exegeses  that Koran 17:47 refers to Allah’s brutally just punishment of the “corrupting” Jews (specifically, the destruction of the two ancient, historical Jewish temples by the Babylonians and Romans):

There is no wrong in considering their coming upon the Israelites with everything involved, such as devastating manslaughter, captivation, imprisonment, pillaging, and destruction, as a Divine mission, because it was a way of requital for their bringing corrupting in the land, and for their haughtiness and for their coveting of what is beside the truth.  For Allah is not the One who wronged them by sending their enemies and supporting them against them, but it was they who wronged themselves…: ‘We sent them (to torment your faces) by making grief and sorrow apparent in them, and by creating a visible impact of humiliation, misery, inferiority and subjugation visible on [your facial expressions] as a result of what [these tormentors] committed against you in terms of devastating murder, captivity and pillaging. Within the phrase “…to enter the sanctuary, which they had also entered the first time…” the sanctuary means the Farthest Mosque i.e. [the place of] the temple [in Jerusalem].

Tabatabai also recapitulates Shiite traditions claiming the “corrupting” Jews conspiratorial responsibility for the murder of Shiism’s most lauded “martyrs”—the fourth Caliph Ali, and his son Husayn:

In Tafsīr al-Burhān [it is relayed] from Ibn Qūlūya through a chain that goes back to Ṣāliḥ ibn Sahl, who has [a tradition] from Abū `Abdullah (peace be upon him) about the word of Allah, Mighty and Supreme.  [About the text] “And We ordained for the Children of Israel in Scripture that you will surely bring corruption in the land two times”, he said: ‘This is the killing of the commander of the faithful and the stabbing of Ḥasan the son of `Alī (peace be upon him)’. [About] “And you will rise to great arrogance”, he said:  ‘This is the killing of [`Alī’s second son] Ḥusayn (peace be upon him)’.  [About] “So when the threat arrived for the first of them”, he said:  ‘When Ḥusayn’s victory will come’…   “We sent against you servants of Ours – those of great military might, and they searched the homes”: That is a people that God will send before the redeemer will rise up. When they call upon the family of Muḥammad separately, they will then certainly capture him. “And it was a threat fulfilled.”

Perhaps most striking is Tabatabai’s approving affirmation of these (“and other”) traditions, that the two corruptions mentioned in the Koran were the murdering of Ali and Ḥusayn. Such traditions are currently cited as a Shiite rationale for Israel’s destruction, whereas earlier, Tabatabai ultimately invoked Muhammad himself as a final validation for this viewpoint:

… presented to reflect all the things that go on within this nation and what comes forth from it, from the Israelites, truthfully reflecting what the prophet [Muhammad] (may Allah honor him and grant him peace) repeatedly reported, namely that this nation will commit exactly what the Israelites committed [before] in completely the same way.  They would even take possession of a lizard’s hole [in retaliation] for [that lizard] disturbing them.

Lest there be any doubt about Tabatabai’s endorsement of the classical, authoritative Antisemitic Koranic exegeses, he announces the onset, at Koran 2:4044, of his own shared “rebuking” of the Jews which continues for over 100 verses thereafter:

Now begins the rebuking of the Jews that continues for more than a hundred verses. Allah reminds them of the bounties bestowed, of the honors given; contrasting it with their ingratitude and disobedience; showing how at every juncture they paid the favors of Allah with disregard of their covenant, open rebellion against divine commands and even with polytheism. The series reminds them of twelve events of their history — … all of which shows how they were chosen to receive the especial favors of Allah. But their ingratitude runs parallel to it. They repeatedly broke the covenants made with Allah, committed capital sins, heinous crimes and shameful deeds; more despicable was their spiritual poverty and moral bankruptcy — in open defiance to their book and total disregard to reason. It was all because their hearts were hardened, their souls lost and their endeavors worthless.

Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 2:75 emphasizes the Jews alleged hostility to Islam’s prophet, and his new creed: 

The pagan tribes of Aws and Khazraj lived with the Jews of Medina, and they knew that the latter followed a divine religion and a revealed book. Thus it was not too much to expect them to believe in the latest in the series of divine religions and books. This was the basis of their hope that the Jews would accept the Apostle of Allah as the true prophet, and would strengthen the cause of religion, and actively participate in the propagation of truth. But no sooner did the Prophet migrate to Medina than the Jews showed their latent hostility. The hope was shattered and the expectation turned to disappointment. That is why Allah addresses the believers, saying: “Do you then hope that they would believe in you?” Concealment of truth and alteration of divine words was their deep-rooted life pattern. Why wonder if they go back on what they used to say before the advent of Islam?

Tabatabai also offers a traditionalist gloss on Koran 2:61, 2:882:93, and 3:1123:116, which accuse the Jews of “prophet-killing,” “disbelief” in, and “disobedience” to, Allah, engendering His wrath, “hatching conspiracies” against Islam and the Muslim prophet Muhammad, and therefore, deserving permanent abasement, which was then “stamped” upon them.

[2:61] Their disobedience and perennial excesses caused them to reject the signs of Allah and kill the prophets… Needless to say that murder, and especially of the prophets, and rejection of the signs of Allah cannot be termed as mere disobedience. It should be the other way round. But if we take the disobedience to mean disclosing the secrets then it would be perfectly right to say that they killed the prophets, because they (disobeyed them and) did not keep their secrets and thus delivered them into the hands of their enemies who killed them.

[2:89-2:93] They knew that Muhammad was the awaited Prophet, because all the attributes and particulars mentioned in their books fitted on him perfectly. And yet they denied his truth… [T] hey returned doubly enraged. It may also mean that they invited double wrath of Allah upon themselves — the first because they disbelieved in Torah and the second because they disbelieved in the Quran. The verse says that they were partisans of the Prophet long before he was born; they prayed to Allah for victory by his name and his Book. When the Prophet was sent and the Quran was revealed, they very well recognized that he was the Prophet in whose name they used to pray for victory, and whose coming they awaited. But they were overwhelmed by envy and arrogance. No sooner did the Prophet begin his call then they denied his truth, and forgot all that they used to tell about the awaited prophet. It was not surprising as they had earlier disbelieved in Torah too. Thus they committed disbelief after disbelief, and invited the wrath of Allah upon themselves, not once but twice…“We believe in that which was revealed to us”. If this claim of yours is correct then why did you kill the prophets of Allah? And why did you disbelieve in Musa [Moses] by taking the calf for a god? And why did you say, “We hear and disobey”, when We took a promise from you and lifted the mountain over you?… “Evil is that which your belief bids you . . .”: It is a derisive expression ridiculing them for their killings of the prophets, their disbelief in Musa and their arrogance in committing sin after sin and then claiming that they were the true believers. The verse tauntingly asks them: Is this what your belief bids you?

[3:112-3:116] The verses, as you see, now revert to the original theme, describing the behavior of the People of the Book — and particularly the Jews —exposing their disbelief in the Divine Revelation, their going astray and their hindering the believers from the way of Allah… Abasement is stamped on them as a design is stamped on a coin, or it encompasses them as a tent encompasses a man. Anyhow, they are either branded with, or overwhelmed by abasement and humiliation — except when they get a protection or guarantee from Allah and a protection or guarantee from men… Abasement is stamped on them; it means that Allah has ordained a law affirming their abasement. This meaning is supported by the proviso ‘‘wherever they are found’’. Obviously, it means that wherever the believers find them and subjugate them; this proviso is obviously more appropriate to legislative abasement, one of whose effects is the payment of the jizya [i.e., the Koranic poll-tax for Jews, per Koran 9:29, whose payment was often accompanied by debasing rituals]. The meaning of the verse therefore is as follows: They are abased and humiliated, according to the law of Islamic Sharia‘‘those who disbelieve’’ refers to the other groups of the People of the Book which did not respond to the call of the Prophet; those were the people who used to hatch conspiracies against Islam and had left no stone unturned in extinguishing the light of the truth. Obviously, it describes the Jews’ behavior with the Muslims.

Koran 5:64 is an overt, ancient Koranic warning of “Jewish conspiracism.” Tabatabai, adding a deliberate and transparent pejorative reference to the Jews of modern Israel, and their alleged promulgation of “ethnic supremacism,” glosses this verse as follows:

“whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out”: To kindle a fire is to inflame it, and to put it out is to extinguish it. The meaning is clear. There is another possibility that the clause: “whenever they kindle a fire,” explains the preceding clause: “and We put enmity and hatred . . .” Thus the meaning will be as follows: Whenever they kindled a fire of war against the Prophet and the believers, Allah puts it out by reviving their internal discords and differences. The context points to the divine decree that their endeavors in kindling the fire of war against the divine religion and against the Muslims (because of their belief in Allah and His signs) are bound to fail. However, it does not cover those wars, which the Jews might wage against the Muslims, not for religious motive, but because of politics, or because of ideas of racial or national superiority.

Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 5:71 continues his rhetorical assault on the stubborn, vain, and ultimately (and deservedly!) self-destructive behaviors of the Jews, because of their inherent—“Jewishness”:

This blindness and deafness have been caused by their delusion that there would be no affliction; and apparently that delusion had emanated from their vanity and conceit that they had a special status before Allah because they were from the seed of Israel, and they were sons and beloveds of Allah. Therefore, no evil would fall to them no matter what they did and what they indulged in. The meaning of the verse then is as follows – and Allah knows better: They, because of their vanity that they enjoyed the prestige of Jewishness, thought that they would not be afflicted by any evil, and would not be put on trial no matter what they did; this thought and delusion blinded their eyes – so they cannot see the truth – and deafened their ears – so they cannot listen to their Prophets’ [i.e., Muhammad’s] call which would have benefited them. This interpretation favors what we have said earlier that these verses are a sort of proof of the verse: Surely those who believe and those who are Jews… It shows in short that names and titles are not to avail anyone anything. Look at these Jews who thought that they had a special prestige because they were Jews; yet this delusion did not do them any good, rather it made them blind and deaf and led them to perils of destruction and tribulation when they called the Prophets of Allah liars and murdered them.

Koran 5:78, another Koranic curse upon the Jews, is glossed by Tabatabai in this straightforward manner:

It adversely alludes to the Jews who were cursed by their own prophets, and it was because they exceeded the limit, and continued in this transgression generation after generation. The words: “They used not to forbid . . . evil was that which they did,” explain that transgression.

Koran 5:82, arguably the central Koranic verse defining Islam’s eternal attitudes towards Jews and Judaism (as recently expounded by Sunni Islam’s reigning Papal equivalent, Al-Azhar University Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb), is glossed by Tabatabai, thusly:

[T]he Jews, although they had the same alternatives as the Christians, and they could retain their religion with payment of the jizyah [Koranic poll tax, per verse 9:29], yet they continued in their haughtiness, became harder in their bigotry, and turned to double dealing and deception. They broke their covenants, eagerly waited calamities to befall the Muslims and dealt to them the bitterest deal…[T]he enmity of the Jews…toward the divine religion [Islam] and their sustained arrogance and bigotry, have continued exactly in the same manner even after the Prophet… These unchanged characteristics…confirm what the Mighty Book [the Koran] had indicated.

Tabatabai’s exegesis on 9:29 merits particular consideration because this verse is not only the eternal jihad war directive against Jews (as well as Christians, and Zoroastrians), but the ultimate rationale for the discriminatory system of governance imposed upon the survivors of these creeds vanquished by fighting, or those groups of these “real infidels”—in his words—who submit without a fight. Objects of chastisement, the Muslims are to be incited against these reprobates, and violently subject them to an Islamic order, which features, prominently, enforced payment of the blood ransom, jizya.

So then the purpose for describing them as not forbidding what Allah and His messenger forbade, is to rebuke and defame them, and to arouse the believers and incite them towards battling them for not submitting to Allah’s and His prophet’s prohibitions in their religious practice, and for allowing themselves to fall into Divinely forbidden practices and violating [dishonoring, raping] what is sacrosanct… [The Muslims] should battle them [only] in order to bring them [Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians] under the dhimma [“pact” of submission] so that they will no [longer] openly practice any immorality and evil will be contained among them.

The concluding summary of Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 9:29 re-emphasizes this overarching principle: Jews (and Christians, and Zoroastrians—“scriptuaries,” or “People of the Book”) must be fought, subdued, and humbled because they constitute a chronic danger to an Islamic, Sharia-based society, and its mores.

Regarding their characteristics that necessitate fighting them, as mentioned in the beginning of the verse, followed by them giving the jizya to uphold their protection [i.e., from renewal of the jihad war against them!], it informs [us] that the purpose of humiliating them is their submission to an Islamic lifestyle and to a righteous religious government within an Islamic society. They shall not be equal to Muslims nor stand out against with them as an independent identity, free to express anything their souls feel like, nor to publicize the doctrines and activities invented by their lunacies that corrupt human societies. This all relates to them handing over money from their hands out of a contemptible position. So the meaning of the verse (and Allah knows best) is: Fight the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in Allah  or in the Last Day, with a faith that is acceptable and uncorrupted from being proper, and who do not forbid what is forbidden in Islam namely those [crimes] that, when committed, corrupt human society, and who do not abide by a religion that conforms with the divine creation. Fight them and persist in fighting them until they are humbled among you, and submit to your rule.

Tabatabai’s modern Koranic Kampf re-affirms 500 years of Iranian Shiite Islam’s intense theo-political animus toward the Jews, conjoined to a broader jihad war for the submission of all non-Muslims under the Sharia. These views were openly espoused by the most iconic, authoritative figure of contemporary Shi’ism. Almost 40 years after Tabatabai’s death, it is shameful that non-Muslim religious and political leaders have not even begun to address his living legacy of mainstream Shiite Jew-hatred and jihadism.

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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