The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism

Interview at Democratiya on Islamic Antisemitism

Dr Andrew Bostom is Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University. He is the author of The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims (2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History (2008). The interview took place on November 14, 2008.

Personal and Intellectual History

Alan Johnson: How does a medical doctor come to produce books on Islam, Jihad and antisemitism?

Andrew Bostom: It’s pretty straightforward. The stimulus was 9/11. Until then I was an average citizen trying to keep abreast of world events. I am not particularly religious as a Jew though I certainly support the state of Israel. But I grew up in New York, living in Queens most of my life, and I went to medical school in Brooklyn. My wife and I still have family in New York City, so the day of 9/11 itself was traumatic, trying to make sure everyone was OK. A colleague’s wife was in the second tower. She was very lucky, barely getting out before it collapsed. On the way home I grabbed a book by Karen Armstrong about Islam. I was reading it and commenting to my wife that it just didn’t seem to jibe. (I learnt later that Armstrong is a notorious apologist.) As I read it out loud my wife was just laughing. I didn’t find it particularly funny. Nor the news reports over the next days that were transparently apologetic. And I was alarmed at stories that appeared in the New York Times (and other New York area newspapers) about an Egyptian Imam who was preaching at a large Mosque in Manhattan, and spreading conspiracy theories about Jews leaving the world trade centre in advance of the attacks, due to their ‘prior knowledge.’ So I started reading independently. A small book by Yossef Bodansky, a terrorism expert, discussed Islamic antisemitism as a political instrument, and referenced the work of Bat Ye’or on the Dhimmi. I got that book by Bat Ye’or, and everything else she has written in English – all her books, essays, and published lectures. I met Bat Ye’or after a correspondence with Daniel Pipes and brought her to Brown to give a guest lecture. She became a very close mentor, and introduced me to Ibn Warraq and that’s how things started. I had begun writing short essays within a year of 9/11. Ibn Warraq resided with us in 2003, for a time, and he encouraged me to consider a book project. I was increasingly interested in the Jihad and it was with Warraq’s support that I put that first book together.
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Islam Without Apologetics

Bruce S. Thornton
Islam Without
Andrew Bostom documents the long history of Muslim

8 August 2008

The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn
, by Andrew G. Bostom (Prometheus Books, 766 pp., $39.95)

According to received wisdom, an Islamic faith that once tolerantly coexisted
with Jews and Christians has been traumatized by the twentieth century and its
destructive ideologies (such as fascism, communism, and nationalism), by the
depredations of European colonialism and imperialism, and by the displacements
wrought by globalization. These developments, according to such apologists as
John Esposito and Reza Aslan, have given rise to a distortion of Islam, one
manifested not just in “Islamist” terror but also in the virulent anti-Semitism
visible today throughout the Middle East and in Europe’s Muslim communities. A
religious culture that once embraced the kindred “people of the book”—Jews and
Christians—has now been infected by European anti-Semitism, just one more way
that Western cultural dysfunctions have damaged the traditions of a proud

The problem with this tale, as Andrew Bostom documents in The Legacy of
Islamic Antisemitism
, is that it isn’t true. A physician and professor of
medicine at Brown University, Bostom demonstrated a doctor’s fidelity to
empirical evidence in his previous book, The Legacy of Jihad, showing how
violence against the infidel is central to Islamic doctrine, theology, and
jurisprudence. He now performs a similar service in examining Islamic
anti-Semitism, exploding the delusional myths with which too many in the West
obscure the truth of Muslim Jew-hatred.

As he did in his earlier book, Bostom provides copious documentation from
primary sources—including the Koran, hadith (traditional accounts of Mohammed’s
deeds and sayings), sira (early biographies of Mohammed), and other Muslim
texts—as well as modern scholarly commentary, including his own introduction,
which summarizes his conclusions. His use of such an abundant body of
scholarship makes it difficult for critics to dismiss his arguments as biased
interpretations of the evidence. As he writes, “For the Muslim masses, basic
Islamic education in the Qu’ran, hadith, and sira . . . may create an immutable
superstructure of Jew hatred on to which non-Muslim sources of Jew hatred are
easily grafted.”

Islamic anti-Semitism begins, as do all things in Islam, with the Koran—the
immutable, infallible, timeless words of Allah dictated to the Prophet—in which
Jews are cursed with “abasement and humiliation” and are “deserving of Allah’s
wrath” because they rejected Mohammed. Jews are further characterized as
corrupt, treacherous rebels and infidels whose destiny is to be the enemy of the
true believers. The debased status of Jews is communicated most starkly in the
Koranic verse (5:60) referring to their transformation into “apes” or “apes and
swine,” a motif repeated in the early Muslim biographies of Mohammed: just
before he executed the adult males of the Banu Qurayza, a Medinan Jewish tribe,
Mohammed called them “brothers of apes” or, in another version, “brothers of
monkeys and pigs.” This odious phrase recurs repeatedly in Muslim writings right
up to the present: in a 2002 radio broadcast, Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir
called for jihad against the Jews, “those apes, pigs, and worshipers of calves.”
And Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, grand imam of Al-Azhar University, the most
prestigious center of Muslim learning and theology, likewise has called Jews the
“descendants of apes and pigs.” As the Tantawi example shows, such
characterizations of Jews are not limited to fringe writers or marginalized
extremists, as they are with present-day Christian anti-Semitism.

Further, Jew-hatred has been voiced over the centuries by the most respected
theologians, jurists, and Koranic commentators, such as al-Tabari, Baydawi, and
ibn Kathir. In the sixteenth century, the Moroccan sheikh al-Maghili’s
voluminous diatribes against the Jews of the Touat oasis—“Love of the Prophet
requires hatred of the Jews,” he wrote—culminated in a massacre of Touat’s Jews
and the destruction of their synagogue. Closer to our own times, this tradition
can be found in the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the founder of the Muslim
Brotherhood and prolific Koranic commentator, who was the most important
theorist for modern jihadists. Qutb linked his call for a fundamentalist return
to Islam to the Jews, whose “wicked nature . . . is full of hatred for Islam,”
and whose defeat would come about only at the hands of Muslims who “implement
Islam completely in their lives.” And modern terrorists have accompanied their
murders of Israelis with similar justifications that refer to the Koran and
Koranic exegetes, as in a 1968 Cairo conference that called repeatedly for
forcing the Jews to return to their proper status of permanent abasement,
humiliation, and wretchedness.

Like the Koran, the deeds and sayings of Mohammed collected in the hadith
justify Muslim hatred of Jews. Mohammed repeatedly defines the proper behavior
of Muslims by contrasting it with the customs and practices of the Jews. In the
hadith, Jews are treacherous, envious, and spiteful. They alter the sacred
scriptures to remove references to Mohammed; cast evil spells on Muslims; poison
Mohammed; and reject spitefully Mohammed’s revelation and status as “seal of the
prophets.” This alleged Jewish hostility toward Muslims justifies Muslims’
obligation to subdue and humiliate Jews. A seventeenth-century Yemenite ruler,
Imam al-Mahdi, desired to fulfill Mohammed’s deathbed charge, as recorded in a
canonical hadith, that “two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula
of the Arabs,” so he exiled the Jews of Yemen to the desolate plain of Tihama,
destroying synagogues and desecrating Torah scrolls. Only 1,000 of the original
10,000 Jews survived the ordeal.

In traditional biographies of Mohammed, the Jews appear as rivals to the new
faith who must be conquered and displaced in order for Islam to advance.
According to the eighth-century biographer ibn Ishaq, the Jews of Medina
harassed Mohammed “out of jealousy, envy, and malice because Allah Exalted had
conferred distinction upon the Arabs by choosing him as His messenger.” In point
of historical fact, the Medina to which Mohammed repaired after leaving Mecca
was home to three Jewish tribes whose rejection of Mohammed impeded his
ambitions and whose ridicule of his exegesis of Jewish scripture aroused in him
something akin to Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence”—a humiliating reminder
of how much of the Koran was plagiarized from Jewish sacred writings. What
followed was a campaign of assassinations of Jewish poets and leaders—ibn Ishaq
quotes the Prophet as saying, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power”—and
raids on Jewish caravans. This escalating aggression culminated in an attack on
the Banu Qaynuqa tribe, whose members were despoiled and expelled from Medina.
Next was the turn of the Banu Nadir, who were also expelled, their property
distributed to Muslims. The last tribe, the Banu Qurayza, held out for a while
behind their fortifications; when they finally surrendered, 600 to 900 men were
beheaded, their women and children were sold into slavery, and their possessions
were distributed, again, to Muslims. Subsequent Islamic exegetes (Abu Yusuf and
al-Mawardi, for example) pointed to the extinction of the Banu Qurayza as a
model for Muslim treatment of infidels who stand in the way of Islam’s ambitions
by refusing the call to convert.

Bostom links this tradition to Muslims’ later treatment of Jews in Palestine,
Spain, Turkey, and Iran. The doctrine of jihad is crucial to the story, for it
links the goal of conquest to the protocols for treatment of Jews and
Christians, who as dhimmi must live at the sufferance of their Muslim
overlords, subjected to humiliating restrictions on their lives and payment of a
poll tax. Contrary to the apologists and their fantasies of ecumenical tolerance
in historic Islamic states, Bostom’s history is filled with massacres,
enslavement, dispossession, and plundering of Jews, all justified by the Koran
and Mohammed’s own behavior. This pattern extends to the present. Yasser Arafat,
for example, appeared to the West in the guise of a secular nationalist, but his
“core ideology,” Bostom writes, “remained . . . rooted in jihad.” Thus Arafat
wrote to the Ayatollah Khomeini, “I pray Allah to guide your step along the
paths of faith and Holy War in Iran, continuing the combat until we arrive at
the walls of Jerusalem.” After the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, which
provided the Palestinians with a golden opportunity to realize their goal of an
independent state—the presumed motive for their violence against Jews—Arafat
said, “The jihad will continue.” And Hamas, of course, continues the long
tradition of Jew-hatred and jihad today.

Bostom sees the same pattern of faith-sanctioned Jew-hatred and violence in
Muslim Spain and Ottoman Turkey, both frequently extolled by apologists as oases
of Islamic tolerance for Jews. Those who believe in the “golden age” of
Andalusia should remember the slaughter of 3,000 to 4,000 Granadan Jews in 1066,
a massacre preceded by the polemics of ibn Hazm, who repeated the traditional
calumnies characterizing Jews as liars, tricksters, and the “filthiest and
vilest of peoples, their unbelief horrid, their ignorance abominable.” So, too,
the verses of Abu Ishaq, ibn Hazim’s contemporary, which sounded all the
traditional notes of Islamic Jew-hatred, particularly the “humiliation and
abasement” due to “apes.” Since this linkage of traditional rhetoric with
violence continues in our own time, we must take such utterances seriously and
not dismiss them as Muslim frustration with neocolonialism or Israel’s so-called
occupation of Palestine.

Based solely on the historical evidence, Bostom’s survey and 500 pages of
supporting documentation sweep away what he calls the “false pillars” of current
apologies for Muslim anti-Semitism: that Muslim hostility to Jews is not
grounded in Islamic theology, and that Jews living in historic Muslim societies
were not subject to subservience and persecution. For Westerners doubtful of
their own culture’s rectitude and unsure about what to believe, it might be
pretty to think that Islam is just another Abrahamic path to God that shares the
values of Christianity and Judaism. But the facts that Bostom collects tell
another tale, one we should heed if we are to prevail against jihadist

Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and
Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter