Fawaz Damra, the former Imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, was touted as a promoter of interfaith dialogue even after evidence of his participation in fundraising events for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), was produced, along with a videotape of the Imam telling a crowd of Muslim supporters in 1991 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 back to the West Bank in January 2007.
And just this past October 30, 2007, it was announced 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,” ostensibly accepted the position as noted on October 26, 2007, then pre-emptively resigned a few days later, after the contents of “khutbahs” (sermons) he had delivered on March 7, 2003, were revealed.
Alzaree’s March 2003 sermons are, in fact, far worse than has been portrayed by the Cleveland media. One assumes that either they have not been read at all, or at best only perused, and those reading these sermons, by and large, have no idea about the virulently anti-Semitic motifs in the Koran 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 Koran (for example, Koran 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 Koran and hadith) regarding “Isa”—the Muslim Jesus—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 that this Muslim Jesus—who was never crucified—the perfidious Jews prodding the Roman’s to kill Isa’s “body double”—will return as a full-throated Muslim to break the cross, kill the pig, and end the payment of the deliberately humiliating Koranic (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”—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—repeated in the 1988 Hamas Charter (in article 7)—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!”
As a central anti-Jewish motif, the Koran decrees an eternal curse upon the Jews (Koran 2:61/ 3:112) for slaying the prophets and transgressing against the will of Allah. This motif is coupled to Koranic 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). The Koranic curse (verses 2:61/3:112) upon the Jews for (primarily) rejecting, even slaying Allah’s prophets, is updated with perfect archetypal logic in the canonical hadith: following the Muslims’ initial conquest of the Jewish farming oasis of Khaybar, one of the vanquished Jewesses reportedly served Muhammad poisoned mutton (or goat), which resulted, ultimately, in his protracted, agonizing death. The Jews’ ultimate sins and punishments are made clear in the Koran: they are the devil’s minions (4:60) cursed by Allah, their faces will be obliterated (4:47), and if they do not accept the true faith of Islam—the Jews who understand their faith become Muslims (3:113)—they will be made into apes (2:65/ 7:166), or apes and swine (5:60), and burn in the Hellfires (4:55, 5:29, 98:6, and 58:14-19).
References (such as Imam Damra’s) to the Jews transformation into apes, or apes and swine—perhaps the most striking Koranic motifs for the Jews debasement—have been exploited in polemical incitement against Jews, or odes celebrating their having been disgraced and slaughtered. The sacralized prototype is clear: right before subduing the Medinan Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza and orchestrating the mass execution of their adult males, Muhammad addressed these Jews with hateful disparagement, as “You brothers of monkeys.”
Some 4000 Jews were massacred in the 1066 Granada pogrom, inspired in part by an anti-Jewish ode containing the line, “Many a pious Muslim is in awe of the vilest infidel ape,” referring to the Jewish communal leader, the vizier Joseph b. Samuel Naghrela. More Jews were killed in this one pogrom than in the Crusaders’ much more infamous ravages through the Rhineland 30 years later.
Anti-Jewish riots and massacres by Muslims accompanied the 1291 death of Jewish physician-vizier Sa’d ad-Daula in Baghdad—the plundering and killing of Jews, which extended throughout Iraq (and likely into Persia)—were celebrated in a verse by the Muslim preacher Zaynu’d-Din ‘Ali b. Said, which begins with this debasing reference to the Jews as apes: “His name we praise who rules the firmament./These apish Jews are done away and shent [ruined].” Referring to the Jews as “brothers of apes,” who repeatedly blasphemed the prophet Muhammad, and whose overall conduct reflected their hatred of Muslims, the Moroccan cleric Al-Maghili (d. 1505) fomented, and then personally lead, a Muslim pogrom (in ~ 1490) against the Jews of the southern Moroccan oasis of Touat, plundering and killing Jews en masse, and destroying their synagogue in neighboring Tamantit. Each of these massacres was incited and/or celebrated by depictions of Jews as apes in verses by popular clerics—in the case of Touat, the “composer” of such a verse al-Maghili (d. 1505), an important Muslim theologian whose writings influenced Moroccan religious attitudes towards Jews into the 20th century—led the pogrom himself. Maghili also declared in verse, “Love of the Prophet, requires hatred of the Jews.”
Currently the invocation of Koranic references to the Jews as apes and pigs pervades Muslim (especially Arab Muslim) religious and political discourse in print, audio, video, and internet venues. Young children are targeted with these messages, and even encouraged to repeat them by approving adults during additional media coverage. Menachem Milson recently warned that repeated invocation of these motifs cannot be “dismissed as mere vulgar invective”, or “primitive magical thinking”. Rather, these recurring expressions need to be understood as a form of dehumanization serving as a pretext for the destruction of Jews. Given the murderous historical legacy of Muslim societies that invoked these Koranic motifs (i.e., in Granada, Baghdad, and Touat, Morocco) his concern is not alarmist.
Georges Vajda’s seminal analyses of Muslim eschatology, as depicted in the hadith, highlights the Jews’ supreme hostility to Islam. Jews are described as adherents of the Dajjâl—the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Christ—or according to another tradition, the Dajjâl is himself Jewish. At his appearance, other traditions maintain that the Dajjâl will be accompanied by 70,000 Jews from Isfahan wrapped in their robes, and armed with polished sabers, their heads covered with a sort of veil. When the Dajjâl is defeated, his Jewish companions will be slaughtered— everything will deliver them up except for the so-called gharkad tree, as per the canonical hadith invoked by Imam Alzaree. Another hadith variant, which takes place in Jerusalem, has Isa (the Muslim Jesus) leading the Arabs in a rout of the Dajjâl and his company of 70,000 armed Jews. And the notion of jihad “ransom” extends even into Islamic eschatology—on the day of resurrection the vanquished Jews will be consigned to Hellfire, and this will expiate Muslims who have sinned, sparing them from this fate.
Stubborn malevolence, as Vajda further notes, is the Jews defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to Islam out of jealousy, envy and even selfish personal interest, lead them to acts of treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature: “...sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.” These archetypes sanction Muslim hatred towards the Jews, and the admonition to at best, “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination,” as dhimmis, treated “with contempt,” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”
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 Koran, 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,
The Koran, 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—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 4000 Jews.
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—has been consistent with such sacralized religious bigotry. Promoters of modern jihad genocide have consistently 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, composed a 1943 recruitment pamphlet for Balkan Muslims entitled, “Islam and the Jews.” This incendiary document was rife with anti-Semitic verses from the Koran, as well as Jew hating motifs from the hadith, and concluded with the apocalyptic canonical hadith describing the Jews annihilation.
Forty-five years later the same hadith 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.