Misunderstanding Islamic Antisemitism
By: Andrew G. Bostom
American Thinker | Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Last year, nearing completion of the final manuscript version of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism,
I took a brief hiatus and posed the following two questions, based upon
my research, to a cadre of academics, independent scholars,
theologians, journalists, and activists who opine, in writing and
speech, about Antisemitism, generally, and/or within the Muslim world,
specifically. I asked (via e-mail correspondence), "In your opinion,
would this quote (below) exemplify racial, or at least ethnic
Antisemitism? Moreover would you please hazard a guess as to where and
when it was written, based upon the contents?" Here is the quote:
surprisingly, the replies of my correspondents reflected the
conventional academic (and journalistic) wisdom which continues to
assert Muslim Jew hatred is only a recent phenomenon that began in the
late 19th or early 20th centuries, and is a mere
by-product of the advent of the Zionist movement, and the protracted
Arab-Israeli conflict over the lands comprising the original 1922
Mandate for historical Palestine (i.e., modern Israel, Jordan, Judea,
Samaria, and Gaza). Such thinking also contends that this strain of Jew
hatred is a loose amalgam of re-cycled medieval Christian Judeophobic
motifs, calumnies from the Czarist Russia "Protocols of the Elders of
Zion," and standard European racist, or Fascist/Nazi propaganda. A
prototypical assessment of this ilk was written by the journalist
Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower, his widely acclaimed
investigative account of the events leading to the cataclysmic acts of
jihad terrorism on September 11, 2001.
people [the Muslims] observing thus the occupations of the Jews and the
Christians concluded that the religion of the Jews must compare
unfavorably as do their professions, and that their unbelief must be
the foulest of all, since they are the filthiest of all nations. Why
the Christians, ugly as they are, are physically less repulsive than
the Jews may be explained by the fact that the Jews, by not
intermarrying, have intensified the offensiveness of their features.
Exotic elements have not mingled with them; neither have males of alien
races had intercourse with their women, nor have their men cohabited
with females of a foreign stock. The Jewish race therefore has been
denied high mental qualities, sound physique, and superior lactation.
The same results obtain when horses, camels, donkeys, and pigeons are
Wright's statement was not accompanied by documentation-this was the accepted wisdom after all.
the end of World War II...Jews lived safely -- although submissively
--under Muslim rule for 1,200 years, enjoying full religious freedom;
but in the 1930s, Nazi propaganda on Arabic-language shortwave radio,
coupled with slanders by Christian missionaries in the region, infected
the area with this ancient Western prejudice [antisemitism]. After the
war, Cairo became a sanctuary for Nazis, who advised the military and
the government. The rise of the Islamist movement coincided with the
decline of fascism, but they overlapped in Egypt, and the germ passed
into a new carrier.
contemporary pervasiveness of Wright's flawed understanding was again
manifested in the responses of my interlocutors. A representative
sample of their comments demonstrates this phenomenon:
course it's Antisemitism of the most vile racist stripe-which leads me
to think it likely dates from the 19th century, at the earliest. It
also sounds like the sort of thing one would read in the Antisemitic
popular literature of the Edwardian period. So, my guess would be
somewhere between 1830 and the 1920s."
"I imagine this was written under the influence of modern theories of racial inferiority."
"If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this is from a sermon in a Gaza mosque this past Friday.."
"Could be any mosque in the Muslim world, or Nazi Germany if it weren't for the first line. Definitely racial..."
"How about current Wahhabi establishment?"
"I have no idea who said it but I'll hazard a guess just for sport: the Mufti of Jerusalem, circa 1940?"
"Probably last week from one of the mullahs in the UK."
racist to the point of being Nazi-like. I would say, the Mufti of
Jerusalem or some other Islamofascist, or maybe contemporary Wahhabi."
quote in fact derives from a remarkable essay by the polymath Arabic
writer al-Jahiz (d. 869), illustrating the anti-Jewish attitudes
prevalent within an important early Islamic society, and composed over
a millennium earlier than suspected by these interlocutors. It is also
worth noting that al-Jahiz (described as a "skeptic," who harbored
"indifferent views toward religion in general") included sociological
observations-the quote cited above-which reveal the interface between
indigenous ethnic/racial discriminatory, and Islamic religious (i.e.,
the essay's major emphasis, described below) attitudes towards Jews,
expressed a thousand years before any secular Western European
Antisemitic ideologies would be exported to the Muslim Near East
"...it's the usual (modern) boiler plate from the Middle East."
full essay was actually an anti-Christian polemic believed to have been
commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861), who
inaugurated a literary campaign against the Christians. The author
examines why the Muslim masses prefer the Christians to the Jews. This
empirical preference (although decried by the author) is acknowledged
by al-Jahiz from the outset:
Al-Jahiz offers two primary explanations for this abiding hostility of the Muslim rank and file towards the Jews. First was the "rancorous" relationship between the early Muslim community, exiles from Mecca, relocated among Jewish neighbors in Medina.
shall begin to enumerate the causes which made the Christians more
liked by the masses than the Magians [Zoroastrians], and made men
consider them more sincere than the Jews, more endeared, less
treacherous, less unbelieving, and less deserving of punishment. For
all this there are manifold and evident causes.
However, al-Jahiz then identifies as "the most potent cause" of this particular animus towards the Jews, Koran 5:82
["Thou wilt surely find the most hostile of men to the believers are
the Jews and the idolaters; and thou wilt surely find the nearest of
them in love to the believers are those who say ‘We are Christians';
that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not
proud."], and its interpretation by the contemporary (i.e., mid-9th
century) Muslim masses. It is important to note also that the gloss on
Koran 5:82 in the classical Koranic commentaries by al-Tabari (d. 923),
Zamakashari (d. 1143), Baydawi (d. ~ 1316), and Ibn Kathir (d. 1373),
demonstrate a uniformity of opinion about the confirmed animus of the
Jews towards the Muslims, which is repeatedly linked to the central Antisemitic motif in the Koran (verses 2:61/ 3:112)
-- their eternal curse for transgressing the will of Allah, slaying
Biblical prophets, and resultant condemnation to permanent humiliation.
Tabari, for example, states:
the [Muslim] Emigrants [from Mecca] became the neighbors of the Jews
[in Medina]...the Jews began to envy the Muslims the blessings of their
new faith, and the union which resulted after dissension. They
proceeded to undermine the belief of our [i.e., the Muslim] masses, and
to lead them astray. They aided our enemies and those envious of us.
From mere misleading speech and stinging words they plunged into an
open declaration of enmity, so that the Muslims mobilized their forces,
exerting themselves morally and materially to banish the Jews and
destroy them. Their strife became long-drawn and widespread, so that it
worked itself up into a rage, and created yet greater animosity and
more intensified rancor. The Christians, however, because of their
remoteness from Mecca and Medina, did not have to put up with religious
controversies, and did not have occasion to stir up trouble, and be
involved in war. That was the first cause of our dislike of the Jews,
and our partiality toward the Christians.
the basic contention in Al-Jahiz's essay that the Muslims harbored
greater enmity towards the Jews than the Christians is supported by the
independent observations of another Arab author active during the
beginning of the 9th century in Iraq, the Sufi theologian
al-Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 857). He maintained that because the Jews
stubbornly denied Muhammad's truth, they were "...in the eyes of the
Muslims worse than the Christians."
my [Tabari's] opinion, [the Christians] are not like the Jews who
always scheme in order to murder the emissaries and the prophets, and
who oppose God in his positive and negative commandments, and who
corrupt His scripture which He revealed in His books.
impact upon Jews of such distinctly Antisemitic attitudes by Muslims in
the specific context of the Arab Muslim world during the high Middle
Ages (circa 950-1250 C.E.) is evident in S.D. Goitein' s seminal
analyses of the primary source Geniza documentary record. Goitein's
research caused him to employ the term Antisemitism,
cites as one important concrete proof of his assertion that a unique
strain of Islamic Jew hatred was extant at this time (i.e., up to a
millennium ago) -- exploding the common assumption of its absence --
the fact that letters from the Cairo Geniza material,
order to differentiate animosity against Jews from the discrimination
practiced by Islam against non-Muslims in general. Our scrutiny of the
Geniza material has proved the existence of ‘antisemitism' in the time
and the area considered here...
of such Muslim Jew hatred documented by Goitein in the Geniza come from
northern Syria (Salamiyya and al-Mar‘arra), Morocco (Fez), and Egypt
(Alexandria), with references to the latter being particularly frequent.
a special word for it and, most significantly, one not found in the
Bible or in Talmudic literature (nor registered in any Hebrew
dictionary), but one much used and obviously coined in the Geniza
period. It is sin'uth, "hatred", a Jew-baiter being called sone, "a hater".
One thousand years later, various eyewitness accounts written throughout the 19th
century illustrated the prolonged historical continuity of this
theological Islamic Antisemitism. Edward William Lane, the renowned
Arabic lexicographer, recorded his observations of Egyptian society in
1835. Lane's testimony on the difference between the attitude of
Egyptian Muslims toward the Jews and the Christians again highlights
the influence of Koran 5:82:
Lane further notes,
[the Jews] are held in the utmost contempt and abhorrence by the
Muslims in general, and they are said to bear a more inveterate hatred
than any other people to the Muslims and the Muslim religion. It is
said, in the Koran [quoting 5:82] "Thou shalt surely find the most
violent all men to those who have believed to be the Jews..."
century accounts validate and expand upon Lane's narrative. For
example, the French surgeon A.B. Clot who resided in Egypt from 1825
to1848, and served Muhammad Ali as a medical adviser, earning the
honorific title, "Bey," made these confirmatory observations written in
1840, five years after Lane's travelogue first appeared in 1835:
is a common saying among the Muslims in this country, "Such one hates
me with the hate of the Jews." We cannot wonder, then, that the Jews
are detested far more than are the Christians. Not long ago, they used
often to be jostled in the streets of Cairo, and sometimes beaten for
merely passing on the right hand of a Muslim. At present, they are less
oppressed: but still they scarcely ever dare to utter a word of abuse
when reviled or beaten unjustly by the meanest Arab or Turk; for many a
Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation of
uttering disrespectful words against the Koran or the Prophet. It is
common to hear an Arab abuse his jaded ass, and, after applying to him
various opprobrious epithets, end by calling the beast a Jew.
century eyewitness account from Jerusalem by the missionary Gregory
Wortabet, (published in 1856) captures these routine sentiments, which
Wortabet attributes to Koranic verses referring to the Jews as apes and
pigs (Koran 2:65, 5:60, and 7:166), as well as the canonical hadith
about Muhammad's reputed poisoning by an ancient Khaybar Jewess:
Israelite race is the one that the Muslims hate the most. They think
that the Jews hate Islam more than any other nation...Speaking of a
fierce enemy, the Muslims say: "He hates me the way the Jews hate us."
During the past century, the Israelites were often put to death because
they were accused rightly or wrongly to have something disrespectful
about the Koran.
hateful attitudes directed at the Jews specifically, persisted among
Egyptian Muslims, as recorded in 1873 by Moritz Lüttke:
The Jew is still an object of scorn, and nowhere is the name of "Yahoodi (Jew)"more
looked down upon than here in the city of his fathers. One day, as I
was passing the Damascus gate, I saw an Arab hurrying on his donkey
amid imprecations such as the following:"Emshi ya Ibn-el-Yahoodi (Walk, thou son of a Jew)! Yulaan abuk ya Ibn-el-Yahoodi (Cursed be thy father, thou son of a Jew)!"
I need not give any more illustrations of the manner in which the man
went on. The reader will observe, that the man did not curse the
donkey, but the Jew, the father of the donkey. Walking up to him, I
said, "Why do you curse the Jew? What harm has he done you?"
"El Yahoodi khanzeer (the Jew is a hog)!", answered the man.
"How do you make that out?", I said. "Is not the Jew as good as you or I?"
"Ogh!", ejaculated the man, his eyes twinkling with fierce rage, and his brow knitting.
By this time he was getting out of my hearing. I was pursuing my walk, when he turned round, and said, "El Yahoodi khanzeer! Khanzeer el Yahoodi! (The Jew is a hog! A hog is a Jew!)"
I must tell the reader, that, in the Mahomedan vocabulary, there is no
word lower than a hog, that animal being in their estimation the most
defiled of animals; and good Mahomedans are prohibited by the Koran
from eating it. The Jew, in their estimation, is the vilest of the
human family, and is the object of their pious hatred, perhaps from the
recollection that a Jewess of Khaibar first undermined the health of
the prophet by infusing poison into his food. Hence a hog and a Jew are
esteemed alike in the eye of a Moslem, both being the lowest of their
kind; and now the reader will better understand the meaning of the
man's words, "El Yahoodi khanzeer!"
Jacob Landau's modern analysis of Egyptian Jewry in the 19th
century elucidates the predictable outcome of these bigoted archetypes
"constantly repeated in various forms"-the escalation from rhetorical
to physical violence against Jews:
Muslim hates no other religion as he hates that of the Jews...even now
that all forms of political oppression have ceased, at a time when such
great tolerance is shown to the Christian population, the Arabs still
bear the same contemptuous hatred of the Jews. It is a commonplace
occurrence, for example, for two Arabs reviling each other to call each
other Ibn Yahudi (or "son of a Jew") as the supreme insult...it should
be mentioned that in these cases, they pronounce the word Yahudi in a
violent and contemptuous tone that would be hard to reproduce.
years ago (1974) Bat Ye'or published a remarkably foresighted analysis
of the Islamic antisemitism and resurgent jihadism in her native Egypt,
being packaged for dissemination throughout the Muslim world. The
primary, core Antisemitic and jihadist motifs were Islamic, derived
from Islam's foundational texts, on to which European, especially Nazi
elements were grafted.
...it is interesting to note that even the fallahin,
the Egyptian peasantry (almost all of them Muslim) certainly did not
know many Jews at close quarters, but nevertheless would revile them.
The enmity some Muslims felt for the Jews incited them to violence,
persecution, and physical assault, as in 1882...Hostility was not
necessarily the result of envy, for many Jews were poverty-stricken and
even destitute and were sometimes forced to apply for financial
assistance to their co-religionists abroad.
uncomfortable examination of Islamic doctrines and history is required
in order to understand the enduring phenomenon of Muslim Jew hatred,
which dates back to the origins of Islam. 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 - -Koran, 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. We can no longer view
Muslim Jew hatred -- including annihilationist strains of this apocalyptic hatred --
as a "borrowed phenomenon," seen primarily, let alone exclusively,
through the prism of Nazism and the Holocaust, the tragic legacy of
Judeophobic Christian traditions, or "The Protocols of the Elders of
Zion" from Czarist Russia.
pejorative characteristics of Jews as they are described in Muslim
religious texts are applied to modern Jews. Anti-Judaism and
anti-Zionism are equivalent -- due to the inferior status of Jews in
Islam, and because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the
Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin
against Allah. Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad. Here
the Pan-Arab and anti-Western theses that consider Israel as an
advanced instrument of the West in the Islamic world, come to reinforce
religious anti-Judaism. The religious and political fuse in a purely
Islamic context onto which are grafted foreign elements. If, on
the doctrinal level, Nazi influence is secondary to the Islamic base,
the technique with which the Antisemitic material has been reworked,
and the political purposes being pursued, present striking similarites
with Hitler's Germany.
anti-Jewish opinions have been widely spread in Arab nationalist
circles since the 1930s is not in doubt. But their confirmation at [Al]
Azhar [University] by the most important authorities of Islam enabled
them to be definitively imposed, with the cachet of infallible
authenticity, upon illiterate masses that were strongly attached to
And the jihad against the Jews is but one aspect-albeit primal-of the jihad to establish global Islamic hegemony.
Julien Benda, in his classic 1928 La Trahison de Clercs
(The Treason of the Intellectuals), decried with prophetic accuracy how
the abandonment of objective truth abetted totalitarian ideologies,
which led to the cataclysmic destruction of World War II.. La Trahison de Clercs
of our time remains the nearly complete failure of Western
intellectuals to study, understand, and acknowledge the heinous
consequences of the living institution of jihad war, and the intimately
related doctrine of Islamic antisemitism.
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