Thanks to Weasel Zippers:
* Despite the tens of thousands of hate preachers, 1400 years of jihad warfare against the world, more than 12.000 Islam-motivated terrorist attacks since 9/11 and then some; Â there is still an army of spin-doctors and gullible loons out there who would have you believe that Islam is somehow benevolent and peaceful. At this point it is up to you, dear reader, to educate yourself and to make up your own mind, in case you haven’t done so yet. Perhaps I will post a full rebuttal later when I find the time, in the meantime, the comments are all yours. Please keep it civil!
Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
I recently spoke on Islam and my new book at a local senior center. As members trickled in, a white-haired man approached me and announced, “I have never known an Arab or a Muslim who wasn’t anti-Semitic.”
I replied, “I’m not anti-Semitic and I have many Jewish friends.”
“Congratulations,” he said sardonically.
I sighed and smiled wryly.
“You know, ” I said, “when Arab Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638, they invited the Jews – who’d been banished by the former Christian rulers – back to live and worship in the city. They left the Christians free to live and visit the holy places, too.”
Seeing no response on his still face, I continued. “In the seventh century, Muhammad urged his followers to fast on Yom Kippur, in solidarity with the Jews. The Qur’an states that fasting is prescribed for Muslims, just as it was prescribed for those (the Jews) before them.”
After a pause, he said, “Thank you. I didn’t know that.” Turning, he shuffled to his seat.
I couldn’t spare the time then, but later I grieved that Islam is perceived as anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism has no place is Islam, just as Islamophobia has no place in Judaism. For their time, these two religions sought to decrease violence and bigotry in the world. The weight of history, if we can but remember it, is on the side of pluralism.
Ali-Karamali then goes on to point to specific examples throughout history of muslim tolerance, especially towards Jews, often in stark contrast to the Christian realms. The point here is not to point to the forgotten glories of pluralism in the past, but to recognize that the admitted fact of modern anti-Semitism by muslims is a function of the modern age and not, as her interlocutor implied, something embedded within the fabric of Islam itself.Â
Self-styled experts on Islam will point to various pieces of evidence from the Qur’an or historical record, of course. The most often-invoked example is the famed verse from the Qur’an which allegedly refers to Jews as “apes and pigs” (5:60). However, a simple look at the surrounding verses, even in common translation, reveals thatÂ the Qur’an makes no such insult whatsoever. Much is also made of a single Jewish tribe, theÂ Banu Qurayza, who the Prophet SAW is said to have slaughtered; in reality,Â the Qurayza betrayed Muhammad SAW in an wartime alliance and conspired with his enemies to have him killed. The Prophet SAW left their fate in the hands of an arbitrator, whom the Qurayza approved. That arbitrator decided the Qurayza men would be beheaded and the women and children spared. It was brutal by our modern standards – but considering the fate ofDresdenÂ orÂ Hiroshima, perhaps not as brutal as it could have been.
TheÂ evidence of historical muslim tolerance and pluralism, especially in contrast toÂ Christendom, is not a matter of debate. The historical record of Islamic tolerance towards the Jews is important to reiterate and emphasize, because it shows that a modern articulation of religious pluralism can be made within an Islamic context, and provides ammunition against those muslims who seek to use hatred and fear of Jews to their own evil ends. This is a battle you would expect Jews to support, as we mainstream muslims seek to reclaim the language of faith from an extremist minority.
Unfortunately, in that battle against muslim anti-Semitism, Jewish Islamophobia plays an obstructing role. A great example is the response to Ali-Karamali’s piece by my Beliefnet colleague, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, whoÂ accuses her of whitewashing Islamic history:
Even if one makes a solid case for the relative merits of Islam over Christianity vis a vis the past treatment of Jews, which is entirely appropriate, we can not ignore the second-class status imposed upon Jews even under the crescent. Of course, as Ali-Karamali proudly points out, Jews were honored as people of the book, but they were hardly equal citizens. Jews were also relegated to the status of protected minorities forced to pay a Jewish head tax.Â
A good comparison may be to the status of Black Americans living under Jim Crow laws in more tolerant communities. Her failure to point that out turns her reflections on Muslim anti-Semitism into little more than patting her own tradition on the back, and misses an important opportunity for the kind of balanced exploration which is needed if she wants to be heard by those she hopes to convince.Â
This deeply saddens me. For a learned man such as Rabbi Hirschfield to equate the flowering of Jewish civilization in the classical Islamic period with the barbaric Jim Crow laws of the 20th century, is to betray a shocking ignorance of Jewish and American histories alike. It seems that the rabbi has been reading too many polemics by Bat Ye’or instead of gripping historical memoirs likeÂ Memories of Eden, the story of the Jews of Baghdad (recently andÂ expertly reviewedÂ in the London Review of Books by Adam Shatz -Â highlyÂ recommended). Far from Rabbi Hirschfield’s grim invocation of the dreaded Dhimmitude, Shatz points out that that the Jewish community played an outsized and prosperous role in Iraqi society:
Recent polemics – and pro-Israeli websites – have made much of the indignities of Jewish life under Ottoman rule, seeking to expose the ‘myth’ of Muslim tolerance. This tolerance, it’s argued, is a euphemism for dependence on the goodwill of capricious, if not cruel Muslim overlords. The memoirs of Iraqi Jews, however, tell a very different story: Shamash, who was born in 1912 and spent the last twenty years of her life recording her memories of ‘my Baghdad, my native land’, is not alone in describing her family’s life before the arrival of British troops in World War One as ‘paradise’.Â Memories of Edenprovides as sumptuous an account of the world of the Baghdadi Jewish elite as we’re likely to get.Â
Jewish life under the Ottomans wasn’t without its hardships: few Jews lived in palaces like the Shamash family, and as members of a non-Muslim ‘millet’ community they were obliged to pay a discriminatory tax, but they were mostly left to look after their own affairs, and further advance seemed inevitable. The vast majority lived in cities, apart from a handful of Kurdish Jews. As bankers, traders and money-lenders the wealthier members of the community had made themselves indispensable: so much so that Baghdad’s markets shut down on the Jewish Sabbath, rather than the Muslim day of rest. By the 19th century, Baghdad was famous for its Jewish dynasties – the Sassoons, the Abrahams, the Ezras, the Kadouries – with their empires in finance and imports (cotton, tobacco, silk, tea, opium) that stretched all the way to Manchester, Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore, Rangoon, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
When Balfour announced Britain’s support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, leaving Mesopotamia for the kibbutz was the furthest thing from the minds of Baghdad’s Jews. ‘The announcement aroused no interest in Mesopotamia, nor did it leave a ripple on the surface of local political thought in Baghdad,’ Arnold Wilson, the civil commissioner in Baghdad, reported to the Foreign Office after a meeting with a group of Iraqi Jewish notables. Palestine, they had said, ‘is a poor country and Jerusalem a bad town to live in’
What of Dhimmitude, then? was it really second-class status as the good rabbi claims? Any number ofÂ excellent historicalÂ andÂ academic resourcesÂ are available for the casual reader to inform themselves and draw their own judgments. But even the worst excesses of the dhimmi system can not, in conscience or honest sincerity, be equated even remotely to the trueÂ barbaric evil that was Jim Crow.Â
The truth of why the muslim world today is host to the infection of anti-Semitism is a complex one. Anti-Semitism is a European import, and the complex interplay of post-colonialism, the fall of the Ottomans, and the founding of Israel all play a role in its transmission to the muslim polity. However, while no one can or should deny that anti-Semitism is a modern problem that must be faced head-on without apology, those who insist on tying it to the Islamic faith are themselves, in a way, perpetuating this status quo. Islamophobia is no answer to anti-Semitism, but rather its ally. In this, Jews and muslims must stand together in opposition.
“Jews are NOT apes and pigs”
The verse she is referring to isÂ 5:60Â – while I do not deny that the verse has been deliberately misused to justify calling Jews “apes and pigs” – it has nothing to do with Jews. This is a group of ayats that are a kind of dialouge. It is confusing to follow but here is the general gist:Â
5:57Â – (addressing Muslims) – do not choose as *guardians* (actual wordÂ
used) those people who follow earlier Revelations but not Islam (ie, JewsÂ
and Christians), and people who are outright disbelievers (in Allah). TheÂ
issue of Guardian goes back to 5:55, which has an extensive history in andÂ
of itself, as relates to Ali.Â
5:58Â – Some ignorant Jews and Christians mock you (as a muslim) and yourÂ
Azaan (call to prayer) because they do not understand what you are doingÂ
(they do not see it as a form of worship). This should not dissuade you fromÂ
doing your actions (duties to Allah).Â
(personal comment: I have been ridiculed while praying in parking lots. MyÂ
wife and I used to go to movies before Baby arrived, and sometimes theÂ
only time we could catch a show was right around sunset. So we would do ourÂ
obligatory prayers in the parking lot. To be honest, we are reluctant to do thatÂ
nowadays, but this verse demands that we persevere despite that paranoia)Â
5:59Â – addressing Jews and Christians – “is the only reason you hate usÂ
(Muslims) because we believe in Allah, and the revelations that came beforeÂ
(which you also believe in)? Is this because most of you do not follow yourÂ
own scriptures as well as we follow them (the same scriptures) ?Â
at this point the Muslim understands that they are inheritors to the sameÂ
scriptures that Jews and Christians follow. However, they are a target ofÂ
ridicule by some in these groups for adherence to these scriptures.Â
5:60Â – addressing Muslims again – Do you want to know who is worse (thanÂ
such ignorant Jews and Christians. Note, not ALL, see 5:58)? Those who areÂ
worse are those who Allah has cursed, had wrath upon, had damned to be apesÂ
and swine.. etc . these are far, far worse than Jews or Christians (who mockÂ
the azaan, etc.)Â
5:61Â – The group that is discussed inÂ 5:60Â is here revealed to be those whoÂ
say (on the surface) I believe in Allah but who actually do not, and seek toÂ
cause dissent and turmoil within the community of believers.Â
Clearly, the average Jew or Christian who follows their own scriptures, orÂ
who at least does not ridicule Muslim belief, is clearly not the target ofÂ
5:59, let aloneÂ 5:60.Â
5:61Â is taken by Sunnis to be generally aimed at evil people. Shi’a considerÂ
it aimed at very specific groups of Muslims who subverted the Prophet’sÂ
wishes, especially against Ali. This entire section has very little to doÂ
with Jews and Christians per se and has everything to do with the internalÂ
struggles of the followers of the religion against the Hypocrites. TheseÂ
Hypocrites were a significant threat to Islam at the outset, and saw theÂ
best way to destroy it by trojaning it and working at cross purposes fromÂ
VerseÂ 4:91Â also has been used by detractors of Islam and by politically-motivated psychotics like OBL. It is commonly represented as enjoining the believer to “kill all the infidels”.Â
But for a full contextual understanding, it is necessary to readÂ 4:88Â onwards toÂ 4:91. Also note thatÂ 4:91has been short-quoted by critics, the full verse is:Â
“Ye will find others who desire that they should have security from you, andÂ
security from their own folk. So often as they are returned to hostilityÂ
they are plunged therein. If they keep not aloof from you nor offer youÂ
peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye findÂ
them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.”Â
This is clearly referring to people who keep attacking you, in which case you areÂ
justified in waging war out of defense.Â
VerseÂ 4:91Â itself has no justification for global war against infidels, it is self-contained in discussing other groups who just wont leave you alone. But the entire thread fromÂ 4:88Â up toÂ 4:91Â is worth reading for even more subtlety.Â