Abdul Malik, USA
In his article on the Christian Concern website, “Is Islam anti-Semitic”, Tim Dieppe, Christian Concern’s Head of Public Policy, gives an affirmative reply. Dieppe argues the recent spike in anti-Semitism found in the UK is not due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argues Islam is inherently anti-Semitic.
The purpose of this response is to examine Dieppe’s article and provide a response structured on Islamic understanding. At the onset, we want to make clear that anti-Semitism is evil – it has no place in Islam and must be eradicated.
What is anti-Semitism?
Dieppe tries to challenge the narrative that the modern conflict in the Middle East is responsible for anti-Semitism – he believes it is inherent in Islam. The author quotes eight verses from the Holy Quran that all deal with Jews, in his attempt to prove the core of Islam promotes anti-Semitism. Dieppe, however, refuses to tell us how those verses are anti-Semitic. Instead, he says:
“These verses require no comment – their antisemitism is explicit.”
What is anti-Semitic about these verses that Dieppe finds obvious? Dieppe does not even give us a definition of anti-Semitism to help lead the reader to his conclusions. We will define anti-Semitism and examine the respective verses in light to see if anti-Semitism is justified.
Dieppe wants the reader to trust his judgement without telling us. The reality is that politics lends a great deal of weight to the definition of anti-Semitism and unfortunately, the term has been abused much by proponents of the term. For this reason, we will use the definition of anti-Semitism provided by the Pro-Israel advocates in the USA so that Dieppe, as a self-proclaimed champion of the Jewish people, will be unable to challenge us on the definition we use of anti-Semitism.
The ADL states that anti-Semitism is:
“The belief or behaviour hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.” (www.adl.org/anti-semitism)
Anti-Semitism, according to the ADL, has to do with the promotion of hatred towards the Jewish people.
We would have to find some proof that Jews are considered inferior in some way to Muslims. We would need to find evidence that the sacred texts promote hatred of Jews. Furthermore, there would have to also be an ethical system in Islam that promotes the oppression of Jews.
With the ADL’s definition of anti-Semitism in mind, we wonder which religion fits the bill of anti-Semitism more: Islam or Christianity?
‘Anti-Semitism in the Quran’
Let’s analyse the verses Dieppe presents as ‘proof’ of the supposed anti-Semitism in the Quran.
“Thou shalt certainly find the Jews and those who associate partners [with God] to be the most vehement of men in enmity against the believers.” (Surah al-Mai’dah, Ch.5: V.83)
Dieppe’s citation of this verse appears to be anti-Semitic at face value. The verse is telling us there is animosity among some Jews towards Muslims and so it seems the Quran is categorising all Jews as being spiteful towards Muslims. Is this the case?
The first problem is that Dieppe does not cite the whole verse:
“Thou shalt certainly find the Jews and those who associate partners [with God] to be the most vehement of men in enmity against the believers. And thou shalt assuredly find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ to be the nearest of them in love to the believers. That is because amongst them are savants and monks and because they are not proud.” (Surah al-Mai’dah, Ch.5: V.83)
Why does Dieppe not cite the whole verse? The rest of the verse tells us that Christians are the closest to the Muslim community because they are not given to arrogance. The verse is making a comparison between the respective communities of the Jews and Christians towards the message of Islam, especially in the era of the Prophetsa.
Dieppe does not want the reader to know the positive outlook Islam has towards Christianity because it goes against his anti-Islam agenda. We point this fact out not to provide a sufficient answer to the question of anti-Semitism but to merely show the author’s deception.
The question is whether the Holy Quran is categorising all of the Jews as having enmity towards the message of Islam. People who attack Islam may interpret this verse that way, but the notion that this passage has condemned all Jews is problematic from the contextual analysis.
In Surah Aal-e-Imran we are told the following about the Jews and the Christians: “They are not [all] alike. Among the People of the Book there is a party who stand [by their covenant]; they recite the word of Allah in the hours of night and prostrate themselves [before Him].” (Surah Aal-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.114)
Surah Aal-e-Imran makes it clear that not all Jews (and Christians) are on problematic terms with God and that there exist People of the Book who are righteous.
Indeed, chapter 5, verse 83 never says “all” the Jews are hateful and this is consistent with chapter 3, verse 114, which explains the differences between those from the people of the book who are on the right path and those who are not. Chapter 5, verse 83 is referring to the Jews as a general community at the time of opposing Islam but does not condemn every single Jew.
At this point, we want to ask what Dieppe’s disagreement is with chapter 5, verse 83 as a Christian. To answer this question, we need to first see what the Holy Quran says about why there was animosity between the Jews and Muslims.
A few verses earlier, the Quran says:
“Thou shalt see many of them taking the disbelievers as [their] friends. Surely, evil is that which they themselves have sent on before for themselves; [with the result] that Allah is displeased with them; and in [this] punishment they shall abide.” (Surah al-Mai’dah, Ch.5: V.81)
The Jews were found allying with the polytheists against the Muslim community to create discord. What is the meaning of “that which they themselves have sent on before for themselves; [with the result] that Allah is displeased with them”?
The Jewish convert to Islam, Muhammad Asad, states this refers to the stubborn belief that the Jews are “God’s chosen people” and their consequent notion that revelation is confined only to them. The belief that the Jews are God’s chosen people is fundamental to Judaism. Moreover, it is a tenet of Orthodox Judaism that God refrained from giving gentiles revelation after the time of Moses.
Is the author blissfully ignorant that the Jews made the same claim in the New Testament? Did he not read the passage where Jesusas tells the Jews “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise children for Abraham.” (Mathew, 3:9, NIV)
Dieppe knows very well that the Jews were hostile to both Islam and Christianity, but is he willing to condemn the New Testament for saying the same?
It is a mystery why Dieppe chooses to overlook chapter 5, verse 79 of the Quran, a passage just two verses prior:
“Those amongst the children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and used to transgress.” (Surah al-Mai’dah, Ch.5: V.79)
In this verse, we learn that the Jews engaged in disbelief and were cursed by God for their transgressions. Furthermore, the verse tells us that both the prophets Davidas and Jesusas cursed the Jews for their rebellion against God. The verse displays the same sentiments as 5:81 – so why doesn’t Dieppe add this passage to his list of “anti-Semitic” verses?
The Holy Quran makes the bold claim that the Israelite prophets pointed out the flaws in their people. If this was a lie, then surely Dieppe could mention the problem with the passage and have the case book closed. But Dieppe knows, on the pain of proclaiming biblical illiteracy, that the Quran’s claim is correct. Commenting on chapter 5, verse 79, Asad lists four passages from the bible where Israel is severely rebuked for their transgressions (Psalm 78:21-22,31-33; Mathew 12:33-34; 23:33-35) where both Davidas and Jesusas say exactly what the Quran claims that they say. Davidas said that God was “furious” against Israel for their sins and that his people did not even believe or trust in God. Elsewhere, Davidas mentions the anger of God against the Jews and how the Almighty will “cut” down the sturdiest of the Jews, and how they persisted in disbelief despite the miracles shown to them.
The sentiments of Jesus are even harsher in Mathew 23 about the shedding of blood on the hands of the Jews. Indeed, the language of these passages in rebuking the Jews is harsher than that of the Quran.
So, we wonder if Dieppe is willing to condemn these passages of the Bible as being anti-Semitic.
“And the Jews say, Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say, the Messiah is the son of Allah; that is what they say with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before them. Allah’s curse be on them! How are they turned away!” (Surah at-Taubah, Ch.9: V.30)
Dieppe believes this verse is anti-Semitic because the Quran says that the Jews referred to Ezra as a son of God. But is Dieppe willing to condemn the Quran as “anti-Christian” since it also condemns Christians for making a similar claim about Jesus? If that is the case, then Dieppe has no choice but to claim that Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic because the Jews reject the belief that Jesusas is part of the Trinitarian Godhead and even the messiah. Christianity intrinsically condemns the Jews for not having that belief. Moreover, the obvious mention of two peoples (Jews and Christians) makes a mockery of the notion that the passage is anti-Semitic, as anti-Semitism, by definition, is limited to the singling out of the Jews. This is the same problem as with the author’s citation of 5:51. To merely point out that someone’s belief is in error is not evidence of animosity (or anti-Semitism) but perhaps Dieppe does not understand the difference between constructive criticism and hatred.
Verse 9:30, as well as the seven other passages commented on by the author, have to do with criticism towards the Jews for their failure to live up to the divine standards given to them, their hostility towards Islam and their willful transgression. Is the mere pointing out the flaws of Israel anti-Semitic in itself? In that case, one would have to condemn the entire bible as anti-Semitic. Even as early as the Torah, Mosesas felt compelled to testify with the heavens and earth as a witness that the future generations of Israel would be destroyed for their transgressions (Deuteronomy 4:26).
Surah al-Mai’dah 5:65 is cited in which the Jews mock the Muslims by saying, “the hands of Allah are chained.” The meaning of the verse is that the Muslims did not get divine assistance quickly enough, so the Jews mocked the Muslims by claiming that God must be stingy with them. Allah responds in the verse by stating that both God’s hands are open and that the Jews’ assertions are based on disbelief. Is Dieppe upset that the Quran accuses the Jews of transgressions? Did he not read what Isaiah says about the Jews, “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4) Perhaps Dieppe is upset that the Quran claims the Jews asserted that God was stingy with the believers. In that case, he would have to accuse Jacob of anti-Semitism, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis, 30:2)
Dieppe quotes in a similar vein 3:182, which also has the Jews saying “God is poor while we are rich.”
The Jews mocked the believers for having to spend their wealth for the cause of Islam. But did the Jews remember what the prophets said about their destruction for being stingy? The prophet Malachi warned the Jews that their withholding of tithes would result in severe punishment. (Malachi 3:6-12) The Jews and their priests brought the lowest-grade produce and livestock to the temple for sacrifice. (Malachi 1:7) They should have headed the wisdom of Solomon. People curse the one who hoards grain. (Proverbs 11:26)
“And We revealed to the children of Israel in the Book, (saying), ‘You will surely do mischief in the land twice, and you will surely become excessively overbearing.’” (Surah Bani Israil, Ch.17: V.5)
We do not understand why Dieppe quoted this verse as proof of the Quran’s supposed anti-Semitism. The Quran explains that the children of Israel were told twice about their corruption. Did not Mosesas use stronger language against Israel by warning them of their future corruption? “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.” (Deuteronomy, 31:15-16)
Mosesas warned Israel of their fate if they refused to tread the right path: “But, if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy, 30:17-18)
That the Jews killed their prophets is clear in the New Testament. The false notion that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesusas on the cross has led to the death and persecution of Jews for centuries. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_deicide)
The New Testament has been accused of anti-Semitism for this very reason as it is clear the Jews persecuted Jesus Christ and took the leading role in his death sentence.
Are the passages concerning the Jews killing prophets in the Quran anti-Semitic? GS Reynolds uses the term “anti-Jewish” to refer to these Quranic verses. (On the Qur’ān and the Theme of Jews as ‘Killers of the Prophets’, Gabriel Said Reynolds, 2012, Al-Bayan Journal) In his opinion, the origins of the Quranic notions of prophetic side lie in the Christian sentiments against the Jews prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia. So if this was the case then Christianity is still to blame for the Quran’s “anti-Semitism.”
From the Islamic perspective, though, the point of reiterating the Jewish past is not to give a history lesson. The Quran only uses the stories to shine a light to give lessons on contemporary problems, so, in essence, God Almighty has warned the Muslims that they could befall the same fate as the Jews if they transgress the path laid down for them by the Quran.
Any condemnation by the Quran of the Jews or any other people is a warning for the Muslims and not a way for them to boast about how they are “better” than the people of the past.