In response to The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh: A historical perspective on Muslim-Jewish relationship

Ayesha Naseem, UK
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Image: Screengrab via TalkTV

Some forms of hatred are so subtly embedded and streamlined in today’s world that they are almost imperceptible and therefore don’t always raise red flags or warnings. Where cases of anti-Semitism are carefully and sensitively recorded and handled by Western governments and media, as they should be, there is little to suggest that anti-Muslim hatred in the West is addressed with a comparable level of attention and sensitivity. The abrupt rise in cases of Islamophobia in the West in recent months has received little media or government attention. Yet the kind of division, fear and marginalisation it is creating in society is deeply felt by those directly affected – Muslims.

As Israel’s ongoing aggression in the Gaza Strip enters its fourth month, the tremors of its intensification have been felt by Muslim and Jewish communities around the world. In every sense, this is a war and aggression driven by geopolitical agendas; it has nothing to do with religion, nor is it a religious war between Muslims and Jews.

The misuse of the term anti-Semitism and the casual use of its significance and critical meaning is a discussion for another time, but for all the fear and helplessness that the images and reports from Gaza have brought, if there is one thing that has given hope, it is the solidarity between communities around the world. This has been particularly true in the case of Muslim and Jewish communities; the solidarity and the message of the need for peace and harmony hasn’t been louder. And that is why, no matter how much religion or the two religious communities are weaponised against each other by politicians and the media, it has never been about religion. It has always been about politicians and states with vested interests that they want to pursue and achieve at the cost of man-made suffering and the oppression of other human beings.

Where calls for a ceasefire to a state’s aggression against a population under siege are treated as controversial, and where simply wanting to comfortably express one’s identity as an Arab or a Muslim has become a thoughtful and worrying task that is not without fear, it sadly means that the weaponisation continues.

The weaponisation of religion and religious communities 

In the most recent example, the former editor of The Sun, British-Australian journalist Trevor Kavanagh, said on a live television programme that “by the very definition of being a Muslim, you are going to be anti-Jewish”. What made this particular statement so dangerous and worrying was that it went unchallenged by the presenters of the programme, who nodded in agreement.

Islamophobia is so streamlined in the British and wider Western media that it is so easy to perpetrate, with little to no consequences. But words have consequences, and those who face them are those whom the media and politicians have cornered and marginalised with their divisive rhetoric.

What does Islam say?

Islam obliges Muslims to believe in and respect all of the previous prophets, which inevitably makes it imperative for them to show respect and honour to other religions, their scriptures, their places of worship and their followers. Any brief study of early Islam would tell seekers that Allah the Almighty’s permission for Muslims to wage war was in part because “if Allah did not repel”, no church, synagogue or religion would be safe. (Holy Quran, Surah al-Hajj, Ch.22, V.40-41)

In the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty refers to the Jews as Ahl al-Kitab – People of the Book – and mentions their virtues as well as the wrongdoings committed by some of them, in a similar vein that has been mentioned in their own scriptures. In addition to referring to the Jews as Ahl al-Kitab – People of the Book – a title shared with the Christians, the Holy Quran also refers to the Jews as the Children of Israel (Banu Isra’il) and the Jews (al-Yahud). (“Is Islam Antisemitic? A brief study in Quran and Hadith”, Al Hakam, 29 October 2023,

There is much more that can be said to refute Kavanagh’s view in theological terms. For Islam, the Holy Quran, and the Holy Prophetsa, there was no need to incite hatred against the Jews or their religion. But for the purposes of this written piece, the specific aspect of the community and history of Muslims and Jews living together in coexistence and complete harmony is what the world needs to hear more about today.

Once a funeral procession passed in front of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and he immediately stood up out of respect. One of his companions told him that the funeral procession was that of a Jew, not a Muslim. The Holy Prophetsa replied, “Aren’t Jews also human beings?” (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. VII, pp. 899-900, Hadith 24343, Beirut: 1998)

On another occasion, after a dispute between Muslims and Jews, some Muslims misappropriated some of the fruits and animals belonging to the Jews. The Holy Prophetsa was displeased when he heard this and said: “Allah does not permit you to enter the houses of the People of the Book without their permission. Similarly, it is absolutely forbidden to pick fruits from their orchards”. (Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitabul-Kharaj wa-l-imarah wa-l-fay’, Hadith 3050). 

An example of coexistence from early Islam: The Charter of Medina

To understand the extraordinary change of leadership in Medina with the migration of the Holy Prophetsa, it is important to briefly introduce the population that lived there. Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra has written about this: 

“Ancient records show that the first people to inhabit Yathrib were the ‘Amaliq, who planted date orchards there, and built small castles. After them, the Jews inhabited this area. There are varying accounts as to whether they were of Arab origin or were immigrants. However, historians are of the general opinion that they were mostly from the Bani Isra’il, who migrated from their homeland to live in Arabia. Afterwards, various inhabitants of Arab origin also gradually converted to their religion and began to live with them. In any case, after the ‘Amaliq, the Jews took up residence in Medina, and they gradually uprooted, or expelled the ‘Amaliq, and took their place. These Jews were divided into three groups: Banu Qainuqa‘, Banu Nadir, and Banu Quraiaah. In the beginning, these three tribes generally lived together in great harmony and unity.” (The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophetssa, Vol. II, p. 2)

After the migration of the Holy Prophetsa to Medina, the population of the city had become even more diverse. By this time, there were four different groups living in Medina, as listed by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra in volume two of the book Seal of Prophets:

“FIRSTLY: The Muslims who were distributed into two branches:
(a) The Muhajirin, who were generally residents of Mecca, and had left their homeland, distressed by the persecution of the disbelievers.
(b) The Ansar, who were residents of Medina, and took it upon themselves to afford assistance and protection to Islam, and the Founder of Islam. Almost all of them were from the Aus and Khazraj tribes. 

SECONDLY: The hypocrites, i.e., those people from the Aus and Khazraj who had apparently become Muslim, but were disbelievers at heart, and would secretly conspire against Islam and the Founder of Islam. Moreover, such people were also considered as being part of this group, whose actions, despite having believed, were generally at odds with true believers. Their relations with non-Muslims remained unaltered. 

THIRDLY: The idolaters, i.e., those people from among the Aus and Khazraj who still firmly believed in polytheism. 

FOURTHLY: The Jews, who were divided into the Banu Qainuqa‘, Banu Nadir, and Banu Quraizah.” (Ibid., p. 25)

Due to these different groups and the need to avoid all forms of disagreements or conflicts, it was during the very early days after the migration that the Holy Prophetsa gathered everyone, including the Muhajirin, Aus and Khazraj and the Jewish leaders and “presented the need for a mutual treaty between the various people of Medina. Under this treaty, the future peace of the city, and the protection and welfare of different people, could be maintained; and no prospect of conflict or treachery would remain.” (Ibid., p. 26)

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra then listed the main conditions of the treaty that all sides had to abide by. These were: 

  1. “The Muslims and Jews would live together with sympathy and sincerity and would not oppress or wrong each other. 
  2. All people would enjoy religious freedom.  
  3. The lives and wealth of all citizens would be honoured and safeguarded, except that an individual was guilty of oppression or criminality. 
  4. All disputes and conflicts would be presented before the Messenger of Allah for his judgement, and all verdicts would be in accordance with Divine Command (i.e., the sharia of every specific people). 
  5. No party would set out for war without the permission of the Messenger of Allah. 
  6. If another nation waged war against the Jews or Muslims, one would stand up in defense of the other. 
  7. Similarly, if Medina was attacked everyone would defend it collectively. 
  8. The Jews would not provide any aid or protection to the Quraish of Mecca or their allies. 
  9. Every community would bear their own expenses. 
  10. This treaty would protect no tyrant, criminal, or wrongdoer from punishment or retribution.” (Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 27)

This charter, in its simplest form, gave rights to all the communities living in Medina. It strengthened mutual relations between Muslims and Jews and established a structured government. Religious and internal affairs were separated. but all the resident communities were to be governed by one law and one central government – all sides agreed that the Holy Prophetsa was to assume the role of the head of this government. 

What may appear to the modern reader to be a covenant for a people in a historical period is in fact so much more. Its terms and premises of justice and peace resonate with the world today. Not because the world of today has something similar to hold us all together on a principle of unity, but because that is what we lack and what we are missing.  If only the governments and leaders of the world would look at these principles and conditions, and if only we all lived by them, this world, which is increasingly engulfed in the fires of conflict and enmity, might find a way to peace. 

Al-Andalus Spain – Peace Between Muslims and Jews

From 711 CE until 1492 CE, Spain was Muslim Al-Andalus. It was a centre of trade, culture and theology and became a symbol of development and progress in Europe. It was also under Muslim rule that the Jewish communities of Spain flourished and enjoyed their freedoms and opportunities for growth. Not only that, but Al-Andalus became a prominent example in the history of coexistence and harmony between Muslims and Jews. 

Many Jews at that time achieved high positions because of their skills in business, literature and science. Stanley Lane-Poole, one of the foremost scholars of Islamic Spain, has written:

“Jew and Moor and Persian joined in that cultivation of learning and philosophy, arts and sciences, which pre-eminently distinguished the rule of the Saracens in the Middle Ages.” (Stanley Lane-Poole, The Moors in Spain, Darf Publishers Ltd: London, 1984, p. 24)

Turkey – a haven of coexistence and harmony between Muslims and Jews

Jewish communities had been established in ancient Turkey for many centuries, but the real population influx came after 1492 CE, when Jews and Muslims were forcibly expelled from Al-Andalus in Spain when the Christians reconquered the area. More than 150,000 Jewish refugees were welcomed to Turkey by Sultan Beyazit II. These emigrants brought with them their culture, innovative thinking, and knowledge – all of which would help them make important careers in the Ottoman Empire, including medicine, administration and politics. Turkey continued to receive waves of Jewish emigrants from Europe after the Second World War.

Muslims and Jews in Palestine

Even in Palestine, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony until the administration of Palestine was handed over to the British at the end of the First World War. The British Mandate failed to protect the interests of all communities because its main objective was to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” while ensuring the protection of the rights of the Arab majority. This was not achieved by the British and inevitably led to disputes between all sides. 

Menachem Klein comments on the growing strife of the time and the way in which the form of nationalism enforced the creation of separate identities. Klein writes: “[B]efore nationalism brutally separated the two words ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’ and required the inhabitants of Palestine to count themselves as one or the other, there were people who thought of themselves as Arab Jews […]”. (Menachem Klein, Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Hebron, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2014, p. 19). 

This explains the solidarity and coexistence under discussion here, even if it was more specifically Arab-Jewish than Muslim-Jewish,  sharing the same values of community, peace and belonging. 

Klein goes on to say: “Arab-Jewish identity differed from the Jewish-Muslim coexistence of the previous period in a number of ways. First, it grew in parallel with the attenuation of traditional identities […]. Second, Arab-Jewish identity in Palestine was very much a local identity, much more so than the religious and ethnic identities that connect their adherents to distant places and other lifestyles, such as those encompassed by the categories of Jew and Muslim. It meant more than coexistence and residing one beside the other. Lifestyles, language, and culture created a common identity that centred on a sense of belonging to a place and to the people who live there.” (Ibid., p. 20)


History is full of testimonies and evidence of the coexistence between Jews and Muslims. What has been said above is only a glimpse and, by no means, the final and complete collection of the past. However, the purpose of this brief sketch was to give a simple answer to the intolerable claim that to be a Muslim, one must be anti-Jewish.

Muslims and Jews have not only lived side by side in peace, but have also come together in times of difficulty to express the message of hope. The most recent example was in October last year in Haifa, where Arabs and Jews came together at the Ahmadiyya Mosque to spread the message of peace. The interfaith event aimed to show that even in times of tension and fear, we can hope and find a sense of belonging in the communities around us.

For if there is anything that immediately refutes and dispels Kavanagh’s accusation against Muslims, it is this comment from a Jewish guest at the interfaith event in Haifa, who said: “In my view, this gathering serves as a significant testament that demonstrates to the Islamic community, the Jewish community, and the global community at large that we can engage in meaningful dialogue that brings us together. We are not adversaries; we are allies. Together, we achieve success.”

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Courtesy of AMJ Haifa

When emotions are running high and tensions in the world are at an all-time high, it’s time for the media and politicians in the West, who claim to be the standard-bearers of freedom of thought and social harmony, to take responsibility and be the voices of hope and peace in the world. 

May Allah enable us all to be among the voices of reason and peace and may Allah give us all the ability to bring the peaceful message of Islam to the world. Amin.

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