By Rabbi Allen Maller
01 April 2017
In no way is the Qur’an anti-Judaism or anti-Jewish. However, there are people now, and there were people in the past; who have misused verses in the Qur’an for the purpose of vilifying and attacking Jews and other people of the book.
Just as some Muslims have misused verses in the Qur’an to attack and vilify Suni, Shi’a or Sufi Muslims; some Muslims, as well as some Christians and some Jews, have misused some verses from their own Holy Scriptures for unholy purposes of disrespect, disparagement and even destruction.
One has only to read about the Inquisition, and the expulsion of Jews, and then Muslims from Spain, to realize how easily the teaching of religious contempt can lead people to violence and persecution. The thirty year was between Catholics and Protestants in Germany killed one third of the German population.
And we can still see examples of the religious misuse of verses of Sacred Scripture to promote hatred and violence in many places in the world today: all done with the excuse of speaking the truth in the name of God.
With the Muslim expansion into Syria and Egypt, Muslims encountered large numbers of Eastern Orthodox priests, many of whom, as they learned about Islam, began to attack it. Most of these attacks were verbal but some were in writings that have survived till the present.
For example, Saint John of Damascus (c. 676–749 C.E.), who was familiar with Islam and Arabic wrote in the second chapter of his book, The Fount of Wisdom, titled “Concerning Heresies”, a series of discussions between Christians and Muslims. John claimed an Arian (heretic) monk (Bahira) influenced Muhammad, and viewed Islamic doctrines as nothing more than a hodgepodge culled from the Bible.
Saint John states that “Muslims accuse us of being idolaters, because we venerate the cross, which they abominate. And we answer them: ‘How is it, then, that you rub yourselves against a (black) stone in your Ka’ba and kiss and embrace it?’ Then some of them say that Abraham had relations with Hagar upon it, and others say that he tied the camel to it, when he was going to sacrifice Isaac.
Then we say: ‘Then, just because Abraham had relations with a woman on it, or tied a camel to it, you are not ashamed to kiss it, yet you blame us for venerating the cross of Christ by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the Devil was destroyed.’ This stone that they talk about is a head of that Aphrodite (idol) whom they used to worship and whom they called Khabár. Even to the present day, traces of the carving are visible on it to careful observers.”
Saint John continues later: “In the chapter The Table, Mohammed says that the Christ asked God for a table and that it was given Him. For God, he says, said to Him: ‘I have given to you and yours an incorruptible table.’ And, while he ordered them to eat some of the things forbidden by the Law, he ordered them to abstain from others. He furthermore absolutely forbade the drinking of wine.
And in the chapter The Heifer, he (Muhammad) says some other stupid and ridiculous things, which, because of their great number, I think must be passed over. He made it a law that they be circumcised, the women too, and ordered them not to keep the Sabbath, and not to be baptized.”
These Christian anti-Islam polemics grew stronger and stronger over the next three and a half centuries until the Crusades turned them into violence and war. It is not surprising that Muslims answered the polemics with increasingly harsh words; and began to interpret the Qur’an message of religious toleration in a narrow minded exclusionist manner. Thus, some people who prefer to hate and vilify their rivals rather than love and respect them, misunderstood verses in their own Sacred Scriptures to justify their own feelings and negative thoughts.
An excellent example of misguidance by Satan is the frequent misuse of verses from the Qur’an that apply to some Christians and Jews, as if they applied to all Christians and Jews. For example, defining Christians and Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs” is widespread today in religious, educational and public discourse in the Arab world. In a weekly sermon (April 2002) the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Al-Tantawi, one of the most senior authorities in the Sunni Muslim world, described Jews as “the enemies of Allah, sons of pigs and apes.”
In truth, the Qur’an never states all Jews were turned into apes or pigs; but clearly states that only some Jews were: “…They are those whom Allah has cast aside and on whom His wrath has fallen and of whom He has made some as apes and swine…” (5:60); “…You have surely known the end of those from amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath, in consequence of which We condemned them: Be ye like apes, despised” (2:65).
That in every generation there were some Jews who failed to live according to the covenant that God had made with B’nai Israel- the Jewish People is correct; just as in every generation some Muslims within the Muslim Ummah have failed to live according to Islamic teachings. In every religious community of human beings there are many individuals who act like apes and pigs, and then fail to repent and amend their behaviour. To them the Qur’an states: “When, instead of amending, they became more persistent in the pursuit of that which they were forbidden, We condemned them: Be ye as apes, despised” (7:166).
The Qur’an states specifically: “They are not all alike. Some of the People of the Book are firmly committed to the truth. They recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of night, and remain in the state of [prayer] prostration before their Lord.” (3:113 – Qadri) Again we see the explicit declaration that the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) are not all alike. Some “…are firmly committed to the truth. They recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of night, and remain in the state of [prayer] prostration before their Lord.” and some do not; just as some Muslims pray every day and are committed to the truth, and some Muslims do not.
This misuse of Sacred Scripture was used against both internal sectarians and external rival religions; and was always done with the excuse of speaking the truth in the name of God. The Qur’an wisely warns us that every messenger’s recitations are subject to Satan’s tampering in order to test those whose hearts are diseased and hardened: “We did not send before you any messenger or prophet except that when he spoke [recited], Satan threw in it [misunderstandings]. But Allah abolishes that which Satan throws in; then Allah makes precise His verses. And Allah is Knowing and Wise so He may make what Satan throws in, a trial for those within whose hearts is disease and those hard of heart. Indeed, the wrongdoers are in extreme dissension.” (Qur’an 22:52-3)
Allah does not prevent Satan from throwing in hateful, narrow minded, sectarian understandings of Qur’anic verses as “a trial for those within whose hearts is disease and those hard of heart”. It is up to those who pursue virtue to oppose and defeat extreme wrongdoers whose hearts are diseased.
Anyone who uses the words of Torah, Gospel or Qur’an to vilify and hurt others is causing extreme dissension; and thus his or her words are Satan’s misunderstanding. Anyone who uses the words of Torah, Gospel or Qur’an to advocate or defend terrorism and oppression is an agent of Satan’s misunderstanding.