Defaming Religions in Politics and Language


“Anti-Semitism is bigotry and racism. Like all racism it is wrong and it has no place in Islam or in Islamic scripture. The Qur'an does not allow hate against any race, nationality or color. God says in the Qur'an: "O people, We have created you from a male and female and made you into races and tribes so that you may know each other. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of God are those who are the most pious among you. And Allah knows every thing and is aware of every thing." (49:13)

Thus wrote Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi in an article titled “Is There Anti Semitism in The Qur'an?” which was published by IslamiCity. As a Rabbi I agree with most of what Dr. Sidddiqi wrote, but with all his good intentions, he still fell into some unintended linguistic traps.

Dr. Siddiqi also states clearly that; “As with all scriptures, passages in the Qur'an must be read within the proper context. The Qur'an was not just revealed for Muslims, but for all people, including Jews and Christians. Prophet Muhammad was in the line of previous Prophets of God, including Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and the Qur'an is in the line of previous scriptures revealed by God. The Qur'an does not condemn the Semitic race and, in fact, accords Jews a special status given their shared prophetic traditions with Islam.

“The Qur'an instead criticizes those Jews who turned away from God's authentic message and admonishes those who scorned and ridiculed Prophet Muhammad and the message of the Qur'an. Such criticism is similar to the criticism against Jews found in other scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible, and should be taken by all people as a reminder and warning against forsaking and straying from the authentic message of God. Such specific criticism has never been interpreted by learned scholars of the Qur'an to incite hatred against Jewish people and should not be confused with anti-Semitism. Taking a few passages from the Qur'an out of proper historical and textual context will not give a proper understanding of the religious scripture.

“The Qur'an speaks extensively about the Children of Israel (Bani Isra'il) and recognizes that the Jews (al-Yahud) are, according to lineage, descendants of Prophet Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. They were chosen by God for a mission (44:32) and God raised among them many Prophets and bestowed upon them what He had not bestowed upon many others (5:20). He exalted them over other nations of the earth (2:47, 122) and granted them many favors.”

All of these observations are correct. But then Dr. Dr. Siddiqi, like most people, innocently falls into a language trap as can be seen in his next paragraph.

“Passages in the Qur'an which criticize the Jews fall primarily into two categories. First, the Qur'an speaks of how some of the Children of Israel turned away from the authentic message revealed to them. They disobeyed God and showed ingratitude for God's favors on them. They lost the original Torah and introduced their own words and interpretations in the divine books. They became arrogant and claimed that they were God's children and went about vaunting their position as His most chosen people (4:1555:13, 18). They also brazenly committed sins and their rabbis and priests did not stop them from doing so (5:63, 79).”

The problem begins when Dr. Siddiqi switches to pronouns and omits important adjectives. Dr. Siddiqi writes of how some of the Children of Israel turned away from the authentic message revealed to them. Then Dr. Siddiqi gives four examples repeatedly using the word ‘they’ when referring to ‘some of the Children of Israel’. But most readers will think the pronoun ‘they’ refers to the whole of ‘the Children of Israel’ because names and nouns are usually more prominent in our minds than adjectives.

Dr. Siddiqi does write that “God specifically addresses the Children of Israel (now leaving out ‘some of’) in many of these passages. This is important, because it shows that the message of the Qur'an was intended for all people, including the Jews, and the criticism was directed against a specific group of people for their specific actions. This criticism should be distinguished from cursing a people merely because of their race.”

But blaming or identifying a whole group of people, for the actions of some in that group, is itself a sign of racism and bigotry. Muslims today are victims of this kind of bigotry. Many people today who write or about speak about some Muslims who are terrorists, incorrectly say Muslim terrorists, thus blaming or identifying a whole group of people, for the actions or beliefs of some people in that group.

As the Qur’an says: “No bearer of a burden can bear the burden of another.” (6:164) Each individual bears his or her own responsibility and is treated by God as a person in his or her own right. The individual is not treated as just one member of a group, with no identity of his own.

Even if you belong to a religious group or a nation whose members are committing wrong, you are not held responsible for their misdeeds; if as an individual you do not commit those wrongful acts.

Dr. Siddiqi also discusses a, “second type of criticism of the Jews is found in passages like (5:60-64). These verses criticize the Jews and Christians who ridiculed Prophet Muhammad and his message. They made mockery and sport of his call to prayer, and they rebuked him even though he was calling them to believe in what God revealed to him and to what was revealed before him through their own Prophets. They became spiteful towards him and rejected him since he did not belong to the Children of Israel (2:1094:54).

“The Qur'an specifically notes that such criticism is not directed against all Jews. (This is correct although Dr. Siddiqi keeps referring to ‘the” Jews instead of ‘some’ or ‘those’ Jews) Even when the Qur'an criticizes the Jews it always notes that "among them there are some..." who are pious and righteous people, who command what is right and forbid what is wrong and try to excel each other in acts of charity and goodness. The Qur'an says that such people are assured that whatever good they will do will not be denied them and they shall receive their reward with God. (3:113-115).

“It further says, "Of the people of Moses there is a section (sone) who guide and do justice in the light of truth." (7:159) "We broke them up into sections on this earth. There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the opposite. We have tried them with both prosperity and adversity: in order that they might turn (to Us)... As to those who hold fast by the Book and establish regular Prayer, never shall We suffer the reward of the righteous to perish.”      (7:168-170)

The tendency, when describing groups of people, is to use the word ‘the’ which is dramatic rather than the word ‘a’, which is usually more nuanced and accurate. Thus, most Jews and most Non-Jews, frequently speak of Jews as ‘the’ chosen people rather than ‘a’ chosen people. But Jews are not THE chosen people; they are A chosen people, the first historical ongoing, religious community (Umma) of the three primary monotheistic religions. “Tell Pharaoh that these are the words of the Lord: Israel is my first born son.” (Exodus 4:22)

In future centuries other nations will attach themselves to the One God of Abraham, through Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad; because all nations are not required to have the same religion in order to worship the same One God. Prophet Micah states that in even in the Messianic Age  “each nation will walk in the name of its God,  and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

Thus, even in the Messianic Age other nations will be free to faithfully follow their own religion’s version of monotheism, and the One God of all of us, will bless all nations and peoples, including Israel's old enemies Assyria and Egypt. Indeed, God will even refer to Egypt as ‘my people’ (Isaiah 19:24-5)

That there were some Jews who used the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai arrogantly, as a way of putting down other peoples, religions and prophets, has long been rightly condemned by God’s Prophets. God has, and will provide redemption for other peoples even as God has done for Israel when they were redeemed from Egypt.

As Prophet Amos tells the Children of Israel, “Are you not like the Children of Ethiopia to me, O Children of Israel? says God. Did I not redeem Israel from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir ?” (Amos 9:7) Thus no religious community should be self-righteous.

I think of myself as a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because as a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Muslim Jew, and I submit to the covenant and the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.

As a Reform Rabbi, I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice. These are lessons prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century.

I do not know exactly why some Jews in Medina opposed Prophet Muhammad. But in his own home town, 99% of his own Arab neighbors opposed him, some of them very violently.

Actually many Jews in Medina did support Prophet Muhammad (See my article about a Rabbi allied with Prophet Muhammad in Islamicity). For many months after Muhammad arrived in Medina, many more Jews supported him than pagan Arabs did during the twelve years Muhammad preached Islam in Makka, his home town. In Makka his success was very modest, limited to only 170 men and women in  a large town during a twelve-year period.

Muhammad was also received much more favorably by the Jews of Medina than he was by the pagan Arabs in the town of Ta'if where he once turned for aid and support, When Muhammad and his adopted son, Zayd ibn Harithah went to Ta’if to invite the people there to Islam he was received by three chiefs of the local tribes of Ta’if. They did let him speak freely, however, they paid no heed to his message.

Then the pagan Arabs of Ta'if told their children to throw rocks and stones at Muhammad and Zayd to make them leave the town and never come back. The rocks thrown at Muhammad and Zayd by the Ta'if teens caused them to bleed. Both were wounded and bleeding as they left Ta’if behind them and Muhammad bled so profusely that his feet became clotted to his shoes.

I think there were two primary factors preventing the majority of Medina's Jews from openly and actively supporting Prophet Muhammad. One was the terrible state of tribal politics and rivalry among the tribes in Medina, both Jewish and Arab. This is well known to most Muslims.

The second reason is that all Jews knew that the disciples of Prophet Jesus had turned him into a Son of God after he was gone, so perhaps they were afraid that this would also happen to Muhammad after he died.

Since that did not happen, and tribal politics should no longer keep us apart, I believe that Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders should always try to harmonize differences between the Sacred Scriptures of Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad, and avoid claiming that only one Holy Book (ours) can be true.

Each book is true; and to see the whole truth we should seek harmony rather than victory. “To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (Qur’an 5:48)

Rabbi Maller's website is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.


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