Antisemitism in the Qur’an, Part 3

Gates of Vienna 29 March 2012
By Andrew G. Bostom

Several years ago Andrew Bostom published a comprehensive survey of antisemitism as expressed in the Qur’an. The article is unfortunately no longer available online, so the author has kindly sent us the full text.

This is the third of four installments. Previously: Part 1 and Part 2.

Antisemitism in the Qur’an: Motifs and Historical Manifestations

Part 3


by Andrew G. Bostom

The Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258 under Hulagu Khan (d. 1265) destroyed Muslim suzerainty and the domination of Islam as a state religion, rendering it “…a religion among all others”. [120] Mongol rule thus eliminated the system of dhimmitude, and in contrast to Islamic chauvinism, writes Walter Fischel, [121]


…the principle of tolerance for all faiths, maintained by the Il Khans [Mongol rulers], (depriving) the [Islamic] concept of the “Protected People”, the ahl adh-Dhimma [dhimmi system]…of its former importance; with it fell the extremely varied professional restrictions into which it had expanded, …primarily those regarding the admission of Jews and Christians to government posts.


The 13th century Christian chronicler Bar Hebraeus recorded this telling observation: [122]


With the Mongols there is neither slave nor free man, neither believer nor pagan, neither Christian nor Jew; but they regard all men as belonging to one and the same stock.


And the Iraqi Ghazi b. al-Wasiti (fl. 1292), author of a contemporary Muslim treatise on the dhimmis, noted: [123]


A firman of the Il Khan [Hulagu] had appeared to the effect that everyone should have the right to profane his faith openly and his religious connection; and that the members of one religious body should not oppose those of another


Fischel concludes: [124]

For Christians and Jews, the two groups chiefly affected by the ahl adh-Dhimma policy, current until then, this change in constitutional and religious principles implied a considerable amelioration of their position; whereas for the Muslims it meant they had sunk to a depth hitherto unknown in their history.

The brief rise and calamitous fall of Sa‘d ad-Daula — which mirrored the experience of his Jewish co-religionists — took place during this Mongol epoch. Sa‘d ad-Daula was a Jewish physician, who successfully reformed the Mongol revenue and taxation system for Iraq. In recognition of these services, he was appointed by the Mongol emperor Arghun (who reigned from 1284-1291) to the position of administrative Vizier (in 1289) over Arghun’s Empire. According to Bar Hebraeus, [125]


The king of kings [Arghun] ordered that Sa’d ad-Daula, the Jew, hitherto the Governor of Baghdad, should be appointed Chief of the administrative officials throughout all provinces of the Empire.


Despite being a successful and responsible administrator (which even the Muslim sources confirm [126]), the appointment of a Jew as the Vizier of a heathen ruler over a predominantly Muslim region, aroused the wrath, predictably, of the Muslim masses. This reaction was expressed through and exacerbated by “…all kinds of [Muslim] diatribes, satirical poems, and libels”. [127] Ibn al-Fuwati (d. 1323), a contemporary Muslim historian from Baghdad, recorded this particularly revealing example which emphasized traditional anti-Jewish motifs from the Qur’an: [128]


In the year 689/1291 a document was prepared which contained libels against Sa’d ad-Daula, together with verses from the Qur’an and the history of the prophets, that stated the Jews to be a people whom Allah hath debased…


Another contemporary Muslim source, the chronicler and poet Wassaf, [129] according to Fischel, “…empties the vials of hatred on the Jew Sa‘d ad-Daula and brings the most implausible accusations against him”. [130] These accusations included the claims that Sa‘d had advised Arghun to cut down trees in Baghdad (dating from the days of the conquered Muslim Abbasid dynasty), and build a fleet to attack Mecca and convert the cuboidal Ka‘ba (i.e., the holiest place and structure in Islam) to a heathen temple. [131] Wassaf’s account also quotes satirical verses to demonstrate the extent of public dissatisfaction with what he terms “Jewish Domination”, adding to the existing line, “Turn Jews, for heaven itself hath turned a Jew”, his own, [132]


Yet wait and ye shall hear their torments cry And see them fall and perish presently


When Arghun took ill, influential Mongol dukes inimical to Sa‘d ad-Daula for purely political reasons, shifted the “blame” for Arghun’s terminal illness to the Jewish physician-Vizier. Sa‘d and his supporters were arrested and a large number of them executed (1291). [133] Sa‘d ad-Daula’s murder precipitated a broad attack on Jewry throughout the Il-Khan Empire, beginning in the Baghdad Jewish ghetto, where according to the Bar Hebraeus and Wassaf, despite Jewish resistance,


…when the report of the murder of the Jew was heard, the Arabs armed themselves and went to the quarter of the Jews, because the Jews were all living together in quarter [134]…in Baghdad more than a hundred of the noble and wealthy Jews were slain, and their property plundered [135]


Wassaf and Ibn al-Fuwati further reveal that such attacks spread well beyond Baghdad: [136]


Throughout the lands of Islam, the Jewish people were oppressed and their goods plundered…there was no town left in Iraq in which the Jews were not served with that which had happened to them in Baghdad, until a part of them embraced Islam, although they later turned back again.


Bar Hebraeus was moved to depict the calamity for the Jews in these poignant words: [137]


The trials and wrath which were stirred up against the Jews at this time neither tongue can utter nor the pen write down.


Walter Fischel concludes [138] that “a tremendous wave of suffering and persecution must have overwhelmed the entire Jewry of Iraq and Persia”, while noting “The Muslims, however, gave expression to their joy at the end of Jewish domination in many verses filled with enmity against the Jews”. One such celebratory verse by the poet Zaynu’d-Din Ali b. Sa’id reiterated antisemitic Qur’anic motifs of the Jews as “wretched dupes of error and despair”, “foulest race”, “hatefulest”, dispatched to “hell” in “molten torments”, doomed “without reprieve”, and leaving behind “How many did they leave!” — gardens and fountains (Qur’an 44:25): [139]


Throughout the lands they’re shamed and desolate. God hath dispersed their dominant accord, And they are melted by the burnished sword.

Grim captains made them drink Death’s cup of ill,
Until their skulls the blood-bathed streets did fill,
And from their dwellings seized the wealth they’d gained,
And their well-guarded women’s rooms profaned.
O wretched dupes of error and despair,
At length the trap hath caught you in its snare!

O foulest race who e’er on earth did thrive
And hatefulest of those who still survive

God sped the soul of him who was their chief
To hell, whose mirk [murk] is despair and grief.
In molten torments they were prisoned,
In trailing chains they to their doom were led.
Take warning from this doom without reprieve;
Recite the verse [44:25] [140]: “How many did they leave!”


The Jewish vizier in Fez, Morocco from 1464-1465, Haroun ben Battas, and his co-religionist community, became victims of the same stereotyped anti-dhimmi and anti-Jewish Muslim prejudices [141] displayed earlier in Granada (1066) and Baghdad (1290/91). A contemporary travelogue by the Egyptian author and merchant, ‘Abd el-Basit, who was studying in Tlemcen at the time, gives the following account of the rationale for Haroun’s appointment to vizier by Sultan ‘Abd el-Haq ben Abu Said: [142]


‘Abd el-Haq kept him [the Jew, Haroun] very close to him, and made him his confidant, until the whole kingdom was given into his hand. He trusted him because he thought it impossible that the Jew (as a non-Muslim) would exceed his authority, as ‘Abd el-Haq understood it.


‘Abd el-Basit’s narrative maintains that Haroun used his position to enhance the fortunes of the Jewish elites (“In his days the Jews of Fez and its districts became great; they were influential and important…”), and in additional clear violations of the dhimma, rode a mount (“In the presence of his master, he rode horses marked with the vizerial seal”), and carried a sword with a Qur’anic inscription (“And that Jew wore a sword on an iron belt engraved with the verse al-kursi [2:255]”) [143]


Haroun’s tragic fate, and that of the Jewish community of Fez, were sealed by the following course of events. The preacher of Fez’s main mosque (the Kairouanian mosque), Sayyidi Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad, was already well-known for his anti-Jewish diatribes. Upon learning of Haroun’s comportment, and the alleged insult of a Sharif [tribal protector] [144] by one of Haroun’s deputies, he incited the local Muslim population with cries of “Jihad” [Holy War], as described by ‘Abd el-Basit: [145]

He and the Muslims were greatly vexed because of the Jews, their influence and their control over the Muslims. In his sermon on Friday at the Great Jami of Fez, named Jamic al-Qarawiyyin, he always preached about the Jews and also dared to incite the people: perhaps they would rise up because of this for Allah’s sake and revolt. And the matter became known, and he became famous because of this. And when the insult to the sharifa occurred, he dedicated his soul to Allah, left his house and loudly proclaimed in the streets and alleys of Fez: He who will not go forth for the sake of Allah has no muruwwa [Bedouin chivalry] and no religion! And he went on to shout: Jihad, Jihad! He also ordered others to issue this call in the streets of Fez, and the people heard it, and presently revolted with him. They were joined by the great multitude from “all the low places” [Qur’an 22: 27] in Fez…


The aroused Muslim throng sought religious sanction from one of Fez’s most esteemed Sharifs. However, he refused to support their rebellion without receiving a (consensus) fatwa from the ‘Ulema (clerical authorities), since the Sultan was directly implicated. In their appeal to the esteemed chief mufti of Fez, Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Qauri, the Muslims, led by Sayyidi Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad, argued that the Jews had violated the dhimma. The chief mufti claimed he could not support their revolt because he was fearful of the Sultan and his coterie. But the inflamed crowd ultimately compelled the chief mufti to countenance their actions after threatening the mufti’s reputation, and his very life. Under duress, the chief mufti issued a fatwa making it licit to attack the Jews, and revolt against the Sultan. Thereupon, the Muslim rabble attacked the Jewish quarter in Fez, slaughtering its inhabitants. ‘Abd el-Basit’s account describes these events approvingly: [146]


…they [the Muslim rabble] took him [Sayyidi Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad] and began to stream to the house of the sheriff Muhmammad ibn ‘Imran, who was mazwar (in charge) of the shurafa in Fez…But he, in spite of his status, personal authority and great energy, when the preacher [Sayyidi Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad] came in to him and tried to stir him up (against the Jews), did not respond, contending that it was improper for him to revolt while there were theologians in Fez who had not yet been asked for an opinion in the matter. They (the crowd) hastened to the theologians and assembled them, including the greatest of them at that time, the scholar and mufti…Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Qauri. He and the other assembled persons were brought to the house of the sayyid the sherif. The preacher [Sayyidi Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad] hastened to say to them: “Go forth with us to the Jihad; fight for the renewal of Islam!” The crowd repeated his words and said: “If you will not fight together with us, you will be the first whom we shall fight; for you, shurafa and theologians, are content to be ruled by Jews.” Then they shouted again: “Jihad, Jihad!”, meaning to incite them nearby. They demanded of al-Qauri that he give a theological opinion, but he refused to do so, claiming that he was afraid of the authorities. They continued to prod him, after preparing a written question on the incident and on what that Jew [Haroun] and the Jews had done, saying that it constituted a violation of the Covenant [dhimma], and even more than that. They drew their swords and called out to al-Qauri: “We, too, have authority and power. We have risen up for Allah’s sake and pledged our lives. This is the question which we ask you to answer according to the law of Allah, blessed be he. If you will not do so, we shall let the world do without you, for you are a theologian who does not act in conformity with his theology”. They added other things in the same vein. And they gave him no rest until he wrote with his own hand a permit to kill the Jews, and another permit to revolt…even against the sultan. When he had finished writing, they hastened to the hara (the Jewish quarter) and wielded their swords against the Jews, killing as many of them as Allah wanted them to kill; they did not omit even one until they killed the last, so as to clear the quarter of them. This was a glorious day in Fez and a great slaughter. A numerous Jewish community was killed on that day. Afterwards they [the Muslim rabble] turned to the palace of the government, devastated it and killed the Jew who was in it, namely the deputy of the vizier.


Shortly afterwards, the same fate was suffered by Haroun and the Sultan. And in turn, the Jews of smaller communities outside Fez were also massacred, as noted again with satisfaction, by ‘Abd el-Basit: [147]


Thereafter the people of the cities distant from Fez learnt of these events. They rose up against the Jews of the cities and did to them what the people of Fez had done to their Jews. The Jews were thus befallen by a calamity the like of which had never occurred before [148]; as many of them as Allah — blessed be he — decreed were killed.


The Hebrew chronicles Kisseh ha-Melakhim [149] and Yahas Fes (“Only twenty heads of family and a small number of women and children escaped death.” [150]) confirm that few Jews survived this Muslim jihad in Fez. Jane Gerber’s discussion of the 1465 Fez pogrom concludes with an understated assessment: [151]


…the rise to prominence of a Jewish vizir or emissary should not [emphasis in original] be construed as evidence of Jewish security or acceptance in a given historical period. As Haroun’s demise so dramatically illustrates, the rise of a Jew to an important governmental post was symptomatic of the complete alienation of the Marinids [ruling Moroccan Muslim dynasty] from their subjects rather than of Jewish acceptance on the basis of equality.


Within a quarter century (~ 1490), anti-Jewish agitation by one of the most prominent Sheikhs of the era, al-Maghili (d. 1504/5), precipitated the wholesale slaughter of Jews in the southern Moroccan oasis of Touat. [152] Al-Maghili’s determination of the Jews’ status was summarized concisely by his 16th century biographer, Ibn ‘Askar (d. 1578): [153]


He held the view that the Jews — may God curse them — had no bond [of protection (dhimma)], since they had broken it by their association with men of authority among the Muslims, [an action] which went contrary to the humiliation and abasement (al-dhull wa’l-saghar) stipulated in the payment of jizya, and that the breaking of this pact by some of them redounded upon all of them. He declared it licit to spill their blood, and plunder their property and announced that dealing with them was more important than dealing with any other [category] of unbelievers. [154]


Al-Maghili’s own writings emphasized that the Jews of Touat made their tribute payments irregularly, and in varying amounts. He argued that such payments were tantamount to bribery and not valid jizya remitted annually during a deliberately humiliating public ceremony. [155] Al-Maghili further insisted that the Jews had no right to maintain their synagogue in (neighboring) Tamantit (i.e., where the Jews of Touat’s synagogue was located). He claimed the synagogue was constructed illegally on Muslim land, and its continued existence violated the Qur’anic principle of the Jews’ deserving abasement and humiliation. [156]

Hunwick has provided a succinct elucidation of al-Maghili’s legal arguments. He also acknowledges that al-Maghili’s treatise on the dhimmis (i.e., Jews) read like an “inflammatory sermon”. And when al-Maghili preached these views to the Muslims masses, he fomented violence against the Jews: [157]


Any Muslim who befriended a Jew or came to his defense, or opposed the destruction of the synagogue was to be considered an unbeliever. Dhimmis must be kept in a permanent state of abasement (saghar). This why jizya must be paid in a public ceremony in which the dhimmi at the moment of payment is given a tap on the neck and pushed forward to show him he has thus escaped the sword. This abasement is more important than the sum paid. No religious edifice may be erected by a dhimmi in the land of Islam and if any governor gave permission for one, this permission must be revoked and the building torn down. This is because the manifestation of the dhimmi’s religion in the form of a building is a contradiction of the concept of abasement. The same argument applies to the association of dhimmis with sultans, viziers, judges and other persons in authority. This is a “flouting of the laws of Islam”, since it is a negation of the abasement which is stipulated for the continued dwelling of a dhimmi in the lands of Islam. The situation he is condemning here is not only that which he would claim was current in Touat, but also by implication that which obtained in Fez, Tlemcen, and other North African cities.


The bulk of the populace, poor and ignorant, could be aroused to violence against the Jewish community by making these “outsiders” the scapegoat for all their ills. It only needed a preacher who could appeal to the masses by an appeal for the defense of “religion” to spark off a wave of looting and killing. Al-Maghili, by his preaching, his polemical prose and his verse diatribes was just such a catalyst.

Al-Maghili recounted stridently antisemitic “vignettes” portraying Jewish malevolence such as these anecdotes about Jewesses preparing bread for Muslim consumption: [158]


A person told me that he saw a Jewess mixing bread flour for a Muslim. He observed that she was picking her nose with her hand and continuing to mix the flour without washing her hand. A second person also told me that he saw another Jewess mixing bread flour for a Muslim. He saw her picking lice from her head and killing them with her nails and continuing mixing the flour without washing her hands. There are many stories of this nature. None can suspect the credibility of [stories such as] these and worse than these, except one who is blind to reality. Do you not see what Allah the Most High has said?


But al-Maghili’s anti-Jewish views are perhaps best encapsulated in a verse diatribe he composed: [158a]


Love of the Prophet requires hatred of the Jews. Regret what has passed and do not do it again. The one who is intimate with the enemies of the Prophet [i.e., the Jews], when he goes to the grave and on the day of Resurrection will be directed to the burning fire. Who will there be to rescue him when the Fire approaches the face with which he pleased the Jews?


He added, [158b]


They [the Jews] are indeed the most hostile people against us and against our beloved Prophet… they criticize our religion, mock our prayers and insult our master and savior Muhammad


Gwarzo observes: [159]


He [al-Maghili] was not so much concerned about the Jews, who although numerous, were still a minority. They would be at his mercy as long as he had the support of the public.

He succeeded in showing the masses that the issue was of either loving the Prophet or loving the Jews; Muslims must choose one of the two — they should choose between going to Paradise or going to Hell. The choice of the masses was obvious — they must certainly love the Prophet rather than the Jews; they would certainly prefer Paradise to Hell. His following became great and he succeeded in creating ferment in the territories.

Mobilizing this popular support, al-Maghili led a pogrom during which the Jews of Touat were massacred, and their synagogue in neighboring Tamantit destroyed. It was indeed, “…a short step from considering the Jews ‘enemies of the Prophet’ to considering them enemies of the umma [Muslim community] at large…” [159a]


The 20th century flowering of the Zionist movement and subsequent creation of Israel — a sovereign state administered by Jews liberated from the system of dhimmitude, adjacent to the very cradle of Arab Islam — has been accompanied, not surprisingly, by an outpouring of traditional Islamic antisemitism. Raphael Israeli observes that this “unbearable challenge” to the sacralized Islamic order has created a “vicious circle” of Islamic antisemitism and anti-Zionism. [160]

The ingathering of the Jews into modern Israel constitutes from this traditional Muslim viewpoint, which is still upheld by Muslim scholars of the Holy Law, and probably by many of their Muslim constituencies, an unbearable challenge to the authority of the Muslim faith

Jews were debased and humiliated in the first place; Zionism is marked by the derogatory traits that are characteristic of Jews; and in turn Zionism and Israel further debase the Jews by their inherent inhuman attitudes. Israeli politics, society and culture are all imbued with the evils that the Jews have transmitted from one generation to another…so the vicious cycle is complete

Even the pejorative image of “violent” Jews as the “new Mongols” — coined in the early 1980s by a burgeoning Islamic fundamentalist movement [161] — evokes an ironic historical association uncomfortable for Muslims: the fact that the Mongol Emperor Hulagu (as noted earlier [162]) also overturned the system of dhimmitude after his armies captured Baghdad in 1258, destroying the Abbasid Caliphate.

The past five decades — including a period before “The 1967 Shock” and Israel’s “demeaning of the abode of Islam” (Dar al Islam) [163] — have witnessed ceaseless calls by Islamic religious, political, and intellectual leaders — for a forcible return to the permanent state of “wretchedness and humiliation” enjoined for the Jews in Qur’an 2:61, and 3:112. Writing in 1962, Ahmad Yusuf Ahmad warned that despite assistance from Western powers, [164]


…they will not on any account be able to exempt them [the Jews] from the divine injunction and decree that they shall have no rest or permanency or tranquility, they will be chastised with degradation and poverty and be visited by the wrath of God.


Two years later, Abdullah al-Tall further dismissed the Jews’ attempts at self-reliance in the face of Allah’s unavoidable decree. [165]


Despite all their efforts to appear as possessors of power and the capacity to resist, the word of God is supreme and the Qur’an records the views of heaven, the will of the heaven and its verdict.


The Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research convened in Cairo in the fall of 1968 to discuss the theological significance of the Middle East conflict. Sheikh Hassan Ma’moun, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, in his inaugural address to the Conference, acknowledged the “bitterness” of the 1967 Arab defeat by Israel, [166]


…was further intensified by the fact that the unexpected event occurred before a roguish Zionism whose adherents had been destined to dispersion by the Deity. [Quoting Qur’an 2:61] “And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them and they were visited with wrath from God”


The lengthiest single Conference paper (all of which were compiled in a 935 page tome [167]), a 158 page analysis by Muhammad El-Sayyed Husein al-Dahabi entitled “Israelite Narratives in Exegesis and Tradition”, invoked a Qur’anic commentary by Tabari, to sanction the Jews permanent abasement: [168] (...)