Fuel for antisemitism in the Qur’an, part 2

I concluded part one by observing that Islam’s criticism of the Jews is not inherently “evil” or “antisemitic” — certainly not as long as it does not go beyond the sorts of criticisms contained in the Jews’ own scripture.

Regrettably, this is not always the case. Some texts in the Qur’an turn a conciliatory face toward Jews and Christians; others, a hostile face.

2. Islam’s hostile face:

Some parts of the Qur’an use offensive language to criticize the Jews. Here is a notorious example:

O believers, do not make friends
with those who mock and make a sport of your faith,
who were given the Book before you
[i.e., Jews and Christians] …

Say: “Shall I inform you
who will receive the worst chastisement from God?
They who were condemned by God,
and on whom fell His wrath,
and those who were turned to apes and swine,
and those who worship the powers of evil.
They are in the worse gradation,
and farthest away from the right path.” …

Why do not their rabbis and priests
prohibit them from talking of sinful things
and from devouring unlawful gain?
Evil are the acts they commit!
The Jews say: “Bound are the hands of God.”
Tied be their own hands, and damned may they be
for saying what they say!
In fact, both His hands are open wide:
He spends of His bounty in any way He please.

But what your Lord has revealed to you
will only increase
their rebellion and unbelief.
So We have caused enmity and hatred among them
(which will last) till the Day of Resurrection. …

Some among them are moderate,
but evil is what most of them do!
(5:57-66, the “Contemporary Translation” by Ahmed Ali)

It is only fair to note the beginning and the end of this passage. The beginning sets the context: the text rebukes Jews and Christians who not only rejected Muhammad’s message, but actively mocked and opposed his mission. The end of the passage indicates that Jews and Christians are not condemned indiscriminately; “some” among them are deemed “moderate”. But, in between these two points, the language used is undeniably offensive.

The text asserts that some Jews and Christians were “transformed into apes and swine”. (The language is presumably metaphorical: Abdullah Yusuf Ali suggests the interpretation, “those who falsified God’s scriptures became lawless like apes, and those who succumbed to filth, gluttony, or gross living became like swine.”) They are accused of worshiping the powers of evil. Their rabbis and priests are accused of condoning evil acts. They are even cursed: “damned may they be for saying what they say!”

And then the text says, “We have caused enmity and hatred among them till the Day of Resurrection.” This might serve as a pretext for Muslims to hate Jews and Christians:  to regard them as enemies from now until the end of the age.

Texts which employ such immoderate language will inflame antisemitic sentiment where it already exists. And such texts will be exploited by those who wish to stir up murderous hatred against Jews and Christians (i.e., the West).

In part 1, I quoted a Muslim scholar who adopted a conciliatory tone toward the Jews. Now I want to quote a relatively hostile scholar. In an article entitled Jews as Depicted in the Qur’an, this scholar offers a very negative interpretation of the Muslim scripture. He lists only a single verse that commends the Jews (45:16). Then he lists twenty blameworthy Jewish attributes, including:

  • They love to listen to lies (5:41).
  • They feel pain to see others in happiness and are gleeful when others are afflicted with a calamity (3:120).
  • Their impoliteness and indecent way of speech is beyond description (4:46).
  • It is easy for them to slay people and kill innocents (2:61).
  • They rush hurriedly to sins and compete in transgression (5:79).
  • Miserliness runs deep in their hearts (4:53).

Note that, for each of the blameworthy qualities, the author supplies a proof text from the Qur’an. I have verified that he quotes the texts accurately (by comparison to other English translations). However, his interpretation is sometimes forced and every quotation is divorced from its context in the Qur’an.

The reader may suppose that I am trying to be even-handed in my analysis. In fact, I am prepared to go even further; I am prepared to give Islam and the Qur’an the benefit of the doubt.

As a Christian, I am familiar with Christianity’s ugly underbelly:  the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch trials, etc. Moreover, I understand that the New Testament also contains texts with an antisemitic tendency. (The examples which I find most offensive are found in the Gospel of John.1)

In the end, it comes down to the attitude of the religious community. Christians who are predisposed to antisemitism will find grist for the mill in the New Testament and, historically, they have done so.

Likewise, the Qur’an is dangerously open to misinterpretation and abuse. Some Muslim scholars support an antisemitic reading. Others offer a conciliatory interpretation. The international Muslim community will determine which interpretation prevails.


Some people say that a war is being waged for the soul of Islam, and I believe it is true. Yes, Islamic extremists are waging a war against Israel and the West. But the extremists, by committing acts of terrorism, are also precipitating a crisis within Islam.

Here in Canada, Muslim leaders are taking a hesitant stand against other members of their own faith for the first time. (See today’s Globe and Mail.)

This war, for the soul of Islam, is barely beginning. And global peace rests on the outcome.


1In John’s Gospel, Jesus himself speaks disparagingly of “the Jews”. At one point, he refers to “their law” (John 15:25). This is clearly unhistorical: Jesus was a Jew, and certainly did not speak of the Jews in the third person. Their Torah was also his Torah.

In John chapter 8, certain Jews say, “Our father is Abraham”. Jesus replies, “You are of your father the Devil” (8:44). Imagine how that text could be construed by a Christian antisemite who wanted to stir up animosity toward the Jews: Jesus himself says that Jews are children of the Devil

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