Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Muslim Anti-Semitism and the Muslim Next Door

Muslim Anti-Semitism is a very real, but whether or not hatred of Jews is either typical among contemporary Muslims, at least in America, or reflective of traditional Islam, is another story. That appraisal probably disturbs people on each side, with half already screaming that I am an Islamaphobe and the other half that I am a shill for the Muslim community.
Whether my assessment is correct or not, one thing is for certain: no problem, whether between individuals, communities or nations, gets better until each side can imagine that they are more guilty than they like to admit and that the other side is not as bad as they like to imagine. And all the attempts to avoid that, however well-intentioned, simply fuel the fires of hatred and suspicion on both sides.
Beliefnet’s Islam editor Dilshad Ali shared with me a piece by Muslim Next Door author, Sumbul Ali-Karamali which falls prey to some of that avoidance. Ms. Ali-Karamali largely ignores the real challenges of Muslim anti-Semitism, opting instead to explain how hatred of Jews has no place in classical Islam and has been rarely manifested among Muslims. And as beautiful as her conclusions are, it makes me wonder what she could be thinking.
Even if one makes a solid case for the relative merits of Islam over Christianity vis a vis the past treatment of Jews, which is entirely appropriate, we can not ignore the second-class status imposed upon Jews even under the crescent. Of course, as Ali-Karamali proudly points out, Jews were honored as people of the book, but they were hardly equal citizens. Jews were also relegated to the status of protected minorities forced to pay a Jewish head tax.


A good comparison may be to the status of Black Americans living under Jim Crow laws in more tolerant communities. Her failure to point that out turns her reflections on Muslim anti-Semitism into little more than patting her own tradition on the back, and misses an important opportunity for the kind of balanced exploration which is needed if she wants to be heard by those she hopes to convince.
But I guess that’s the point. She is trying to convince, not to explore a serious problem.
It’s not unlike Jews failing to see how windy speeches about the Bible’s commandments assuring full legal equality to all who live in the land of Israel, do not prove that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are always treated equally.
From Muslim/non-Muslim intermarriage to the history of Muslim leaders during the Holocaust, her work is both historically inaccurate and in the same direction. That will simply not get the job done, if the job is really to make things genuinely better and not simply to convince those outside a community that they have nothing about which to worry.
I agree with Ms. Ali-Karamali that the real issue is choice. We all need to make choices about how to tell the story of our people. W all need to know that any telling in which we are always the innocent misunderstood ones is likely to be very wrong and can be very dangerous.
I believe that the future to which both Ms. Ali-Karamali and I aspire is probably quite similar and even attainable. But getting there will require a much more honest confrontation with the past. It will require cultivating a love of the traditions we follow based on their ability to attain that longed-for future, despite the fact that they have more than a few dark moments in that past which we must confront.

  • Farakh Malik

    The Moslems are not anti-semitic or anti-Jew. The is deliberately confused by the Israel / Palestine problem. It is this problem which may be the cause of anti-Israel, but absolutely not anti-semitic or anti-Jews.

  • Qaz

    I agree that the portrayal of Jews under Islam over the last 1400 years has often been viewed through rose-tinted goggles, but the countermyth that the Jews were horribly mistreated under Islamic leaders is just as inaccurate. Anti-semtism is still very much a problem even with moderate Muslims, and given the religious significance of Israel, it can be all to easy to equate the military ventures of the country with those of the faith.
    I personally am a massive optimist and I do believe that our people can build a better relationship and live together in peace. I know that the spirit of Islam, and Judaism, tells me that we can transcend uglier moments of the past in order to create a better future.

  • new beginning

    Muslim antisemitism may have been minor in history prior to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem taking up with Hitler. He feared losing territory and importance in the Palestine mandate area. He helped foment the current biases. The Israelis are not blameless in continuing to fan those flames by their actions, inactions, and legalistic exactitudes.

  • windbender

    “…deliberately confused by the Israel / Palestine problem.”
    Yeah, right. I’m confused by what the phrase; “Push the Jews into the sea.” means.

  • Ben Hall

    In addition to its religions, political, and social complexities,isn’t this also a complex semantic juggling issue involving “Islam,” “Judaism,” “Muslim,” “Jew,” “Palestinian,” (et al) and “Israeli”?

  • no name necessary

    At some point, although it is important to understand what transpired in the past in order to better the future, we ALL might just have to realize that no agreement on the past will be reached, but all will have to come together and agree that in order to protect the collective “our future” and most important the collective “our children” we must move forward together and teach tolerance, love and consideration of all regardless of the past, regardless of who did what, regardless of the chicken and the egg and not finishing the argument of which one came first- SHARE, agree to disagree, and work to make a bright future for all- tolerance on all sides is necessary to make this happen for our future generations. Maybe in America we will be able to learn how to do this as a new age has arrived, an age of tolerance, of equality- perhaps we can then influence others by our own; our nations positive actions-it will take time, and it will take dedication and staying on task but we all know it is imperative to reach an understanding in order to eliminate the teaching of hate to our children, to stop the crippling bias on both sides of the extreme perspective, I will do so, and if I can offer this perspective to my friends, and they then offer this to their friends, and so on……. something positive could result.

  • stewart perry

    Dear Rabbi Hirschfield:
    I am a fan of yours. Your writings are insightful and balanced. I have a question: You make no mention of the directive in the Qur’an about “kill all Jews and Infidels” in arriving at the conclusion that Ms. Ali-Kalimari might somehow arrive at peace between Jews and Muslims. How? By disavowing Muhammad’s directive? That would not make her a “good” Muslim. How can Muslims come to America and have us be comfortable knowing that directive? The Muslims’ plan of attack on non-Muslim countries seems to be get as many in the country of their choice as possible, behave until the numbers are large enough to make demands, make the demands and then if it not complied with, riot (as in France); bomb (as in England); cause massive disruptions (as in the cartoon event in Denmark). What is your suggestion, Rabbi, on what our course of dealings with Muslims should be? Stewart

  • Ameer Raschid

    stewart perry exhibits the Islamophobic anti Islam mentality that wishes to demonize Muslims rather than to arrive at a modus vivendi.
    As a reader of the Qur’an, I donh’t see that there is an advice to kill all Jews and infidels except those who were out to destroy Islam as most of the Jews were out to do as well as Christians. The infidel Arabs in the end converted by choice or by force. Jews and Christians submitted keeping their religion and survived which was better than the Holocasut and anti-Semitism of Europe and the US. Muslims are not supposed to be aggressors. Stop distorting Islam! We want to live in peace with our neigbors despite some fanatics.
    I am an American born Muslim from a converted Jewish father and later mother of Austria-Hungarian background and grew up in a mostly Jewish environment and with Jewish relatives including a Jewish sister-in-law.
    I have come across Jews who I despised more than Christians. I had little contact with orthodox Jews or Christians especially fundamentalists. The mentality of many Jewsi s a product of a ghetto mentality that sees non-Jews as the”goyim” and having a “goyisher kopf” that is an ignorant Christian mentality that came from their associating in Europe with ignorant Polish and Russian fanatical Christians and added “schwartze”, literally black but equivalent to the ‘n’ word to their American vocabulary. Jews and blacks have had problems related to economics in urban areas interpreted as exploitation and the view that blacks could not accomplish anything. Liberal Jews were the exception as they are in Israel where they are deemed traitors or Arab lovers. The anti-Arab, anti- Muslim mentality of Zionists, particularly among Jews from Arab countries who felt the prejudice there as well as many of American Jews who emigrated to Israel to become core settlers who would like Arabs to be sent outside present Israel as well as from the West Bank and Gaza as this is original Israel has exacerbated anti-Semitism in Europe, the UK and the US.
    Arab anti-Semitism is due more to politics than to Islam even though the history of Jewish arrogance and perfidy during the establishment of Islam is well known. The question for Muslims and Arabs in particular is not why hate Jews but why not hate those who never were able to overcome the negative image that perhaps only a minority was responsible for. The help that many Israeli Jews have given the Palestinians should help to overcome what fanatic orthodox Jews are doing in Hebron and areas where they come in contact in an effort to drive then away from their land. That the Palestinians, Muslim and Christians have not been subjected to the pogroms of Europe is not for a lack of wishing and trying under the very eyes of guilt stricken Europe and the US(where little or no immigration was allowed before the war)My Hungarian Jewish grandmother and cousins came before the door was closed)
    Turkey, where I am retired now, accept many to join those that came more than 500 years ago from Spain)
    The rabbi calls attention to the second class status of Jews in Islamdom but it at least was toleration as opposed to extermination and what Palestinians are suffering is worse than second class citizenship today in Israel not to mention in the occupied areas.
    Jews in Hungary, Austria, the Ukraine, Poland still feel their home grown anti-Semitism that is endemic.
    De Gaulle was chastised for his comments about Jews,” as an “elite people, self-confident and dominating.” based on his perception of Jews in France.
    Jews have been able through their intelligence, determination, a drive for success in business and politics and devotion to learning have accomplished more than any other minority that has suffered discrimination. Now that they are no longer a minority or have a great influence in the US and UK beyond their numbers, it is about time for
    them to show that besides following the Law and supporting other Jews they are also capable of acting according to the highest standards of their religion. The time for acting as victims to get sympathy and support is over. The made up fear of the potential of being wiped out by Iran or the need for security from the Palestinians is a myth that may cause them to drive the US into a first strike or do it with its permission that would start of a long drawn out instability in the area that will not bring peace or security to Israel or the US.

  • Cher

    Stewart has valid questions! I would also like to know what the answer would be. All that I have read about history and even today…
    Iran vows to push Israel into sea. Everywhere in world, Jews are targeted by Islam. Why? Because they hate them? Jews never ask for sympathy..they were always targeted. When Iran leader says something..he means it. The problem is…America stands in his way of getting what he wants.

  • Susan

    Yes, antisemitism now permeates the Muslim world, but ironically the Muslim world havs borrowed the worst of Western Christian European antisemitism.

  • Emily

    I think that to view the status of Jews in societies (e.g., Muslim Spain, North Africa in the time of Maimonides, etc.)in which Jews become physicians to kings and aristocrats as comparable to “the status of Black Americans living under Jim Crow laws in more tolerant communities” requires a very, very rosy view of the American past. ____Emily

  • SpiritSpark

    Sura 17:7
    The Palestinians deny that there ever was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. But Sura 17:7 records the destruction of the First Temple by Babylon and the Second Temple by Rome, and Mohammed never contests the Bible’s claim that the Temples were in Jerusalem.
    Sura 17:104
    The Jews’ return from 19 centuries of exile is actually the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy. Sura 17:104 says that ‘And we said to the Children of Israel afterwards, “Go live into this land. When the final prophecy comes to pass, we will summon you all in one group.”‘
    Sura 60:9
    Moreover, Sura 60:9 forbids aiding the enemies of the Muslim people. Contrast this with the Palestinians’ continued support of Saddam Hussein, whose hands are red with the blood of Iranian, Kurdish, and Kuwaiti Muslims.
    Sura 83:1
    “Woe to those that deal in fraud”; yet Yasir Arafat reneged on his promise to guard Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus after the Israeli troops withdrew. Blessings, Spiritspark

  • Sabeeha Rehman

    Sumbul Ali-Karamali makes a compelling point. She draws on the forces that unite Muslims and Jews i.e. the Quran and our shared history. These are the elements that are at the core of building relationships based on understanding, trust and respect. She advocates an approach that is grounded in Islamic principles and well-tested in forums and communities where interfaith dialogue has thrived.

  • Your Name

    I am from the Moslem faith tradition. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of misrepresentation and demonization on both sides of the Arba-Israeli divide.Looking towards a past, however imperfect, gives hope that a better model can be designed in the future, where Arab and Jew can live comfortably together, or at least in neighborly good-will.
    Jews and Arabs are cousins of course, descendants of Abraham’s sons.Centuries of co-existence in the Levant have doubtless led to some Arabs having Jewish blood and vice versa. So it may well be that not only are we cousins, but brothers as well. Family fights are the worst, but I feel that either G-d has an amazing sense of humor to place both communities with undying loyalties to Jerusalem(and if we include the Christian community, then we have three communities) or that he has placed a test for us, to see how we can be true to him and to his commandments, while allowing the other respect for their unique world view. I pray for Peace, adn I hope that you do too.

  • Willow

    This ‘Jewish head tax’ to which the Rabbi refers is erroneous and inflammatory. There was no tax applied specifically to Jews. The jizya tax–made much of by Islamophobes, racists and other alarmists–applied to all non-Muslims (including both Christians and Jews) under Muslim rule. The reason it was applied at all is because non-Muslims don’t have to pay the (much higher) mandatory zakat tax that Muslims must pay!
    The zakat tax (still mandatory for all Muslims who are able to pay) goes toward the Muslim poor, in a system similar to modern welfare. Very sensibly, Shari’a stipulates that non-Muslims should not have to pay it–but they must still be taxed for the maintenance of the state, just as we are all taxed today. This is the sum total of the jizya tax.
    There WAS a Jewish head tax in many parts of medieval Christian Europe, which Rabbi Hirschfield fails to mention.
    If the goal is greater honesty, Rabbi, we should be able to hold you to the same standard to which you hold us.

  • Your Name

    There was a time, long ago, when Muslims and Jews lived together in high scholarship and understanding, much higher than the scholarship of Christianity (e.g., Maimonodes). There was a time, long ago, when Christians and Jews, infidels, were “tolerated” by Islam, but had to pay high taxes. There was a time when both Muslims and Jews were called heritics by Christians (in Spain), and were expelled, exiled, or forced to convert during the Inquisition. There was a time when Christians killed the Jews while crossing through Europe to kill the Muslims who controlled the Holy Land. There was a time when Christians killed Jews, believing that they sacrificed children and killed Christ. There was a time when Europeans decided to eliminate Jews alltogethr. There was a time when Zionists determined to settle Palestine, unaware that the Arab population could not coexist with them. History has so may faces! Lucy

  • Mohja

    Dear Rabbi Hirschfield,
    I do appreciate your broad point; self-critiquing is needed on both sides. However, this small point is misleading, and requires more thinking: “Jews were also relegated to the status of protected minorities forced to pay a Jewish head tax.” The head tax a) was imposed (and not in every country or era) on Christians as well, and in india on Hindus, so you cannot say Jews were singled out, or that this was anti-Semitic; and b) was a replacement for military service, which was required of Muslims, as was the higher tax of zakat. The jizya, or “head tax” was not intended as a derogatory mark in the earliest instances to my knowledge but was part of a broader norm of tribal practices. One thing to do is to compare how the Jews were treated in various historical Muslim states to how they were being treated at the same time in history by any other people. There were far worse things than being a “protected minority.” This may not measure up to modern secular democratic pluralism, but it was an mprovement on how Jews were treated in nearly every Christian polity in history up until modern times, and nearly everywhere else except perhaps in Persia under Cyrus.
    Perhaps it is handed down in the Jewish community that “we had to pay a head tax under the Muslims” and people saying it did not realize that this was not a tax the Jews were singled out for. This is like the person who describes the elephant as being one long wet trunk, because that is the only part they touched. It does not describe the whole picture.
    ps The first synagogue in my Arkansas hometown is being built (profits donated) by a Palestinian Muslim!
    pps May I also urge you to consider acknowledging “Palestinians” in Israel, not just “Israeli Arabs.”

  • Kamala

    Rabbi Hirschfield,
    I wrote ten questions for Ms. Ali-Karamali, including one that addresses the plight of Jews under Islam:

  • Kamala

    Here’s Robert Spencer’s take:

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