Wednesday, September 15, 2021

"Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem." May 5, 2018

We’ve all heard or read about references in the Qur’an to Jews as monkeys and pigs and sometimes apes. Elder wrote only a few days ago about a Qur’anic verse comparing Jews to donkeys. The representation of Jews as animals is meant to dehumanize them, making it acceptable to treat them cruelly, and even kill them, without guilt or compunction. The Nazis did this, depicting the Jews as rats and vermin in their political cartoons and pamphlets.

Knowing that the Qur’an refers to Jews as monkeys, pigs, apes, and donkeys makes it difficult for most Jews to develop warm and fuzzy feelings about Islam. These verses sound like pure antisemitism—as pure a form of Jew-hatred as you will ever find. Add in Muslim terror and dang—it becomes real hard to like these people. They’ve killed too many of my friends and loved ones. They’ve sent my granddaughter running into the safe room to the tune of a siren, shaking and crying and frightened.

As a result, I won’t claim to have a lot of Muslim friends and particularly not Arab friends. But Robert Werdine was one such friend. He came out of nowhere, and stuck up for me at personal risk to himself, in a hostile virtual environment, the bloggers section of the Times of Israel. This was a place not friendly to someone like me on the Israeli right: someone who lived in Judea.

A Rhodes Scholar from Michigan City, Indiana, Robert was an historian but also a serious student of Islam who taught the young people in his mosque on a volunteer basis. He read my columns to those kids, giving them a different view of the Jewish people and of Israel.

Robert was unapologetically pro-Israel, and offended by the antisemitism and anti-Israelism so pervasive in the Muslim world. He believed, unlike the broader Muslim world, that Jews are indigenous to Israel, and had a right to self-determination in their own land. His Zionist beliefs were, according to him, informed by his understanding of the Qur’an.

There was a dichotomy here that anyone could see. You have what seems like the entire Muslim world hating on Israel, but here’s this one guy who is telling me it’s a distortion. Was it Taqiya*? A way to blindside me? I was never going to trust Robert completely, but I was definitely interested in hearing what he had to say.

So one day I asked him about those offensive references to Jews as monkeys and pigs—references that get tossed around fairly often by Muslim clerics in the mosques. Are these clerics misinterpreting the meaning of these verses?

Robert died some years ago due to complications from diabetes. But I remembered our correspondence on this subject after being accused, earlier today, of being a Muslim apologist. I dug up this note from June 12, 2015 and thought to share it here:

[Regarding] your question about clerics misinterpreting the Qur’an, he would be a strange cleric who did this, as true clerics are supposed to be read in the science of tafsir (exegesis of the Qur'an) and Hadith. The question is not so much as to misinterpretation by clerics, but that of distortion, manipulation, and misrepresentation by many of the more unscrupulous or bigoted among them. Radical Islamists and Muslim Anti-Semites frequently emphasize scripture that serves their purposes, and ignore what doesn’t. Thus, last October, when the lovely Imam Mohammed al-Khaled Samha of Denmark said that the Qur’an curses all Jews as monkeys and pigs he, like every other bigoted cleric who has repeated this canard, was deliberately misstating what the Qur’an says. There are three such direct references, in verses 2:65, 5:60, and 7:166. Verses 2:63-66 are criticism of the Bani Israil of Moses’ time, specifically those who sinned, broke the commandments, and violated the Sabbath, as an example for the Muslims to observe and learn from (my emphasis added):

“[2:63] We made a covenant with you, as we raised Mount Sinai above you: "You shall uphold what we have given you strongly, and remember its contents, that you may be saved." [2:64] But you turned away thereafter, and if it were not for GOD's grace towards you and His mercy, you would have been doomed. [2:65] You have known about those among you who desecrated the Sabbath. We said to them, "Be you as despicable as apes." [2:66] We set them up as an example for their generation, as well as subsequent generations, and an enlightenment for the righteous.”

Same is true of the other two “apes (and pig)” references in 7:166 and 5:60. The “monkeys and pigs” in verse 5:60 refers only to those Christians/Jews of Muhammad's time who mock and ridicule the Muslims' religion:

[5:57-60] [5:57] O you who believe, do not befriend those among the recipients of previous scripture who mock and ridicule your religion, nor shall you befriend the disbelievers. You shall reverence GOD, if you are really believers. [5:58] When you call to the Contact Prayers (Salat), they mock and ridicule it. This is because they are people who do not understand. [5:59] Say, "O people of the scripture, do you not hate us because we believe in GOD, and in what was revealed to us, and in what was revealed before us, and because most of you are not righteous?" [5:60] Say, "Let me tell you who are worse in the sight of GOD: those who are condemned by GOD after incurring His wrath until He made them (as despicable as) monkeys and pigs, and the idol worshipers. These are far worse, and farther from the right path."

Muhammad Asad, probably one of the foremost Islamic scholars of the 20th century, has written of Verse 5:60:

“As is evident from the following verses, the sinners who are even worse than the mockers are the hypocrites, and particularly those among them who claim to be followers of the Bible: for the obvious reason that, having been enlightened through revelation, they have no excuse for their behavior. Although in verse 64 the Jews are specifically mentioned, the reference to the Gospel in verse 66 makes it clear that the Christians, too, cannot be exempted from this blame.”

As can be seen, the reference in verse 2:65 is content specific only TO SOME of the Jews of Moses’ time, “those among you who desecrated the Sabbath,” and, in verse 5:60 "those among" the Christians and Jews of the Prophets' time who "mock and ridicule" the Muslims' religion. Same is true of 7:166 when viewed in context:

“[7:164] Recall that a group of them said, "Why should you preach to people whom GOD will surely annihilate or punish severely?" They answered, "Apologize to your Lord," that they might be saved. [7:165] When they disregarded what they were reminded of, we saved those who prohibited evil, and afflicted the wrongdoers with a terrible retribution for their wickedness. [7:166] When they continued to defy the commandments, we said to them, "Be you despicable apes."

Thus, as can be seen, the “apes” reference in 7:166, is, like verse 2:65, only in reference to those Jews of Moses' time who “continued to defy the commandments,” i.e. the “group of them” referenced in 7:164. Thus, the Qur’an, whatever its polemics or censures against Jews, whether it be of the Bani Israil of Moses’ time or the Jews of Medina in the Prophet’s time, does NOT curse all Jews for all time, as many have claimed. It only criticizes certain groups of them, usually by means of an implied partitive, i.e., “among them,” “those who,” etc. This is, in fact, a fundamental tenet of the Qur’an: that no person shall bear the curse or burden of another, and God never curses or punishes people for the sins of others as expounded in verses 2:286, 6:164, 17:15, 35:18, 39:7, and 53:38-42.

The good Imam Samha, however, does teach us an important lesson: how polemics in the Qur’an excoriating Jews and other groups have been, are, and can be manipulated in the service of Anti-Semitism, and how any scripture will always speak through the heart and mind of the person reading it. Of course, Muslim Jew-haters have been doing this for centuries. But they lie; the text does not. To acknowledge the very real phenomenon of Anti-Semitism among Muslims today, and especially throughout the Muslim world where it is an epidemic, is not the same as saying the Muslim Holy Book justifies this hate. It does not.

*I asked Robert about Taqiya. He explained it as a Shiite concept. Robert was Sunni.


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