Q 1. I am a Jew and I am reading the Qur’an. I find that the Qur’an is very harsh in its criticism of the Jewish people. For example in chapter 5:60-64 I see that Jewish people are called as those whom Allah has cursed, is angry with them and has turned them into apes and swine. This is very offensive and sounds outright anti-Semitic. How do you explain this? I shall appreciate an answer from you.
A 2. Anti-Semitism means condemning and hating a people because of their Semitic race. Anti-Semitism is bigotry and 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. Throughout the history of Islam, Muslims have never used passages from the Qur’an to justify acts of anti-Semitism. The ill-effects of racism, including ethnic cleaning, genocide and Holocaust, which has been suffered by Jews and non-Jews alike over the past several centuries, has never been done under the banner of any passages from the Qur’an. Jews were among the earliest converts to Islam (in Medina) and, throughout the Middle Ages, Jews found sanctuary to practice their own religion under Islamic rule. It is truly disappointing and naive to ignore 1430 years of history and learned discourse on the Qur’an and argue that the current political situation in the Middle East has its roots in passages from the Qur’an.
As with all scriptures, passages in the Qur’an must be read within the proper context. The Qur’an was not just revealed to Muslims, but to all people, including Jews and Christians. Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allah Ta’ala Alaihi Wa Salam) was in the line of previous Prophets of Allah, including Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and the Qur’an is in the line of previous scriptures revealed by Allah. 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 Allah’s authentic message and admonishes those who scorned and ridiculed Prophet Muhammad(Salla Allah Ta’ala Alaihi Wa Salam) and the message of the Qur’an. Such criticism is similar to the criticism against Jews found in other scriptures, including the Bible, and should be taken by all people as a reminder and warning against forsaking and straying from the authentic message of Allah. Such specific criticism has never been interpreted by learned scholars of the Qur’an to incite hatred against all Jewish people and should not be confused with anti-Semitism.
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 Allah for a mission
وَلَقَدْ اخْتَرْنَاهُمْ عَلَى عِلْمٍ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
And We chose them (the Children of Israel) above the ‘Alamin (mankind, and jinns) [during the time of Musa (Moses)] with knowledge(44:32)
and Allah raised among them many Prophets and bestowed upon them what He had not bestowed upon many others
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنْبِيَاءَ وَجَعَلَكُمْ مُلُوكًا وَآتَاكُمْ مَا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِنْ الْعَالَمِينَ
And (remember) when Musa (Moses) said to his people: “O my people! Remember the Favour of Allah to you, when He made Prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the ‘Alamin (mankind and jinns, in the past).” (5:20)
He exalted them over other nations of the earth and granted them many favors.
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِي الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
O Children of Israel! Remember My Favour which I bestowed upon you and that I preferred you to the ‘Alamin (mankind and jinns) (of your time period, in the past). (2:47)
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِي الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
O Children of Israel! Remember My Favour which I bestowed upon you and that I preferred you to the ‘Alamin (mankind and jinns) (of your time-period, in the past). (2:122)
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 Allah and showed ingratitude for Allah’s favors on them. They lost the original Tawrat and introduced their own words and interpretations in the divine books. They became arrogant and claimed that they were Allah’s children and went about vaunting their position as His most chosen people
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِمْ مِيثَاقَهُمْ وَكُفْرِهِمْ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَقَتْلِهِمْ الأَنْبِيَاءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ وَقَوْلِهِمْ قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ بَلْ طَبَعَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهَا بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً
Because of their breaking the covenant, and of their rejecting the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah, and of their killing the Prophets unjustly, and of their saying: “Our hearts are wrapped (with coverings, i.e. we do not understand what the Messengers say)” – nay, Allah has set a seal upon their hearts because of their disbelief, so they believe not but a little. (4:155)
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِمْ مِيثَاقَهُمْ لَعَنَّاهُمْ وَجَعَلْنَا قُلُوبَهُمْ قَاسِيَةً يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ وَلاَ تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَى خَائِنَةٍ مِنْهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِنْهُمْ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
So because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard. They change the words from their (right) places and have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. And you will not cease to discover deceit in them, except a few of them. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (good-doers). (5:13)
وَقَالَتْ الْيَهُودُ وَالنَّصَارَى نَحْنُ أَبْنَاءُ اللَّهِ وَأَحِبَّاؤُهُ قُلْ فَلِمَ يُعَذِّبُكُمْ بِذُنُوبِكُمْ بَلْ أَنْتُمْ بَشَرٌ مِمَّنْ خَلَقَ يَغْفِرُ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيُعَذِّبُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَلِلَّهِ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا وَإِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُ
And (both) the Jews and the Christians say: “We are the children of Allah and His loved ones.” Say: “Why then does He punish you for your sins?” Nay, you are but human beings, of those He has created, He forgives whom He wills and He punishes whom He wills. And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and to Him is the return (of all). (5:18).
They also brazenly committed sins and their rabbis and priests did not stop them from doing so
لَوْلاَ يَنْهَاهُمْ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالأَحْبَارُ عَنْ قَوْلِهِمْ الإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمْ السُّحْتَ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ
Why do not the rabbis and the religious learned men forbid them from uttering sinful words and from eating illegal things. Evil indeed is that which they have been performing.(5:63)
كَانُوا لاَ يَتَنَاهَوْنَ عَنْ مُنكَرٍ فَعَلُوهُ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ
They used not to forbid one another from the Munkar (wrong, evil-doing, sins, polytheism, disbelief, etc.) which they committed. Vile indeed was what they used to do.(5:79)
Allah raised His Prophet Jesus among them so that he might show them several miracles and thereby guide them to the right path, but they rejected him, attempted to kill him, and even claimed that they had indeed killed him although they had not been able to do so
وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَكِنْ شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِنْهُ مَا لَهُمْ بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلاَّ اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا بَلْ رَفَعَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَزِيزًا حَكِيمًا
And because of their saying (in boast), “We killed Messiah ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), the Messenger of Allah,” – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but the resemblance of ‘Iesa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man), and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no (certain) knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely; they killed him not [i.e. ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)]: But Allah raised him [‘Iesa (Jesus)] up (with his body and soul) unto Himself (and he is in the heavens). And Allah is Ever All-Powerful, All-Wise.(4:157-158)
Allah specifically addresses the Children of Israel 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.
The second type of criticism of the Jews is found in passages including those you referenced from Surah al-Ma’idah
قُلْ هَلْ أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِشَرٍّ مِنْ ذَلِكَ مَثُوبَةً عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مَنْ لَعَنَهُ اللَّهُ وَغَضِبَ عَلَيْهِ وَجَعَلَ مِنْهُمْ الْقِرَدَةَ وَالْخَنَازِيرَ وَعَبَدَ الطَّاغُوتَ أُوْلَئِكَ شَرٌّ مَكَانًا وَأَضَلُّ عَنْ سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ وَإِذَا جَاءُوكُمْ قَالُوا آمَنَّا وَقَدْ دَخَلُوا بِالْكُفْرِ وَهُمْ قَدْ خَرَجُوا بِهِ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْتُمُونَ وَتَرَى كَثِيرًا مِنْهُمْ يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَأَكْلِهِمْ السُّحْتَ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ لَوْلاَ يَنْهَاهُمْ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالأَحْبَارُ عَنْ قَوْلِهِمْ الإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمْ السُّحْتَ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ وَقَالَتْ الْيَهُودُ يَدُ اللَّهِ مَغْلُولَةٌ غُلَّتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَلُعِنُوا بِمَا قَالُوا بَلْ يَدَاهُ مَبْسُوطَتَانِ يُنفِقُ كَيْفَ يَشَاءُ وَلَيَزِيدَنَّ كَثِيرًا مِنْهُمْ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ طُغْيَانًا وَكُفْرًا وَأَلْقَيْنَا بَيْنَهُمْ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ كُلَّمَا أَوْقَدُوا نَارًا لِلْحَرْبِ أَطْفَأَهَا اللَّهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الأَرْضِ فَسَادًا وَاللَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
Say (O Muhammad SAW to the people of the Scripture): “Shall I inform you of something worse than that, regarding the recompense from Allah: those (Jews) who incurred the Curse of Allah and His Wrath, those of whom (some) He transformed into monkeys and swines, those who worshipped Taghut (false deities); such are worse in rank (on the Day of Resurrection in the Hell-fire), and far more astray from the Right Path (in the life of this world).” When they come to you, they say: “We believe.” But in fact they enter with (an intention of) disbelief and they go out with the same. And Allah knows all what they were hiding. And you see many of them (Jews) hurrying for sin and transgression, and eating illegal things [as bribes and Riba (usury), etc.]. Evil indeed is that which they have been doing.Why do not the rabbis and the religious learned men forbid them from uttering sinful words and from eating illegal things. Evil indeed is that which they have been performing. The Jews say: “Allah’s Hand is tied up (i.e. He does not give and spend of His Bounty).” Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for what they uttered. Nay, both His Hands are widely outstretched. He spends (of His Bounty) as He wills. Verily, the Revelation that has come to you from Allah increases in most of them their obstinate rebellion and disbelief. We have put enmity and hatred amongst them till the Day of Resurrection. Every time they kindled the fire of war, Allah extinguished it; and they (ever) strive to make mischief on earth. And Allah does not like the Mufsidun (mischief-makers)(5:60-64).
These verses criticize the Jews and Christians who ridiculed Prophet Muhammad(Salla Allah Ta’ala Alaihi Wa Salam) 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 Allah 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
وَدَّ كَثِيرٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَوْ يَرُدُّونَكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ إِيمَانِكُمْ كُفَّارًا حَسَدًا مِنْ عِنْدِ أَنفُسِهِمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ الْحَقُّ فَاعْفُوا وَاصْفَحُوا حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
Many of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) wish that if they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from their ownselves, even, after the truth (that Muhammad Peace be upon him is Allah’s Messenger) has become manifest unto them. But forgive and overlook, till Allah brings His Command. Verily, Allah is Able to do all things.(2:109)
أَمْ يَحْسُدُونَ النَّاسَ عَلَى مَا آتَاهُمْ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ فَقَدْ آتَيْنَا آلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَآتَيْنَاهُمْ مُلْكًا عَظِيمًا
Or do they envy men (Muhammad SAW and his followers) for what Allah has given them of His Bounty? Then We had already given the family of Ibrahim (Abraham) the Book and Al-Hikmah (As-Sunnah – Divine Inspiration to those Prophets not written in the form of a book), and conferred upon them a great kingdom.(4:54)
The Qur’an specifically notes that such criticism is not directed against all 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 Allah
لَيْسُوا سَوَاءً مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ أُمَّةٌ قَائِمَةٌ يَتْلُونَ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ وَهُمْ يَسْجُدُونَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنْ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَأُوْلَئِكَ مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ وَمَا يَفْعَلُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَلَنْ يُكْفَرُوهُ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِالْمُتَّقِينَ
Not all of them are alike; a party of the people of the Scripture stand for the right, they recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of the night, prostrating themselves in prayer.They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin Al-Ma’ruf (Islamic Monotheism, and following Prophet Muhammad SAW) and forbid Al- Munkar (polytheism, disbelief and opposing Prophet Muhammad SAW); and they hasten in (all) good works; and they are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knows well those who are Al-Muttaqun(3:113-115).
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. This is not only true of the Qur’an but also of the Bible. Many passages from the Bible also criticize the Jews. Read the Hebrew Bible, particularly Micah (Chapter 3:1-12) and Hosea (Chapter 8:1-14), in which these prophets condemned the Jews “who abhor justice and pervert all equity” and who “build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong.” These prophets cursed Israel as a “useless vessel among nations,” and called for the curse of Allah to “send a fire upon [Judah’s] cities” and to make Jerusalem “a heap of ruins.” Similarly, in the Book of Deuteronomy (Verses 16-68), Moses warns the Jews that Allah “will send upon you curses, confusion, and frustration, in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your doings, because you have forsaken me” (28:20). In Matthew (Chapter 23:13-39), Jesus repeatedly admonishes the Jews for their hypocrisy and injustice, and condemns them for the killing of past prophets. Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.” It would indeed seem strange if, based on these passages, one were to argue that the Bible and the Hebrew Prophets were anti-Semitic and called for the destruction of present-day Israel. Yet, questioning passages from the Qur’an as anti-Semitic is similarly without merit.