Manfred and Anne Lehmann Foundation

Islam & Judaism

Part 1

The hostility of Islam to infidels -- Christians and Jews -- seems to be irrevocable. The epithets of hatred and hostility found again and again in Moslem writings and speeches signal an irreversible heritage and tradition of to-the-death fight against non-Moslems, especially Jews. Even serious Moslem theologians are so hate-filled when they speak or write about Jews, that they exceed the ferocious excesses of the Nazi hate mongers. In the publication of the proceedings of a Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research, a large number of Moslem professors and clergymen called the Jews some of the following appellations: "Jews are filled with perfidy and evil," "intolerant and cruel," "notorious for covetousness, avarice and bad manners," "hard-hearted and sinful," "criminals," "wicked and deceitful," "corrupt, treacherous, merciless, evil, unjust," "impudent" and so it goes on and on.

These uncompromising expressions of hatred must be viewed against the early history of Islam under Mohammed, where Jews and Judaism played such an important part and had such a deep influence.

Islam Means Surrender

The very word Islam has nothing to do with "Salaam" or peace as is often popularly assumed. It means "surrender," that is, the surrender of the individual to the will of Allah, to the point of fatalism, the doctrine under which man has no freedom of will or control over his fate. What was the origin of this religion? We must picture the world of the Middle East, and especially the huge Arabian Peninsula in the Seventh (7th) Century of our Era. The Roman Empire had been divided some centuries before into the Western Roman Empire, centered in Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire, the latter called the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople.

Both these Empires were Christian. The Arabian Peninsula was populated by pagans and Jews, with smaller pockets of Christians. The Jews held some very impressive towns and fortresses, and represented a military and intellectual power. Although remote from the great Jewish centers of learning in Babylonia, there were Jewish scholars in many of the Jewish Arabian towns. The Jews had large farming and trading interests, while the pagan Arabs were in many cases engaged in raiding caravans and would today be called "highway robbers."

Out of the group of Arabs arose Mohammed who was born around 571 in Mecca. Mecca was an important commercial center for international traders, so Mohammed had early contact with Jews. He is also known to have visited other Arabian towns with heavy Jewish populations. Similar to the Roman Empire before the Fourth (4th) Century, there was a spirit of emptiness and the pagan pilgrims made Mecca prosperous.

In 622, Mohammed had to flee from his native city -- a date called the Hejira which the Moslems today date their chronology. He proceeded to an oasis called Yathrib, also known by its Jewish-Aramaic name Medina. The majority of the population there was Jewish, including a priestly tribe Al-Kahinan (The Kohanim). At first Mohammed thought his new philosophy could remain a branch of Judaism, and that Jews would embrace his new religion, but soon, as he attracted more and more followers, he preferred to found an independent religion, Islam. Of course, he felt threatened by the long established faith and tradition of the Jews, who had lived in Medina for centuries. He, therefore, had to adopt a militant policy towards them, partly in his book, the Koran, and partly in military operations.

Although the various Jewish tribes had supported Mohammed initially, and he even entered into peace agreements with them, he found pretexts from time to time to violate those agreements. Especially in the case of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe, Mohammed’s behavior remained the model for Moslems’ future concept of adhering to peace treaties. Thus, he had the male members of his erstwhile "peace partners" executed while their wives and children were sold into slavery after he had attacked them, and they surrendered in the hope of fair and equitable treatment.

 

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