(Addended) Koranic Antisemitism: Striking Agreement Between Authoritative, Modern Western And Islamic Scholars

Professor Moshe Perlmann (1905-2001) was a meticulous scholar of Arabic and Islam, with great fluency in not only Arabic and Hebrew, but also Russian (having been born in Odessa), and German, as well as further written proficiency in Persian, Syriac, French and Italian.

The focus of Perlmann’s work was the Medieval religious polemic, especially Islam’s anti-Jewish (here; here) and anti-Christian tracts (here; here). Unearthing and providing unique annotated translations of pathognomonic texts (catalogued here), with insightful commentary, Perlmann, as obituarist Herbert A. Dawson, observed, allowed the original writings, “to speak for themselves,” leaving readers “to draw whatever moral they can.”

Perlmann brought to light (1949) the “profuse” employment of the dehumanizing Koranic epithet (Koran 2:65/7:166/5:60) characterizing Jews as apes (5:60 ads another epithet, “apes and pigs”), for the incitement of the jihad annihilation of Granadan Jewry, during Muslim domination of Spain, in 1066—a massive anti-Jewish pogrom, whose killing of some ~4000 Jews greatly exceeded in scale the much better known Crusader ravages of the Rhineland 30 years later at the outset of the first Crusade. Two decades later, Perlmann lamented how in 1966, the 900th anniversary of this “Granada debacle,” which he remonstrated was “the first major pogrom on European soil,” had “passed unnoticed.”

Moshe Perlmann rejected the fatuous notion—still regnant today—that Arab Muslim Antisemitism was somehow a modern European export to the Islamic Middle East (and Islamdom, more broadly). Here is his rather understated debunking of that meme, written in 1955:

…[N]either the popular attitude nor the Arab literary heritage are exactly favorable to the Jew. A goodly layer of derogatory notions, contempt and misgivings antedates the penetration of Western Jew-baiting. The sunna foundations [i.e., traditions of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community, which, along with the Koran, formed the basis for Islamic law] may have “clearly defined” the infidel’s position [i.e., as debased, and humiliated but at least ‘protected’ from a resumption of jihad war]…However, this definition never deterred the people and the legislators throughout the centuries from questioning again and again the rights of the infidel to buildings for worship, the holding of office, amenities of everyday life. In agitated times sunna could not prevent Jew-baiting riots; in normal or static periods to eliminate either its own outlook—social disqualification and humiliation for the infidel—or the masses’ guarded, suspicious and negative attitude.

 But it was Perlmann’s salient elucidation of Islam’s theological animus towards Jews—the ultimate, abiding source of Muslim Jew-hatred to this day—which may be his most remarkable, albeit lesser known, contribution. Perlmann wrote a chapter entitled, “The Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,” within his 1940 PhD thesis, A Study of Muslim Polemics Directed Against Jews, [Entry 11, here:—A Thesis submitted to the University of London for the degree of Ph.D. (Internal) in History, Faculty of Arts. September 1940 (x + 159 pp.)]. Contemporary Islamologist Sabine Schmidtke provided these background details regarding the overall dissertation, including an allusion to Perlmann’s goal to become an academic in the U.S.—which he ultimately fulfilled:

During the years 1937-40 Moshe Perlmann resided in London where he wrote his Ph.D. under the supervision of Arthur S. Tritton (1881-1973) [note: Tritton’s own work included a pioneering study of non-Muslims under the Sharia], which he submitted in September 1940 to the School of Oriental Studies. The subject of his dissertation, A study of Muslim polemics directed against Jews, had already intrigued him during his studies at the Hebrew University. In 1939, Perlmann won the prestigious Ouseley Memorial Scholarship in Persian. It seems that already prior to his arrival in England, or very early on during his stay there, Perlmann toyed with the idea of seeking his academic future in the United States.

What follows, are key extracts from Perlmann’s 1940 Ph.D. thesis chapter, “The Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,”:

Jews in the Koran [All verses enumerated per The Quranic Arabic Corpus]

Forgetting the Divine Dispensation, the Jews transgressed Allah’s commandments and flouted the prophets, and even slew them (3:181).Therefore many punishments fell upon them (2:61); e.g., some of them were turned into apes* for desecrating the sabbath (2:65; 7:166) Muhammad came to confirm their scriptures (3:3; 4:51), but they did not accept him. They concealed the revelation (2:42; 3:71),or did not understand it (2:78); they tried to mislead people (3:69; 3:99), having no compunction about deceiving the pagan Arabs (3:69). Therefore, although they knew from their books all about Muhammad “as they knew their own children,” (2:146), they made false statements about the scriptures (4:51; 5:49) distorting the texts. [note*—5:60 adds transformation into pigs, as well as apes].

 In contradiction to them, the Prophet [Muhammad] declares that Ibrahim [Abraham] and Ismail [Ishmael] were Muslim prophets (2:124; 3:67; 3:68), who built the Meccan temple (2:125; 3:97) before the revelation of Musa [Moses], to which the Jews refer. Thus, Islam is the original revelation. This cuts the ground from under the feet of the unbelievers. They make blasphemous statements: That Allah’s hand is chained up (5:64); that Uzair [Ezra] is the son of Allah (9:30). At the same time, they are stubborn in their opposition to the true prophet. They must be regarded as enemies (3:28; 5:51; 5:57). The believers will find that they are their fiercest enemies, the Christians being much more friendly (5:82). Therefore, after they had rejected many friendly overtures (2:59; 5:81), it was decided that they must be fought against, made tributaries, and compelled to pay poll-tax, as a mark of their humiliation (9:29).

In the Fatiha [i.e., 1:7], the words al-maghdub alayhim [“those who earned Your (Allah’s) anger”] are supposed to refer to the Jews.

The Koranic exegeses (interpretations and commentaries) of Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi (1928-2010), late Grand Imam of Sunni Islam’s foremost religious teaching institution Al-Azhar University—i.e., Papal equivalent of its Vatican—provide a striking mirror image, in synopsis, of Perlmann’s 1940 conclusions, from a pious, mainstream Muslim perspective, of highest authority.

According to his official Al-Azhar University biography, Tantawi who was born in the Upper-Egyptian village of Saleem Sharqiyyah in 1928, displayed “his brilliance when he was able to recite the whole al-Quran while still in elementary school in his village.” He attended the Al-Iskandariah religious institute for his secondary education in 1944 before enrolling in the Usuluddin Faculty of Al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1958. Tantawi procured his first degree with honors, a Masters in Education in 1959, and his Ph.D in 1966. Tantawi’s Ph.D. thesis “Banū Isrāʼīl fī al-Qurʼān wa-al-Sunnah,” “Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,” was first published in 1968. He had served in the Waqaf Ministry of Egypt till 1964 before being appointed a lecturer at Al-Azhar. In 1976, Tantawi was made Dean of Usuluddin Faculty of Al-Azhar University (Asyut campus). Later he became Head of the Interpretation and Koranic Knowledge Department at the University of Islam in Madinah, Saudi Arabia (1980-1984), and a visiting lecturer at the Basra University of Iraq. In 1985, Tantawi was appointed Dean of the Islamic Studies and Arab Language Faculty of Al-Azhar University. On October 28, 1986 he was made the Mufti of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and on March 17, 1996, he became the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, a position he held until his sudden death from a myocardial infarction, March 10, 2010.

Tantawi had waxed about his “Venerable al-Azhar,” which

gathered those seeking knowledge and learning from the far corners of the earth. It was their intellectual qiblah [direction of worship/prayer] in Egypt (…) as the Ka‘ba in Mecca was their religious qiblah. They acquired from its abundant knowledge at the hands of its singular ‘ulama and through study, research and consultation of its time-honored library.

Ultimately emerging as a pre-eminent modern Sunni scholar of Koranic studies, Tantawi’s own trajectory toward leadership  of “Venerable al-Azhar,” was punctuated by three defining academic efforts: his Ph.D. thesis, “Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,” mentioned earlier; a full 15-volume Koranic commentary, originally produced between 1974 and 1986; and overseeing establishment of the largest online resource for Koranic interpretation, ALTAFSIR.COM, which has published ~100 full-text, verse by verse searchable classical & modern commentaries on the Koran, including his own.

What follows, in conclusion, are res ipsa loquitur extracts from Tantawi’s “Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,” and his subsequent mature, contemporary magnum opus 15-volume Koranic commentary, “al-Tafsīr al-wasīṭ lil-Qurʼān al-karīm,” “The Broad Interpretation of The Koran.”

Jews in the Koran and the Traditions (title identical to Perlmann’s earlier 1940 work in English):

[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [see Koran 2:613:112 ], corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places (4:46), consuming the people’s wealth frivolously [4:161], refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do [3:1205:79], and other ugly characteristics  caused by their deep-rooted (lascivious) envy [2:109]…only a minority of the Jews keep their word…[A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [3:113], the bad ones do not…[T]he Jews always remain maleficent deniers….they should desist from their negative denial…some Jews went way overboard in their denying hostility, so gentle persuasion can do no good with them, so use force with them and treat them in the way you see as effective in ridding them of their evil. One may go so far as to ban their religion, their persons, their wealth, and their villages.

The Broad Interpretation of The Koran:

[Koran 1:7] The Jews are the ones who are targeted by Allah’s anger… those who evoked Allah’s anger are the ones whose will has become corrupted since they have come to know the truth but they abandoned it because of their obstinacy and malice.

[Koran 3:112]  They (the Jews)have been put under humiliation [by Allah ] wherever they are overtaken, except for a covenant from Allah and a rope from the Muslims. And they have drawn upon themselves anger from Allah and have been put under destitution. That is because they disbelieved in the verses of Allah and killed the prophets without right. That is because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed.

[Koran 5:60] …to keep pace with the corrupt thinking and false assumptions and claims of the Jews. The Almighty (Allah) is apparently saying to His Prophet that these Jews, O Mohammad, begrudge you your faith in Allah and His heavenly books and consider this as evil even though it is the right thing. Tell them as a way of reproving them that if you censure us for our faith and regard it as evil according to your claims, what you (the Jews) claim is even more evil as shown in the penalty that has befallen you as you have been cursed and become estranged from Allah’s mercy and compassion, and what has befallen your ancestors of whom some were transformed into apes, others into pigs, and what has been known about you as worshippers of others than Allah.

[Koran 5:64] And the Jews say, “The hand of Allah is chained.” Chained are their hands, and cursed are they for what they say. Rather, both His hands are extended; He spends however He wills. And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. And We have cast among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they kindled the fire of war (against you), Allah extinguished it. And they strive throughout the land (causing) corruption, and Allah does not like corrupters.

[Koran 9:29] The reasons for the order to fight them are: they do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, they do not prohibit what Allah and His Messenger [Muhammad] have prohibited, and they do not adopt the religion of truth…The meaning is fight those who have these attributes from among the People of the Scripture until they pay the Jizya* willingly and submissively (while) they are humbled, humiliated and subservient to your rule over them… Taking the Jizya from them…is also a way of contributing to the advancement and prosperity of the Islamic state….It is an acknowledgement on their behalf to submit to the instructions of this state…Those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, those who do not prohibit what Allah and His Apostle [Muhammad] have prohibited, and who do not adopt the religion of truth [i.e., Islam] as their religion deserve this humiliation and ignominy in this world. As for the afterlife, their torture would be excruciatingly painful and everlasting. (note*jizya is the blood ransom Koranic poll-tax non-Muslims subjugated by jihad were forced to pay, “in lieu of being slain,” often accompanied by humiliating rituals, such as mock-beheadings, blows, etc.) 


Hyperlink to full, downloadable version of Tantawi’s Ph.D., Banū Isrāʼīl fī al-Qurʼān wa-al-Sunnah, in the original Arabic, here

 From the compendium,The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism”, additional translated English extracts from Tantawi’s Ph.D., as a pdf

Tantawi_Translated Engl Exts from Jews in the Koran and Traditions

Hyperlink to the online Arabic version at www.altafsir.com of Tantawi’s “al-Tafsīr al-wasīṭ lil-Qurʼān al-karīm,” “The Broad Interpretation of The Koran”, beginning at the opening verse (1:1), here.