Any Serious Discussion of Islamic Antisemitism Must Begin with Andrew Bostom

“Islam’s most respected and influential religious teaching centers openly promulgate canonical Islamic Jew-hatred with triumphal, unrelenting vigor,” writes Andrew Bostom in the new edition of his magnum opus. The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History, whose second edition appeared earlier this year after an initial 2008 publication, remains an essential research compendium on a vital, yet often ignored subject.  

In a new preface to over 700 pages of detailed documentation, Bostom reviews 2014-2017 Anti-Defamation League global antisemitism surveys. “The world’s 16 most Antisemitic countries are all in the Muslim Middle East, where 74% to 93% of the overwhelmingly Muslim denizens of these nations exhibit extreme Antisemitism,” he soberly summarizes. This result is unsurprising, because for “Muslim masses, basic Islamic education in the Qur’an, hadith, and sira (earliest Muslim biographies of [Islam’s prophet] Muhammad) may create an immutable superstructure of Jew hatred.”

Bostom demolishes any ideological “false pillar” that Islamic antisemitism “is not related to any specific Islamic doctrine,” contrary to commonplace claims by leading Islam authorities such as Bernard Lewis. “By the twentieth century, the great tolerance of Islam toward the religious, cultural, and racial minorities within its midst had become the received wisdom,” the American Orientalist Norman A. Stillman noted in a 1978 essay in the book. This “tendency to idealize the history of the Jews under Islam generally” in places such as medieval Islamic Spain “began to no small extent as an apologetic response to some of the painful failures of Jewish emancipation in Europe” in the late 1800s.

“Many medieval Jewish writers commonly referred to Muhammad as ha-meshugga’” (“Madman”), noted the scholarly Muslim apostate Ibn Warraq in a forward. These included Maimonides (1135-1204) from Spain’s mythical “Golden Age of Islamic tolerance.” “Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much,” he wrote in 1172 about Muslims.

Sephardic Jewish history specialist Jane S. Gerber dismisses in an essay historians who have overemphasized prominent Jews in Islamic societies as an indication of Islamic pluralism. The “rise of a Jew to an important governmental post was symptomatic of the complete alienation of the dynasty from its subjects,” she noted. “The few Jewish courtiers who are known to us from the Muslim sources were, in fact, all put to death by the rulers they served,” Stillman similarly noted.

The prominence of Jewish viziers in both Granada, Spain, in 1066, and Fez, Morocco, in 1465 incited Muslim masses, incensed that Jews were not showing due deference to Islam, to pogroms. Fez’s vizier, for example, violated onerous sharia stipulations subjugating dhimmis including Jews by riding a horse. Bostom notes how the former pogrom cost the lives of 3-4,000 Jews, at least equal to the number of Jews reportedly killed by Crusaders pillaging the Rhineland in 1096 while traveling to the First Crusade.

The copious evidence in Bostom’s work of recurring templates of Jewish suffering in Islamic lands across centuries is simply mind-numbing. One Yemeni Jew who immigrated to Israel in 1949 recalled how Yemeni “Arabs forbade us to wear shoes, so that we hid them,” similar to oppression Jews also suffered in Morocco before the 1907 French conquest. “Until our departure from Yemen in 1949, it was forbidden for a Jew to write in Arabic, to possess arms, or to ride on a horse or camel. The Jews could only ride on donkeys,” he noted.

Laurence Loeb’s 1977 anthropological study of Iran indicates how almost all Persian Jews had no choice but to become Muslims under Shah Abbas II’s reign (1642-1666). The 17th-century Law of Apostasy gave a Jewish convert to Islam sole inheritance rights in his family. This law remained in effect officially until 1881, but unofficially until after Reza Shah came to power in 1925. Loeb also examined the extremes of the Shiite doctrine that Jews are najas (“unclean”), such that the “possibility that rainwater might splash off a Jew onto a Muslim led to the prohibition of Jews walking in public during the rain!”

Such damning facts made Ibn Warraq scoff at politically correct pieties that “hatred of Jews—is only a recent phenomenon learned from the Nazis during and after the 1940s.” The German Nazi propagandist Johannes von Leers and subsequent convert to Islam under Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, demonstrated as much in a 1942 essay in the book. The “Qur’an is full of warnings about the Jews, who are bluntly called ‘Satans,’” Leers wrote, slanders Bostom conclusively catalogues.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) ideologue Sayyid Qutb concurred in a 1951 essay that “Jews, like the polytheists, are the worst enemies of the Muslims” since Islam’s founding in seventh-century Arabia. Drawing upon Islamic canons, he condemned that Jews here considered themselves God’s final revelators. They “were jealous of Muhammad because Allah chose him for this mission, which the Jews expected would be theirs.”

Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the late Grand Iman of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University or “Sunni Islam’s Vatican for religious education” according to Bostom, marveled that Jews could ever express such chutzpah towards Muhammad. “The Jews should have rushed to believe in this emissary, the unlettered Prophet who brought irrefragable proofs to believe in him,” he wrote in 1987. Yet the Orientalist Hartwig Hirschfeld wrote in the 1880s that for Muhammad’s Jewish skeptical questioners his “answers, filled with gross errors, provoked their laughter and mockery.”

Tantawi and his successor, the then Egyptian Grand Mufti Ahmad al-Tayyeb, both supported in 2002 during the Second Intifada suicide bombings in Israel, an example per Bostom of “Islamdom’s ongoing, relentless jihad against Israel.” In this “apotheosis of modern Muslim Jew-hatred,” Islamic doctrine demands that Jewish rule over a formerly Muslim territory must end, as his quotations from MB spiritual guide Yusuf Al-Qaradawi show. He stated in 2006 that “any invader who occupies even an inch of land of the Muslims, must face resistance” and thus Islam “makes this jihad an individual duty, in which the entire nation takes part.” As Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat stated in 1972 in a Cairo mosque, the “Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against God. Therefore it must be destroyed.”

Sadat’s stark words are only a few of the unsettling revelations that make Bostom’s painstaking labors into such a landmark study. Beyond a significant contribution to any debate that is not just academic, he has provided indispensable insight to anyone concerned about public policies involving Islam. Any serious discussion of Islamic antisemitism must begin with Bostom.

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