Islam is a religion which does not advocate the hatred of any race, or group of people, based on language, colour, or ethnic background. It is a religion which calls for justice, even for those who have transgressed against its followers. The Qur’an praises certain groups of Jews who lived at various points in history, and criticises others; however, the criticism is to be understood in the context of those who held the specific beliefs, or carried out the specific actions mentioned, as well as those from later generations who were pleased with them. This criticism is not unique to Islam, and is also present in the Old and New Testament. Modern tensions in the Middle-East have led many Muslims to profess a blind hatred of Jews, but this is something which is alien to the religion of Islam, and runs contradictory to Islamic principles.
The word Jew can refer to one of two things; either a person who belongs to the Jewish ethnic group (often referred to as the Jewish people), or a follower of the religion of Judaism.
Islam is not a racist or discriminatory religion. It does not advocate the hatred of any race, or group of people, based on language, colour, or ethnic background.
This is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female, and made you peoples and tribes, that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is the All-Knowing, All-Aware.” [The Qur’an: Al-Ḥujuraat 49:13]
The Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“O people, your Lord is one; there is no merit for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor is there merit for a non-Arab over an Arab; and there is no merit for a white person over a black person, nor for a black person over a white person; except by measure of [piety and good actions]. Indeed, the most noble among you in the sight of Allah are the most god-fearing.” [Ahmed: 23489]
Therefore, the measure of merit for people in Islam is based on their piety and adherence to the truth; not their race, colour, or ethnicity. A Muslim loves and hates based on this measure of closeness to God. As such, a Muslim hates the transgressor, the blasphemer, the oppressor, and other types of sinners, according to the seriousness of their sin, without oppressing or persecuting them in any way.
With regard to the Jews, the Qur’an tells us what happened to the Children of Israel throughout the ages, beginning with them being chosen by Allah at the time of Moses (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), due to their piety and patience:
“And We certainly saved the Children of Israel from a humiliating torment. From Pharaoh – indeed, he was haughty and one of the transgressors. And We chose them, purposely, over [all] the worlds, with knowledge.” [The Qur’an: Ad-Dukhaan 44:30-32].
“And We caused the people who had been oppressed to inherit the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, [all of] which We had blessed. And the good word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel because of what they had patiently endured. And We destroyed [all] that Pharaoh and his people were producing and what they had been building.” [The Qur’an: Al-A’raaf 7:137]
Having understood that Islam does not discriminate against any group of people based on their ethnicity, colour, or race; it becomes clear that any perceived criticism of Jews or Judaism in the Qur’an must purely be on religious grounds.
This is emphasised in the Qur’an with the praise of a group among the Jews:
“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” [The Qur’an: al-Baqarah 2:62]
This passage refers to two groups of the Jews: those who were faithful to their covenant with God, until the coming of Jesus; and those Jews who believed in Jesus during his time, as well as those who believed in Muhammad during his time (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both).
Furthermore, the justice of Islam prohibits that an entire religious group be criticised, without distinguishing between those who hold certain beliefs, or do certain actions, and those who do not. This is clearly shown in the following passage of the Qur’an:
“And among the People of the Scripture is he who, if you entrust him with a great amount [of wealth], he will return it to you. And among them is he who, if you entrust him with a [single] silver coin, he will not return it to you unless you are constantly standing over him [demanding it]. That is because they say, ‘There is no blame upon us concerning the unlearned.’ And they speak untruth about Allah while they know [it].” [The Qur’an: Aal-‘Imraan 3:75]
This passage is critical of a group of people from among the Jews who said that there is no blame upon them if they mistreat the non-Jews; however, it is made clear that this is not true of every Jew, and it in fact emphasises there are those who are honest and faithful in their dealings.
When the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came with the message of Islam, calling for the worship of one true God and fulfilling the prophecies of old in the Torah of Moses and the Gospels of Jesus (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both), Allah addressed the Children of Israel reminding them of his favours upon them and confirming that he was the Prophet that they had been waiting for. He said in this regard:
“O Children of Israel! Remember My favour with which I favoured you, and fulfil your (part of the) covenant, I shall fulfil My (part of the) covenant, and fear Me [alone]. And believe in what I have sent down confirming that which is [already] with you, and be not the first to disbelieve in it. And do not exchange My signs for a small price, and fear Me [alone]. And cover not the truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when you know (what it is).” [The Qur’an: Al-Baqarah 2:40-42]
This passage from the Qur’an concludes with the following statement:
“O Children of Israel, remember My favor that I have bestowed upon you and that I preferred you over [all] the worlds.” [The Qur’an: Al-Baqarah 2:47]
A group fulfilled the commands given to them, and another group did not. This was reported in the Qur’an:
“but when there came to them that which they recognised [the Qur’an], they disbelieved in it…” [The Qur’an: Al-Baqarah 2:89]
The Qur’an also mentions similar events which occurred prior to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):
“We had already taken the covenant of the Children of Israel and had sent to them messengers. Whenever there came to them a messenger with that which their souls did not desire, a group of them they called liars, and others among them they killed.” [The Qur’an: Al-Maa’idah 5:70]
It also mentions the specific event of the Prophet Jesus (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) when he was sent to the Children of Israel:
“And because of their disbelief [in Jesus and the other prophets] and that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge [of adultery].” [The Qur’an: An-Nisaa’ 4:156]
These verses are clearly critical of two groups of the Jews: the first group are those who took part in the acts mentioned; the second group are those who were content with the actions of their predecessors. As for those who did not take part, nor were they content with those actions, they are not the subject of the rebuke in this passage.
Furthermore, when mentioning these transgressions, the Qur’an did not speak of something that had no precedence in the previous scriptures, as these transgressions were already known to both Jews and Christians, in the Torah and Gospels. The killing of prophets was mentioned in the Old Testament in Nehemiah 9:26 and 1 Kings 19:10-14; and in the New Testament, in Luke 11:47 and 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16. Furthermore, the children of Israel had been described as ‘stiff necked’, as in Deuteronomy 9:13; a ‘brood of rebels’ and the ‘offspring of liars’ as in Isaiah 57:4; ‘rebels’ as in Numbers 20:10, in addition to many other words of rebuke which were recorded as being uttered by prophets from the Children of Israel themselves. As in the Qur’an, these are not understood to be a blanket criticism of all Jewry; rather, they are specific to those who carried out particular transgressions, as well as the implied criticism of those who approved of them.
The questioner may wonder why – as in the Old and New Testament – the criticism sometimes appears to be general. This is no different to what has been mentioned above, and can be understood as being a feature of linguistic emphasis. One reason for this is when a particular belief is held by a majority of people, as in the following passage of the Qur’an:
“The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of Allah’; and the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the son of Allah.’ That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded!” [The Qur’an: at-Tawbah 9:30]
The Qur’an attributes a statement to the Jews and a statement to the Christians, yet the scholars of Islam unanimously affirm that not all Jews believe in the divinity of Ezra, nor do all Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus; however, due to the fact that the Jews of Madinah who lived at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an believed Ezra to be the son of Allah, they are addressed as such.
It is a vital teaching in Islam that Muslims are just and fair in their dealings with all individuals. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and doing good, and giving (help) to kith and kin.” [The Qur’an: an-Nahl 16:90]
This even applies to those who participate in the worst of crimes in the sight of Islam. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“O you who have believed, stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is well-acquianted with what you do.” [al-Qur’an: al-Maa’idah 5:8]
Therefore, even though Islam commands us to hate the transgressor, the blasphemer, the oppressor, and the murderer, according to the seriousness of their sin, this should never prevent a Muslim from being just.
We see this embodied in the treatment of the Jews, with whom the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his companions shared the city of Madinah. Any attempts to oppress them were not tolerated, and their rights as citizens were upheld. This can be seen in the Constitution of Madinah, which afforded the Jewish citizens of Madinah security, along with political, cultural, and religious rights, despite their minority status.
For a large part of history, Jews considered the Islamic world a safe haven and a comfortable place of abode, where they were able practice their religion and live a life free from injustice and persecution. The era of Muslim rule in Spain (8th – 11th century) is often referred to as the Jewish ‘Golden Age’, particularly for the economic and scientific progress made by the Jewish community, as well as religious tolerance and harmony.
Unfortunately, what can been considered as centuries of peace and tolerance are often tainted by negative incidents in history, resulting in a distorted understanding of how Jews and Muslims perceive one another.
In modern times, the source of conflict has been centred around Israel and Palestine. For many Muslims, the grief and suffering of the Palestinian people has led to a hatred of everything related to the Jews, even the word Israel, despite it being the name of a noble prophet, mentioned many times in the Qur’an. This is in open contradiction to the teachings of Islam which – as we have seen – call for justice, even towards those who have transgressed against you. Being unjust towards those who have done you no harm is an even greater sin, and blind hatred towards an entire religious or ethnic group, without distinguishing between those who are guilty and those who are innocent, necessitates being unjust towards those who have done no harm. Furthermore, it necessitates being unjust towards those who have transgressed against a group of Muslims, by judging every crime to be equal to the worst of them – something which is also foreign to Islam and alien to the concept of justice.
In summary, Islam is a religion which does not advocate the hatred of any race, or group of people, based on language, colour, or ethnic background. It is a religion which calls for justice, even for those who have transgressed against its followers. The Qur’an praises certain groups of Jews who lived at various points in history, and criticises others; however, the criticism is to be understood in the context of those who held the specific beliefs, or carried out the specific actions mentioned, as well as those from later generations who were pleased with them. This criticism is not unique to Islam, and is also present in the Old and New Testament. Modern tensions in the Middle-East have led many Muslims to profess a blind hatred of Jews, but this is something which is alien to the religion of Islam, and runs contradictory to Islamic principles.