Jews and Muslims have had a close but tense relationship since Islam’s earliest days, when Jewish tribes in seventh-century Arabia, principally in the city of Medina, rejected the Prophet Muhammad’s claims to religious and political leadership. In the modern era, the Zionist movement and establishment of the State of Israel have exacerbated this longstanding tension, with fallout from events of the recent past–the Palestinian uprising known as the intifada and the wave of anti-Western Islamic terrorism culminating in the attacks of September 11, 2001–bringing the relationship to a low point.
From a Jewish perspective, two main issues divide contemporary Jews and Muslims. The first is widespread Muslim rejection of Jewish political control over land–in this instance the State of Israel–considered part of dar al-islam, an Arabic term denoting territory that Muslims consider rightfully theirs because of it having once been under their rule. The second issue is Islam’s theological insistence that it has replaced Judaism as God’s favored religious expression because of Jewish transgressions–a belief that Jewish sources say is fueled by the political conflict over Israel. (Islam also claims to have similarly replaced Christianity.)
Possibilities for Partnerships
Just a decade ago, the outlook for Jewish-Muslim relations seemed so much more optimistic. The ill-fated Oslo agreement appeared to many as the political breakthrough that just might end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the hopeful presumed would prompt hesitant Muslim governments to establish diplomatic relationships with the Jewish state, thereby fostering a new era of Jewish-Muslim cooperation and understanding.
In the United States, where Jewish-Muslim dialogue began in earnest in the 1980s, and was more advanced than in most nations, efforts designed to bring the communities closer together advanced as never before during the heady days of the early Oslo period. Dialogue groups sprang up, Muslims were invited to synagogues, Jews visited mosques, and joint business ventures were planned to cement ties in the “new” Middle East. Muslims approached Jewish groups that oversaw kashrut standards for advice on how to establish legal standards for hallal, Islam’s religious dietary laws that in some regards mirror Judaism’s. Jews and Muslims also came to together on such domestic political issues as religious freedom and immigration policy.
Abdulrahman Almoudy, a Washington, D.C., Muslim activist who today is persona non grata in Jewish circles for his defense of Muslim terrorist groups, such as Hamas, was quoted in 2000 nostalgically recalling how in the mid-1990s he worked with Jewish organizations, such as the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, to open doors for Muslims at the State Department, the White House, and on Capitol Hill.
The Quran on the Jews
Some Muslims, in reaction to the manifesto, argued that a literal reading of the Quran is the reason for misunderstanding its attitude towards Jews; modern-day Muslims, they claim, should read the Quran symbolically not literally. However, the real problem concerns the cherry picking and misinterpretation of certain verses about Jews while turning a blind eye to others which praise Jews. A proper and thorough reading of the Quran — one that takes into account all of the verses on the subject — shows that the Quran is not anti-Semitic.
..لَتَجِدَنَّ أَشَدَّ النّاسِ عَداوَةً لِلَّذينَ آمَنُوا اليَهودَ وَالَّذينَ .أَشرَكوا
“Surely You will find the most hostile of all people towards the faithful to be the Jews and the polytheists”… [AL-MĀʾIDAH-82 ( المائدة )]