Muhammad's views on Jews

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Muhammad's views on Jews were demonstrated through the contact he had with Jewish tribes living in and around Medina. His views on Jews include his theological teaching of them as People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab), his description of them as earlier receivers of Abrahamic revelation; and the failed political alliances between the Muslim and Jewish communities.

After his migration (hijra) to Medina from his home-town of Mecca, he established an agreement known as the Constitution of Medina between the major Medinan factions, including the Jewish tribes of Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir, and Banu Qurayza that secured equal rights for both Jews and Muslims as long as Jews remained politically supportive.[1] Muhammad later fought battles with these tribes on the basis of violations of the constitution.

Muhammad and the Jewish tribes of Medina

In the course of Muhammad's proselytizing in Mecca, he viewed Christians and Jews, both of whom he referred to as "People of the Book", as natural allies, sharing the core principles of his teachings, and anticipated their acceptance and support. Muslims, like Jews, were at that time praying towards Jerusalem.[2] During the height of Muslim persecution in Mecca, Muhammad was offered the position of arbitrator in the highly diverse Medina, which had a large Jewish community.[3]

Many Medinans converted to the faith of the Meccan immigrants both before and after Muhammad's emigration, but only a few came from Jewish backgrounds because most of the Jewish community rejected Muhammad's status as a prophet.[2] Their opposition "may well have been for political as well as religious reasons".[4] According to Watt, "Jews would normally be unwilling to admit that a non-Jew could be a prophet."[5] Mark Cohen adds that Muhammad was appearing "centuries after the cessation of biblical prophecy" and "couched his message in a verbiage foreign to Judaism both in its format and rhetoric."[6]

The Talmud reports that there were prophets among the gentiles before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the end of biblical prophecy (most notably Balaam, whose story is told in Numbers 22, and Job, who is considered a non-Jew by most rabbinical opinions).[7] The prophet Jonah was sent on a mission to speak to the gentiles of the city of Nineveh.[8] According to Judaism, the destruction of the first Jerusalem Temple resulted in the deprivation of the period of Nevua ("prophecy") on earth with Malachi as the last of the authentic (Jewish) prophets.

As Muhammad taught of new Islamic prophets (such as Lot, and Jesus) and that his message was identical to those of Abraham and Moses, the Jews were furthermore in the position to make some Muslims doubt about his prophethood. Judaism does not list Loth, nor Jesus as Prophets in Judaism, and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 11a) states that Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi were the last prophets, all of whom lived at the end of the 70-year Babylonian exile, and nowadays only the "Bath Kol" (בת קול, lit. daughter of a voice, "voice of God") exists. The Jews, according to Watt, could argue that "some passages in the Qur'an contradicted their ancient scriptures".[5] Watt also states that many of the Jews had close links with Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy,[5] "the potential prince of Medina" who "is said that but for the arrival of Muhammad, had not become"[9] the chief arbitrator of the community. The Jews may have hoped for greater influence if Ubayy had become a ruler.[5] Watt writes that the Islamic response to these criticisms was:[5]

The Qur'an, met these intellectual criticisms by developing the conception of the religion of Abraham. While the knowledge of Abraham came from the Old Testament and material based on that, Abraham could be regarded as the ancestor of the Arabs through Ishmael. It was also an undeniable fact that he was not a Jew or Christian, since the Jews are either to be taken as the followers of Moses or as the descendants of Abraham's grandson, Jacob. At the same time Abraham had stood for the worship of God alone. The Qur'an therefore claimed that it was restoring the pure monotheism of Abraham which had been corrupted in various, clearly specified, ways by Jews and Christians.

Watt states that the charge of altering the scripture may mean no more than giving false interpretations to some passages, though in contemporary Islam it is taken to refer to textual corruption. The corruption of previously revealed books is referred to as tahrif. The Qur'an also stated that there was nothing surprising in Muhammad's rejection by Jews, as that had occurred to other prophets mentioned in Jewish scripture. Watt claims that the Qur'an "also went on to criticize Jewish exaggerations of their claim to be the chosen people"[10] and argued against the supposed claim of the Jews of Medina "that they alone had a true knowledge of God".[11] The Qur'an also criticized the Jews for believing that Ezra is the Son of God, a claim unattested either in Jewish or other extra-Qur'anic sources.[12] Michael Cook considers the charge of considering Ezra as the Son of God to be petty or obscure.[13] The Encyclopedia Judaica article on Ezra says, "Muhammed claims (Sura 9:30) that in the opinion of the Jews, Uzayr (Ezra) is the son of God. These words are enigma because no such opinion is to be found among the Jews, even though Ezra was singled out for special appreciation (see Sanh. 21b; Yev. 86b)."

In the Constitution of Medina, Jews were given equality to Muslims in exchange for political loyalty.[2][14] However, after each major battle with the Medinans, there were accusations of Jewish tribal treachery for aiding the enemies of the community in violation of the Constitution of Medina.[15] After Badr and Uhud, the Banu Qainuqa and Banu Nadir, respectively, were expelled "with their families and possessions" from Medina.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Muhammad became increasingly hostile to the Jews over time as he "perceived that there were irreconcilable differences between their religion and his, especially when the belief in his prophetic mission became the criterion of a true Moslem."[16] When the Jewish community challenged "the way in which the Koran appropriated Biblical accounts and personages; for instance, its making Abraham an Arab and the founder of the Ka‘bah at Mecca" Muhammad viewed it as a personal attack and in turn "accused them of intentionally concealing its true meaning or of entirely misunderstanding it, and taunted them with being."[16]

Banu Qurayza

After the Battle of the Trench in 627, the Jews of Banu Qurayza were accused of conspiring with the Meccans. Though Qurayza does not appear to have committed any overt hostile act[17] and been overtly correct in their behaviour,[18] they had most likely[17][18] been involved in negotiations with the enemy."[17][19] Marco Scholler believes the Banu Qurayza were "openly, probably actively," supporting Meccans and their allies.[20] Nasr writes that it was discovered that Qurayzah had been complicit with the enemy during the Battle.[21]

The Qurayza were fought and then defeated in battle, and then were allowed an arbitrator to decide their punishment. A previously allied tribe, Aws, pleaded with Muhammad for him to select an arbitrator from within the ranks of Aws. Banu Qurayza were appointed Sa'd ibn Mua'dh, a leading man among the allied Aws, a tribe that converted to Islam, whom they believed would judge in their favour. Sa'd asked the tribe which law they should be judged under, the Jewish or Muslim, and there was unanimous decision among the tribal leaders that they wished to be judged by their own Jewish laws. Sa'd passed an execution sentence against the Qurayza and 600-900 Qurayza men were beheaded (except for the few who chose to convert to Islam), all women and children enslaved, and their properties confiscated.[22] Watt writes that some of the Arab tribe of Aws wanted to honour their old alliance with Qurayza, are said to have asked Muhammad to forgive the Qurayza for their sake as Muhammad had previously forgiven the Nadir for the sake of Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy.

A minority of Muslim scholars reject the incident holding that Ibn Ishaq, the first biographer of Muhammad, supposedly gathered many details of the incident from descendants of the Qurayza Jews themselves. These descendants allegedly embellished or manufactured details of the incident by borrowing from histories of Jewish persecutions during Roman times.[23]

See also


  1. Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  2. 1 2 3 Esposito, John. 1998. Islam: the Straight Path, extended edition. Oxford university press, p.17
  3. Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition, Lindsay Jones, Muhammad article, ISBN 0-02-865742-X
  4. Gerhard Endress, Islam, Columbia University Press, p.29
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 The Cambridge History of Islam, pp. 43-44
  6. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, p. 23, Princeton University Press
  7. "JOB - In Rabbinical Literature". The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  9. The Cambridge History of Islam, p.40
  10. Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, p. 116
  11. Watt, Muslim-Christian Encounters, p.14
  12. Kate Zebiri, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, The Qur'an and Polemics
  13. Michael Cook, Muhammad, p. 34
  14. Jacob Neusner, God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions, p. 153, Georgetown University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-87840-910-6
  15. See [Quran 2:100]
  16. 1 2 Singer, I. (Ed.). (1901–1906).The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. Entry on Muhammad
  17. 1 2 3 Watt in Encyclopedia of Islam, Banu Qurayza Article
  18. 1 2 The Cambridge History of Islam, p.49
  19. Watt, Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press, p. 171
  20. Qurayza article, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, vol. 4, p. 334
  21. Nasr in Muhammad article, Britanica Encyclopedia
  22. Archived December 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. W. N. Arafat, "Did Prophet Muhammad ordered 900 Jews killed?", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland(JRAS), pp. 100-107, 1976.
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