The Quran On Jews in Its Historical Setting
The Quran makes forty-three specific references to "Bani Isrāʾīl" (meaning the Children of Israel). The Arabic term yahud, denoting Jews, and "yahudi" occur eleven times and the verbal form hāda (meaning "to be a Jew/Jewish") occurs ten times. According to Khalid Durán, the negative passages use Yahūd, while the positive references speak mainly of the Banī Isrā’īl. Jews are not mentioned at all in verses dating from the Meccan period. According to Bernard Lewis, the coverage given to Jews is relatively insignificant.
The references in the Quran to Jews are interpreted in different ways. According to Frederick M. Schweitzer and Marvin Perry, these references are "mostly negative" According to Tahir Abbas the general references to Jews are favorable, with only those addressed to particular groups of Jews containing harsh criticisms.
According to Bernard Lewis and other scholars, the earliest verses of the Quran were largely sympathetic to Jews. Mohammed admired them as monotheists and saw them as natural adherents to the new faith and Jewish practices helped model early Islamic behavior, such as midday prayer, prayers on Friday, Ramadan fasting (modelled after the Jewish Yom Kippur fast on the tenth of the month of Tishrei), and most famously the fact that until 623 Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem, not Mecca. After his flight (al-hijra) from Mecca, where religious intolerance reigned, in 622 Mohammad with his followers settled in Yathrib, subsequently renamed Medina al-Nabi (‘City of the Prophet’) where he managed to draw up a ‘social contract’, widely referred to as the 'Constitution of Medina'. This contract, known as the Leaf (ṣaḥīfa) upheld the peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians, defining them all, under given conditions, as constituting the umma, or community of that city, and granting the latter freedom of religious thought and practice. Yathrib/Medina was not homogeneous. Alongside the 200 odd emigrants from Mecca (the Muhājirūn), who had followed Mohammad, its population consisted of the Faithful of Medina (Anṣār, ‘the helpers’), Arab pagans, three Jewish tribes and some Christians. The foundational 'constitution' sought to establish, for the first time in history according to Ali Khan, a formal agreement guaranteeing interfaith conviviality, albeit ringed with articles emphasizing strategic cooperation in the defense of the city.
In paragraph 16 of this document, it states that:'Those Jews who follow us are entitled to our aid and support so long as they shall not have wronged us or lent assistance (to any enemies) against us'.
Paragraph 37 has it that 'To the Jews their own expenses and to the Muslims theirs. They shall help one another in the event of any attack on the people covered by this document. There shall be sincere friendship, exchange of good counsel, fair conduct and no treachery between them.'. The three local Jewish tribes were the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qurayza, and the Banu Qaynuqa. While Mohammad clearly had no prejudice against them, and appears to have regarded his own message as substantially the same as that received by Jews on Sinai, tribal politics, and Mohammad's deep frustration at Jewish refusals to accept his prophethood, quickly led to a break with all three. Unfortunate linguistic misunderstandings may also have given the impression, evidenced in the Quran, that the Jewish community was publicly humiliating Mohammad. One clan was evicted from Medina in 624. In 625, the Banu Nadir Jewish tribe was evicted from Medina. Lastly, in the Mecca siege of Medina in 627, the last major Jewish tribe initially helped the Muslims in fortifying the back portions of Medina, but due to their later exposed treachery in trying to assist the pagan Meccan army, the Muslims laid siege to this last group of Jews. Since the Torah prescribes the death penalty for treachery, the adult males of this last Jewish tribe were killed, and the women and children were taken into slavery (but later freed). The direction of prayer was shifted towards Mecca from Jerusalem and the most negative verses about Jews were set down after this time.
According to Laqueur, conflicting statements about Jews in the Qur'an have affected Muslim attitudes towards Jews to this day, especially during periods of rising Islamic fundamentalism.
Read more about this topic: Islam And Antisemitism
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