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Book Review

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Author Probes Islamic Intolerance of Jews and Christians

July 28th 2008

Book Covers - The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism

The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History. Edited by Andrew G. Bostom. Prometheus Books, 2008. 766 pages.

In an exclusive interview, author and physician Andrew G. Bostom showed how familiar he is not only with the Koran, but also with a thousand years of Islamic law and commentary on the Islam’s holy book. This has armed him well to address the history of relations between Islam and Judaism in his newest book, The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism: from Sacred Texts to Solemn History (Prometheus Books). This collection of scholarly articles citing centuries of Islamic texts provides numerous examples of anti-Semitism reaching back to the very beginnings of Islam.

Being a physician, Bostom referred to the various manifestations of Islamic intolerance of Christians and Jews, or “People of the Book” (in Arabic, Ahl al- Kitâb), with a reference to medical terminology. “A forme fruste is medical term that refers to an incomplete manifestation of a disease entity,” he said, describing treatment meted out to Christians and Jews in Islamic countries. “I don't see signs that Muslim practice has relegated these teachings to the back burner.”

Asked whether it is possible for Jews, or Christians, to live unmolested in Muslim lands, Bostom answered, “There is no sign of that yet.”  If indeed there were a rejection of such practices, asked Bostom, “then where is the outcry from Islamic scholars? Where is the outcry from the Al Azhar (the renowned center of Islamic learning in Cairo)? Where is the protest against the violence and extremism in Iraq?”

In his essay “Islamic Antisemitism - Jew-Hatred in Islam,” Bostom notes that more than a thousand years ago, Jews in the Middle East were so afflicted by hatred and depredations directed at them by Muslims that they had to invent a word to describe it. Derived from the word sin’uth or hatred, Muslims who hated Jews were called soné’.  At that time, Jews, like Christians, were forced under Islamic law to wear distinctive clothing, show deference to Muslims, and pay the jizya or head-tax imposed on People of the Book. While the jizya is not now generally imposed, Bostom sees it re-emerging in a new form in places like Iraq, where Christians are compelled to pay ransom and extortion money to Muslim gangs—forced as they have been for centuries to face violence or leave their homelands.

Bostom denies the notion that Muslim animosity towards Jews is confined entirely to the 20th century and sparked by the protracted Israeli-Arab conflict. Multiple references cited by contributors to the book use Muslim texts from different time periods and locations, to make the point that Muslim animosity towards Jews as a people is pervasive. In the interview, Bostom quoted Sheikh Ahmad al-Farooqi Sirhindi—an Indian Muslim of the 1500s—who said, “Whenever a Jew is killed, it is for the benefit of Islam.”  Bostom asserts that some modern scholars ignore or obscure this legacy of Islam.

When asked whether he sees a possibility of change in Muslim countries, Bostom said, “I can’t give up hope,” even while, “It is at most a remote possibility that the region is headed back towards some sort of individualism.” Nevertheless, he spoke of courageous individuals within Islam, such as dissident author Ibn Warraq (who provided the foreword), who condemn Islam's intolerance of non-Muslims. Bostom and the contributors to the book contend that the Koran and basic Muslim texts such as the hadith, the words and deeds of Mohammed as transmitted by commentators, and the sira, the biographies of the Prophet, are a significant source of hostility to Jews. 

For example, according to Bostom, Muslim tradition holds that it was a Jewish conspiracy that led to the death of Mohammed.  Bostom added, “With the creation of Israel, that dhimmi (Ed. note: non-believer subject peoples) Jews were liberated from the sharia (Ed. note: Islamic law) was an unbearable affront to the Islamic order and this has triggered, predictably, the widespread exploitation of these eschatological motifs calling for mass destruction of the Jews.” In the Muslim eschatology, Jews will go to hell at the end of time while Islam will also vanquish Christianity.

While acknowledging that history has been marked at times by anti-Semitism on the part of Christians, “Muslim anti-Semitism is profoundly different,” Bostom remarked, “and what disturbed me is the depth to which it appears in the Koran itself.” He noted that Jews are likened to apes and swine and that in the Koran they are cursed by David, and Jesus, “Mary's son.” In Islam, Jesus appears as a prophet preceding Mohammed who bears little resemblance to the Jesus revered by Christians.

Not only Israel, but the United States has had to contend with suicide missions of fanatics who detonate bombs to kill themselves and others, such as on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington DC. Those who engaged in such self-immolations are referred to as “martyrs” by Muslim and other media outlets. Bostom averred that the Muslim concept of martyrdom varies significantly from the Judeo-Christian concept of martyrdom.  While the root of the word “martyr” comes from the Greek for “witness”—hence the giving of witness or testimony to faith, even to death—causing one’s own death or the death of others is not condoned in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Bostom noted the work on suicide in Islam by Franz Rosenthal published in 1946 that contends suicide is neither sanctioned nor forbidden by Islam. Suicide, in the cause of Islam, is extolled by Mohammed himself and seconded by imams and commentators of Islamic tradition ever since.

When asked specifically about Muslim inroads in Europe, especially Spain where its influence is growing, Bostom said such efforts are “part of the Islamic idea of supremacy. They still believe Spain is theirs.” Southern Spain, or Andalucía, was long a part of the Muslim world or Dar al Islam. The efforts of European Muslim leaders, such as Spain's Mansur Escudero, are part of an effort to make that part of the world “permanently part of Dar al Islam.”

Bostom added that petitions and gestures, such as Escudero's insistence that public Muslim prayer be allowed in a Catholic church that once was a mosque in Cordoba, are headed towards “reconquest.”  Thousands of Muslim immigrants from Morocco and elsewhere in the Muslim world are coming to Spain illegally and finding refuge there. As their presence grows, demands by the Muslim community in Spain are becoming more insistent, as it is elsewhere in Europe.

Shifting from Europe to the Mideast, Bostom referred to the Arab/Israeli conflict. He quoted Abu Iyaad, a founder of the Fatah terrorist organization, as saying, “We cannot allow historical Palestine to become another Andalucía.” Bostom stated, “This shows how deep-seated these beliefs are.”

The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism: from Sacred Texts to Solemn History delves deeply into its subject and deserves a place on the reference shelf, ready for quick consultation by journalists, researchers, and others curious about Islam and its centuries of relations with “People of the Book.”

Martin Barillas is a former U.S. diplomat who writes on religion and geopolitics at www.speroforum.com. 


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