I watched a video the other day where a Muslim student at a California college sneered at a Jewish speaker and stated that she was for Hezbollah’s declaration that ‘Jews must be exterminated,’ and I wondered, what is the cause of this hatred between Muslims and Jews?

The answer I used to give people was that they’ve been fighting ever since Isaac and Ishmael. Strictly speaking, however, Isaac wasn’t a Jew and Ishmael wasn’t a Muslim, rather, they were both Hebrews (Ishmael was also half-Egyptian). Neither of these men would have been familiar with the terms, Jew or Muslim. Among Isaac’s children were Israelites and from them, Jews came forth. On Ishmael’s side, he was the father of Arabs, of whom some eventually became Muslims. While their sibling rivalry may explain some of the political conflict that has occurred in the Middle East, I do not believe it is the primary explanation for religious aspect that we are seeing today.

Conflict between Muslims and Jews began during the life of the Prophet Muhammad. After his message was rejected in Mecca, the Prophet was invited to settle a bloody dispute between two large Arab tribes in the area of Yathrib, where three Jewish tribes were prominent, the Banu Nadir, Banu Qaynuqa, and Banu Qurayza. Muhammad successfully forged the pact, called the Constitution of Medina, which settled the disputes and contractually obligated all tribes to come to one another’s aid.

Muhammad initially saw the Jews as natural allies to his monotheistic message and hoped that they would come to see him as a true Prophet and thus convert to Islam. However, they did not convert, at least in meaningful numbers. Moreover, not everyone was happy with the Constitution. Three times over five years, Jewish leaders attempted to kill Muhammad, hoping to restore the old balance of power. Muhammad exiled the Banu Nadir and the Banu Qaynuqa tribes for these actions.

The remaining tribe, the Banu Qurayza, threw their lot in with an army from Mecca that also sought to kill Muhammad. Unfortunately for the Banu Qurayza, the Meccans then abandoned them, leaving them as easy pickings for the Muslims. An independent arbiter decided the tribe’s fate, and with Muhammad’s approval, all of their men (between 400-900 of them) were beheaded, their women and children were enslaved, and their property was distributed among the Muslims, with one fifth going to Muhammad himself. Muhammad’s hopes of converting the Jewish tribes to Islam had failed.

After this event, Muhammad exiled all of the remaining Jews from Medina and Muslims ceased saying their prayers toward Jerusalem and instead began to say them in the direction of Mecca instead. This was the initial cause of the religious division and conflict.

The Prophet recited the Quran before, during and after these events, and as a result, the Quran has some widely divergent things to say about Jews. Here in one section, we see an example of the Quran’s message to Muslims regarding Jews:

“And abasement and poverty were pitched upon them [Jews], and they were laden with the burden of God’s anger; that, because they had disbelieved the signs of God and slain the Prophets unrightfully; that, because they disobeyed, and were transgressors.” (2:61)

Here, Muhammad echoes a sentiment found in the Jewish Torah, namely, that the infidelity of the Jews has led to Divine punishment. Here is the very next verse:

“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)

This is a positive verse, stating that Jews (and Christians) will go to Heaven and have no reason to fear.

“And when We [Allah] made a covenant with you and raised the mountain above you: Hold fast that which We have given you, and bear in mind what is in it, so that you may guard against evil. Then after that you turned back; and had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy on you, you had certainly been among the losers. And indeed you know those among you who violated the Sabbath, so We said to them: Be (as) apes, despised and hated.” (2:63:65)

Here, Muhammad compares Jews who violate the Sabbath to apes, people to be despised and hated. This verse is alluded to in the comments made by Muslim leaders and teachers when attempting to encourage hatred against Jews.

While many Muslims point to the verses in the Quran which speak highly of Jews, others can equally point to verses which compare Jews to apes (glossing over the fact that the verse compared disobedient Jews to apes!). There is, as they say, something for everyone in there.

The Hadiths (reported statements made by the Prophet) are more of the same:
Book 041, Number 6981:
“Ibn ‘Umar reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me); kill him.”
Some Muslims argue that all verses that condemn Jews, condemn those who are disobedient to their faith. Others claim that they have a legitimate basis for killing all Jews and are doing the Will of Allah and there is no authority to tell them they’re wrong. Either way, these documents have provided the basis for general contempt for Jews as disbelievers throughout history. In particular today they are very popular among Muslims who seek to frame this conflict as a religious war that will bring about the end times.

Nothing has elevated this general contempt to pure hatred like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After being crushed and scattered by the Romans in the first century, Jewish return to Palestine began in the Middle Ages, but it was a trickle which became greater during times of persecution. Near continuous occasions of violence, however, trimmed the population, keeping it less than 10% in the area. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, immigration increased as Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe and Russia sent Jews fleeing. They became a majority in Jerusalem, but still a minority in Palestine.

In an attempt to break the deadlock of World War I, the British courted Jewish and American support for their war effort by appealing to the Jews. In 1917, the British drove the Turks out of southern Syria. The British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, drafted a public letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader within the Jewish community in Britain, stating that Britain was favorable to the creation of a national home for Jews. This later became known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Jewish immigration accelerated, and a quarter million Jews arrived in the decade leading up to World War II.

Meanwhile, Arabs rioted in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1933. With Hitler’s rise to power, Muslim nations threw their lot in with the Axis powers, fighting against the British and hoping to destroy the Jewish population in Palestine. The British responded with several plans to divide the land between Arabs and Jews, which were rejected. In an attempt to appease the Arabs, they closed off Jewish immigration, and the Jews were trapped in Europe where six million of them were massacred by Nazis. After World War II, over 110,000 Jews entered Palestine despite British attempts to block them and conflict between Muslims and Jews began to intensify. The Jews also began to revolt against heavy-handed British rule and the British handed over the problem to the United Nations. The U.N. came up with a partition plan but did not enact it. The Jews intensified their actions and the British finally withdrew in 1948. Claiming victory, Jews declared the State of Israel. Muslim Arab forces from Israel’s neighboring countries attacked the next day. When the fighting was over, the Muslim armies were humiliated, three quarters of a million Palestinians had fled their homes and much of the land promised to the Muslims had been occupied by the Israelis.

As the list of wars between Israelis and Palestinians grows longer, the number of casualties increases, the justification for revenge increases and hatred increases. The conflict, at its nature, is political, in that it is a fight over land and resources, but it is also religious. For Jews, as they await the Messiah, they continually face persecution. Outcasts and victims for the last 4000 years, at least now they have Jerusalem back. You’d better believe they aren’t going to give it up. For Muslims, Jerusalem is their third holiest site as the place where Muhammad rose up to Heaven, and in fact they built a mosque on top the Temple, the holiest site in Judaism. Moreover, the Muslims tie together their fortunes in the world with the pleasure of Allah, and thus a decline in their fortunes to them means they’ve not been dedicated enough to the Quran. They will redouble their efforts because they simply cannot accept defeat to disbelievers. Thus the conflict will go on. As for a solution? Jesus said it best in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” While Christians have not always followed this in their dealings with Jews and Muslims, there is great wisdom in it, and it may provide the only way out of the cycle of hatred.

[1] http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/muslim/041-smt.php#041.6985 accessed 10-14-14
[1] This hadith forms the basis for Article 7 of the Hamas Charter.

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