Since I figure it might interest some people, I’m going to reproduce
a comment I made on another blog (which I highly recommend) in reaction
to an insightful posting by the Velveteen Rabbi on the Quran.
My contribution wasn’t particularly erudite or articutle. I was
just trying to throw some light on how the Quran treats Jews and how
there is an interesting interaction within Islam with the Tanakh (i.e.,
the Hebrew Bible) and Jewish tradition. Since the audience is
presumably non-Muslim, I kept it pretty high-level regarding Islamic
Any corrections or additional examples from my esteemed readers would be very welcome.
A great post and a great blog.
As a Muslim, I’m very appreciative of your thoughtful and respectful approach to the Quran.
The profound similarities between Islam and Judaism is a topic that
has long fascinated me. I’m sure you’re well aware of the parallels:
kashrut/halal; halakha/shariah; what I’d call strict & unambiguous
monotheism (as opposed to the complexity of Trinitarian monotheism);
daily prayers and other religious rituals; etc. etc.
The question of the Quran’s view of Jews is a controversial and IMHO
generally poorly understood one. I think that when you read the Quran
holistically, with an awareness of the historical context in which it
was revealed, and with an open mind–something which comes no easier to
Muslims than non-Muslims–its message is not at all hostile to Judaism,
even if does view Islam as superior to Judaism (which is to be
expected–most religions claim to supercede others). There are a number
of verses which imply, either directly or indirectly, that Judaism is
based on Divine truth and, thus, an ally of Islam against sin and
materialism (e.g., verse 22:40 makes it clear that Muslims are to
declare jihad to protect churches and synagogues along with mosques
because these are places where "Allah’s name is oft remembered"). Also,
another verse explicitly states that God intentionally created the
world in "tribes and nations" (49:31) and yet another declares that
"there is no compulsion of religion" (2:256).
There are admittedly verses which condemn the Israelites of old for
sinning and erring, but we should remember that is in keeping with
Jewish tradition (e.g., the Golden Calf incident). To view it as
anti-Semitic is to miss the whole point, as these are shared religious
traditions and metaphors for spiritual life. Is it anti-Semitic for the
Quran to *accept* Biblical accounts and take them at face value? Jews
might fairly object to some aspects to the way these stories are
interpreted in Islam (though I’m not sure they differ substantially
from the Jewish tradition), but to label them anti-Semitic is to really
There are also verses which speak of enmity with "the Jews". This
question is more complex, but they clearly refer to contemporary
political problems with some Jewish tribes in the city of Madina (e.g.,
there was a case where a Jewish tribe in Medina betrayed Muhammad and
his community by siding with an enemy inspite of a treaty they’d
signed) and not Judaism or Jews for all time. (Sadly, some
Muslims–thanks in part to this tragic conflict in the Middle
East–fail to remember this crucial distinction, as well, but the
failings of Muslims are not the fault of the Quran.)
That’s not to say that anti-Semitic interpretations aren’t to be
found among Muslim interpreters, but the assumption that they are the
result of the Quran is highly debatable.
An area that I wish to learn more about is the differences between
Islam and Judaism concerning *shared* traditions. There are numerous
shared narratives in the Quran and Tanakh, but sometimes with
interesting differences. For example, as you no doubt know, the story
of Abraham’s Akidah [This isn’t the be confused with the Islamic concept of Aqidah. –Svend] appears in the Quran (and is the basis for one of
the Islam’s two major holidays), but with the crucial difference that
the son involved was Ishmael instead of Isaac. Another less well known
example is the story of Solomon. Much of the Biblical account of his
reign appears in the Quran, but the Quran specifically repudiates one
aspect of the Biblical account, saying that he did not worship the gods
of his foreign wives.
The general rule for Muslims is to accept whatever appears in the
Tanakh is assumed to be of divine origin so long as it doesn’t
contradict the Quran, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad or key Islamic
beliefs. Thus, though nothing specific is mentioned about this in the
Quran, Muslims reject the account of David and Bathsheba, feeling
adultery and murder couldn’t be committed by a prophet of God (in
Islam, prophets are by definition sinless) and therefore must be a
fabrication (no offense intended–just noting the differences).
It gets more hairy and ambiguous, though, when you look at accounts
of minor sins or debatable ones. I don’t know what Muslim commentators
have said on this particular story, but I suspect that most Muslim
commentators would, for similiar reasons, question the account of Noah
(who’s also a prophet in Islam; the Quran also tells the story of the
Flood) getting drunk and exposing himself to his sons, even though
alcohol was not forbidden at the time. Then there’s the incident with
Lot and his daughters,which would certainly make a Muslim uncomfortable
but is unclear (it’s inconceivable in Islam that prophet would committ
incest, but then he didn’t do it voluntarily according to Genesis).
There are other examples like this, as well.