Why is there such historical animosity expressed by Arab to Jew?

Following ten days of missiles raining down on both Gaza and the southern coastal regions of Israel, the Israeli military has launched another ground offensive into Gaza with the intent to: establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure [1]. The eyes of Muslims, Christians, Jews and many others around the world are turned toward that little strip of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean that has staged so much of human history. While many in the West look on with ignorance, and many from the Muslim world are once again agitated, there are others who have unanswered questions.

After I graduated college I spent six months living in the land of Israel. I lived in the old city of Jaffa, a mixed community of Arabs and Jews just to the south of modern Tel Aviv. Jaffa is a hilly promontory and port on the Mediterranean, and, as Joppa, is Biblically associated with the stories of Jonah and the Apostle Peter’s dream. In the evenings I would go for a run along the coast (that little strip of land) between the two communities. I ran through a wasteland of rubble and garbage dumps.

At the time I did not realize that the land bore the scars of persistent Arab-Jewish conflict. As Jewish immigration took place tension grew between the new arrivals and the older communities. Damage had been done to the area during the Jaffa riots of 1921, again in 1936 when British troops serving in the Palestine mandate blew up homes from east to west leaving an open strip of land as a barrier between the Arabs and the Jews, and yet again during the 1948 conflict in the aftermath of the declaration of the independent state of Israel. Thirty years later I have a much deeper knowledge of the history and the suffering of the Arab-Jewish conflict. How far that knowledge translates to understanding I am however, far from sure.

I’m puzzled by unanswered questions. The media never tells the full story; the issues underlying the conflict are complex and diverse emotional responses are expressed strongly by all sides. Whether an Israeli citizen trying to defend their homeland, an Arab national contesting the right of the Jew to be in Palestine, or an American evangelical lobbying for Biblical claims to the land, there remain untold stories and unexpressed feelings.

The Palestinian people have undoubtedly suffered greatly over much longer than the sixty-six years since Israel became a modern nation. However, how much of their suffering is directly the responsibility of the Israeli government and how much has been consequent upon their use as pawns in a greater game?

The Battle of Khaybar in 629, fought by the Prophet Muhammad against the Jewish tribes of the Banu Nadir, is recalled in victory chants at Hezbollah rallies: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return,” and the name Khaybar sometimes graces Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel [2]. This clear modern statement takes Arab and Muslim animosity toward the Jewish people all the way back to the foundation of Islam. I recently had a conversation with a Muslim in which he refused to accept the idea that Muhammad promoted violence toward the Jews. However the historic record is clear.

Two years before the Battle of Khaybar another battle took place outside Yathrib (Medina). A large army of Arab tribes from Mecca came to destroy the Muslims. Muhammad had his men build a trench across the route the invaders would have to take. The Banu Qurayza, one of the Jewish tribes of Yathrib had agreed to live peacefully with Muhammad and his followers. However Muhammad discovered that they were secretly offering the Meccan tribes the right to cross their undefended property toward Medina, an event which seems not to have actually taken place. Muhammad laid siege to the Banu Qurayza who eventually agreed to surrender provided their supposed allies, the Aus, be allowed to decide their fate. The chief of the Aus, Sa’d ibn Muadh, had become a convinced Muslim. He was also dying from wounds sustained in the battle. He condemned the men to join him in death.

According to Robert Payne in his History of Islam: The terrible judgment was carried out to the last detail, with Muhammad himself superintending the general massacre, even helping to dig the trenches in the market place. The next morning the Jews, with their hands tied behind their backs, were taken out in batches of five or six at a time and forced to sit on the edge of the trench; then they were beheaded and their bodies were tumbled into the trench. [3]

The so-called Battle of the Trench resulted in the enactment of Muhammad’s revenge against  the Banu Qurayza. Ibn Ishaq (born 704 AD, died between 761 & 770) was an early Arab Muslim historian who collected the oral traditions of Muhammad to compile a biography of him. He writes: Then the Apostle went out to the market of Medina … and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches … There were 600 or 700 in all.[4]

Ibn Kathir (1301 – 1373) was a Muslim theologian and commentator. His tafsir or exegesis of the Qu’ran is regarded as highly authoritative. He commented on Qu’ran 33:36 – And those of the People of the Book who aided them – Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts. (So that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners, with the words: Then the Messenger of Allah commanded that ditches should be dug, so they were dug in the earth, and they were brought tied by their shoulders, and were beheaded. There were between seven hundred and eight hundred of them. The children who had not yet reached adolescence and the women were taken prisoner, and their wealth was seized.[5] Kathir believed that the Qu’ranic verses 33:9 and 33:10 also related to the Banu Qurayza [6].

The argument is made that the Banu Qurayza had broken their covenant with Muhammad by allowing the pagan army from Mecca passage through their land which had not been subject to Muhammad’s Medinan defences. However Muhammad and his army were resting and not engaged in a battle with the Banu Qurayza at the time. Apparently the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) made one of his frequent appearances to Muhammad and told him that even though Muhammad had laid down his weapons, he, Jibril, had not. He told him to get up and go to the Banu Quraiza, for Allah has commanded me to shake them. [7] It would seem that only at this point did Muhammad set out to deal with the Banu Qurayza, perhaps in a quest to secure spoils of war for his men.

Many Muslims today try to avoid talking about this event in their violent history. However Muslim leaders and scholars alike of the modern era do not deny the events. Haykal, an Egyptian writing in the middle of the twentieth century records: Muhammad proceeded to Medina where he commanded a large grave to be dug for the Jewish fighters brought in to be killed and buried [8]. More recently the Turkish Islamic preacher and writer, Fetullah Gulen, while avoiding stating what actually happened has written: The Messenger (Muhammad) besieged them for 25 days. At last they asked for surrender terms, agreeing that they should submit to Sa’d ibn Muadh’s judgment, who decreed the sentence according to the Torah [9].

If these battles were just one series of events in Islamic history they might be disregarded. However, not only the historical record, but also the theological tradition of the Muslims evidence an antipathy toward the Jews. The Hadith are a report of the teachings, sayings and deeds of the prophet Muhammad. They were recorded from the oral traditions many years after the death of the prophet. The Hadith of Bukhari, compiled in the ninth century is considered to be the most reliable collection of Hadith and regarded by many Muslims as second only to the Qu’ran itself in terms of reliability.

At the age of 16 Bukhari made the pilgrimage to Mecca from his home in Bukhara, in present-day Uzbekistan. From there he traveled to many centers of Islamic learning to talk to the holy men of Islam. He may well have talked with over 1,000 scholars and recorded over 600,000 traditions. At the age of 32 he began to draw up a definitive collection of the authentic Hadith. Using what has become known as the Science of Hadith, the collector tested each for authenticity based upon the chain of transmission, compatibility with the Qu’ran and the textual context. Discernment needed to be made between those Hadith which were genuine and those which had been created for political or theological purposes extra to the true Islam. By the time Bukhari had completed his work he had identified 7,275 tested traditions which he compiled into chapters to form a complete system of Islamic law not reliant upon speculation. On this basis we can anticipate the reliability of the following Hadith about the Jews which are contained in Bukhari.

Abu Hurairah was a companion of the prophet who accompanied him on his journeys for more than three years. He stated: Allah’s Messenger said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.” [10]

Abdullah Ibn Umar was a son of the Umar who became the second Caliph after Muhammad’s death. While still in his teens he participated in the Battle of the Trench. He was a prominent authority on hadith and the law. He is reported as saying: Allah’s Messenger said, “You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews until some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, ‘O `Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.'” [11]

This is not the place to write of the succession of injustices done to the Jewish people throughout the ages by the Muslim community. To be fair, comparative reference would have to be made to Christian and other persecutions of the Jews. However, no serious-minded Christian scholar today would claim a theological mandate to kill Jews such as is contained within the body of Islamic theology.

Among many modern Islamic scholars Yusuf al-Qaradawi is clear in his views about the Jews. An Egyptian theologian and Chair of the Qatar-based International Union of Islamic Scholars, he is a controversial figure. In a sermon broadcast on Al Jazeera in 2009 he stated: O Allah, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam. O Allah, take the Jews, the treacherous aggressors. O Allah, take this profligate, cunning, arrogant band of people. O Allah, they have spread much tyranny and corruption in the land. Pour your wrath upon them, O our God. … O Allah, do not spare a single one of them. O Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.[12]

I may not have all the answers to my questions but I do know that the Prince of Peace spoke differently to us with the words: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.…[13]



[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28359582 (accessed July 17, 2014)

[2]  Colin Shindler – The European Left and Its Trouble With Jews – New York Times Sunday Review – 10/27/12

[3]  Robert Payne – The History of Islam, p.47 – Dorset Press, 1990, originally published 1959

[4]  Alfred Guillaume – The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 461-464 – Oxford University Press, 2002

[5]  Ibn Kathir, Saed Abdul-Rahman – Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz’21, p.213 –  MSA Publication Limited

[6]  Ibid p. 213

[7]  Ibid p. 213 & Al-Bukhari 4:52:68

[8]  Muhammad Husayn Haykal – The Life of Muhammad (trans. Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi) p. 337 – Selangor, Malaysia: Islamic Book Trust, 2002, originally published 1933

[9]  Fetullah Gulen – The Messenger of God (trans. Ali Unal), p.243 – The Light Inc. Somerset, NJ, 2005

[10]  Al-Bukhari 4:52:196

[11] Al-Bukhari 4:52:195

[12] Middle East Media Research Institute TV – Clip #1979 January 12, 2009

[13] Luke 6:27,28 NIV

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1 Response to Why is there such historical animosity expressed by Arab to Jew?

  1. Pingback: ISRAEL and ISIS – The Only Similarity is the First Two Letters | THE FULLER REPORT

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