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Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is part IV of a series about Islamic anti-Semitism as seen, essentially, from the perspective of Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History. Bostom's recently published book is likely to restructure or overturn popular conceptions of the topic.

Conflict during the early years of Islam, in the 7th Century

The discussion about how Islam related, historically, to non-Muslims and Jews, in particular, begins with an examination of the treatment of Jews in Medina, under the direction of the prophet Muhammad (after his departure from Mecca.)

There is disagreement as to the context of a seminal incident known as the massacre of the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayzah. As referenced below, the incident is related only in Islamic sources -- in which the treatment of the Jews is justified. The Jews were accused of breaking a pact, under which they were "protected." This, then, is seen by some critics of the traditional Islamic interpretation as an application of coercion directed toward the non-Muslim minority which led to the commission of jihad against the allegedly non-compliant minority. -- Mark Finkelstein

Detail from miniature painting ''The Prophet, Ali, and the Companions at the Massacre of the Prisoners of the Jewish Tribe of Beni Qurayzah'', illustration of a 18th century text, Kitāb-i Hamlah-i Haydarī, by Muhammad Rafi Bazil (d.1711 or 12). Manuscript now in the British Library.

The 'Banu Qurayza' (Arabic بني قريظة; بنو قريظة were a Jewish tribe who lived in northern Arabia during the 7th century, at the oasis of Yathrib (now known as Medina). In 627 CE, the tribe was charged with treachery during the Battle of the Trench and besieged by the Muslims commanded by Muhammad. The Muslims took the Qurayza captive and all the men, apart from a few who converted to Islam, were beheaded, while all the women were enslaved.

From a Muslim perspective:
The famous pact of Medina and its terms

On the arrival of the Prophet at Medina they [the Jews] had joined with the Muslims in a half-hearted welcome to the Prophet. The Prophet upon his arrival joined the heterogeneous and conflicting elements of the city and its suburbs through a Charter by which the rights and obligations of the Muslims and of the Muslims and Jews were clearly defined. The Jews because of the irresistible character of the brotherly movement had gladly accepted the pact.

This pact was officially made between the tribes living in Medina. The Jews of Bani-Kainuka Ban-Kuraizha and Bani-Nadir gladly accepted all the terms. This famous pact proceeds as follows:

"The state of peace and war shall be common to all Muslims ; no one among them shall have the right of concluding peace with, or declaring war against, the enemies of his co-religionists. The Jews who attach themselves to our commonwealth shall be protected from all insults and vexations ; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices : the Jews of the various branches of 'Auf, Najjar, Harith, Jashm, Th'alaba, Aus, and all others domiciled in Yathrib (Medina), shall form with the Muslims one composite nation; they shall practise their religion as freely as the Muslims ; the clients and allies of the Jews shall enjoy the same security and freedom ; the guilty shall be pursued and punished ; the Jews shall join the Muslims in defending Yathrib against all enemies ; the interior of Yathrib shall be a sacred place for all who accept this Charter ; the clients and allies of the Muslims and the Jews shall be respected as the patrons ....."

This pact was concluded with the terms:

" All future disputes between those who accept this Charter shall be referred, under God, to the Prophet. "

Hostility of the Jews
No kindness or generosity, however, on the part of the Prophet would satisfy the Jews ; nothing could conciliate the bitter feelings with which they were animated. Enraged by the Prophet's tremendous success they soon broke off (secretly) , and ranged themselves on the side of the enemies of the 'new' Faith. They reviled the Prophet ; they twisted their tongues and mis-pronounced the Quranic words and the daily prayers and formulae of Islam, rendering them meaningless, absurd, or blasphemous; and the Jewish poets and poetesses, of whom there existed many at the time, outraged all common decency and the recognised code of Arab honour and chivalry by lampooning in obscene verse the Muslim women. But there were minor offences. Not satisfied with insulting the Muslim women and reviling the Prophet, they sent out emissaries to the enemies of the State, the protection of which they had formally accepted.

Bostom's perspective

Bostom characterizes 'the so-called “Medina Charter” of Muhammad— [as]in reality, a part of Muhammad’s design to neutralize the Jews of Medina, and establish a hegemonic Islamic order.' He defines the Quarayza massacre as an act of jihad.
Bostom discusses the early relations between Muhammad and the Jewish tribes as follows:
September 622 C.E. marks a defining event in Islam, the hijra. Muhammad and a coterie of followers (the Muhajirun), persecuted by fellow Banu Quraysh tribesmen who rejected Muhammad's authenticity as a divine messenger, fled from Mecca to Yathrib, later known as Medina. The Muslim sources described Yathrib as a Jewish city founded by a Palestinian diaspora population which had survived the revolt against the Romans. Distinct from the nomadic Arab tribes, the Jews of the north Arabian peninsula were highly productive oasis farmers. These Jews were eventually joined by itinerant Arab tribes from southern Arabia who settled adjacent to them and transitioned to a sedentary existence.

Following Muhammad's arrival in Medina, he re-ordered Medinan society, eventually imposing his authority on each tribe. The Jewish tribes were isolated, some were then expelled, and the remainder attacked and exterminated. A consensus Muslim account of the massacre of the Qurayzah " one of the Jewish tribes of Medina " has emerged as conveyed by classical Muslim scholars of hadith (putative utterances and acts of Muhammad, recorded by pious Muslim transmitters), biographers of Muhammad's life (especially Ibn Ishaq), jurists, and historians.

-Earlier segments of this series are archived on

Criticism of the anti-Jewish content within the Quran and the Islamist jihadi culture should not be taken as an indictment of all Muslims. As put by Bernard Lewis: "Not all Muslims are fundamentalists and not all fundamentalists are terrorists...."
The content of this series is the sole responsibility of Mark Finkelstein. Direct comments to

For Bostom's introduction to the subject, read "Misunderstanding Islamic Antisemitism."