Responses to an Imam’s questions about Anti-Semitism and the supposedly Anti-Islamic West.

I wrote this back in June, 2004, responding to an inquiry passed along by Prof. Khaleel Mohammad (San Diego State University) to some of his colleagues. The inquiry was from an Imam who characterized himself as not being an Anti-Semite, or being anti-Jewish, and was discussed on line by Prof. Mohammad and some of our colleagues. My statement below was edited from my responses to various paragraphs in the discussion. I saved the original format of responses to paragraphs, and a file that was only my contribution to the discussion (reproduced below). I can no longer reconstruct exactly who wrote what in the longer discussion, (other than my own responses, which I highlighted), as the email trail that generated the document is no longer readily available. I think it is inappropriate to publish verbatim (even to a blog) a text in which the overwhelming percentage of the words are not mine, even if doing so might make some of my points just a little more clear or provide more exact references for them. So I have reviewed the longer format but made only a few minor edits today, mostly punctuation or fixing verb tenses (Nov. 30, 2012).

It is possible that the author who claims not to be an anti-Semite, or “anti-Jew” means exactly what he says he means: he does not feel he is “anti-Jew” as such. He feels he is not against the Jewish people, or against individual Jews, it is just that he opposes some of the things he believes they have done which he believes are hateful. It is important, however, not to go beyond specific acts of specific Jews; making unfounded generalizations would be the same as assuming all Arabs are mukhribun “terrorists” because of the acts of a few.  And he should be aware that many of those Jews or others he feels are “Anti-Muslim” would make the same kind of statement he makes: they are not “against Islam,” it is just that they oppose some of the things done by persons who claim to be Muslims, who claim that what they do is done in the name of Islam.

The term “Anti-Semite” (German: antisemitismus) was coined by Wilhelm Marr about 130 years ago, in Germany, and has to do with a political movement which was in fact very much anti-Jewish. At that time there were few Arabs or any other Semitic-speaking people in Europe and the question of whether Arabs are Semites is totally irrelevant to the term “Anti-Semitism.” It is most appropriate to use this term to refer to German or European anti-Jewish movements; any other use is an extension. In English, the term has come to mean opposition to Jews and Judaism, especially certain types of political and ideological opposition to Jews and Judaism, and it is often used to refer to specific patterns of hatred of Jews outside the original context.

Prof. Muhammad’s comparison with “American” is very apt. “Anti-American” is understood by everyone in the world to mean “opposing the USA” or opposing some aspect of this, not “Anti-western hemisphere.”

Using the term Anti-Semite confuses the issue for precisely the reason indicated by the Imam when it is assumed to have anything to do with Semitic peoples or languages.

Regardless of whether the term is appropriate, some Arabs and many other Muslims have adopted and disseminated literature and viewpoints which are clearly associated with the political and ideological movement of Anti-Semitism, such as a tract usually called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and various other libels and akdhāb associated with the Nazis or with their supporters. Thus it is unfortunately quite valid to talk of the circulation of anti-Semitic ideas and literature in the Arab and Islamic world.

In the Second World War, in fact, the Arab world, by and large, sided with the Nazis and their anti-Semitic propaganda.  The most obvious cases are that of the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem Al-Hajj Al-Amin Al-Husseini, and of the Iraqi regime of Rashid Ali. The Nazi position stood for wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life, wholesale murder of powerless people who could not be considered attacking it in any way, and a goal of world domination by an ethnic people, not by justice and loyalty to God. Regardless of any political opposition to the British or the Zionist movement, it should be impossible to justify support for Nazism—even the appearance of support for this Godless movement—with submission to God’s will.


Connecting Jews with pigs was a favorite of the Nazis. Nevertheless, one would think that the Qur’an’s reference to the conversion of Jews into pigs and apes was to an event which happened in the past. I am not sure whether the Qur’an is to be taken literally regarding people turning into animals. But if so, the meaning would imply that the Jews today are in fact descended from those who were loyal to God, not those who rebelled. (I do not think it acceptable that those who disbelieved in God were quickly able to evolve from apes into people, more quickly than those who believed. And I think one must accept the ẓāhir “evident meaning” about their human status, and the ẓāhir in this case is that the Jews to whom they refer are humans.)


I cannot find any evidence that “The Jews in general” hate Muslims and Arabs. Many Jews reject positions which are maintained by Muslims, and oppose what they see as Arab attempts to kill and destroy their brethren. (And are they not right to consider chants like itbaḥ al-yahud “kill the Jews” or qatilhum waqtulhum “Fight them and kill them” as threats?). The Qur’an is considered by many Muslim scholars to be applicable to all mankind. (Yes, I am aware that some legal scholars forbid the study of the Qur’an from those who do not accept it as divine). The Qur’an clearly allows defense against those who come to kill one. 

The idea that the Jews are continuously plotting against all Muslims and Christians in our current political world is ludicrous. This idea has much to do with ḥadith and with anti-Jewish Christian material, and nothing to do with politics. There were individual Jewish individuals who, as individuals, urged various actions—some urged invading Iraq and some opposed it vociferously. There were prominent Iraqis in exile who also urged the US to invade Iraq. One of the best-known was a Shi’ite, and influenced US Iraq policy no less and probably much more than any Jews—are we to cite “the Shi’ites” for causing the invasion of an Islamic country traditionally ruled by Sunnis? 

The “War Crimes” argument is not only very weak, it also points up the great divide between the practice of submission to God’s will or specifically, the idea of taqw­ā “piety” or “fear” of God. It seems to me that the proper Muslim approach to any action of ikhrāb “wanton destruction” especially that which leads to the death of innocents is to denounce it and stay far away from it, and the proper way of reacting to one who has accepted that what he did was wrong is to forgive. Ariel Sharon accepted the verdict the Israeli panel which found he acted improperly by not preventing Christian access to refugee camps in Lebanon; his current acts should be judged by their own worth, not by blaming him for acts committed long ago. Moreover, this argument could never be used by a Muslim to support ikhrāb

Part of this argument is based on the assumption that “American might” is focused on destroying the Islamic world. This assumption is problematic indeed. “American might” could just as easily be said as being used to build up the Arab/Muslim world, not to destroy it. In Afghanistan and Iraq, American troops and the American government have worked hard for government which is responsible to the people, and to God. I am quite aware that these are not necessarily governments which impose features associated with traditional Muslim society. But then, killing innocents, raping women, stealing wealth from both rich and poor, dealing in prohibited substances, and destroying the fabric of society cannot be considered “ruling according to God’s will” even if those who do these awful things face the Qibla and pray five times a day! (As for the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida’s supposed involvement in drug schemes: some Muslim authorities would put dealing with opiates such as heroin in the same category as dealing in alcohol, and regardless of any ruling about opiates themselves, the nature of drug-dealing today leaves no doubt that promoting this trade and living from its income is un-Islamic). How many Muslims would decry such entities as un-Islamic!   No, while US forces took the lead in attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, US has also enriched many Arab and Islamic countries, is a major supporter of Egypt, and has proven a fertile ground for the expansion of Islam. The US rightly is worried about those who attack it, and supports those whose policies are in line with its own. But it is not clear by any means that it is opposed to any country or countries simply because they are traditionally Muslim.

The notion of an Anti-Arab and Anti-Islamic bias in the American media is deeply believed by many Muslims, and it may well be possible to support it by carefully crafted studies. But it is just as easy to come to different conclusions; other studies show that important sectors of the American media are pro-Arab, at least in the sense that these media outlets invariably find Muslim or Arab points of view to counter points of view associated with supporters of Israel or of US involvement in Iraq, but do not always do the reverse. Arguments about media partisanship are easy to make, difficult to support, and, in my experience, most have to do with the acts or policies of those who claim to be believers, not with the beliefs themselves.

June 2004

Seth Ward

University of Wyoming

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