Home » What does the Quran say about the Jews?

What does the Quran say about the Jews?

by backpackisrael
Published: Last Updated on 13 minutes read
The Quran

I’ve always been interested in different religions, but since October 7th, I’ve become more and more interested in Islam. I started studying the different aspects of Islam, trying to understand why the Islamic movement of Hamas penetrated into Israel and murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians, including children, women, and the elderly. Some people claim that it’s because of the “occupation,” but the more I study, the more I am convinced there’s more to it. There’s also a huge religious aspect to this conflict.

As part of my learning, I’ve listened to several lectures and read “Jews and the Qur’an,” a book published in 2022 by Meir M. Bar-Asher, a Professor of Islamic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Quran is the foundational text of Islam like the Torah is for the Jewish people. Bar-Asher’s book provides an insightful glimpse into the Quran, emphasizing its connection and attitude towards the Jews (and the Christians). So, if you’re into theoretical literature, it’s a good read.

There are over 2 billion Muslims around the world, so for sure not everyone interprets the Quran the same way. Still, whatever is written in the Quran about Jews can explain the radical Muslims’ attitude toward Jews today. And in the Middle East, we’re dealing with a lot of radical Muslims.

In this post, I want to share my learnings and discuss what the Quran says about the Jews.

Header photo credit: Pixabay.

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The deep link between Jews and Muslims

Before we start talking about the Quran, it’s essential to understand the connection between the Jews and the Muslims, since it is clear that they influenced one another.

Judaism was born many years before Islam. According to tradition, Abraham started Judaism when he stopped believing in multiple gods and started believing in only one GOD. That was about 3,800 years ago. There’s an archeologist named Professor Yonatan Adler who believes that Judaism as an established religion began only during the Hasmonean Period, in the 2nd century BCE. You can read more about it in his book, “The Origins of Judaism.” But in any case, we’re talking about a religion at least 2,100 years old.  

Islam was born about 1,400 years ago. According to Muslim tradition, Prophet Mohammed began receiving the divine revelations, which would later become the Quran, in 610 CE, when he was 40 years old.

We don’t know much about the initial connection between the Jews and the Arabs, who would later become Muslims. Most of what we know comes from the Quran and other Muslim sources written in the 8th century or later. But there is reason to believe that the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, the area from which Prophet Mohammed originated, had connections with the Jews well before the emergence of Islam.

Many of the Meccan people were merchants, including Prophet Mohammed himself. So, they traveled to faraway places where they could have met people from different religions, such as Jews and Christians. According to a Muslim tradition, Mohammed went on a trade journey when he was young and came across a Christian monk who foresaw that he would become a prophet.

Jewish Yemeni legends tell us that the Jews settled in the Arabian Peninsula sometime during the First Temple period, between the 10th and 6th centuries BCE. That means, about 3,000-2,500 years ago. And while the Quran does not mention Jews in Mecca, the childhood town of Mohammed, it does mention the Jews of Yathrib, the original name of the city that would later become known as Medina. Prophet Mohammed traveled to Yathrib in 622, in an event known as “the Hijrah,” and spent 10 years there. So, it is clear that he had contact with the Jews of Yathrib. What we don’t know is what the Judaism of the Yathrib Jews looked like.

What Jewish influences do we find in the Quran?

I have always heard that the Quran includes stories from the Bible, but it was even more interesting to discover that it contains many accounts of stories that appear in the Talmud, the collection of Jewish traditions that were gathered throughout the 3rd to 6th centuries and published in written text around the 8th century. The Talmud was created mainly by the Jews who lived in Babylon, and it could certainly be that the Arabs heard some of the Jewish traditions during their trade journeys.

In any case, the stories that appear in the Quran are always slightly – or significantly- different from the origin, or at least from what we believe is the origin. Even the Biblical stories are different. In some cases, the Quran doesn’t even mention the names of the Biblical figures. The most prominent Biblical figure in the Quran is Abraham. The Quran states, “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian. He was a man of pure faith, one who surrendered. He was not one of those who associate others with GOD” (3:67).

One of the most important events in the Bible – the sacrifice of Isaac – is also mentioned in the Quran. But it is very different from the Biblical story. In the Quran, the son’s identity is not mentioned, so it is unclear if the son is Isaac or Ishmael. Abraham tells his son that GOD told him that his son must be sacrificed and asks the son’s opinion, and the son tells him: “O my father, do what you are commanded.”

Apart from the Biblical and Talmudic accounts, many Jewish laws seemed to have influenced the Quranic text. Many scholars see a resemblance between many laws in the Quran and the Jewish halakha, the Jewish law. Or maybe it was the opposite – that Muslim laws influenced Jewish halakha? We can’t really know. 

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1603)
The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1603)

What does the Quran say about the Jewish people?

The Jewish sins

So, what does the Quran say about the Jews? The Quran most often refers to the Jews as “Banu Isra’il,” which means “children of Israel.” It tells us that GOD chose the children of Israel, freed them from slavery in Egypt, and led them into the Promised Land. But it also tells us that the Jews broke their alliance with GOD because they built the golden calf and worshipped it, killed the prophets whom God sent them, like Zechariah the Prophet, and falsified the holy scripture. It says: “Among those who are Jews change words from their right places and they say: ‘We hear and we disobey’…” (4:46) This is opposed to what is written in the Hebrew Bible in Deuteronomy 5:27: “We will listen and obey.” It shows that the Quran depicts the Jews as ungrateful and disobedient to GOD.

Not only does the Quran accuse the Jews of all of that, but it also accuses them that, like the Christians believe that Jesus is the son of GOD, they believe in a divine character called ‘Uzayr, and therefore, they are polytheistic. “The Jews say, ”Uzayr is the son of GOD,’ and the Christians say, ‘Christ is the son of GOD.’ That is what they say in their mouths, conforming to what was said by those who disbelieved before them. God confound them. How they embroiled in lies!” (9:30) I can tell you that this is not true. We – the Jewish people – do not believe in any divine figure except GOD. And when I learned about this, it was the first time I had ever heard the name ‘Uzayr. But it is interesting that the Quran mentions such a thing. Some commentators believe that ‘Uzayr is actually Ezra the Scribe, who was one of the people who influenced Judaism greatly after the Return to Zion since he was the one who taught the Bible to the people. Muslims see him as the person most responsible for the falsification of the holy text. Others say that ‘Uzayr is Enoch, a mysterious Biblical figure. According to the Bible, “GOD took him” (Genesis 5:24).

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin

What happened to the Jews because of their sins? 

The Quran explains that because of all those sins and the fact that the Jews disobeyed GOD’s commandments, GOD no longer sees them as the Chosen People. Now, the Chosen People are the Muslims, and only the Muslims who obey GOD. This tie between the people and GOD is conditional and can always be broken.

Furthermore, the Jews are punished for their sins, and that is why they have so many strict commandments, which make their lives harder, as opposed to the Muslims, who have less strict commandments. It says: “The Jews and the Christians say: ‘We are the children of GOD, the ones He loves.’ Say: ‘Then, why does He punish you for your sins?’ No. You are mortals, those He has created…” (5:18)

According to the Quran, some Jews and Christians (“Followers of the Book”) were even turned into apes and pigs (see, for example, 5:60). It’s interesting that they chose to mention “apes” because in the Talmud, in the Book of Sanhedrin, Rabbi Jeremiah says that the people who built the Tower of Babel were punished by being transformed into apes, ghosts, and demons. So, it seems like being transformed into apes was something everyone feared in the ancient days. 

How should the Jews be treated? 

Because the Jews and Christians are unbelievers, the Quran says that the Muslims must keep a distance from them. It says that they cannot be trusted. “Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely God does not guide the unjust people” (5:51). This is actually not so different from Judaism, as religious Jews also believe they should keep a distance from Christians, fearing that they might be influenced by them.

But the Quran takes a step further and says: “The punishment of those who wage war against God and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned…” (5:33) This is quite disturbing, but can explain what the Hamas terrorists had in their minds during the October 7th Massacre. It refers not only to Jews but to all religions which the Quran sees as polytheistic, including Christianity. The moderates would say that it refers to the people of Mecca, who remained polytheistic even after Mohammed revealed his prophecies to them. 

The Quran does not discuss the legal status of the Jews because it was not an issue. Only after the Quran was written did the Muslim Empire gain power and expand to areas where there were many Jews – and mainly Christians. Then, the Muslims started asking themselves – “How should we treat the Jews and the Christians under our reign?” So, they turned to the Quran and found some verses that gave them guidance. For example: “Humiliation will be stamped on them wherever they are found, unless they grasp a rope from GOD and a rope from the people…” (3:112) Another verse says: “Fight from among the people who have been given the Scripture those who do not believe in GOD and the Last Day… until they pay the tribute readily, having being humbled” (9:29-30). From these verses and others, the Muslims learned that the Jews and the Christians must be humiliated but will be protected as long as they pay a tribute, a certain tax called “jizya.” And so, during the majority of the Muslim period in the Land of Israel, the Christians and Jews were humiliated. They were not allowed to build new prayer houses, hold public religious ceremonies, ride horses, had to dress in their traditional clothes so they could be identified, and so on.

It is important to note that the Muslims were not so different from the Christians in this case. In the Middle Ages, the Christians also humiliated the Jews, claiming that they had killed Jesus and, therefore, were no longer the Chosen People. This conception changed mainly after the Holocaust and the Christians’ understanding that this conception was one of the things that led to the killing of millions of Jews. 

Conclusion

According to the Quran, Islam is the superior religion, and the Muslims who follow the religion are the Chosen ones. The Jews and the Christians have sinned and, therefore, need to be humiliated. Many people claim that this explains why the Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza are fighting for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Until 1948, Jews and Muslims lived quite peacefully next to each other (although there were some Muslim pogroms against Jews here and there). Only after 1948, when Israel was established as a Jewish state, the real problems started. According to this theory, radical groups such as Hamas want to replace the State of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, with a Palestinian state where Judaism will no longer reign over Islam. This way, Islam will return to its superior status. Of course, there are other theories, but if you read the parts connected to the Jewish people in the Quran, you can understand the people who believe in this one. 

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2 comments

A March 19, 2024 - 2:00 am

so misleading here

Reply
backpackisrael March 19, 2024 - 10:06 am

I would be happy to understand how it is misleading so I can make it better. Can you explain?

Reply

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