Home » What does the Quran say about the Jews?

What does the Quran say about the Jews?

by backpackisrael
Published: Updated: 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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12 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
Dawn Flores April 14, 2024 - 6:16 pm

It’s incredibly difficult to explain text that was not written down until much later.
The content is determined by the context which were brutal times. No health care-no understanding of the body, or why things happen.
Death was a certain event at birth and by 30years if you were lucky.
Religion has always been the cause of War now and then and also brought masses comfort. The need to believe in something larger than yourself which can offer guidance, rules, and solace.
You attempted to take words written in a time none of us can imagine. The Bible has the old testament where you must stone people, and not lay with man.
The words were written for a time that no longer exists.
The same is true in every organized Religion.
I admire you Hutzpah but it’s impossible to apply logic or reason to a time in History when logic, reason, and understanding did not exist.

Reply
backpackisrael April 16, 2024 - 10:08 am

Thanks for your comment. I agree that we cannot truly understand what people meant back then. But like in any religion, there are people who read their holy text and believe that what is written there needs to be interpreted as is. If I’ll take your example, there are radical Jewish people who believe that even today, some people should be stoned and that men should not be together because they read what the text plainly says. They don’t do those things because of today’s civilian laws and rights, but if they were to live in another society, they themselves say that they would be okay with it. In this post I was trying to show that radical Muslims, like those who belong to Hamas, can – and do – use their text to support radical actions. It is known that Hamas leaders use verses from the Quran to support their actions, and they don’t care about the fact that the words were written in a different era.

Reply
Laurent May 1, 2024 - 8:45 pm

Wow it must have taken a lotta time for you to type this nonsense.
As a Muslim I respect all Jews unless they are supporting Zionism. And all my Muslim friends respect the jews as well. You really should have asked your government to stop killing the civilians and give palestinians their lands back.
You should ask your government to stop showing a wrong face of Judaism. Better wake up to the fact that more and more people are now hating Israel and its for a reason.
There was a reason that God preferred you over the worlds (2:123). and indeed the real jews are lovely people.

Reply
backpackisrael May 1, 2024 - 11:08 pm

As I’ve stated in the post, there are many Muslims in the world and not everyone interprets things the same way. I’m happy that you respect Jews. It’s sad to hear that if a Jew supports Zionism then you don’t respect them. I don’t know what you know about Zionism, but not all Zionists are the same. As a Zionist, I respect all human beings and I believe we all need to find a way to live together in peace. What’s bad is that people like to hate and fight each other. When I tried to collaborate with Palestinians and work together, they said that there will come a time when the Jews will no longer be here, and they are waiting for that time patiently. They don’t want to work together, and are taught to hate us from a very early age. They are stuck in the past instead of thinking about a good future that we can build here together. Where will we Jews go if we give the Palestinians what they want, which is all of Israel? I was born in Israel, my grand-grand-grandfather came to the Land of Israel in the early 19th century. It is my land just like it is theirs.
We are targetting Hamas in this war, the terrorists who have been killing innocent Israelis for years, and have murdered 1,200 people – including children, women, and elderly- on October 7. In a war, people die. We also have soldiers who accidently shoot at other soldiers and kill them. We are not targetting civilians. The problem is that Hamas is hiding in densely populated areas, and if we will not destroy Hamas, there will be no hope for peace in the region. We do our best to protect civilians.

Reply
Laurent May 2, 2024 - 2:06 am

Well, Jews and Muslims were indeed living in peace before the advent of Zionism and before the Balfour Declaration. Even before the current conflict, 80% of Gaza’s population was already in need of humanitarian aid. Intense bombardments, movement restrictions, interrupted communications, and fuel shortages have made Gaza akin to a cell, treating its inhabitants in an inhumane way on their own land. And yet, there are calls for peace?

Deliberate bombings of houses and hospitals, killing journalists, accusing UNRWA, opening fire on hundreds waiting for food aid, among other actions, and then claiming Hamas is the problem? If Hamas is the problem, then the way Palestinians have been treated is the main reason for its existence. Decades of oppression are the reason why Hamas exists.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on the entire planet. It’s only 48 km long and 10 km wide, with 2 million people living there. But is Hamas really hiding among them? Do you expect them to hide in another country? I’m tired of hearing ‘human shields’ without any evidence. There are so many things to discuss, but I prefer not to continue. I just wanted to say that we (Muslims) love Jews, and we love Christians too. But we do not love those who have killed 42,000 people. We do not love those who steal people’s lands. We do not love those who rejoice in the killing of civilians. We do not love those who are trying to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, among other things. We desire peace more than you do.

Reply
backpackisrael May 2, 2024 - 7:18 pm

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and was replaced by the Palestinian Authority that governed Gaza and took care of its humanitarian needs. Then came Hamas in 2007 and took control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas could have put the humanitarian needs in its top priority, could have paid its bills, could have worked on producing things that can help them, and could have put effort into educating the Gazan children for a greater future. Instead, they invested most of their money in the underground tunnels which run underground the Gazan cities and are where they keep the Israeli hostages today as well as weapons that they plan to use against Israel. Israel has allowed funds into Gaza because it hoped that Hamas had grown up and become responsible people who care for their people, and that they will use these funds wisely. Instead, they didn’t. We still call for peace, because that is what we want and that is what we hope. Unfortunately, we are proved time after time that the other side does not want peace. They want to take us out of our houses and kill us. And they seem to not care much about their people, only about destroying Israel.
UNRWA is known as an organization that teaches very problematic things to Palestinian children, which encite hate and the desire to sacrifice. We know this even before this current conflict, in schools in East Jerusalem, for example. We have seen textbooks where they teach children that killing Israelis is okay, and is even appreciated.
You should also know that not everything that appears in the media, especially social media, is correct. I would be cautious before making accusations that are not precise.
There are always extremists, who are always the minority. Most of us are not rejoicing in the killing of civilians. We are not trying to destroy Al Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli governments have worked to make sure the mosque stays as it is, without harm, throughout all the years from 1967 until today. Hating a huge group of people because a few are problematic is wrong.
The question is what is peace for you. If expelling millions of Jews from their houses because 100 years ago some of the lands belonged to someone else, then it’s very problematic. Look all over the world and you’ll see that in many places, there were wars, people moved, and other people came. This is how life is. And we need to look at our reality today and work with it. Not be stuck in the past.

Reply
Muhammad Hasnain June 17, 2024 - 12:08 am

may peace be upon you . My name is Muhammad Hasnain, I am a Muslim from Pakistan. You explained the verses of the Holy Quran, which I liked very much. Allah Almighty tells us Muslims in the Holy Quran that you should kill where the Muslims are being oppressed and The self-respect of Muslims is threatened. So is it not right if you are being wronged, what would you do? And finally, let me tell you that very soon, God willing, the Resurrection will come, then you will know that Islam is the right religion. But alas, at that time, there will be nothing to talk with all of you, Jews, Christians and all other religions. And very soon, Inshallah, the Muslims will take account of the injustice your people have done to the people of Palestine.

Reply
Michelle July 10, 2024 - 11:01 pm

Keep on dreaming. Your message is the embodiment of the Muslim arrogance and is exactly the problem. You complain about what the Zionists are doing to the Palestinians, but you never mention Arab and Islamic imperialism and how they treated those across Africa and in the MENA. Hypocrite.

Reply
Batsheva June 25, 2024 - 1:22 pm

Thank you, very interesting article. I know there could be many interpretations and opinions, but it was helpful to read about this general interpretation, or at least one possible interpretation. This person Laurent commenting here doesn’t seem to like your article, but I find it interesting that BECAUSE of your article, I am able to understand Laurent’s perspective, lol. I don’t agree with Laurent, but because of your article I can understand the root of where this person’s ideology is coming from. Its interesting how “peace” needs an explanation these days… May we see real, true peace soon in our days.

Reply
backpackisrael June 25, 2024 - 3:51 pm

Thank you for your comment. I am happy to hear that it was helpful! And yes, the post’s comments are also very interesting (: May we see peace soon!

Reply

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