“Believe in My [Allah’s] revelation [the Koran], which is confirming your [the Jews] scriptures; do not be the first one to deny My revelation… Do not mix the Truth with falsehood, or knowingly conceal the truth.” – Koran, 2:40-42
Many Muslims claim that when Muhammad first arrived in Medina the Jewish tribes reacted peacefully to him and accepted his civil leadership. One of the reasons why the Jews acquiesced, Muslims argue, is that many Jews believed - or hoped - that Muhammad would eventually convert to Judaism and thus increase Jewish power in central Arabia. This is in contrast to the well-known historical fact that Judaism has never been a proselytising religion. Islam, on the other hand, has always been a proselytising (or converting) religion. Indeed this is seen when Muslims tell us that, at this time, several Jewish families converted to Islam (rather than Muslim families being converted to Islam).
It is claimed that the cases of dispute between Jew and Muslim occurred because the Jews were angry that Muhammad did not convert to Judaism. The story then continues that as a result of Muhammad’s non-conversion to Judaism, as well as other things, that “Jewish clan leaders began a vicious propaganda campaign against Muhammad, and a lot of slanderous talk was directed at Muslims [by the Jews]”. Indeed because the Jews didn’t convert to Islam, it is not surprising that, as a result, Muhammad thought that such Jewish “tribes were not examples of the best in Judaism.”
Of course, it wasn’t only Jewish non-conversion that angered Muhammad. The Koran itself accused these Jews of the following:
i) Of practising racial discrimination and hypocrisy.
ii) Of not following the teachings of Moses and that their customs had no authority from God [Allah].
iii) Of not accepting Muhammad as a new prophet despite the fact that “Jewish leaders often predicted to the Arabs [at that time] that a new prophet would come and destroy them and their idols”.
There are other aspects of Judaism that the Koran questions and then condemns:
i) ‘Jewish law is overly harsh without sanction from God [Allah].’ – Koran, 2:140
ii) ‘Rabbis have not done a good job of influencing their people to lead moral lives.’ – Koran, 5:78:81
iii) ‘The Jews of Medina engaged in slander and misinformation in their intrigues against Islam, and they publicly taunted and were disrespectful of the prophet Muhammad.’ – Koran, 4:46
iv) ‘Jews assert that Abraham and his immediate descendants were Jewish, but that is rejected in the Qur’an.’ – Koran, 2:140
More importantly than all this. Yes Muslims saw – and still see - the Jews as a ‘People of the Book’. But was/is that a good thing? Not for the Jews then or for Jews today. Precisely because they were a People of the Book Muhammad expected the Jews ‘to look at Islam and accept it as the best expression of the messages of Abraham and Moses’. There’s more than that. Muslims believed that by
“accepting Islam… the Jewish people can perfect their faith and bring themselves back under the terms of the covenant between Moses and God [Allah]…”
But the Jews, on the whole, didn’t do any of these things. The People of the Book rejected Muhammad and Islam and what they claimed about Abraham, Moses and so on. So rather than Jews being People of the Book giving them a positive status in Islam, it does the exact opposite! The Koran shows us, or tells us, that Jews were wrong to reject Muhammad. That they were a sinful and bad people. And then, of course, as we have seen, the Koran lays out a whole list of Jewish sins, crimes and vices. So much for being a People of the Book!
It is not surprising, then, that conflict occurred between the Jews and Muslims of Medina and Arabia. More correctly, it is no surprise that Muhammad himself decided to crackdown and annihilate the Jews of that area and beyond.
Many Muslims argue that when Muhammad was alive, the Jewish tribes of Medina, and no doubt elsewhere in Arabia and the Arab world generally, played one Arab tribe against another and, in so doing, asserted a certain political dominance there. This clashes with the often-repeated historical fact that it was Arab tribes themselves who were always fighting one another - without the malign influence of the Jews. After all, Islam, or Muhammad himself, reacted against a fierce and obsessive Arabic tribalism that simply didn’t require the Jews, or anyone else, to get them to fight one another.
Again, Muslims obviously portray this bit of history from a Muslim perspective or bias. They say that Jewish ‘tribes engaged the Muslims in battle’. And that the ‘first tribe to pick a fight with the Muslims was the Banu Qaynuqa’. So, isn’t it strange that given the warlike nature of Muhammad and his fellow Muslims, which Muslims acknowledge and are even proud of, it was Jewish tribes who ‘engaged Muslims in battle’ and the not the other way around? It was the Banu Qaynuqa tribe that ‘picked a fight’ and not any of the Muslim tribes.
It is all this which clearly explains the well-known Koranic feature of ‘abrogation’. That is, in the parts of the Koran which discuss Muhammad’s early career when he knew the Jews and didn’t want to push them too far and too soon. Thus the Koran is seemingly sympathetic towards the Jews and Judaism and even speaks of ‘peace’ between them. However, as Muslims themselves acknowledge, “the Qur’an grew increasingly harsh in its tone as all the aforementioned events unfolded.”
Yet despite all this Muslim acknowledgement of conflict with a People of the Book, even today Muslims still betray an unquestioning attitude to all Muhammad’s actions in this period – conflict or no conflict. They still believe that
“Muhammad kept his end of the treaties at all times, and many Jews converted to Islam of their own free will. He never forced any conversions nor did he act in an unjust manner.”
There’s more of the same: “The expulsion of the three organised Jewish tribes was due to their own duplicity and treachery.”
One conclusion you can make about all this is that Muslims seem intent on fostering the idea that they were not against Judaism per se, but they were against the Jews! Thus the antipathy in often painted, indirectly and often unknowingly, as being more ethnically- or even racially-based than strictly religious.
For example, this writer says that ‘Islam is not anti-Jewish’. Instead it merely ‘considers the collective failure of the Jewish people to live up to God’s [Allah’s] revelations’.
It was not Judaism that was at fault, despite the fact that Muhammad clearly did think that as well, but the Jews themselves. This, clearly, is as close to pure ethnic - or even racial - prejudice as you could possibly get without being unhistorical.