Traditionally, this has not been an issue. Under the different Muslim empires, Jews were kept firmly in their place and represented no sort of threat to the ruling order. It is only in the modern period that this has become a burning issue. Thus, the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the British Mandate to modern Israel has been as much a religious as a political clash. The Arab onslaught of 1948 was religiously motivated, as is modern opposition to Israel by Islamist groups.
The Hamas charter asserts that "the Islamic Resistance Movement [i.e. Hamas] regards Palestine as an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future generations until Judgment Day." A waqf is a religious endowment bestowed by God. Consequently, "neither it, nor any part of it, should be squandered: Neither it, nor any part of it, should be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Muslim generations until Judgment Day."
The charter is not unique: It represents a mainstream view among Muslims today. In contrast, several Muslim spokesmen have recently claimed that the Qur'an promises Israel to the Jews and that the claims of Hamas, Hezbollah, and allied groups are illegitimate on Islamic grounds. This is a comforting message, which some of these spokesmen have taken to Jewish audiences, reinforcing the idea that the Islamic jihad imperative against Israel is simply the province of a tiny minority of extremists and that the voices of reason, moderation, and Qur'anic authenticity will eventually prevail.
Muhammad al-Hussaini's Liberal Stance
Among these scholars is British-based imam Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hussaini, who asserts that early Muslim intellectuals recognized that Israel belonged to the Jews. "You will find very clearly that the traditional commentators from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael [Heb. The Land of Israel] has been given by God to the Jewish people as a perpetual convenant [sic]. There is no Islamic counterclaim to the Land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary."
Although an extremely comforting message to supporters of Israel, it is not true and is based on a partial and inaccurate reading of the Qur'an.
Hussaini bases his argument primarily upon Qur'an 5:21 in which Moses declares: "O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has prescribed for you, and turn not back in your traces, to turn about losers." He then cites the classic Qur'an commentator Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (838-923), who explains that this statement is "a narrative from God … concerning the saying of Moses … to his community from among the children of Israel and his order to them according to the order of God to him, ordering them to enter the holy land."
Tabari is not unique in this. Another respected Muslim exegete, Ibn Kathir (1301-73), says about Qur'an 5:21 that the Jews "were the best among the people of their time. ... God states next that Moses encouraged the children of Israel to perform jihad and enter Jerusalem, which was under their control during the time of their father Jacob. Jacob and his children later moved with his household to Egypt during the time of Prophet Joseph. His offspring remained in Egypt until their exodus with Moses. They found a mighty, strong people in Jerusalem who had previously taken it over. Moses, God's Messenger, ordered the children of Israel to enter Jerusalem and fight their enemy, and he promised them victory and triumph over the mighty people if they did so."
But that is not the end of the story. Ibn Kathir then says that the Jews "declined, rebelled, and defied his order and were punished for forty years by being lost, wandering in the land, uncertain of where they should go. This was their punishment for defying God's command." In contrast, "The Muslim Ummah [community] is more respected and honored before God, and has a more perfect legislative code and system of life, it has the most honorable Prophet, the larger kingdom, more provisions, wealth and children, a larger domain and more lasting glory than the children of Israel."
The idea that the "glory" of the children of Israel was not lasting explains why Hussaini's exegesis is incomplete. He quotes Tabari, saying that God wanted the children of Israel to enter the Holy Land but stops short at the rest of what the Qur'an says about them. But he argues that this promise is lasting, basing his comments on the nature of the Qur'an itself as understood in traditional Islamic theology: "It was never the case during the early period of Islam … that there was any kind of sacerdotal attachment to Jerusalem as a territorial claim. Jerusalem is holy but Mount Sinai is more holy. Sinai is mentioned far more often, and Jerusalem isn't actually mentioned [in the Qur'an] by name."
If this exegesis is correct, why does the Islamic world from Morocco to Indonesia manifest such hostility to Israel? Why have so few Muslims noticed that God wants the Jews to possess the Holy Land? One answer is that Hussaini's primary authority, Tabari, has more to say about the Jews. Qur'an 2:61 says of some Jews who rebelled against Moses that "abasement and poverty were pitched upon them, and they were laden with the burden of God's anger; that, because they had disbelieved the signs of God and slain the Prophets unrightfully; that, because they disobeyed, and were transgressors." Qur'an 9:29 directs Muslims to "[f]ight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden—such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book—until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled." "Those who have been given the Book" is the Qur'anic term for Jews and Christians, and the tribute (jizya) is a poll tax levied upon the People of the Book in an Islamic state. Tabari discusses 2:61 in the context of 9:29, emphasizing that this tax was meant to be humiliating:
Conversion or Submission of Jews
The principle that Muslims must not give the Jews security unless they convert to Islam or pay the jizya directly contradicts Hussaini's assertion that they were to possess the land forever. A people that may never have security unless it converts or submits to the rule of others cannot have a land to rule by itself. The idea that "good Jews" are those who convert to Islam is deeply rooted in Islamic tradition. In the 1970s, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, currently the grand sheikh of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and the leading authority for Sunni Muslims today, wrote a 700-page treatise, Jews in the Qur'an and the Traditions, in which he concluded:
The Jews and Christians who do not believe in Muhammad as a prophet will find that "shame is pitched over them (like a tent) wherever they are found, except when under a covenant (of protection) from Allah and from men." This probably refers to the dhimma, the contract of protection under which Jews and Christians live as subject peoples under Islamic rule. However, even if one understands it to refer to the covenant that God made with the Jews to give them the Land of Israel, the Qur'an also says that they broke their contract:
Being thus accursed, the Jews are not the legitimate heirs of the promise made in Qur'an 5:21. The true heirs are those who have remained faithful to God (i.e., the Muslims), not those whom he has cursed (i.e., the Jews). Even this is not the full extent of Qur'anic anti-Semitism. The Muslim holy book contains many passages that form the foundation for hatred of Jews that exists independently of the actions of contemporary Jews or the State of Israel. The Qur'an portrays the Jews as the craftiest, most persistent, and most implacable enemies of the Muslims.
The Qur'an is supplemented by the Hadith, purported records of the Prophet Muhammad's actions and sayings. Some hadith predict that at the end of the world, in the words of Ibn Kathir, "the Jews will support the Dajjal (false messiah), and the Muslims, along with 'Isa [Jesus], son of Mary, will kill the Jews." The idea that the end times will be marked by Muslims killing Jews comes from Muhammad himself, who said, according to a hadith, "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say: 'O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.'"
This hadith is a favorite motif among contemporary jihadists. On March 30, 2007, Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said on Palestinian Authority television:
Continuation of Qur'anic Anti-Semitism
A vivid illustration of the Qur'an's enmity toward the Jews and how contemporary Islamic spokesmen echo it, came in 2004 from Islam Online, a website founded by the internationally influential Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Although Qaradawi has won praise from Islamic studies professor John Esposito for engaging in a "reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism, and human rights," that reformist impulse does not carry over to Qaradawi's view of Jews (he has justified suicide bombings against Israeli civilians), or the anti-Semitism he has allowed to be published on Islam Online.
In 2004, the site posted an article entitled, "Jews as Depicted in the Qur'an," in which Sheikh 'Atiyah Saqr, former head of the Fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar University and Seminary in Cairo, depicts Jews in a chillingly negative light, illustrated with quotations from the Qur'an. Among other charges he levels at the Jews, Saqr says that they "used to fabricate things and falsely ascribe them to God"; they "love to listen to lies"; they disobey God and ignore his commands; they wish "evil for people" and try to "mislead them"; and they "feel pain to see others in happiness and are gleeful when others are afflicted with a calamity."
Though he offers many examples of the alleged evil traits of the Jews supported by the Qur'an, Saqr does not mention the notorious Qur'anic passages that depict an angry God transforming Jews into apes and pigs. The first of these depicts God telling the Jews who "transgressed the Sabbath … Be you apes, miserably slinking!" It goes on to say that these accursed ones serve "as a punishment exemplary for all the former times and for the latter."
The implication is that today's Jews are bestial in character and are the enemies of God, just as the Sabbath-breakers were. Tantawi has called Jews "the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs." Saudi sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Sudayyis, imam of the principal mosque in the holiest city in Islam, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, has said in a sermon that Jews are "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs."
Yet Hussaini actually asserts that the Muslims who oppose his perspective have no Qur'anic case, asserting that "no fundamentalist, no matter how hard they try, can overrule the existing tradition to say there is, in fact, an Islamic counterclaim to Eretz Yisrael." The Qur'anic evidence above explains why mainstream Muslim voices and prominent Muslim leaders never invoke Qur'an 5:21 to argue that Muslims ought not to be waging jihad against Israel. This is simply not a mainstream view or one that most of those who are familiar with the totality of the Qur'an would ever advance. It gives Jews and all supporters of Israel hope, yes, but only a false hope.
Muslims can get beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism only by forthrightly acknowledging that the Qur'an and Sunna do, indeed, teach that the Jews are accursed and are to be warred against. Muslims must explicitly formulate theological frameworks that reject literalism in this regard. To deny that the Qur'anic evidence actually says what it does, however, is only to allow the endemic and pandemic problem of Islamic anti-Semitism to continue unchallenged.
 "The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)," Aug. 18, 1988.
©1994-2013 The Middle East Forum E-mail: info (at) meforum (dot) org Daniel J. Pipes