Hesham A. Hassaballa’s Column
I recently gave a sermon at Friday prayer during which I recounted the pivotal Battle of the Trench, in which the Muslims defeated an army 10,000 strong that tried to destroy Medina and wipe out the nascent Islamic community. A very important part of this story is the conduct of Bani Quraiza, a tribe living within the city limits of Medina at the time. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) signed a non-aggression/alliance pact with this tribe, and he sent a delegation to uphold this treaty once the army was at hand. Bani Quraiza confirmed to the Prophet that they will be faithful to the treaty and guard the rear of Medina from attack.
They later reneged on the treaty and colluded with the Pagans to attack from the rear. Thank God, the plan fell through, and the Muslims were saved from certain destruction. After the Pagan army withdrew in bitterness, the Prophet attacked Bani Quraiza–because they broke the non-aggression treaty–and 700 of their men were killed. Here comes the sensitive part: Bani Quraiza was a Jewish tribe. Every time I mentioned this during the sermon, I said immediately afterwards, “This is not an indictment against all Jews.” I truly meant it, and I was not being “politically correct.”
After the sermon, one congregant came up to me and told me that I should not be “politically correct.” The Jews were “cursed,” in his words, in the Qur’an. His statement perplexed me, and I totally disagreed with him, although, any observer could have easily thought otherwise. I just did not want to argue with him, in the mosque, right then and there. Yet, the exchange was telling, indeed. It made me think long and hard about from where such a notion has crept into the minds of some Muslims.
The fact that only one congregant mentioned this to me says that this view is not widespread amongst Muslims, thankfully, despite what some pundits may say. The conflict in the Holy Land has placed a burdensome strain on Jewish-Muslim relations and such a tension is even palpable right here in the United States. I lament this tension deeply. Nevertheless, the conflict in the Middle East should never cause any Muslim to put words into God’s mouth.
The Qur’an is an amazingly sophisticated document. The mind of the Author is far more advanced than any human being alive in the Seventh Century, which only further confirms to me that its Author can only be God. When it comes to monotheism in the Qur’an, God does not say “I am One because I say so.” The Qur’an continually challenges the reader to think, ponder, and understand why there can only be One God. Although God is well within His right to say, “because I say so,” He does not, and this makes the Qur’an even more powerful and convincing.
This same sophistication is evident in how the Qur’an treats Jews. The Jewish tribes of Yathrib, where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) migrated after being expelled from Mecca, instantly rejected the Prophet’s message. One would think that the Qur’an then would be full of verses attacking Jews and their faith. Some Muslims, and many non-Muslims, believe this to be true. It is not.
Some verses call on the People of the Book, as Jews and Christians are called, to believe in the message of Muhammad (2:41, 5:19). Quite a few verses recount many parts of Jewish sacred history (2:40-85, 3:33-60, 12:4-101). Many verses praise the Torah of Moses (3:3) and the Gospel of Jesus (5:46). A good number of the Hebrew Prophets are highly praised in the Qur’an (3:84, 6:84-87), and many of these Prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur’an many more times than Muhammad himself. Still other verses challenge the Jews and Christians to follow their own scriptures appropriately: “Say [O Muhammad]: ‘O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord’…” (5:68). No statement in the Qur’an issues a blanket condemnation of all Jews or Christians. None. So when a Muslim, or non-Muslim, tells me otherwise, I simply scratch my head in confusion! .
Now, if one wants to misquote, mistranslate, or quote verses of the Qur’an out of context, he will find ample “evidence” to support the fallacious claim that the Qur’an is anti-Jewish. But, anyone with sinister intentions can quote a verse of scripture out of context to seemingly prove a point. Take this passage from I Corinthians: “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” (I Corinthians 11:8-9) Can I conclude that Christianity is a sexist religion that seeks to oppress women? Absolutely not. Such tactics violate every rule of Scriptural Exegesis 101 and are disingenuous and do a tremendous disservice to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Qur’an is many things to many people, but one thing it is not is a book that attacks Jews and their faith. It does not take a scholar to know this to be true.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN). He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for Best Religion Book by the Religion Communicators Council.