“Fascist-Islamophobia”: A Case Study in Totalitarian Demonization - Part 2

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Oct 20, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Chapter Two

Alleging Intolerance and Prejudice Against Jews

A.  Defining the Bad Guys

The definition of tolerance versus intolerance should apply equally to the demonized and the demonizers.  One should distinguish among tolerance, diversity, and pluralism.  Spencer puts Islam and Muslims barely up to the level of tolerance.  Tolerance means “I hate you but I won’t kill you yet.”  Diversity means, “You are here, dammit, and I can’t do much about it.”  Pluralism means, “We welcome you because we all have so much to offer each other.”  One might ask where Spencer’s attitude toward Islam and Muslims fits in this typology.  Also relevant would be the distinction between the classical and the popular attitudes of Muslims toward Jews and Christians, with comparison between now and traditionally over the centuries.

Spencer approaches this issue first by noting that, “Criticism of Muhammad or even of Islam is not and should not be considered equivalent to anti-Semitism.  Islam is not a race; the problems with it are not the product of fear-mongering and fiction, but of ideology and facts – facts that have been stressed repeatedly by Muslims around the world, when they commit violence in the name of Islam and justify violence by its teachings.” 

Again and again Spencer accuses the Prophet Muhammad of seeking revenge against Jews and Christians for not accepting Qur’anic prophecy:  “Muhammad was often frustrated by skeptics of his preaching, with eventual dire results” ; “Ultimately that obstinacy would lead Muhammad to turn fiercely against them.”

Although he must know better, Spencer writes, “So far is the Qur’an from modern notions of tolerance and peaceful coexistence that it even warns Muslims not to befriend Jews and Christians: … ‘O ye who believe!  Take not the Jews and Christians for your friends and protectors.  They are but friends and protectors to each other.  And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them.  Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust’ (5:51).”

The term here often but erroneously translated as “friend” is walii.  This refers to a spiritual guide or legal guardian who has responsibility to look out for one’s best welfare, and certainly does not apply merely to a friend, no matter how friendly this friend may be.  The term is equivalent to “godfather” in Christian baptism and is often used as the equivalent of “saint.”  In fact, the term walii is given in the Qur’an as one of the ninety-nine names or attributes of Allah, similar to the trinity of the Most Powerful, the Most Merciful, and the Most Wise.

Furthermore, wherever the Christians and Jews are criticized in the Qur’an, this criticism is always qualified in a nearby verse by limiting the criticism to “those with a disease in their hearts.”  Otherwise, it would make no sense to recognize and welcome marriages between Muslims and People of the Book (Christians and Jews), which is a universally recognized part of Islamic law.

Spencer resorts to an extremist interpretation of the opening surah of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, to allege the eternal enmity of Muslims against Jews.  He writes, “Muhammad composed for the Muslims a brief prayer, known as the fatiha (Opening), that became the cornerstone of Muslim prayer, which ends with “show us the straight path … not the path of those who earn Your anger nor of those who go astray’.”  He cites Ibn Kathir who wrote that this refers respectively to the Jews and Christians, and concludes that this is why the Muslims have always showed anger against Jews. 

In fact, throughout history until recently only very few Muslims have committed the crime against humanity of assigning collective guilt to all Jews in the face of the fact that the Qur’an always distinguishes between the Jews and Christians who have a disease in their hearts and those who are Muslims in fact by recognizing God and His justice and doing good works, which are the only three requirements to be a Muslim and go to heaven.  In fact, this recognition of the People of the Book as de facto Muslims explains why throughout almost all of the past fourteen hundred years the Muslims and Jews have been each other’s most reliable friends.

Spencer recites the story about the Jewish leader whom the Jews praised as honest and knowledgeable but then condemned as dishonest and ignorant after he accepted Islam as foreseen in the Torah.  Spencer writes that this led to the Muslim charge that the Jews had deliberately altered their scriptures in order to remove all references to Muhammad.  He concludes from this story that, “The ideas of Jews and Christians as sinful renegades from the truth of Islam would become a cornerstone of Islamic thought regarding non-Muslims.”

Spencer claims that the Qur’an rejects and curses Jews and that, “The repercussions of this rejection would reverberate to our own time.”  In fact, to the contrary, it curses only those Jews whose arrogance amounts to blasphemy.  He claims that the Qur’an in Surah al Ma’ida 5:67 explicitly denounces the Jews as corrupters (mufsidun, from fasad).  This, however, follows Surah al Ma’ida 5:63, where the Qur’an refers to those who have incurred the wrath of God as apes and swine, which is an old Arabic analogy for those who are lawless like apes and have succumbed to gluttony and sexual license like pigs.  The Qur’an contrasts these arrogant and sinful Jews with the believers among the Jews, who in their lives are Muslims as the phrase Muslim is used throughout the Qur’an.  The Qur’an states in 5:69, “If only [these arrogant and corrupt Jews] had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side.” 

Spencer refers to the Qur’an cursing both the Jews and Christians in Surah al Tauba 9:30.  The Qur’anic reference here is to Jews and Christians who use the phrase “Son of God” in reference to human beings.  The Old Testament uses this term 32 times in reference to holy persons, e.g., Job 38:7, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”  The Qur’anic condemnation is directed toward those who use this phrase to claim their own exclusivity as the favored or beloved of God. 

He cites the Qur’anic statement in Surah al Baqara 2:89 in reference to Jews, “The curse of Allah is on those without faith.”  But the reference here is to those in the previous verse, 2:88, who claimed that all wisdom and all knowledge were enclosed in their hearts.  The Qur’an says that this arrogance amounts to blasphemy and brings on the curse of God.

B.  Banu Qurayzah “Massacre”

Arabia was home to several Christian and Jewish communities at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.  The Christians originated largely as refugees from the Byzantine Empire, which imposed the doctrine of the dual nature of Jesus and therefore persecuted primarily the Nestorians who emphasized the human nature of Jesus and the Monophysites who emphasized his divine nature.  Jewish communities had been present throughout Arabia for many centuries.  The largest of them was the Jewish kingdom of Nawas in the far south, but major Jewish tribes lived in the Khaybar Oasis in the north and in the two major cities, Medina and Mecca.  The three Jewish tribes in Medina were the Banu Qurayzah, the Banu Qaynuqa, and the Banu Nadir.  The latter two were expelled for treason.  The first one, the Banu Qurayzah, allegedly was eliminated in a monstrous pogrom of genocide.

This mythical genocide is the all-time classical example of demonization.  In his book, The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer relates this apocryphal story in Chapter Eight, “Casting Terror into Their Hearts,” which ends with the statement that “for the present-day jihadists … that can mean nothing less than the destruction of the State of Israel.”  He is undoubtedly correct in pinpointing this alleged genocide against the Jews as a powerful model for terrorists.  But he is also supporting their craze by citing this story as authentic history and by using it to support his thesis that the Prophet Muhammad set an eternal example for all Muslims by following both domestic and foreign policies based on shock and awe.

The underlying problem in most of what Robert Spencer writes to demonize Islam and the Prophet Muhammad is his bias in the selection of sources.  He claims that his scholarship is impeccable because he relies entirely on Muslim sources.  Unfortunately, he relies heavily on sources that are either bogus or biased and reflect the strain of extremism that is found in every religion. 

From the very beginning, there have been extremists among Muslims who provide more than enough ammunition for those with a biased agenda.  The first “Wahhabis” were the Mukharijun who condemned Ali bin Abi Talib, ‘alayhi as-salam, in the earliest period of the Muslim community for offering to compromise with the tyrant Mu’awiya.  They declared that all who disagreed with themselves are infidels who should be executed, and eventually in the year 661 they succeeded in murdering Ali whom they had once supported.  One could quote Kharijites (mukharijun), who survived in one form or another for centuries, but no scholar has ever quoted them to prove anything about Islam.

The Banu Qurayzah were one of the three Jewish tribes that together with the resident Arab tribes had originally invited the Prophet Muhammad to Medina in order to bring peace among the warring parties in the city.  All of these tribes signed the Medina Covenant, which was the first known constitution of any city or country.  In it, each tribe promised to support the others in the common defense and to work together for their common good. 

The alleged massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah tribe in Medina came in the Year 627 immediately after the third of the three great battles between the Quraysh from Mecca and the Medinans, known as the Battle of the Trench (Al Khandaq), the first two being the Battle of Badr in 624 and the Battle of Uhud in 625.  When it became known that the Meccans were planning to bring a great army from many Arabian tribes to annihilate the Muslims in Medina, the Medinans dug a trench around the city to hold off the attack.  After three weeks of siege, when conditions in the city were becoming desperate, the Banu Qurayzah leaders in Medina decided to make an alliance with the Meccans to attack the Muslims from within.  Unfortunately for these leaders, the Quraysh eventually gave up the siege and abandoned the Banu Qurayzah to their fate.
This much is a known fact, but the story of the Prophet massacring all male members of the tribe, some 700 men or even 900, and enslaving their women and children is pure fabrication.  Spencer gets this story, as he does most of the rest of his book, from the supposedly reliable account by the first historian of Islamdom, Abu Ishaq (704-773).  The only extant version of this first biography of the Prophet Muhammad was written by Ibn Hisham, who admitted that he had condensed and revised the original to fit his own agenda.  Malik ibn Anas (715-801), founder of one of the four surviving schools of law in the Sunni world, condemned Ibn Ishaq as a “Dajjal” or anti-Christ for including hadith that were invented by Jews to glorify their ancestors. 

According to Ibn Ishaq and several ahadith that derive from his account, the Prophet Muhammad laid siege to the Banu Qurayza’s stronghold in the city, calling out to them, “You brothers of monkeys, has God disgraced you and brought his vengeance upon you.”  In classical Arabic, the term “like an ape” is used to describe a person who cannot control his passions.  The Qur’anic phrase, “May you be transformed into pigs and monkeys,” used in Surah al Ma’ida 5:60 and Surah al A’raf 7:166, is a metaphor condemning the moral degradation of those whose hearts have become wildly unpredictable like apes and as abandoned to the pursuit of lust as swine. 

After twenty-five days of siege, the Banu Qurayzah in their bastions within the city surrendered, whereupon, according to the mythology, The Prophet announced that Allah had ordered all the male members of the Qurayzah tribe to be executed for disloyalty.  Spencer quotes Ibn Ishaq’s account as follows: “The apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it.  Then he sent for the men of the Qurayzah and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought to him in batches.” 

This is a great story.  The only problem is that subsequent scholarship shows that it was almost certainly a total fabrication from the very beginning.  The most detailed expose of this story was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society thirty years ago in 1976 under the title, “New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina”.
This scholarly analysis quotes contemporary and later scholars who described the rewritten biography of the Prophet, known as Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, as a collection of “odd tales” similar to the mythology popular among ignorant desert tribes.  Scholars have always been skeptical of the popular Sirah or histories of early Islam because in this genre of writing the evidentiary rules of the muhadithin or collectors of hadith, and especially of sources deemed valid as sources for jurisprudence, did not have to be followed.  It was not necessary to give any chain of authorities or even to give any authorities at all.  As a result, the first mention of this massacre occurred a hundred and fifty years after the alleged event.

Ibn Ishaq himself admitted that his account of the so-called massacre of the Banu Qurayzah was pieced together from fragmentary accounts, including the tribal memories of the Banu Qurayzah themselves, who like all tribes in the world are known to embellish their ancestral histories to mythical proportions.  Even Tabari, who is one of the earliest and most reliable historians of early Islam, cites Ibn Ishaq’s story about the alleged slaughter with skepticism and provides no supporting evidence as he does for the rest of his historical research.

The only authentic account is in the chapter of the Qur’an entitled “The Confederates,” Surah al Ahzab 33:26, which relates the siege of Medina by the Qurayish and their confederates and the treacherous assistance given the besiegers by some of the Banu Qurayzah.  These traitors were killed during battle. “He [Allah] caused those of the People of the Book [the Banu Qurayzah] who had helped them [i.e., helped the Quraish] to come out of their forts and cast terror into their hearts, so that some you killed, and some you took prisoner.” This is a statement about the battle, and no figures of casualties are given. 

Only later were Jewish tribal accounts embellished with statements that all the men of the Banu Quraysh, as many as 900 men, were personally murdered by the Prophet Muhammad, salah Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, who publicly and enthusiastically chopped off their heads one by one in the main square of Medina.

Modern scholars point out the great resemblance of the above Jewish tale to the early history of the Jews that has survived throughout the ages, according to which the predecessor of Herod the Great hung upon crosses 800 Jewish captives and slaughtered their wives and children before their eyes.  At Masada, the number of those who died at the end was 900.  The inside story was that the leader of the Banu Qurayzah suggested that all the Banu Qurayzah kill their women and children and then commit suicide, which is the same story told about the last holdout at Masada.  A giveaway is that even the same names were given in accounts of these two heroic last stands.  It is interesting that modern historians now question the authenticity of the Masada account that 960 Jews committed suicide, which would mean that the Banu Qurayza account of their own refusal to commit suicide might unknowingly have been a more accurate rendition of the original prototype.

Robert Spencer accepts this bogus history as proof for his insistence that the Prophet Muhammad is the perfect model for Al Qa’ida and those who get a thrill from personally beheading captives. 

The real significance of Spencer’s reliance on this Jewish tribal history to make his point is found in his reasons for rejecting the Muslim scholars’ skepticism, because this reveals strikingly the bias that poisons everything else in his book. 

Spencer’s argument against the classical Islamic scholars, including the modern scholar, W. N. Arafat, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, is Spencer’s charge that they rejected the very possibility of such a slaughter “chiefly for the anachronistic reason that it would have violated Islamic law.” 

Respected Islamic scholars argue that this story has to be apocryphal because the strict rule in Islamic law is to punish only those who are responsible for the sedition.  The large number of those allegedly beheaded contradicts the Qur’anic prohibition of collective guilt ordained in Surah Fatir 35:18: “No soul shall bear another’s burden.” The leaders of the Banu Qurayzah even in the apocryphal story were well known and even named. 

Equally important is the strict rule, never violated at the time of the Prophet, that prisoners of war must be either freed or allowed to be ransomed by their families.  This was the rule applied to the other Jewish tribes.

The classical Islamic scholars have another clinching argument.  If such a slaughter had actually occurred, it would have been used as a precedent for legal rulings, whereas, in fact, there have never been any such rulings.

Spencer’s classic demonstration of biased and circular reasoning seems designed carefully not merely to distort but to reverse everything in the Qur’an related to the universal human rights to life and dignity.  Throughout his book Spencer relies on extremist sources to prove that human rights have never existed in Islam, and then he cites this biased conclusion to justify his acceptance of events that never occurred.

This bias is strikingly evidenced in the contrast between Spencer’s unquestioning acceptance of falsehood and his rejection of truths that are beyond question.  He accepts the Banu Qurayzah massacre, because doing so serves to prove the points he is trying to make throughout his book, but he is skeptical about the very existence of the Medina Covenant and Constitution which granted equal rights to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. 

*  This is a pre-publication copy, with copyright in the name of the author, Robert D. Crane.  Parts One and Three of this book are scheduled for publication separately by the International Institute of Islamic Thought as part of the Conference Proceedings of a panel, entitled “Countering Islamophobia: The Intellectual’s Response,” held at the IIIT’s offices in Herndon, Virginia, on October 17th, 2007.  Part Two is scheduled for condensation and publication by the IIIT as Part Three of the book, Compassionate Justice: The Normative Approach to Human Rights, Robert D. Crane, 2008.  The final published version will include all of the notes and references.

  Dr. Crane is a former Franciscan monk of the Third Order who embraced Islam as a spiritual path while living in the Gulf emirate of Bahrain in 1976-77 writing the book, Planning the Future of Saudi Arabia, Praeger/CBS, 1977.  He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1959 with a specialization on comparative legal systems.  He is Director for Global Strategy at the Abraham Federation: A Global Center for Peace through Compassionate Justice, and author or co-author of a dozen books, including Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence Between Science and Religion.