In yet another blow to the hopes of those who confidently told us that the Egyptian uprising heralded the dawn of a new, secular democracy there, a new poll shows that 54% of Egyptians want to scrap the Camp David accords that have kept an uneasy peace with Israel since 1979. If you thought that supporters of Western secular pluralism would have no problem with the Camp David accords, you’re right: the poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, reveals that a significant number of Egyptians don’t actually support secularism and democracy at all. Instead, they manifest a deeply ingrained Islamic antisemitism that leads them to hate Israel – and the Camp David accords – for religious, not political reasons.
“Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews…” — Qur’an 5:82. The Qur’an contains a great deal of material that forms the foundation for a hatred of Jews that has persisted throughout Islamic history. It portrays the Jews as the craftiest, most persistent, and most implacable enemies of the Muslims — and there is no Islamic authority that has moved to mitigate the most destructive interpretations of all this. The Qur’anic material on the Jews remains the prism through which far too many Muslims see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Camp David accords, and Jews in general to this day.
A vivid illustration of this came several years ago from Islam Online, a website founded by, among others, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in 1997. Al-Qaradawi has justified suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, and in 2004 Islam Online posted an article entitled “Jews as Depicted in the Qur’an.” In it, Sheikh ‘Atiyyah Saqr, the former head of the Fatwa Committee at the most respected institution in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, depicts Jews in a chillingly negative light, illustrated with abundant 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 Allah”; they “love to listen to lies”; they disobey Allah 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.” He adds that “it is easy for them to slay people and kill innocents,” for “they are merciless and heartless.” And each charge he follows with Qur’anic citations (including, among others, 3:75; 5:64; 3:181; 5:41; 5:13; 2:109; 3:120; 2:61; 2:74; 2:100; 59:13-14; 2:96; and 2:79).
Though he offers many examples of the alleged evil traits of the Jews supported by the Qur’an, Saqr doesn’t mention the notorious Qur’anic passages that depict an angry Allah transforming Jews into apes and pigs: 2:63-66; 5:59-60; and 7:166. The first of those passages depicts Allah telling the Jews who “profaned the Sabbath”: “Be as apes despicable!” It goes on to say that these accursed ones serve “as a warning example for their time and for all times to come.” The second has Allah directing Muhammad to remind the “People of the Book” about “those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil.” The third essentially repeats this, saying of the Sabbath-breaking Jews that when “in their insolence they transgressed (all) prohibitions,” Allah said to them, “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.”
In traditional Islamic theology these passages have not been considered to apply to all Jews. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir, whose commentary is widely distributed and respected among Muslims today, quotes earlier authorities saying that “those who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath were turned into monkeys, then they perished without offspring,” and that they “only lived on the earth for three days, for no transformed person ever lives more than three days.” While parts of the Qur’an are hostile to the Jews, Muhammad’s curse, in this case, was limited to these Sabbath-breakers, not to all Jews.
However, that hasn’t stopped contemporary jihadists from frequently referring to Jews as the “descendants of apes and swine.” The implication is that today’s Jews are bestial in character and are the enemies of Allah, just as the Sabbath-breakers were. The recently deceased grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, who was the most respected cleric in the world among Sunni Muslims, 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, Mecca, 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.”
Another Saudi sheikh, Ba’d bin Abdallah al-Ajameh al-Ghamidi, made the connection explicit: “The current behavior of the brothers of apes and pigs, their treachery, violation of agreements, and defiling of holy places … is connected with the deeds of their forefathers during the early period of Islam–which proves the great similarity between all the Jews living today and the Jews who lived at the dawn of Islam.” A 1996 Hamas publication says that today’s Jews are bestial in spirit, and this is a manifestation of the punishment of their forefathers. In January 2007, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas stated, “The sons of Israel are mentioned as those who are corrupting humanity on earth,” referring to Qur’an 5:64.
All this shows that leading Muslim authorities approach the Qur’an not as a document rooted in history, but as a blueprint for understanding the world today. Likewise, Sheikh ‘Atiyyah Saqr describes the Qur’anic teachings that because Jews “revolted against the Divine ordinances … they found no warm reception in all countries where they tried to reside. Rather, they would either be driven out or live in isolation.” Moreover, “Almighty Allah told us that He’d send to them people who’d pour on them rain of severe punishment that would last till the Day of Resurrection.” Then comes a threat: “All this gives us glad tidings of the coming victory of Muslims over them once Muslims stick to strong faith and belief in Allah and adopt the modern means of technology.”
Is it any wonder, then, that a majority of Egyptians favor scrapping the Camp David accords? The surprise is only that so many favored keeping peace with Israel.