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Perceptions of Jews and Judaism in the Muslim sacred texts

Perceptions of Jews and Judaism in the Muslim sacred texts
We can see how during the early days of Islam, in 7th century Arabia, contradictory attitudes and perceptions of Jews and Judaism arose. These reflected the varied experiences of Muhammad and the early Muslim community with both Jews and with other groups in the area. Both the positive and negative attitudes that emerged during this time period are clearly reflected in the Quran, the most sacred Islamic Scripture. On the one hand the Quran, which is the eternal Word of God, sees Judaism and Christianity as a divine religion, as a divine revelation to human beings, which was not complete.
Unfortunately, the Jews distorted the true, pure revelation that prophet Moses, who is a Muslim prophet, gave them, and then God sent Jesus as another prophet. And when the Christians distorted Jesus’ message, God sent Muhammad as the final Messenger of God, with the final, the most perfect divine message. So in the one hand Judaism is regarded as a divine religion with some very positive elements. In addition the Quran regards the Children of Israel, the biblical Children of Israel, again as a chosen group, [to whom] God promises the Holy Land, and they do enjoy the favor of God.
On the other hand, because the Prophet Muhammad clashed with the Jews of Medina, with the three Jewish tribes of Medina, his political clashes with the Jews led to the evolution of a very different approach toward the Jews, and then we see a different approach and attitude toward the Jews in the Quran - the Jews are first of all described as “people who distorted the true message of Moses.” Secondly they are very often described as “deceitful, mean people, who should never be trusted, like all infidels, but especially the Jews. The Jews betrayed the Muslims, they betrayed the Prophet, they were hostile to the Prophet, and they then have a whole set of very negative attributes in the Quran.”
And unfortunately here, since the Quran is the eternal Word of God, such messages against the Jews cannot be changed and have a very special status in Islam.

Prof. Meir Litvak

Both the positive and negative attitudes that emerged in 7th century Arabia are clearly reflected in the most sacred Islamic scripture, the Qur’an.

What perceptions of the Jews can be found in the Qur’an?


  • Adang, Camilla, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm (Leiden : E.J. Brill, 1996)

  • Hava Lazarus-Yafe, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

  • Lewis, Bernard, The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton, 1984).

  • Stillman, Norman A., The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979).

  • Ben-Shammai, Haggai, “Jew Hatred in the Islamic Tradition and the Koranic Exegesis,” in Shmuel Almog, ed., Antisemitism Through the Ages (Oxford: Pergamon, 1988), pp. 161 – 69.

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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