Muslims must address ancient texts usurped for anti-Semitism
by Dr. Junaid Jahangir
I came across a swastika and a “Death to Israel” sign in my latest visit to Pakistan. This is not news to me, as I have heard Friday sermons depicting the yahud (Jews) as our enemies. I have also witnessed online comments by some Pakistanis that Hitler did not complete his job.
I was reminded of these observations as I read the Toronto Star article on the Toronto Imam, Ayman Elkasrawy, who was accused of preaching hate against Jews. The article shows that Elkasrawy’s Arabic prayer was mistranslated and that he did not intend for the annihilation of the Jewish community.
Going beyond mere apology, he visited a synagogue and learned about anti-racism, human rights laws, and human rights in Canada. He reached out to Bernie Farber, former head of a Jewish advocacy group.
Based on his interaction, Farber, who spent his life tackling anti-Semitism, expressed: “I really saw a young man who felt beaten down for something that he didn’t quite understand.”
This is concerning because there would be many others like Elkasrawy who do not intend hate but who reference ancient texts we have inherited that depict Jews in a negative light.
The ongoing situation in Israel and Palestine only compounds the issue as these texts are resuscitated to vent anger and frustration.
I am not sure if there is a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue. For a vast majority of Jews, Zionism means having a homeland of their own. Muslims view Zionism through the lens of colonialism.
There are Jews against Zionism, both religious and secular. Likewise, there are Muslims who support Zionism on the basis of the Qur’an. However, they are marginal voices in their respective faith.
Efforts to bring Jews and Muslims on the Israel-Palestine issue often fail, as in the case of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). The MLI was created to understand how Jews understand Israel and Jewish peoplehood. However, Muslims criticised the group as they feel it runs counter to the support requested by Palestinians on the Boycott, Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Outside the Israel-Palestine context, the two communities have successfully worked together against the surge in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
According to Khaleel Mohammad, Professor at San Diego State University, just as there are anti-Ishmaelite rabbinical texts and the general depiction of Ishmael in the Torah forms the basis of a sustained polemic against his descendants, Muslims have applied contorted readings to force anti-Semitism. This is especially so when Muslims came into contact with Syriac anti-Jewish polemical texts and ended up contorting their own scriptures.
According to scholars, such ancient texts depict a narrative on the contest for scarce resources amongst tribes. However, only Muslims can work on internally to keep politics away from mosques. They have to address ancient texts that condemn disbelievers and call for their death.
Multiple interpretive techniques can be used to address ancient texts. One would be to reject the Hadith texts based on content and transmission chain analysis. Another technique would be takhsis (particularization), where reference to Jews and disbelievers in problematic texts can be restricted to an ancient past. Either way, we can render the texts irrelevant to our ethical worldview.
This means that the prayer invoked by Elkasrawy that contains the words “slay them one by one” and “give us victory over the disbelieving people” should have no place in mosques across the globe.
Likewise, his words are problematic, whether mistranslated as “Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews” or properly translated as, “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from Jews’ desecration of it.”
These words reek of supremacism and exclusivism, which is promoted by some North American preachers when they caution against celebrating with and congratulating non-Muslims on their religious festivals.
Some of these preachers are highly educated. In stark contrast is the conduct of poor Muslims in small towns who celebrate non-Muslim festivals and live in mutual cooperation and brotherhood with their non-Muslim neighbours.
In essence, Muslims have a great responsibility to address ancient texts whether they are unintentionally invoked by people like Elkasrawy or intentionally by other Muslim preachers.
Otherwise, we will keep observing people regurgitating those draconian texts and intentionally or unintentionally spreading hate.
Islam must not be reduced to a narrow cult.
Dr. Junaid Jahangir is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University and a blogger at Huffington Post. With Dr. Hussein Abdul Latif, he has co-authored “Islamic law and Muslim same-sex unions.”