Muhammad Morsi’s Islamic Jew-Hatred, Bernard Lewis’ Islamic Negationism
A month has passed since the Middle East Media Research Institute posted a 2010 video interview of Muslim Brotherhood leader, and now Egyptian president, Muhammad Morsi spewing Antisemitic vitriol. Morsi’s comments included a characterization of today’s Zionists -- plainly Jews in his parlance -- as “descendants of apes and pigs” -- a specific invocation of Koran 5:60, which he had repeated, elsewhere, in print interviews, and commentaries.
That this dehumanizing Koranic depiction was in reference to Jews has been validated by the most authoritative classical and modern exegeses* (“tafsir,” or commentaries) on the Koran, the words of Muhammad himself (as recorded in the sira, or pious Muslim biographies of Islam’s prophet), as well as a large corpus of Islamic theological writings which demonstrate the motif’s application by Muslims over a nearly 1400-year continuum.
Yet to this day, thousands of reports and opinion pieces later (search “Morsi” + “apes and pigs” using Google.com to estimate the vast output), only a handful have noted this irrefragable link to a Koranic verse (i.e., 5:60) declaring the Jews to be apes and pigs. The apotheosis of this negationist trend was captured in a January 27, 2013 Times of Israel interview of Charles Small, head of the itinerant Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). Small piously proclaimed that ISGAP was uniquely committed to addressing what was framed as “Islamic” Antisemitism, because,
There’s a reluctance among scholars to open up this subject [i.e., “Islamic” Antisemitism]. This subject is dangerous, embarrassing. It touches on various political interests in international relations that people don’t really want to engage with.
What explains the almost uniform, egregious omission of Morsi’s Koranic reference, and Small’s broader see-no-Islam in “Islamic” Antisemitism mindset, displayed even by politically centrist or conservative Western media outlets, and the centrist or conservative “Middle East experts” opining for them? I argue that such willful blindness is rooted in the misrepresentation of Islamic Jew-hatred -- indeed its frank denial as a coherent doctrine -- by one of the leading contemporary scholars of Islam, turned late-blooming, ubiquitous public intellectual, whose limited, dogmatic investigation of the subject has smothered all such desperately required discussion. That scholar is Bernard Lewis.
Accrued over a distinguished career of more than six decades of serious scholarship, Bernard Lewis clearly possesses an enormous fund of knowledge regarding certain aspects of classical Islamic civilization, as well as valuable insights on the early evolution of modern Turkey from the dismantled Ottoman Empire. A gifted linguist, non-fiction prose writer, and teacher, Lewis shares his understanding of Muslim societies in both written and oral presentations, with singular economy, eloquence, and wit. These are extraordinary attributes for which Lewis richly deserves the accolades lavished upon him.
But as I will demonstrate, Lewis’ remarkable contributions are diminished by yawning gaps in his expressed understanding of Islamic Jew-hatred, and the overall condition of non-Muslims vanquished by jihad, and living as so-called “dhimmis,” under the restrictive and humiliating mandates of the Sharia. Ultimately, Lewis takes the rather dogmatic (and apologetic) positions that Islam is devoid of theological Antisemitism, and dhimmitude has never existed as a Sharia-based Islamic institution. Lewis’s views on Islamic Jew-hatred and (for Jews, the conjoined institution of) dhimmitude are doctrinally and historically untenable, as the evidence I adduce will make clear. Moreover, Lewis’s apologetic tendencies must have been attractive to the Muslim Brotherhood/Saudi Wahhabi front Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, and its pseudo-academic Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs(JMMA), which has been an Abedin family enterprise since 1979. Regardless of whether Lewis was a willing dupe, or not, he served on the editorial board of the JMMA for some 14-years, from 1996 to 2010, despite the fact this “academic” journal was, and remains, a thinly veiled mouthpiece for Sharia supremacism. These critical limitations of his scholarship and judgment have implications which must also be recognized by all those for whom Lewis remains an iconic source of information, and advice, especially policy advice.
The late Orientalist Maxime Rodinson (d. 2004), a contemporary of Bernard Lewis, warned forty years ago of misguided modern scholarship effectively “sanctifying” Islam:
Understanding has given away to apologetics pure and simple.
Lewis’s bowdlerized 1974 summary portrayal of the system of governance imposed upon those indigenous non-Muslims conquered by jihad is a distressing, ahistorical example of this apologetic genre.
In his seminal The Laws of Islamic Governance, al-Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned jurist of Baghdad, examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel “dhimmi” (which derives from both the word for “pact,” and also “guilt” -- guilty of religious errors) population had to recognize Islamic ownership of their land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the Koranic poll tax (jizya), based on Koran 9:29. Al- Mawardi notes that “The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation.” He then distinguishes two cases: (I) Payment is made immediately and is treated like booty, “it does, not however, prevent a jihad being carried out against them in the future.” (II). Payment is made yearly and will “constitute an ongoing tribute by which their security is established.” Reconciliation and security last as long as the payment is made. If the payment ceases, then the jihad resumes. A treaty of reconciliation may be renewable, but must not exceed 10 years. This same basic formulation was reiterated during a January 8, 1998 interview by Yusuf al-Qaradawi confirming how jihad continues to regulate the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims to this day.
The “contract of the jizya”, or “dhimma” encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non-Muslim “dhimmi” peoples. Ibn Kathir’s important 14th century Koranic commentary describes the essence of the Koran’s mandate in verse 9:29 for submissive tribute, or “jizya,” under the heading, “Paying Jizya is a Sign of Kufr [unbelief] and Disgrace.” He elaborates, as follows:
Allah said, “until they pay the Jizya”, if they do not choose to embrace Islam, ‘with willing submission’, in defeat and subservience, “and feel themselves subdued”, disgraced, humiliated and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of Dhimma or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced, and humiliated. Muslim recorded from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said, “Do not initiate the Salam to the Jews and the Christians, and if you meet them in a road, force them to its narrowest alley”. This is why the Leader of the faithful ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab [d. 644; the second “Rightly Guided” Caliph], may Allah be pleased with him, demanded his well-known conditions be met by the Christians, these conditions that ensured their continued humiliation, degradation, and disgrace.
Collectively, these “obligations” formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non-Muslims -- Jews, Christians, as well as Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists -- subjugated by jihad. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished dhimmis, and of church bells; restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples; inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; a requirement that Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims, including Zoroastrians and Hindus, wear special clothes; and the overall humiliation and abasement of non-Muslims. It is important to note that these regulations and attitudes were institutionalized as permanent features of the sacred Islamic law, or Sharia. The writings of the much lionized Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali (d. 1111) highlight how the institution of dhimmitude was simply a normative, and prominent feature of the Sharia:
...the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle.. .Jews, Christians, and Majians [Zoroastrians] must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]...on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]... They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells...their houses may not be higher than the Muslim's, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddler-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths...[dhimmis] must hold their tongue.
The practical consequences of such a discriminatory system were summarized in A.S. Tritton’s 1930 The Caliphs and their Non-Muslim Subjects, a pioneering treatise on the status of the dhimmis:
…[C]aliphs destroyed churches to obtain materials for their buildings, and the mob was always ready to pillage churches and monasteries…dhimmis…always lived on sufferance, exposed to the caprices of the ruler and the passions of the mob…in later times..[t]hey were much more liable to suffer from the violence of the crowd, and the popular fanaticism was accompanied by an increasing strictness among the educated. The spiritual isolation of Islam was accomplished. The world was divided into two classes, Muslims and others, and only Islam counted…Indeed the general feeling was that the leavings of the Muslims were good enough for the dhimmis.
Yet over four decades after Tritton published this apt characterization, here is what Bernard Lewis opined on the subject (in 1974):
The dhimma on the whole worked well. [emphasis added] The non-Muslims managed to thrive under Muslim rule, and even to make significant contributions to Islamic civilization. The restrictions were not onerous, and were usually less severe in practice than in theory. As long as the non-Muslim communities accepted and conformed to the status of tolerated subordination assigned to them, they were not troubled.
The assessments of two other highly esteemed Western scholars -- Professors Ann Lambton and S.D. Goitein -- who were Lewis’s contemporaries (and colleagues), make plain that his flimsy apologetic on “the dhimma” does not represent a consensus viewpoint.
From 1972-78, the late Ann Lambton headed the Near and Middle East department, while contributing articles and analyses for The Cambridge History of Islam, which she co-edited with Bernard Lewis. Professor Lambton and Bernard Lewis were also both protégés of the famous School of Oriental and Asiatic Studies Islamologist, Sir Hamilton Gibb. Lambton’s obituarist, Burzine K. Waghmar, noted (on August 1, 2008),
Lambton was unrivalled in the breadth of her scholarship, covering Persian grammar and dialectology; medieval and early modern Islamic political thought; Seljuq, Mongol, Safavid, Qajar and Pahlavi administration; tribal and local history; and land tenure and agriculture. Her association with SOAS (School of Oriental and Asiatic Studies) in London, which lasted from her time as an undergraduate in 1930 until her death as Professor Emerita, aged 96, was one of the longest and most illustrious, and Lambton became acknowledged as the dean of Persian studies in the West. Without hyperbole, an era has passed in Middle Eastern studies.
Ann Lambton, wrote the following on the dhimmis, published in 1981:
As individuals, the dhimmis possessed no rights. Citizenship was limited to Muslims; and because of the superior status of the Muslim, certain juristic restrictions were imposed on the dhimmi. The evidence of a dhimmi was not accepted in a law court; a Muslim could not inherit from a dhimmi nor a dhimmi from a Muslim; a Muslim could marry a dhimmi woman, but a dhimmi could not marry a Muslim woman; at the frontier a dhimmi merchant paid double the rate of duty on merchandise paid by a Muslim, but only half the rate paid by a harbi; and the blood-wit paid for a dhimmi was, except according to the Hanafis, only half or two-thirds that paid for a Muslims. No dhimmi was permitted to change his faith except for Islam…
Various social restrictions were imposed upon the dhimmis such as restrictions of dress…Dhimmis were also forbidden to ride horses…and, according to Abu Hanifa valuable mules. The reason for this prohibition was connected with the fact that dhimmis were forbidden to bear arms: the horse was regarded as a ‘fighter for the faith,’ and received two shares in the booty if it were of Arab stock whereas its rider received one. Dhimmis were to yield the way to Muslims. They were also forbidden to mark their houses by distinctive signs or to build them higher than those of Muslims. They were not to build new churches, synagogues, or hermitages and not to scandalize Muslims by openly performing their worship or following their distinctive customs such as drinking wine…
The humiliating regulations to which [dhimmis] were subject as regards their dress and conduct in public were not, however, nearly so serious as their moral subjection, the imposition of the poll tax, and their legal disabilities. They were, in general, made to feel that they were beyond the pale. Partly as a result of this, the Christian communities dwindled in number, vitality, and morality…The degradation and demoralization of the [dhimmis] had dire consequences for the Islamic community and reacted unfavorably on Islamic political and social life. [emphasis added]
Shlomo Dov [S.D.] Goitein (d. 1985), was a historian of Muslim-Jewish relations, whose seminal research findings were widely published, most notably in the monumental five-volume work, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza (1967-1993). Goitein was Professor Emeritus of the Hebrew University, scholar at The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a colleague of Lewis. The New York Times obituary for Professor Goitein (published on February 10, 1985) noted, appositely, that his renowned (and prolific) writings on Islamic culture, and Muslim-Jewish relations, were “…standard works for scholars in both fields.” Here is what Goitein wrote on the subject of non-Muslim dhimmis under Muslim rule, i.e., dhimmitude, circa 1970:
...a great humanist and contemporary of the French Revolution, Wilhelm von Humboldt, defined as the best state one which is least felt and restricts itself to one task only: protection, protection against attack from outside and oppression from within...in general, taxation [by the Muslim government] was merciless, and a very large section of the population must have lived permanently at the starvation level. From many Geniza letters one gets the impression that the poor were concerned more with getting money for the payment of their taxes than for food and clothing, for failure of payment usually induced cruel punishment... the Muslim state was quite the opposite of the ideals propagated by Wilhelm von Humboldt or the principles embedded in the constitution of the United States. An Islamic state was part of or coincided with dar al-Islam, the House of Islam. Its treasury was mal al-muslumin, the money of the Muslims. Christians and Jews were not citizens of the state, not even second class citizens. They were outsiders under the protection of the Muslim state, a status characterized by the term dhimma, for which protection they had to pay a poll tax specific to them. They were also exposed to a great number of discriminatory and humiliating laws...As it lies in the very nature of such restrictions, soon additional humiliations were added, and before the second century of Islam was out, a complete body of legislation in this matter was in existence...In times and places in which they became too oppressive they lead to the dwindling or even complete extinction of the minorities. [emphasis added]
Lewis’s conception of Islam’s doctrinal Antisemitism, and its resultant historical treatment of Jews, is a sham castle which rests on two false pillars. These glib affirmations, which amount to nothing less than sheer denial, are illustrated below:
 In Islamic society hostility to the Jew is non-theological. It is not related to any specific Islamic doctrine, nor to any specific circumstance in Islamic history. For Muslims it is not part of the birth-pangs of their religion, as it is for Christians.
 “dhimmi”-tude [derisively hyphenated] subservience and persecution and ill treatment of Jews... [is a] myth.