Islamic history is often mentioned alongside wars, and thus falsely implying a continuous war with non-Muslims in our time. However, the verses regarding combat and killing are for a specific time, place, and set of circumstances; it is not an excuse or justification to go out and commit mass slaughter in our present day.
The pagans of that time were utterly ruthless and aggressive, slaughtering Muslims and women wherever they found them, and they were also well-known for surprise attacks, ambushes, and other methods of deception in their attempts to stop the Prophet Mohammed and destroy the nascent Islamic community. They committed atrocities against Muslims who were literally under siege everywhere, and caused them to move to the town of Yathrib (later to be renamed Medina). The pagans simply would not listen to reason, and Muslims were allowed to wage war only because they were being oppressed and subjected to unbearable violence. Thus, in the commandments regarding combat, God tells Muslims to defend themselves; however, that does not mean Muslims can go out and kill anyone at any time.
On the other hand, it is not an easy thing to decide to wage war, and the Prophet Mohammed was undecided, worrying about whether he would be committing a sin. As the aggressors in question are, after all, human beings, he felt a great responsibility of conscience and was unable to make a decision. Under these circumstances, God commanded the Prophet Mohammed to kill the polytheists wherever he finds them, and in other verses describes what strategic measures they needed to take in the wars of those times. However, that is a commandment delivered within the context of an ongoing war, and it was not meant as a method for the propagation of Islam. God gives this permission and explains the reasons and conditions as such:
…Whenever they are made to revert to hostility, they fall headlong into it. Therefore, if they do not keep aloof from you, nor offer you peace nor restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them, wherever you find them. Against these We have given you clear authority. (Qur’an, 4:91)
In this same vein, the Qur’an commands siege warfare and the taking of prisoners as a more peaceful means of neutralizing a potentially aggressive community (Qur’an, 9:5). If a blockade or the taking of prisoners is not possible, then killing is permissible only as a last resort. Thus, God reveals how Muslims should defend themselves when they are under attack.
Another verse states that war has to end the moment the other side stops fighting (Qur’an, 4:90).5 Consequently the early Muslim community (ummah) followed the command of God, and they fought to defend themselves from utter extermination within the boundaries set by God. When these verses are not properly understood in their proper historical context, all manner of disaster ensues, as we can see all too well when we watch the evening news.
It is true that the Prophet Mohammed had to fight not only the Meccans but also against some Jewish and Christian tribes when they planned an offensive against him; yet again, Islam does not justify a total aggressive war or extermination. In addition, it is important to clarify that the Prophet Mohammed did not fight Jews because of their ethnicity or because of their religion; rather his fight was against whoever intended to persecute Muslims or those who cooperated with the enemy – despite the agreement.
On the other hand, according the constitution of Medina that the Prophet Mohammed established, Muslims and Jews were jointly responsible to defend the state against any outside attack; adherence to these peace treaties was equally incumbent upon the Jews and Muslims. So, this is another proof that the Jewish tribes were not a targeted enemy but an integral component of defense as long as they did not fight against the Muslim community.
Arguably, the roots of anti-Semitism found their most lethal expression in the Holocaust (Shoah), when some six million innocent Jewish men, women, and children were exterminated on the edge of mass graves in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia or had their lives systematically snuffed out at factories of mass murder such as Sobibor, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Chelmo, and Belzec.
For many centuries, the disdain towards the Jews in Diaspora was confined to the religious and social sphere. This religious and social sentiment is demonstrated in events such as the pogroms of the First Crusade in 1096, the expulsion of the Jews from England by Royal Decree in 1290, the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the pogroms in Russia and in the Ukraine. This sentiment could still be seen expressed by one of the world’s largest religions as recently as 1959, when a reference to “perfidious Jews” was finally dropped from the Good Friday Liturgy of the Catholic Church.
Holocaust denial is a peculiar subset of pseudo-history which teaches that anyone who lays claim to the mantle of historian can deny, out-of-hand, that the Shoah took place. Aside from the reams of documentary evidence, or the photographs taken by members of the Nazi extermination squads as they wrought their vile handiwork, we have the words of the perpetrators themselves, including the testimony on the stand, under oath, of no one less than Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, not to mention the testimony of Adolf Eichmann, the pencil-pushing architect of the Final Solution. There is also the infamous “Posen Speech” (which was recorded for posterity) of Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi RSHA68 and one of those most directly responsible for the Shoah itself.69 That any sane individual, not to mention a historian, can dismiss this overwhelming and easily verifiable evidence which clearly testifies as to what transpired, often in the most blood-chilling and sickening detail, defies belief. To maintain that the Shoah is either a wholly fictive event, or that it was “grossly exaggerated” is the pinnacle of intellectual dishonesty.
We see all too often this fanatical and obsessive anti-Semitism being represented in popular culture in the Islamic world; references to Jewish people as a “cancer” or a “tumor” that must be removed. This rhetoric is almost identical to the biological racism employed by European anti-Semites beginning in the late 19th century, when they began utilizing Darwinist language70 as a way to justify their opinions, and their occasional wholesale exterminations of indigenous peoples throughout the world. It is apparent that anti-Semitism has been transmitted from European culture to the culture of the Islamic world at large.
There have been Muslims who have denied the Holocaust occurred, unfortunately,so it is hardly uncommon or unheard of.71 For instance, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frequently denied the Holocaust. In one of his speeches delivered at Tehran University, he stated:
The pretext [the Holocaust] for the creation of the Zionist regime [Israel] is false….It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim.72
In his December 2005 speech, broadcast live on state television, Ahmadinejad repeated his view that the Holocaust was a myth:
They have fabricated a legend, under the name ‘Massacre of the Jews’… if somebody denies the myth of the massacre of Jews, the Zionist loudspeakers and the governments in the pay of Zionism will start to scream.73
According to Bernard Lewis, the three most common positions seen in the Arabic media about the Holocaust are:
It never happened; it was greatly exaggerated; the Jews deserved it anyway. On the last point, some more enterprising writers add a rebuke to Hitler for not having finished the job.74
Generally, what the Holocaust deniers in the Islamic world are doing is picking up this idea from Western sources and repeating it as part and parcel of their anti-Semitic beliefs. Speaking frankly, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial generally go hand-in-hand. However, this is not always the case; there is another subset of the neo-Nazis/white supremacists who do maintain that the Holocaust took place, but that it is an “incomplete work,” as the Nazis ended the program officially in December of 1944 – not out of any humanitarian concern or profound regret over what they had done, but because it was becoming glaringly obvious to Heinrich Himmler that Germany was going to lose WWII, and he needed time to try to cover up the evidence of the Nazis’ monstrous crimes.
Furthermore, while some Muslims deny the Holocaust, some others express in a chilling way that the job – incomplete work – has yet to be finished. Some of the TV programs in the Arab world refer to the Holocaust as something Jews deserved and imply that the extermination of the Jews would be good for the world. We also see Mein Kampf in an Arabic translation widely distributed in Muslim and other countries, removing the study of the Holocaust from history books, distortion of it in the Arab dailies, and the comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, implying that Israel is performing an ethnic cleansing or genocide upon the Palestinians. On top of all this, making mention of Hitler in a heroic way and open admiration of Nazism has been also embraced as a propaganda tool against Israel and Zionism. As a matter of fact, the unfortunate history of the Hitler-Arab alliance during the Second World War is also one of the factors for the embrace of Nazism in the Arab world.
We see that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, has become a hero among the Palestinians, symbolizing their fight against the Jews. On November 28, 1941, Mufti al-Husseini met with German Führer Adolf Hitler in Berlin and asked for his help against the Jews living under British protection in Arab lands. On March 1, 1944, when the Grand Mufti spoke to Radio Berlin, he said, “Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you.”75
Hitler confirmed that Germany’s objective was solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab lands and the Mufti was promised by Hitler to be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world.76
Present-day anti-Semitism in the Islamic world is also being exacerbated by the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict, a low-level war of attrition.
For instance, Hamas refused to allow Palestinian children to learn about the Holocaust, calling it “a lie invented by the Zionists” and referred to Holocaust education as a “war crime.”77
As Muslims, we bear a special obligation to confront the anti-Semitism that has infected the Muslim world. Muslims must not traffic in discredited ideas and unbecoming stereotypes or proclaim, as truth, notorious forgeries such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (It has been well known in the West for almost a century now that this tract was a forgery by the Czarist secret police in order to justify pogroms in Russia.) Muslims must not subscribe to pseudo-scientific notions such as racism, nor allow themselves to be gulled by pseudo-historic nonsense such as Holocaust denial. When it comes to anti-Semitism, Muslims must confront it, and educate against it, and most of all, they must repudiate it utterly.
The sad legacy of anti-Semitism must be, over time, removed from the general culture of the Middle East, much as it has been largely removed from the culture of Germany and the Western nations. This is not to say that anti-Semitism will be eliminated entirely; indeed, there are still those voices who advocate this toxic philosophy. However, these voices are almost entirely on the fringes of Western society and culture, and are generally dismissed as cranks or harmless lunatics. It is to that end that Muslims must aspire – to educate the overwhelming majority of the Islamic world so that when, in the future, some populist demagogue begins spouting anti-Semitic nonsense, he or she will be viewed as an aberration, and will be dismissed by the society at large from which they emerge, and not praised for speaking aloud such hateful notions.
Via Sinem Tezyapar