Islam and Muslims on Judaism and Jews

by Mustafa Abu Sway
JERUSALEM - Despite being in a protracted political conflict over the Holy Land that began around the advent of Zionism more than a century ago, Jews and Muslims have common historical roots, as well as theological commonalities.

Our common roots go beyond the Abrahamic tribal constructs. Abraham himself is considered in the Qur’an as the archetypal monotheist and a true submitter to the will of God, being “neither Jew, nor Christian” (Qur’an, 3:67). However, simple commonalities do not offer in and of themselves a way forward in interfaith dialogue. Abraham should not be turned into a comfort zone or a euphemism for avoiding issues of injustice amongst his third-millennial grandchildren.

The Prophet Moses and the Children of Israel form one of the major stories in the Qur’an. It is imperative that a Muslim believes in his prophecy and the revealed Torah, in as much as it is imperative to believe in Jesus Christ and the revealed Gospel (Injeel in Arabic). Yet, according to the Qur’an, the versions of the Torah and Gospel that exist today suffer from the vagaries of transmission and human editing, having been corrupted by scribes who altered the original text.

According to the Qur’an, Jews, Christians and Muslims share the history of revelation and have common prophets and revealed messages. Moreover, all pre-Islamic revelations had the same monotheistic message, with each prophet calling his people to only worship God without worshipping anyone or anything else along with Him. The law, however, while overlapping in certain areas, differed by design: “…To each of you we prescribed a law and a method” (Qur’an, 5:48).

Keeping the Sabbath is an example of a legal issue where there are differences amongst Jews and Muslims. The Qur’an says that the Sabbath was only required of Prophet Moses’ followers, meaning that it is not required of Muslims. As for the Jews who violated the Sabbath, the condemnation of this group in the Qur’an can be read as a reflection of the sanctity of the Sabbath and as an example of contextualised criticism.

There were other actions that the Qur’an condemned such as creating and worshipping the golden calf. This historical event was considered intolerable by the prophets.

Islam softens the otherness of Jews and Christians qua “People of the Book”, and entrenches their rights in the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. Respecting the right of the Jew and Christian to freedom of religion is an Islamic imperative (Qur’an, 2:256).
The Qur’an made it lawful for Muslims to associate with Jews (also Christians), sharing a meal, doing business with them or even marrying their daughters.

Historically, Jews, like Moses Maimonides, contributed to Islamic civilisation as philosophers and scientists. They also served in public offices in the Islamic state. Salah El-Din Al-Ayyubi appointed a Jew to serve as a high ranking minister (vizier) in his government.

Long before this, the Prophet reached out to the Jews of Medina. One of the most important historical moments between Jews and Muslims came immediately after the migration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina. In what became known as the constitution of Medina, the Sira books (i.e. biographies of the Prophet) state that the Prophet concluded a covenant with the Jewish tribes of the city and its surroundings, the first being the “Jewish tribe of Banu `Awf forming one Ummah with the Muslims”.

Another historical moment occurred during the time of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, who, according to the Cairo Jewish Geniza manuscripts, brought the Jews back to Jerusalem after the year 638 CE. This is very significant as it reflects a paradigm of Convivencia between Jews and Muslims as well as between Christians and Muslims in the heart of this holy city, in addition to Andalusia and other places.

It is not possible to fully represent 1,400 years of shared history, which includes beautiful and painful moments for both sides. Nevertheless, I would like to conclude by reflecting on the current conflict. Coming from a Palestinian Jerusalemite family and living under occupation since 1967, I comprehend the moral necessity of ending the Israeli occupation and doing justice to the Palestinians who have been wronged since 1948. However, the call for justice should never translate into creating or adopting Judeophobic narratives such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, nor should they result in acts of injustice towards Jews. This goes against Islam.

I recognise that Jews suffered in Europe and that they needed a safe haven. I am glad to say that there was never an inquisition in the Islamic world, as in a post-Islamic Andalusia (for which both Jews and Muslims suffered). Regardless of the stereotypes, I’m proud to say, there was never a kristallnacht in the Islamic world.


* Mustafa Abu Sway is Director of the Islamic Reseach Center and Associate Prof. of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other’s narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 March 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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Using Qur’anic narratives in pursuit of peace
Can Muslim and Jewish narratives co-exist?
Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity
The Jewish-Islamic heritage and its contemporary significance
The tragedy of monotheism
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Other articles in this series

Using Qur’anic narratives in pursuit of peace by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Can Muslim and Jewish narratives co-exist? by Deborah Weissman
Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity by Zvi Zohar
The Jewish-Islamic heritage and its contemporary significance by Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg
The tragedy of monotheism by Rabia Terry Harris