Let’s give Muslims, or at least Mohammed and his contemporary Arabic Muslims, the benefit of the doubt and say that they had only a theological problem with the Jews. The Koran says:
‘Some Jews take words out of their context and say: “We hear, but disobey.”’ (4:46)
Let’s be clear what is being said here. Mohammed is actually saying:
Some Jews take my words out of their context.
Yes, taking Mohammed’s or the Koran’s words ‘out of context’. That old chestnut! That which current non-Muslims, or current critical non-Muslims, always seem to do. That is, to take this or that negative-sounding passage ‘out of context’. So this cliché actually began with Mohamed himself.
Anyway. It is Mohammed himself who the Jews are disobeying. Mohammed must have been a supremely arrogant man to assume that these Jews, who had practised their religion for over a thousand years (at that time), would simply give up their faith and adopt Mohammed’s new religion. What audacity! Still, Mohammed does say ‘some Jews’ rather than all Jews. That’s a start. However, just as Muslims are keen to interpret and/or translate the negative passages in the Koran into positive ones, why can’t I suggest that the translator (or former translators) here simply added the prefix ‘some’ to make Mohammed’s words more palatable to non-Muslims and indeed Jews?
This sura begins rather innocuously with the Jewish Problem, but the words against the Jews soon begin to heat up. For example, the Jews are ‘iniquitous’. That is, they are bad, wicked and sinful. Not only that, but the Koran, or Mohamed, soon stops talking about ‘some Jews’ and starts talking about ‘Jews’ and ‘them’ or ‘their’.
What’s his problem with the Jews? –
‘We forbade the Jews good things which were formerly allowed them; because time after time they have debarred other from the path of Allah; because they practise usury – although they were forbidden it – and cheat others of their possessions.’ (4:158)
Again, we should translate this into:
I, Mohammed, forbade the Jews the good things which were formerly allowed them…
In addition, we should write:
… because time after time they have debarred others from the path of Allah which I, Mohammed, have brought to the people.
That is, the Jews dared to not accept his sacred words and adopt his new religion – Islam. We also have some classics of anti-Semitism in this passage. Or, should I say, that they became classics precisely because of passages like this. So not only do Jews dare not to accept Muhammad as the voice of God on earth, they also practice usury and ‘cheat others of their possessions’. But weren’t the Jews pushed into usury because other religions didn’t allow their believers to practice usury (or lending at an interest)? Thus the Jews were the only people who were allowed to practice usury and banking at this time and after (as was the case in Christian Europe).
In any case, this passage ends with the fate which will befall these and all Jews:
‘We have prepared a stern chastisement for those of them that disbelieve.’ (4:158)
Of course Muhammad had historical or scriptural reasons for hating the Jews. As those who read the Old Testament will know, the Jews were frequently disobedient to God and the prophets. Thus Muhammad supplies us with a list of Jewish Old-Testament misdemeanours. He tells us about the Jews-worshipping-a-calf episode. About the Jews breaking the Sabbath. About the Jews who denied ‘the revelations of God’. Not only all that, but also something the Christians know something about. They
‘put to death the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God.’ (4:157)
Yes, the Jews were the killers of Christ! But Christian anti-Semites shouldn’t hold hands with Muslims too quickly. If you notice, Jesus is not referred to as the ‘son of God’, but as ‘the apostle of God’.