Muslim anti-Jewish anecdotes 

Thirteenth Century

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The item below is an excerpt from a pamphlet authored by one Ghazi al Wasiti, who lived in Aleppo Syria in the 13th century and died in 1312. His full name was Shihab al-Din Ghazi ib Ahmad ibn al-Wasiti,

Al-Wasiti's purpose was evidently to cleanse the civil service of Jews and Christians, perhaps in order to make way for his own advancement. Nonetheless, it is significant that he felt that he could rely on anti-Semitism and hatred of Christians to recruit public opinion to this task. The manuscript is liberally spiced with references to Christians and Jews as "accursed" (mal'un) and "dog" (kalb). These epithets were evidently in common use at the time, and are also known from later rhetoric.

The accusation that Jewish physicians poison their patients, a blood libel that al-Wasiti attributes to "al Hakim Musa' - the physician Moses" - believed to be Maimonides, is a standard anti-Semitic myth, that for example, was part of Stalin's paranoia. It is probable that al-Wasiti did not invent the story, but only quoted it. It was standard anti-Semitic fare. It is interesting that al-Wasiti did not trust converts to Islam either. Leon Nemoy,  A Scurrilous Anecdote concerning Maimonides, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jan., 1972), pp. 188-192) provides some background on Wasiti and the manuscript. He cautions us that Gottheil's translation was not as careful as it should be, but on the whole, he verifies the English text of Gottheil. These excerpts from the document concern Jews, but al-Wasiti was equally venomous toward Christians. The simple and perhaps childish anecdotes that he relates are typical of much course racist propaganda. This is not a scholarly treatise. It is imprecise. It refers to "some Jew" and "some king" as though the author is telling jokes or shaggy dog stories rather than chronicling facts. For example, the first anecdote, about "some Jew" who was deposed and beheaded by a king, seems to be pointless.

Al Wasiti's standard point of reference was the Pact of Umar, a document of dubious authenticity,  which set out the supposed conditions under which Christians, Jews and Zoroastrian "dhimmi" could reside among Muslims and be granted protection by their conquerors and occupiers. It was used to justify degradation of Christians and Jews and barring them from high office, as in the Decree against the Dhimmi and remained the measuring rod for treatment of non-Muslims who were not polytheists.

However, while Pact of Umar and the dhimmi laws were applied to both Christians and Jews, it is evident that special hate was reserved for Jews in Muslim society. The dictum cited in this text, "No Jew can be alone with a Muslim without plotting to harm him," was evidently commonly attributed to Muhammad and believed as a standard item in of Islamic anti-Semitism. It singles out Jews, not Dhimmi in general. Various sources attest to the fact that Muslim hatred of Jews was greater than that for Christians and some attempt to explain it. The reasons that may be adduced:

1- Jews lived in the Arabian peninsula and therefore it is probable that anti-Semitism predated Islam there. The Jews were viewed as direct rivals of the new faith.

2- The majority of the Muslim population of Syria and Egypt as well as, later, Asia minor, must have been converted Christians, who brought their cultural hatred of the Jews to the new faith.

3- Jews were a tiny minority and therefore more vulnerable.

4- Christians, unlike Jews, had powerful potential protectors in the countries of Europe, and until its fall, in Byzantium. Christians fought in armies against the Muslims and could be respected as equals. 

Al-Wasiti's pamphlet seems to reflect mainstream views of at least a significant segment of Muslim society, based on cultural staples. These are views that came to the fore and dictated public policy, time and again. It is not just an aberrant, isolated anti-Semitic and anti-Dhimmi outburst. It is yet another bit of evidence that makes it difficult to claim, as some do, that there was no anti-Semitism in Muslim society, and that Jews and Muslims lived in perfect harmony. 

Ami Isseroff

January 12, 2010

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 Jewish Anecdotes from an Anti-Dhimmi Pamphlet

In the days of the Abbasid al-Ma'amun [813-833], some Jew advanced to such a position that he would sit in a higher place tha the nobles. So a distinguished Muslim devised a stratagem and wrote a note to al-Maamun with the following verse:

O son of him to whom all men were obedient,
Whose law was a binding duty,
Lo, the man whom you honor
Is -- this writer claims -- a liar!

[Al Ma'amun was the son of the famous Harun al-Rashid]

Al Ma'amun  replied, "You have spoken truly and have proven your devotion!" The Jew was immediately drowned.

Al Ma'amun then related to those present a story about al-Miqdad ben al-Aswad al-Kindi, a companion of the Apostle of Allah -- may Allah bless him and grant him peace. While on one of his journes, he was accompanied by some Jew for the entire day. On the dawn of the next day, al-Miqdad -- may Allah be pleased with him -- suddenly remembered the words of the apostle -- may Allah bless him and grant him peace: "No Jew can be alone with a Muslim without plotting to harm him." So al-Miqdad said to the Jew: "I swear by Allah, you shall not part company with me without telling what kind of harm you were planning to do me. If you do not, I shall kill you!"

The Jew replied: "Do I have your assurance that no harm will come to me if I tell?"

"Yes," he said, and bound himself with a solemn oath.

Then the Jew admitted: "Ever since I have been traveling with you, I have been planning for you to lost your head so I might trample it beneath my show" At this al-Miqdad -- may Allah be pleased with him -- exclaimed, "The apostle of Allah was right -- may Allah bless him and grant him peace."

It is told that in the time of some king there lived a Jew named al-Haruni, who held a high position in his household. Once he played a game of chess with him in his drinking hall on the promise that he might request whatever he desired for himself should he win. When he did in fact win, he asked the king to fulfill his promise. "Ask what you wish," the king told him.

So he replied: "Let the king command that there be stricken from the Koran the verse that reads: "Verily, the true religion in the sight of Allah is Islam."

The king immediately had his head cut off.

I have been informed by the most unimpeachable sources that the physician Moses [thought to refer to Maimonides] was ill, and the Qadi al Fadil paid him a visit The Jew was a scholar and a gentleman. So he said to al-Fadil: "Your sense of decency has made you come and visit me. Let me advise you not to receive any medical treatment from a Jew, because with us, whoever desecrates the Sabbath -- his blood is licit for us." The Qadi thereupon banned Jews from practicing medicine or being employed in that capacity.

Ghazi al Wasiti, Kitab Rad 'ala Ahl al-Dhimma, translated and edited by R. Gottheil, JAOS, 41:5 (1921): 386-7.  

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