The Myth of An Antisemitic Genocide In Muslim Scripture
Published: March 28, 2017 • Updated: January 12, 2022
Author: Justin Parrott
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy
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How an apocalyptic tradition played into the hands of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hatemongers1
A Jordanian cleric visiting Canada recently misleadingly cited a hadith without context or explanation, which rightly triggered condemnations from the Muslim community as well as numerous headlines around the world. A hadith is an oral report transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and can be incredibly complex as one needs to evaluate all the relevant transmitted narrations concerning any statement recorded in a given hadith in order to arrive at an appropriate conclusion regarding what it is actually about.2 In this case, a single phrase was cited, one describing rocks and trees calling out to Muslims, “There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
This is not the first time that this particular text has been used to foment anti-Semitic sentiment within the Muslim community. Muslim leaders and scholars must forcefully denounce such rhetoric and clarify Islam’s unequivocal condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination, and xenophobia. Of course Islamophobes pounced on the opportunity to trigger alarm bells and generate a new wave of propaganda accusing Muslims of genocidal ambitions towards Jews, and to claim that Islam is inherently anti-Semitic and a threat to Western civilization.
Explanation of the misquoted hadith
A story about a supernatural apocalyptic battle between good and evil
When we look up different narrations of the hadith in question, we find out that the phrase being quoted is actually part of a larger narrative in the genre of eschatology (the part of theology dealing with the end times and the Day of Judgment), describing the return of Jesus and the apocalyptic battle between Jesus and the Dajjal (Antichrist).3 In this battle that will take place between the armies of Jesus and the Dajjal, several miracles are said to occur including that the Dajjal will melt when Jesus sees him, and that inanimate rocks and trees will speak and identify soldiers of the Dajjal (Sunan Ibn Majah 4077).
This is a story about a battle between two groups of soldiers involved in war, one side of which is clearly unjust; it does not refer to innocent civilians. Moreover, it’s not actually against a battle against a particular ethno-religious group. As a matter of fact, Muslims believe that all righteous Christians, Jews, and Muslims will be following Jesus after he returns (Qur’an 4:159) united under one creed of monotheism and belief in all of God’s messengers (which is the creed of Islam). Meanwhile, misguided Christians, Jews, and Muslims will be following the Dajjal. Indeed, other hadith demonstrate that many of the Dajjal’s forces will actually be deviant Muslims and fake Muslims (Sunan Ibn Majah 179, Sahih Bukhari 1881).4 The entire world at that point would be divided into the forces of good versus evil, truth versus falsehood, and iman versus kufr (i.e. true faith and deeds versus rejection of truth).
All sincere followers of the Prophets are good guys in the Muslim apocalypse
The hadith describing the soldiers of Dajjal who happen to be Jewish are in fact referring to a specific cult of 70,000 that takes Dajjal to be their messiah and follows him in his tyrannical actions (Sahih Muslim 2944). Hadith commentary states that those who will become Dajjal’s followers do not represent the global population of Jews but a tiny fraction (Fayd al-Bari, Anwar Shah Kashmiri, 4/197). In fact, most Jews will be righteous folk amongst the forces of good uniting with virtuous Christians and Muslims, embracing the message of all the Prophets, and fighting against the Dajjal.5 After all, the Dajjal will be a murderous dictator who claims to be God, an anathema to all who consider themselves followers of the Abrahamic tradition as well as to all people of conscience.
Muslims do not believe that rocks and trees will be pointing out random innocent bystanders, but rather soldiers of the Dajjal—combatants who are themselves involved in killing innocent people. It is about one of these specific combatants in the Antichrist’s army that rocks and trees will say he is, “hiding behind me, come and slay him!” The religious identity of the Dajjal’s soldiers includes evildoers from all backgrounds (including misguided Muslims). Other variants of the hadith state that the rocks and trees will simply say, “Here is a rejector of truth6 hiding behind me!” (Musnad Ahmad 3546) or “Here is a follower of Dajjal!” (al-Buhur al-Zakhirah 1/493)7 and do not focus on the religious identity.
Therefore, this hadith describes a future battle between warriors and can only occur after the return of Jesus; in no way can it be interpreted as a prescription to go out and harm civilians or peaceful members of any faith community, as Islamophobes contend. The Qur’an explicitly condemns violence against civilians and noncombatants, stating “Whoever kills a soul, it is as if he has slain all humanity,” (5:32) and, “So if they withdraw and do not fight you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no way against them,” (4:90). War is only permitted in defense against aggression or to aid the oppressed, as in the case of Jesus fighting against the Dajjal’s forces.
The question of Anti-Semitism and the Armageddon
All three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) have well-established traditions about a prophesied Messiah who will engage in a battle against the forces of evil in the end times, whether it be the return of Christ who will battle all the nations of the earth, or the coming of the Masiach ben Yossef who will destroy the Edomites and enemies of Israel.8 All three groups have had to explicate these esoteric eschatological passages in order to steer clear of antagonism towards other communities. In 2012, A DNC County Chairman resigned after he said, “The Christians just want us to be there so we can be slaughtered and converted and bring on the second coming of Jesus Christ.”9 The Bible describes the Armageddon in painful terms regarding the enemies of Christ/Israel (See: Zechariah 14:12).10 It’s necessary for people of all faiths to not allow their texts about the end times to be hijacked in a way that validates hateful speech or actions in the present. All Abrahamic faiths have eschatological teachings that are esoteric and require careful critical interpretation. The mainstream leaders of all faith communities have consistently emphasized tolerance and respect for others.
Islam denounces all forms of anti-Semitism and racism
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ taught his companions to respect people of all faith backgrounds and to care for everyone. He said, “Donate in charity to people of all faiths” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah 3/177)11 and he personally used to donate money regularly to sponsor a Jewish family in his community.12 When the Prophet ﷺ saw the funeral procession of a Jew passing by, he stood up out of respect for human life and death. When some companions pointed out that the deceased was not Muslim, he responded to them stating, “Is it not a human soul?” (Sahih Bukhari 1250). The lesson here is to respect all human life which is also part of revering God who created them. When an innocent Jewish man was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, eleven verses of the Qur’an were revealed exonerating him!13 Some Jews converted to Islam and yet others, like the Rabbi Mukhayriq, continued to practice Judaism and still remained on good terms with the Prophet ﷺ (Seerah Ibn Hisham 1/518). Even when the Prophet ﷺ passed away, he had his armor mortgaged to a Jewish person (Sahih Bukhari 2759), a narration that shows he maintained good relations with Jews until his death. As the Qur’an says, “God does not forbid you to deal kindly and generously14 with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just,” (60:8). According to Al-Tabari, one of the earliest commentators, this verse encourages good relations with “all the sects, creeds, and religions,” (Tafsir al-Tabari 60:8). These Qur’anic teachings have inspired Muslims throughout the ages. During World War II, the Grand Mosque in Paris rescued Jews fleeing the Nazis and provided them with a safe haven and means of escape. This is the legacy that Muslims must recall and revive.
In addition to respecting other faiths, Islam prohibits harming others and places great emphasis on Muslims maintaining positive relationships with those outside the faith. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ issued a stark warning about harming others, “Whoever slays a non-Muslim at peace with us will never smell the fragrance of paradise, although its fragrance can be found a distance of forty years of travel,” (Sahih Bukhari 6516). On the Day of Judgment, the Prophet himself ﷺ will argue on behalf of persecuted non-Muslims and against the Muslims who persecuted them: “If anyone wrongs a non-Muslim at peace with us, violates his rights, burdens him with more work than he is able to do, or takes something from him without his consent, then I will be his prosecutor on the Day of Resurrection.” (Sunan Abi Dawud 3052). This stunning indictment should make any Muslim think twice before hurting anyone.
1 This paper was originally written for The Huffington Post, contextualizing this topic for the broader non-Muslim community; by necessity it simplifies some concepts in Islamic theological discourse for the general audience.
2 Consequently, this paper conducts a broad survey of the relevant transmitted narrations which have been cited and relied upon in Islamic eschatological literature in order to arrive at a more complete picture of the narrative in question, forgoing questions about the epistemic value of da’if (weak) narrations in eschatology and promotion of virtue.
3 Fath al-Bari by Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalani, Sharh Sahih Muslim by al-Nawawi, Umdatul-Qari by Badr al-Deen al-’Ayni
4 This narration states that he will emerge from the deviant group known as the Khawarij (Sunan Ibn Majah 179), and according to commentaries on Ibn Majah, he will emerge at the head of a great army (“jaysh ‘adheem”) of Khawarij (Shuruh Sunan Ibn Majah, edited by Raed Sabri Ibn Abi Ulfah). The other narration (Sahih Bukhari 1881) states that he will be joined by the inhabitants of Makkah and Madinah who are munafiqeen—those who outwardly claim to be Muslim but whose insincerity in faith will be evident once they join forces with the Dajjal.
5 Fayd al-Bari explains, “This is only about the Jews whom Jesus is fighting against, namely those in the armies of Dajjal, not all Jews around the world.” In fact, if Dajjal is followed by a cult of seventy thousand wearing green shawls and crowns—as the hadith states—this number amounts to less than 0.5% of the global population, a tiny fraction. There is no scriptural evidence to suggest that the number is larger than this. As an aside, though not a hadith nor theologically reliable narration of any sort, there is an interesting comment recorded in Kitab al-Fitan by Nu’aym ibn Hammad (d.228H), the teacher of Imam al-Bukhari (d. 256H), which states that after al-Mahdi (another Islamic eschatological figure) recovers the Ark of the Covenant, most Jews will join the Muslims except for a few. And in the Rabbinical literature, the staff of Aaron—one of the items in the Ark of the Covenant—will be recovered by the Messiah, as a token of his authority (Midrash Yelamdenu).
6 Rejection of truth (kufr) can happen by both statements or actions, viz. in this case following or obeying the Dajjal.
7 This is a famous work of Islamic eschatology by the Hanbali scholar al-Saffarini (d.1188H), cited here to instantiate the classical eschatological tradition’s reliance on such narrations to elaborate the prophecies concerning Dajjal. Moreover, these prophecies were never discussed in jurisprudential works pertaining to Muslim’s normative conduct with members of other faith communities.
8 “Appendix II – Mashiach in Jewish Law by Rabbi Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet, from his book Mashiach— the Messianic Era in Jewish Law on Chabad.org. Dr. Schochet writes, “Interestingly enough, according to Pirkei deR. Eliezer ch. 28 (in non-censored versions), the Ishmaelites (Arabs) will be the final kingdom to be defeated by Mashiach.” http://www.chabad.org/library/moshiach/article_cdo/aid/101747/jewish/Appendix-II.htm#footnote6a101747
11 Musannaf ibn Abi Shaybah, and Silsilah al-Saheehah vol 6, p. 628. Arabic: (تصدقوا على أهل الأديان كلها)
12 Kitab al-Amwal, Abu Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam d224H, pp. 727-728, Dar alShuruq 1989. Arabic: (عن سعيد بن المسيب أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم تصدق على أهل بيت من اليهود بصدقة ، فهي تجري عليهم ).
13 Several works of exegesis record that verses 4:105-115 were revealed in reference to an incident were a munafiq named Tu’mah ibn Ubayriq stole some wealth and blamed it on a Jewish man named Zayd ibn Sameen. Tu’mah’s clan attempted to defend him and demand the Prophet punish the innocent Jewish man, whereupon these verses were revealed in condemnation of their actions and in defense of the innocence of Zayd ibn Sameen. This is related by Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.310H) in his Tafsir, and al-Suyuti (d.911H) also notes it was related in the tafsir of Abd ibn Humayd (d.219H) and Abu Bakr ibn al-Mundhir (d. 319H). See al-Tabari, Abu Ja’far, Jami’ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an ed. Abdullah al-Turki, (Cairo: Dar Hajar 2001) vol. 7, p.462-3.
14 The verb tuqsitu ilayhim is often translated as “be fair (or justly) to them.” That is a possible linguistic meaning. However, it more likely means in this context, as Al-Qurtubi said, “give them a payment (qistan) from your wealth for the purpose of good relations.” He further explains, “It does not mean ‘justice’ here, because justice is required for those who fight and those who do not fight, as said by Ibn al-’Arabi” (Jāmiʻ li-Aḥkām al-Qur'an, 18:59 verse 60:8).
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