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Unholy Prayer: “Jews” Are Not Our Enemy

On Loonwatch we cover Islamophobia, which of course is our main focus, but there is also a need to highlight those voices within the world of Islam who condemn extremism and hatred against the non-Muslim “other.” Acts of extremism and fundamentalism gone awry in Muslim majority countries by groups with an absolutist vision are used by those in the anti-Muslim movement as a vehicle to unjustifiably justify Islamophobia.

Anti-Loon Ahmed Rehab takes on a serious question about the generalizations that some in the Muslim world engage in regarding Jews.

Rehab’s article centers on a video of President Morsi attending a prayer in which an Imam asks God to “deal with the Jews.” MEMRI which produced the video and translated it, actually mistranslated the Arabic wording, “Allah alayka bi-l Yahud” (“God, deal with the Jews”) as “destroy the Jews.” Rehab notes that while MEMRI’s translation is faulty and problematic, there is still a bigger issue, the perpetuation of generalizations and harmful stereotypes, that in his opinion is a betrayal of Islamic values. (h/t: Fred)

Unholy Prayer: “Jews” Are Not Our Enemy

by Ahmed Rehab (via. The American Muslim)

My daily fight against Islamophobia in the US has only served to increase my aversion to all forms of bigotry, including and especially anti-Semitism, and to increase my appreciation for what I consider to be a singular fight against all forms of bigotry.

Certainly, and not unlike any other group on the planet, both Jews and Muslims have their share of bad apples.

The problem is with generalizations.

There are no qualms about criticism and condemnations leveled against Muslim terrorism – that is, acts of terror committed by Muslims. If anything, as a practicing Muslim, I am doubly offended when the perpetrator of an act of terrorism is Muslim, once for the victims and another for the notion that the perpetrator purports to act or speak in the name of my faith.

Likewise, I have no qualms against legitimate criticism leveled against the government of Israel for acts of aggression or policies of oppression conducted against Palestinians. As a global citizen committed to social justice for all, I am offended by those acts and policies.

But the problem at the root of both Islamophobic and anti-Semitic expression is the same: generalization. We must collectively resist this apparent temptation to level scorn against “Muslims” or against “Jews” when confronting actions or words by a subset of either population. This is both intellectually lazy and morally wrong.

It is for that reason that I was particularly appalled to come across a video of a “prayer” delivered by an Imam in an Egyptian mosque, attended by President Mohammed Morsi and other high government officials, in which the Imam asked God to “deal with the Jews, and disperse their ranks.” (Memri mistranslated the Arabic to state “destroy the Jews” instead of “deal with the Jews.” The Arabic states “Allahoma Alaika bel Yahood,” not “Allahoma Dammer el Yahood”).

Such prayers are not entirely uncommon in Egyptian mosques (which I have often frequented) and presumably Arab mosques in general.

I object to such prayers as morally offensive and wholly un-Islamic. I have made it a point to complain to the Imam the few times I have chanced upon such language from the pulpit, and I have not been the only one in line offering a challenge to the Imam.

I understand the argument that might be offered by the Imam or those who tolerate such wording. I understand that it is rooted in the recent political and historical context rather than in a timeless disdain for our Semitic cousins. I understand that for many Imams and for much of their congregation, they say “Jews” as shorthand for the modern state of Israel, and specifically the unjust policies of Israel. I understand that this is partially so because the state of Israel refers to itself as the “Jewish State” and renders Jewish ancestry as the sole criteria for automatic citizenship, regardless of where one is born. I also understand that many of those who casually say “amen” to such a prayer, as Morsi did, would not mistreat a Jewish person they happen to meet in person simply because he or she is Jewish and that the prayer is impersonal. (Morsi was recently criticized locally for calling Israeli President Shimon Peres “a great friend”).

I understand the arguments, but I don’t accept them: I repeat that such prayers are morally offensive and wholly un-Islamic. I feel this way for several reasons:

First, recent political or historical events should not change our principles as Muslims which are immutable over time and space. Namely, the principle that we do not inflict injustice against any individual or group of individuals, in this case “the Jews”, even if by words alone, no matter the circumstances. There are many Jews who are not citizens of Israel. Additionally, there are many Jews who are citizens of Israel but disagree with the unjust actions or policies inflicted on others by their government. Furthermore, while there are Jews who are involved in policies of apartheid and those who are heavily involved in the rising Islamophobia movement in the US, there are Jews who are in the forefront of fighting for justice for the Palestinians and those who are at the forefront of combating Islamophobia domestically. Their stances have been nothing short of heroic. So to lump all Jews as personally guilty for the specific actions of any government, including the government of Israel, or any group, is neither just nor rational.

Second, recent political or historical events are transient by nature, rooted to a specific time and place, not inherent over time and space. Such a political conflict did not exist in the past, and could well be resolved in the future. It is therefore problematic to offer a prayer that targets “Jews” in such an inherent manner.

Consider this for example: twice upon a time, the Muslim world provided safe haven for Jews who were facing tremendous persecution in Europe, once in Muslim Spain, and once in the Ottoman empire. Or consider that Salahuddin (Saladin), the Muslim warrior highly respected by both Muslims and non-Muslim historians alike for how he conducted resistance against the European Crusades employed the great Jewish philosopher and physician Maimonides as his personal physician. In fact, Maimonides spent much of his career moving from one Muslim princely court to another. Maimonides, who is considered one of the most influential Jewish Talmudic Rabbis of all time and the man behind the famous “Oath of Maimonides” (the oath my Egyptian-American Muslim friend Dr. Hesham Hassaballaopted to take when he became a physician) would not have recognized this Latinized version of his name, but would have answered to Abū ʿImrān Mūsā bin Maimūn bin ʿUbaidallāh al-Qurṭubī. He wore a Turban and spoke Arabic. But what can I say, historical revisionism is a constant feature of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Such a prayer would not have been conceivable at the mosques of those eras. Such is our legacy as Muslims, and a prayer offered against “Jews” today runs in shameful contradiction to our own honorable legacy.

As another example, consider that we Muslims are given permission to eat food made by Jews as “Halal,” and to marry Jews. From a theological and historical perspective, Jews are seen as “people of the book” and the closest religious group to Muslims. How could we then tolerate an argument that suddenly renders “Jews” as the inherent enemy – and by virtue of their collective faith not individual actions. It is indeed the individual actions by those who seek to harm us that we must deem as antagonistic and not entire faith identities. The Qur’an states “La tahmil Wazeratan Wizr Okhra” or “A soul does not bear the burden of another soul.” In fact, we ought to condemn such actions with the same vigor regardless of the identity of the perpetrator, equally so if they were Muslim or Jewish. Are the actions of Saddam Hussein or Bashar Al Assad any less offensive to us because they are Muslim (even if nominally so)? Are the actions of the recent bomber in Pakistan who blew himself up by a Mosque of all places, during Eid of all times, any less offensive to us because he is Muslim? Absolutely not. Should we then exhort God to “deal with the Muslims and disperse their ranks” as a result of the actions of these Muslims against our communities?

Third, it is my view that even when we succeed in avoiding generalizations and properly scope our prayers to those who harm us, that even then, it is better to pray for their guidance rather than their damnation. That is how I have personally chosen to word my prayers when giving Friday sermons, in the belief that it is more in line with the spirit and worldview of Islam – one that aspires to correct the sin rather than destroy the sinner, as the ultimate goal of any form of Jihad (struggle against the odds).

And so, I cannot but publicly register my contempt for such a “prayer” as both anti-Semitic and un-Islamic.

While we must not compromise on seeking peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict – which I believe like many is premised on justice for the oppressed Palestinians – we must never allow the Arab-Israeli conflict, regardless of how strongly we feel about it, to undermine the principles of our faith or cause us to be morally compromised by the wholesale vilification of Jews. Nor should we ever allow, in the typical myopic shortsightedness employed by Islamophobes, that a political conflict be dragged out into a religious war between respected global faiths.

I call on President Morsi to refrain from partaking in such prayers, and better yet, to actively push back against them as both morally repugnant and fundamentally un-Islamic. I pledge to utilize my networks of activism in Egypt to relay the message.
Please visit Ahmed Rehab’s site Mindful of Dreams

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  • CriticalDragon1177


    you wrote,
    LMAO Is there any difference between the phrase “handle the jews” from “destroy the jews”?

    I guess Morsi meant it.

    Technically yes. Handle could simply mean deal with and not destroy, but regardless it’s still bad, because this is a symptom of treating a group of people as a group rather than individuals and acting like they’re all against you. But the the point of Ahmed Rehab wasn’t to make excuses for the offensive statement or justify the the generalizations some Muslims make. He was condemning the mentality that many of his fellow Muslims have when it comes to Jews that would lead them to making such a statement in the first place.

    Also if you read the last thing he wrote, you’ll notice that he was specifically asking Morsi to condemn such prayers and not take part in them.

    “I call on President Morsi to refrain from partaking in such prayers, and better yet, to actively push back against them as both morally repugnant and fundamentally un-Islamic. I pledge to utilize my networks of activism in Egypt to relay the message.”

  • dude


    I apologize for not clarifying from the Maimonides article.

    When I discuss “complexity” I meant the fact that Maimonides and his family were chased from their ancestral homeland of Al-Andalus by the reigning dynasty during his youth, the Almohad dynasty. He later earned his medical degree in Morocco and found gainful employment in Egypt under Saladin (the recommendation was by Ibn Rusd, a Muslim victim of early Almohad oppression) who was certainly friendly to the Jewish people. Of course, while living in Egypt he became a patron of the embattled Yemenite Jewish community which was also facing persecution and cries that they should convert or die. These are not the only cases of pre-1948 Muslim pogroms/oppression and I can provide more “professional” citations but your use of youtube videos causes me to question whether that is really at issue.

    This is what “complexity” means, that things are difficult to generalize. At one given point in history there were tolerant Muslim rulers in Morocco and Egypt, but not in Yemen or Al-Andalus. Does this mean all Muslims were evil? No. Does it mean all Muslims were good? No. It means Muslims at that time, like humans at all times, were good or bad based on their own internal struggles and not by external religious/political/ethnic categories.

    The Naim Giladi issue is interesting and I would never hold it past the Zionists to have engaged in false flag attacks to grow the state. Moreover, the anti-Arab demonization and “forgetting” that he criticizes is certainly a pet peeve of mine in the Jewish world. But I have always found two aspects of his narrative troubling.

    1. Why is it of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Jews (some of which I know personally and pray with) only one ever stepped forward to give this story?

    2. Let’s assume that the story is true. If the life of Iraqi Jews was so idyllic, and they were so well integrated into Iraqi life, why is it they all chose to leave? Certainly they knew the true feelings of their neighbors and would have been able to tell that the false flag operations did not represent actual attitudes towards them?

    As for the Iranian Jews, again I pray with a sefardic community full of Iranians who left post 1979. As the child of people who grew up in dictatorships, I believe them when they tell me they had no choice but to hold anti-zionist and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations. People, especially religious/ethnic minorities, living under a dictatorship are not free actors and we should take anything they say with a grain of salt. If Iranian Jews are so happy in Iran, and so in line with the governments ideology, why have most of them moved to Los Angeles and Long Island?

    The real takeaway I have from your response is that Muslim treatment of Jews was better than that by Christians, and that somehow that exonerates Muslims from treating Jews as second-class citizens. This is a self-defeating argument from the Muslim perspective because the freedom enjoyed by Jews in the secular west today puts to shame the status they held in traditional Muslim societies. Does this mean that the secular west is superior to Islam? I would say no, but the thrust of your generalizations implies that you would say yes.

    My original point was simply that an individual Jew (an actual human being, not the “Zionist” caricature with blood dripping from his fangs) in 1948 saw two choices. The first was to remain in the precarious position of “tolerated minorities” which they had held for millenia, never certain what the future might hold for them. The second was to risk everything to join a state where they would at least be in the majority and therefore protected, even if that meant somebody else would be oppressed. You failed to answer my question about what you would have done in that situation.


    The only advice I ever got about this stuff that I try to follow, is that whenever I talk politics I try to imagine a real live human being on the other side. Would I say something hateful if I was looking at a person instead of a computer screen?

  • Ilisha


    LOL. Fair enough, though I actually meant how is it helpful to bring that into this particular discussion. I believe the article was meant to be positive and conciliatory, and mention of this issue struck me as an effort to undermine or weaken that message.

  • Just Stopping By

    @Ilisha says, “In what way is that helpful? … I would actually like to see this happen. They would achieve justice, and that would also set a solid precedent, so later the Palestinians can do the same.”

    I think you answered your own question.

  • Ilisha

    @Sarah Brown

    In what way is that helpful? Jewish communities had existed for centuries in Arab lands, and the creation of Israel played a role in bringing them to an end. That doesn’t excuse Arab countries for failing to protect and preserve their Jewish communities, but it certainly isn’t the fault of the Palestinian people, who shouldn’t be forced to pay for the crimes of others. The actions of surrounding Arab countries neither indict the Palestinians, nor absolve the Israelis for their mistreatment of them, and that won’t change no matter how relentlessly this talking point is dragged into the discussion.

    Enormous sums of money have been given to Israel over decades to settle Jewish refugees, and it’s now among the richest countries in the world. However, I don’t see a reason why Jews whose families lost their properties and wealth in Arab countries in the wake of Israel’s creation can’t pursue their rights and perhaps receive compensation. I would actually like to see this happen. They would achieve justice, and that would also set a solid precedent, so later the Palestinians can do the same.

  • aiman

    Good article. Judeophobia and anti-Semitism should never be tolerated, hate preachers should be educated in Islam before they can preach to community members. I fear a general lack of education among the “preachers” has much to do with this shorthand of “Jew”. People who hate live in a cause-and-effect world where bigotry answers bigotry. That’s not how a religious, moral human being thinks and the Qur’an certainly advises Muslims to not think in such terms but “bethink themselves” on the moral worldview with love for God and fellow man.

  • Sarah Brown

    I’m not sure how helpful it is to invoke the comparative treatment of Jews by Cs and Ms hundreds and hundreds of years ago (unless one is countering criticism of Islam, when it perhaps is quite helpful). This seems quite useful.

  • Nevermore


    While I’m not one to scream about how Morsi’s election will bring about some sort of mini apocalypse in Cairo, I’m weary about what form democracy will take in Egypt; it will either go one of two ways: we will remember Morsi as a great, if somewhat flawed, man who finally brought self-governance to the nation after many years of dictatorship or we’ll see him as more of the same old. It’s too early to tell, I feel, but I sorely hope it’s the former. If he does indeed allow this kind of language (what the article mentions) to actively go on without saying anything, it isn’t a particularly great start.

    I think to an extent we’re talking past one another. I might find the reasons that a black man does not like my people historically legitimate, nor would I say not to patronize businesses in the black community (something that should be done due to the historical lack of a permanent presence, unfortunately). Indeed, I might even be somewhat willing to at least on the surface understand why a white supremacist doesn’t care for minorities after having bad experiences with them. But it matters little: it’s still discrimination of some form and it has no place in a civilized society. I doubt that humanity will ever rid itself of hatred for the Other, but we should do our utmost to try.

    I do recognize that many Israeli citizens have a legitimate grievance with the status quo. No person should live in fear of going down the street to a store and wondering if someone will blow it up. Indeed, while this is still a minority of Palestinians (the majority is always more willing, in any situation, to suffer in silence rather than engage in massive protests) it’s only an ample club for their opponents to beat them over the head with. I don’t know how the situation will inevitably resolve itself, nor do I pretend to. And you are quite right: to dehumanize your opponents, to deny them the most basic consideration as an equal in a society, is one of the most terrible things one can do beacuse it allows all other evils to follow.

  • Skeptic

    LMAO Is there any difference between the phrase “handle the jews” from “destroy the jews”?

    I guess Morsi meant it.

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