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Does the Qur’an Say Jews Are “Apes and Pigs”?


by Inconnu and Garibaldi

The following article deals specifically with the claim that the Quran teaches that Jews are “apes and pigs.” There is an important fuller discussion to be had on the relationship between Islam and Judaism and Muslims and Jews, a history which has seen its fair share of antagonism and hostility but that is an article for another time.

Amongst self-declared “Islam expert” Robert Spencer‘s many theories about Islam is his claim of “Qur’anic anti-Semitism.” He uses contemporary examples of Muslim maledicta, usually from MEMRI, an organization uniformly devoted to such a cause, then superimposes the modern concept of antisemitism through the prism of said maledicta onto basic texts of Islam. Hoping to link in the mind of the reader a narrative of an inherent, nefarious, transhistorical “Islamic” antisemitism akin to or greater than Christian European antisemitism.

This is just patently false, as Norman Stillman has pointed out in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Jews have, in the basic texts of Islam,

“none of the demonic qualities attributed to them in medieval Chrsitian literature, neither is there anything comparable to the overwhelming preoccupation with Jews and Judaism (except perhaps in the narratives on Muhammad’s encounters with Medinan Jewry) in Muslim traditional literature…Mediaeval Muslim theologians devoted only a very small part of their polemics against other religions and doctrines to Judaism. There is nothing in Islam comparable in quantity and rarely in sheer vitriol to the Adversus Judaeos literature of the Church.”

None other than Orientalist Bernard Lewis confirms this in his book The Jews of Islam:

‘For Muslims, [hostility to the Jews] is not part of the birth pangs of their religion, as it is for Christians. It is rather the usual attitude of the dominant to the subordinate, of the majority to the minority, without that additional theological and therefore psychological dimension that gives Christian anti-semitism its unique and special character.’

Undoubtedly there are Muslim clerics and leaders today, some very prominent, who have or do engage in antisemitism (there are also many voices who oppose antisemitism).

There should however be a resistance to conflate, the way proponents of the so-called “New Antisemitism” often do, such antisemitism with those who espouse legitimate criticism of the state of Israel and Zionism.

Of particular note has been the contribution of self-described Islamiyoon (Islamists) over the years who have engaged in crass and vitriolic antisemitism. Initially, early thinkers who influenced Islamism sought an accommodation with Zionism. The example of Rashid Rida, an influential turn of the century Muslim scholar, activist and thinker is useful. Initially,

“Rida called on Arabs to take an example from the resurrection of the Jewish umma. Although he had perceived the Zionists’ objectives in Palestine before many others, he nevertheless called, until 1914, for an accomadation with them so as to benefit from the European Jews’ wealth and knowledge, on the condition that they not try to take over Palestine or establish their state there.


Rida’s discourse on the Jews underwent a sharp change in the late 1920s. The long, two-part article that he published on the Palestinian question after the 1929 riots gave a new twist to elements already present in his more circumstantial article of the previous year; this time, he accentuated the anti-Jewish line. Rida drew on various sources, combining assertions that reflected the Muslim tradition that was the most hostile to Jews (whereas he had only recently availed himself of the most pro-Jewish strand in that tradition) with shameless borrowings from the most hackneyed commonplaces of the European anti-Semitism of the day. Among these commonplaces was the fantasy of the all-powerful Jewish conspiracy made popular by the worldwide dissemination of the famous Russian anti-Semitic forgery known as the Protocals of the Elders of Zion, which Rida did not cite, although it plainly had a pervasive influence on his text. (Arabs and the Holocaust, p.111-113)

Recently, President Mohamed Morsi, who has already been criticized for being silent in the face of antisemitic statements was exposed for engaging in hateful and bigoted rhetoric that is all too common amongst some Islamists.

Video of him from pre-Arab Spring days shows him calling Jews “apes and pigs.” Morsi claims he was taken out-of-context and that he really believes in respect for all religions and peoples, statements which we find rather convenient now. The reality is too many like him have contributed to misperceptions of Islam and Muslims, providing Islamophobes with fodder to assert and propagate falsities in their war on Islam and Muslims.

This however doesn’t let Islamophobes off the hook.

Take Robert Spencer’s recent post on Morsi’s screeds, he writes,

When video came out a couple of weeks ago in which he called Jews “apes and pigs” (which the Qur’an calls them in three places, 2:63-65, 5:59-60, and 7:166), Morsi said he was quoted “out of context.” (emphasis mine)

Spencer claims the Qur’an says Jews are apes and pigs in three places, implying “all Jews” are referred to this way. This is a lie. Let’s examine Spencer’s claims in detail. Here are the verses he cites:

AND LO! We accepted your solemn pledge, raising Mount Sinai high above you, [and saying;] “Hold fast with [all your] strength unto what We have vouchsafed you, and bear in mind all that is therein, so that you might remain conscious of God!” And you turned away after that-! And had it not been for God’s favour upon you and His grace, you would surely have found yourselves among the lost. For you are well aware of those from among you who profaned the Sabbath, whereupon We said unto them, “Be as apes despicable!” and set them up as a warning example for their time and for all times to come, as well as an admonition to all who are conscious of God. (2:63-66)

Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Do you find fault with us for no other reason than that we believe in God [alone], and in that which He has bestowed from on high upon us as well as that which He has bestowed aforetime? – or [is it only] because most of you are iniquitous?” Say: “Shall I tell you who, in the sight of God, deserves a yet worse retribution than these? They whom God rejected and whom He condemned, and whom He turned into apes and swine because they worshipped the powers of evil: these are yet worse in station, and farther astray from the right path [than the mockers].” (5:59-60)

And then, when they disdainfully persisted in doing what they had been forbidden to do, We said unto them: “Be as apes despicable!” (7:166)

The verses in question reference a specific story in which a community of Jews who lived by the sea — which according to several early Islamic exegeses is the town of Eilat — had people who fished on the Sabbath and deliberately broke the law, for according to Jewish law, all work was forbidden on the Sabbath. In punishment for this breach of the law, God transformed the Sabbath-breakers into apes; only 5:60 speaks of God transforming some of the sabbath breaking Jews into swine.

Yet, note that the verses in question do not say, “All Jews are apes and pigs.” They do not say, “All Jews are descended from apes and pigs.” They do not say “All Jews are either apes or pigs.” Do some Muslims say so? Absolutely. Do they cite the above verses as “evidence” for their claims? Absolutely. Does that mean that the verses in question say so? Absolutely not.

In fact, Robert Spencer himself has admitted in the past that these verses do not apply to all Jews. Spencer in 2010:

In traditional Islamic theology these passages have not been considered to apply to all Jews. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir, whose commentary is widely distributed and respected among Muslims today, quotes earlier authorities saying that “those who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath were turned into monkeys, then they perished without offspring,” and that they “only lived on the earth for three days, for no transformed person ever lives more than three days.”

But such interpretations, of which Spencer is clearly aware does not prevent him from projecting the antisemitic statements of some Muslims, such as Morsi’s upon the entire religion of Islam itself when it is convenient for him to do so–as if he suffers from amnesia about what he has written in the past!

Our response is: How do the antisemitic views of some Muslims constitute “proof” of Quranic or Islamic antisemitism? Is the fact that some Catholics hold Jews to be “enemies of the Church,” “Christ killers,” etc. “proof” of inherent New Testament or Christian antisemitism? Does the fact that some Jews hold the view that “racism” is a value that “originated in the Torah,” or that “non-Jews exist to serve Jews” proof of Judaism’s racism and xenophobia against non-Jews? No, of course not! Then, how can that same logic apply to Islam?

Clearly, the verses in question speak of a specific group of Jews, the Sabbath-breakers, who were transfigured into apes and swine. There is no general smear of Jews as such in the Qur’an. So why say so Robert?

But wait! There’s more! Spencer never mentions that in the classical commentaries on these verses, there is a debate whether the “transformation” was literal or metaphorical. According to Muhammad Asad, an early 20th Century convert to Islam who penned a translation and commentary of the Qur’an, many early commentators believed it was a metaphorical transformation:

According to Zamakhshari and Razi, the expression “We said unto them” is here synonymous with “We decreed with regard to them” – God’s “saying” being in this case a metonym for a manifestation of His will. As for the substance of God’s decree, “Be as apes despicable”, the famous tabii Mujahid explains it thus: “(Only) their hearts were transformed, that is, they were not (really) transformed into apes: this is but a metaphor (mathal) coined by God with regard to them, similar to the metaphor of ‘the ass carrying books’ (62:5)” (Tabari, in his commentary on 2:65; also Manar I, 343; VI, 448; and IX, 379). A similar explanation is given by Raghib.

As we can see classical authorities are not in consensus on the issue of Jewish sabbath breakers being transformed into apes and pigs, some hold it to be a literal transformation while others metaphorical.

Regardless, however, the fact remains: the Qur’an does not say that the Jews are “apes and swine” despite the rantings of Morsi or the pseudo-expertise of Islamophobes such as Robert Spencer.

*Both the Stillman and Lewis quotes were retrieved from Gilbert Achcar’s “The Arabs and the Holocaust.”

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  • Tanveer Khan

    Aha. Muchas Gracias Emir JSB. I have found a hadith touching on the issue.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Tanveer: try searching on quotes such as “prayers will be neglected.”

    Solid Snake, you say, “You see its conflict that drives progress. Without conflict society will stagnate.” Really? I’ll grant DARPA’s initial role in the Internet, but surely much or most technological progress has been made not due to conflict, unless you want to count capitalism as economic conflict. And what about medicine, from penicillin to modern therapies? Again, sometimes there is a push for military reasons, but presumably if the resources devoted to the military had either been used otherwise by governments or left to the people, we would have seen other progress.

    If you mean social progress, then I agree with you that progress usually involves conflict, only because it would be rare for everyone to change at once rather than have some grow first and drag others along with them. In that case, I wouldn’t say that conflict drives progress, but, rather, the reverse: that progress that involves changing old ideas is hard without conflict.

  • Tanveer Khan

    Emir SS could you direct me to the sources talking about the rejection of religion please? I typed “rejection of religion in the future islam” into google but nothing of relevance comes up………xD

  • Solid Snake

    That’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether this is the 21st century or the 22nd or the 23rd, the nature of humanity will not change.

    People will always believe in something, as is their right to do so, and will pass it on to their progeny if they choose. This is the nature of being a human. And the reason people argue over religion or other beliefs is because they feel like they and their beliefs might have been misrepresented.

    Honestly what I cant believe is that in the 21st century we are still murdering each other senselessly. How has it changed since the dawn of man? Not much really, the only things that have advanced are the methods and machines.

    I think genocide, illegal invasions, indiscriminate drone strikes, torture, and secret detention of innocents belongs in the Dark Ages (minus the drones) yet here we are, in the 21st century.

    There is no utopia, there is no magical era in the future where religion will be abolished and everything magically fixes itself (I do believe that people will begin to leave religion more and more as already predicted in Islamic sources, but religion will still be around). War, death, pain, and suffering will follow the human race till the end. Everything will get worse except for the people who are willing to be more cruel, more scheming, more coldblooded than their fellow humans. They will rise to the top, as witnessed in our day and time.

    You see its conflict that drives progress. Without conflict society will stagnate. Conflict drives scientific progress, conflict drives medical progress, conflict drives social progress. And if the human race wishes to progress and reach some sort of future golden age there must be conflict. And where there is conflict there is war, death, pain and suffering.

    Ultimately there will be those who will have their own “golden age” at the expense of the rest.

    In the future the lines will not be drawn between Muslim, Atheist, Christian, or American, Russian, Egyptian, or anything else.

    It will simply be drawn between those who have power and resources and those who are deprived of it.

    Even now it is obvious, the rich Arab has more in common with the rich European. The poor American has more in common with the poor Arab. In the poor peoples case, they just don’t see. They end up hating each other despite sharing the same fate.

    Apologies for the long post but it really gets me when someone begins a post with “We are in the 21st century….”. As if thats supposed to mean something.

    Sure things have gotten better but it has gotten better for some and worse for others. And that is the way life is.

    It doesn’t matter what century it is, there will always be groups who have the impression that they have advanced and their will be groups who will experience pain and suffering. A tradeoff, if you will.

  • Jennifer Anne Bangstrom

    I can’t believe that in the 21st century people are still arguing whether some all-powerful deity with amazingly human attributes turned whatever people into animals for whatever reasons. Shouldn’t this kind of stuff have been relegated to the Dark Ages?

    “Breaking the Sabbath.” Good grief.

  • Géji

    – lol that you are quoting Muhammad Asad as an authority on Islam.

    “lol”, can you explain why wouldn’t Muhammad Assad, still known to yu (I guess) Leopold Weiss be an authoritative voice of Islam?

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Nothing wrong with quoting Muhammad Asad. He cites Zamakhshari and Razi and others, I guess you lol at them too. Your misleading citations and spin of the verses have been dealt with on numerous threads on this site in the past.

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    Or other peoples interpretations :-)

    Sir David

  • Ilisha

    ” True wisdom comes from humility”

    Absolutely right, and since your clearly have no knowledge or understanding of Islam, you should be asking questions, not offering your facile interpretations.

  • Ilisha

    What amuses me, Tony, is that you’re unwittingly confirming the wisdom of those verses.

  • Tony

    lol that you are quoting Muhammad Asad as an authority on Islam.

    The Quran does refer to the unbelievers as the “worst of beasts” (شر الدواب ) in 8:22 and 8:55. And as like cattle ( الأنعام ) in 7.179 and 25.44.

    It also says that Allah has purposefully made them unbelievers by sealing their hearts so that he can torture them in hell (2.6-7 and 4.55-56). Pretty sadistic writing in my opinion.

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    I wonder what you can buy with 30 pieces of Silver these days?

    Incidentally the leftwing Muslim alliance is looking for funds no reasonable offers refused unfortunetly we do not take paypal .

    Sir David
    Vice chair of Fundraising

  • Talking_fish_head

    its their job to take things out of contexts, they’re getting payed for it

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  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I take it you are approaching miracles and so forth from a rationalist perspective that doesn’t accept supernatural intervention as such that would alter physical laws. There is a long tradition of such thought, I believe earlier theologians and philosophers have enumerated the same views.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Will definitely check out, thanks.

  • Stopping By

    Check out Farid Esack’s chapter on this very topic in Between Heaven and Hell: Islam, Salvation, and the Fate of Others, ed. M. H. Khalil (Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I’m glad this will help make it easier for you to rebut bigots.

  • CriticalDragon1177

    I actually member coming across an Islamophobic blog that called itself “The Apes and Pigs alliance,” so this myth really is common among the anti Muslim crowd.

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  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    The initial article actually included the Biblical verses, but was taken out in the final edit so as to focus solely on the claim of Islamophobes. Now thinking it over we may as well include them in an update.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    The article discusses Islamic belief and mentions that there are two opinions:

    As we can see classical authorities are not in consensus on the issue of Jewish sabbath breakers being transformed into apes and pigs, some hold it to be a literal transformation while others metaphorical.

  • 1DrM

    If Jews and Christians are all apes and pigs(according to the usual suspects) then why would we be allowed to marry them? Doesn’t make sense. I tackled this nonsense years ago on my own blog.
    Its referring to a SPECIFIC group of Jews from a Specific town.

    “And ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how
    We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated! And We made it an
    example to their own and to succeeding generations, and an admonition to
    the Godfearing.” Holy Qur’an 2:65,66.

    The occasion mentioned here is generally thought to be the same one described later in 7:163.

    “And ask them about that town which stood by the sea: how its people would profane the Sabbath whenever
    their fish came to them, breaking the water’s surface, on a day on
    which they ought to have kept Sabbath – because they would not come to
    them on other than Sabbath-days!…And then, when they disdainfully
    persisted in doing what they had been forbidden to do, We said unto them: ‘Be as apes despicable!’’’ (7:163-166)

    Methinks the usual suspects doth protest a bit too much. It was a
    transgression of food-getting, which is fishing on the Sabbath and thus
    parallels the transgression of gathering manna on the Sabbath as
    reported in Exodus 16. And guess what the penalty for that is according
    to their own books?

    Exodus 31:14 Keep you my sabbath: for it is holy unto you: he that shall profane it, shall be put to death: he that shall do any work in it, his soul shall perish out of the midst of his people.

    Numbers 15:32.
    And it came to pass, when the children of Israel were in the
    wilderness, and had found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day,
    Numbers 15:33. That they brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole multitude.
    Number 15:34. And they put him into prison, not knowing what they should do with him.
    Numbers 15:35. And the Lord said to Moses: Let that man die, let all the multitude stone him without the camp.
    Numbers 15:36. And when they had brought him out, they stoned him, and he died as the Lord had commanded.

    Case closed, Donkey Kongsteins. Now when is Zionist antisemitism against Arabs, which has been going on for decades going to be in the spot light?

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    This is a good article I found on this subject by

    Sinem Tezyapar
    Much of What You Think You Know about Islam Is Wrong
    A Response to an Antisemitic Video of Egyptian Cleric Mahmoud Al-Masri.

  • mindy1

    Very interesting and detailed discussion

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