The recent Israeli misadventure in Lebanon has exposed to the world the depth of feeling in the Muslim world against the state of Israel. That should surprise no one, but what should concern Muslims is how our faith seems to be hijacked by current political conflicts and perceived cultural contests. I have seen so-called “secular Muslims” retain the least admirable qualities amongst some Arabs (blind anti-Jewish hatred). In essence they have lost the most beautiful gift the Arab world has been given, but retained the ugliest.
Legitimate critiques of Zionism and of the wars of Israel have given way to polemics about Judaism, the Jews, their perfidy and their omnipotent power in the world. The last statement is one of pure kufr (unbelief in God) which, taken to its extreme, may even put one outside the fold of Islam. What Muslims appear to have forgotten is that the Jewish state was allowed victory over the Arabs by the permission of God alone. Long before it was created, Muslims had lost their religion, they were mere serfs in their own lands administered by the British and French, and they were sinking slowly into atheism. If we believe that victory comes from Allah , then so also must defeat.
In the Western world we routinely see criticism of the actions of a distant nation-state, boil over into uglier rants about a particular people. We have also seen opportunists gloat over the murder of 6 million Jews and simultaneously deny it happened. To a Jew the pain that this must cause is difficult to imagine, but we have a glimpse of that when we see Western commentators deny or dismiss the suffering or the deaths of Muslims in Western wars of aggression. Muslims are rightly outraged by the manifestly insincere apologies proffered after a strike on a civilian target in Kabul or Qana. How then do we expect Jews to behave when they are tormented by an almost gleeful denial of their suffering? What is more appalling is that this denial is motivated purely by the desire to cause pain. If he believes that the holocaust did not happen, then why do people like Ahmadinejad refer to Jews as Nazis in order to collectively vilify them?
If we rightly take deep offence at the depiction of our Prophet (saw) as a monster then why do we not loudly condemn a grotesque cartoon competition about the mass slaughter (like animals) of a people who we are linked to by the mystic cords of ancestry? We insist that elements within the Western world see through our eyes for a change, but we retain our Semitic scotoma.
Over recent years we have seen a genuine attempt by Jews from around the world to understand and speak forcefully in the defence of Palestinians, often at great personal cost to themselves. They have done so because they retain a desire to speak the truth even if it be against their own tribal loyalties. If that sounds familiar, it is because that is what we also are commanded by our faith to do. Those people who witnessed it, remember an extraordinary sight of an elderly Jewish man (a survivor of the German death camps), lecturing Bill Clinton at a holocaust memorial ceremony. He said to Clinton, that the president should be expending all his efforts, and the full reach of his office, to prevent another European genocide of Semites (Muslims on this occasion), rather than attending a Holocaust memorial. It is sobering indeed, to see a Jew begging an American to save the lives of Muslims.
We should be measured in our public comments, we must take active steps to ensure that rabble rousers, and European anti-Semites do not whisper into our ears and we must make genuine connections with religious Jews, away from the spotlight, and work together on the many issues of common concern in a world that is increasingly hostile to both Semitic traditions. Vitriolic anti-Jewish rhetoric is not a triumph of our interests but rather marks a defeat of them. Our fates in the modern world are inextricably linked to the Jews and we must work sincerely with those who have similar qualities within their community.
Muslims do not realise what battles Jews fought for pluralism in the Western democracies that were previously very hostile to them. Without Jewish activism there would be no Islamic schools, no Halal meat and no male circumcision and perhaps not even any mosques (remember that the first Ottoman diplomats had to be baptised before they were allowed on British soil at Portsmouth (during the reign of Victoria).
Muslims owe the Jewish community what we owe the rest of mankind, to treat them with with justice and compassion, even if it is not returned by all elements within that community. We also need to speak the truth, even if it is against our own kith and kin, and even if it appears to be against our own interests.
In the fading light of the Hijaz in the 6th century, the soul of our faith was cast when Muhammad (saw) the final messenger of God was offered a choice by an angel. He had been in Taif all day inviting the people to Islam, they had not only rejected him but had sent the village thugs to assault him and chase him out of town like a common criminal. For an aristocrat from the pre-eminent city of the Arabs, to be treated this way by street thugs of a village must have been especially painful and humiliating. Jibrel (as) offered him the destruction of Taif between two adjoining mountains, an offer that was immediately rejected.
Mercy as the victor is easy, but it is in showing mercy as a victim that is at the heart of our Prophetic tradition.