Muslim antisemitism exists and it is ugly and it is vile. I have heard it from the minbars of mosques, and I have heard it from the mouths of Muslim teenagers. I believe it is a violation of the ethos of Islam and of what it means to be fully human.
There is never justification for transforming an entire people into an object of ridicule and hate.
But there are more and more Muslim voices at every level who are loudly condemning antisemitism.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, perhaps the most prominent Muslim scholar in the West, said in a National Public Radio piece in 2006 that Muslims have to drive antisemitism from their mosques and living rooms. “I say that with utter conviction…I don’t want to be a part of it,” Shaykh Hamza said, and then compared antisemitism in the Muslim community to an infection. He spoke in front of a crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands, and his comments on antisemitism were met with thunderous applause.
I wasn’t there that night, but I know exactly how those Muslims clapping felt: “Thank God a Muslim leader is saying what I have felt for a long time – that anti-Jewish statements blacken the heart of anyone who says or thinks or feels them, and I want my religious community to have nothing to do with those sick attitudes.”
In a piece published in Tikkun Magazine, Shaykh Hamza wrote that denying the Holocaust undermines Islam, and characterized the Holocaust-denial conference that took place in Iran as “tragic”. In the article’s closing paragraph, he observes: “In our inherent contradictions as humans, and in order to validate our own pain, we deny the pain of others. But it is in acknowledging the pain of others that we achieve fully our humanity.”
In February 2006, a synagogue in Chicago was vandalized, and one of the first organizations to exhort people to attend the rally against hate was the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. In his Open Letter, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid challenged his fellow Muslims in Chicago with the same logic that Shaykh Hamza used in his Tikkun article:
Whenever a hate crime is committed it is time for us to reflect on our collective and individual humanity. We need to ask ourselves whether we have risen to the high ideals of our faith, which inspires us to open our hearts to all of humanity, not just our own ethnic or religious group. Do we truly represent the message of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who did not differentiate between Muslim and a non-Muslim when it came to the rights of neighbors. Can we feel for the “other?” Are we willing to do for a synagogue what we would do for a mosque?
The voices of people like Shaykh Hamza and Imam Malik are having an increasing influence within the American Muslim community for a very simple reason – they reflect the attitude of the majority of American Muslims, who have felt both sickened and silenced by the minority of Muslims who speak of antisemitism as if it were a core tenet of Islam.
There are Muslim and non-Muslim voices who want to drown out people like Shaykh Hamza and Imam Malik.
There are Muslims who for their own twisted purposes or petty power games have something to gain by further poisoning their own community with antisemitism.
And there are non-Muslims – people who shout loudly ‘Where are the moderate Muslim voices?’ and then shout louder when those voices speak to make sure they are not heard. They seem invested in Muslims being antisemitic, of Islam being interpreted as an intolerant tradition.
As far as I’m concerned, the Muslim anti-Semites and those who want them to win are on the same side of the faith divide.