Examining One Element of Quranic Hate Speech
Are all Muslims terrorists because a substantial number of Muslim terrorists explode bombs and commit other atrocities on a regular basis? (*) Are all Muslims guilty of genocide because Muhammad eradicated the Banu Qurayza? (*) Would it be justified to walk up to any of my Muslim neighbors and call him a murderer because Christians are threatened, persecuted and killed by Muslims on a daily basis? (Currently most prominently in Iraq.)
Obviously, the answer is NO to all these questions. However, if accusing all Muslims of the crimes committed by a minority is wrong, what should we say to the following statements?
The Qur'an claims over and over again that the Jews killed the prophets or messengers which were sent to them:
And (remember) when you said, "O Musa (Moses)! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its Fum (wheat or garlic), its lentils and its onions." He said, "Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? Go you down to any town and you shall find what you want!" And they were covered with humiliation and misery, and they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allah. That was because they used to disbelieve the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah and killed the Prophets wrongfully. That was because they disobeyed and used to transgress the bounds (in their disobedience to Allah, i.e. commit crimes and sins). S. 2:61 Al-Hilali & Khan
And when it is said to them (the Jews), "Believe in what Allah has sent down," they say, "We believe in what was sent down to us." And they disbelieve in that which came after it, while it is the truth confirming what is with them. Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him to them): "Why then have you killed the Prophets of Allah aforetime, if you indeed have been believers?" S. 2:91 Al-Hilali & Khan
Verily! Those who disbelieve in the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah and kill the Prophets without right, and kill those men who order just dealings, ... announce to them a painful torment. S. 3:21 Al-Hilali & Khan
Indignity is put over them wherever they may be, except when under a covenant (of protection) from Allah, and from men; they have drawn on themselves the Wrath of Allah, and destruction is put over them. This is because they disbelieved in the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah and killed the Prophets without right. This is because they disobeyed (Allah) and used to transgress beyond bounds (in Allah's disobedience, crimes and sins). S. 3:112 Al-Hilali & Khan
Indeed, Allah has heard the statement of those (Jews) who say: "Truly, Allah is poor and we are rich!" We shall record what they have said and their killing of the Prophets unjustly, and We shall say: "Taste you the torment of the burning (Fire)." S. 3:181 Al-Hilali & Khan
Those (Jews) who said: "Verily, Allah has taken our promise not to believe in any Messenger unless he brings to us an offering which the fire (from heaven) shall devour." Say: "Verily, there came to you Messengers before me, with clear signs and even with what you speak of; why then did you kill them, if you are truthful?" S. 3:183 Al-Hilali & Khan
Because of their breaking the covenant, and of their rejecting the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah, and of their killing the Prophets unjustly, and of their saying: "Our hearts are wrapped (with coverings, i.e. we do not understand what the Messengers say)" - nay, Allah has set a seal upon their hearts because of their disbelief, so they believe not but a little. S. 4:155 Al-Hilali & Khan
Without question, the charge that the Jews killed the messengers and prophets which God had sent to them is a very strong accusation. In the above passages it even sounds like they killed all prophets which were sent to them — note the definite article: "the prophets". On the other hand, there are two passages which formulate more cautiously that they killed (only) some of them:
And indeed, We gave Musa (Moses) the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers. And We gave 'Iesa (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), clear signs and supported him with Ruh-ul-Qudus [Jibrael (Gabriel) ]. Is it that whenever there came to you a Messenger with what you yourselves desired not, you grew arrogant? Some, you disbelieved and some, you killed. S. 2:87 Al-Hilali & Khan
Certainly We made a covenant with the Children of Israel and We sent to them messengers; whenever there came to them a messenger with what that their souls did not desire, some (of them) they called liars, and some (of them) they killed. S. 5:70
I will leave it to the reader whether he wants to think of the latter two verses as contradicting or as clarifying the majority of the passages quoted in the first block.
In any case, it is amazing that with all these repeated accusations, the author of the Qur'an did not consider it necessary to mention even one of those prophets by name. Who are those prophets which the Jews allegedly killed?
Are the Jews guilty simply because the Qur'an repeats these unsubstantiated claims over and over again? What is the purpose of these constant attacks on the Jews? Could it be that they have the purpose to instill in Muslims a hatred against the Jews "as Jews" without differentiating between the guilty (if they are indeed guilty) and the innocent? Isn't this what is called hate speech? If it is wrong to call all Muslims murderers, why is it not wrong to label all Jews summarily as killers of the prophets?
Note that in many of these passages the Jews living in Muhammad's time are addressed directly (you) and identified with their ancestors. Not only the Jews who actually committed the murder of the prophets (many centuries ago), but the Jews of Muhammad's time — and therefore the Jews of all time — are automatically guilty despite the fact that Islam considers Jesus as the last prophet before Muhammad, and thus also the last prophet who was sent to the Jews. We are talking about an alleged killing of prophets that happened between the time of Moses and Jesus, i.e. between about 2000 and 600 years before the time of Muhammad.
The last two verses quoted above also contain a grammatical oddity that is relevant to this discussion. The Arabic phrases translated as "some, you disbelieved" (2:87) and "some (of them) they called liars" (5:70) are in the past tense (as one would expect), but the Arabic phrases rendered as "some, you killed" (2:87) and "some (of them) they killed" (5:70) are actually in the present continuous, i.e. a correct translation would be "some you are killing" (2:87) and "some they are killing" (5:70). In other words, the Jews are currently in the process of killing some of those prophets, in Muhammad's life time — two clearly anachronistic statements. If the choice of verb tense is accidental then this is linguistic incompetence. If it is intentional then it constitutes strong evidence that Muhammad is indeed emotionalizing the matter and directly charging his contemporaries with the killing of these prophets.
Even when looking only at those Jews living at the time when a certain prophet was killed, would they all be guilty of the murder any more than today all Muslims are guilty of murder because some Muslims kill innocent people?
By accusing the Jews of his own time to be guilty of killing the prophets, Muhammad also contradicts the quranic teaching that everyone has to bear his own sin and nobody shall bear the burden of another. I can understand that Muhammad was quite angry that the Jews opposed him and did not accept his claim to be a prophet of God, but does that justify that he charges his opponents as being guilty of the killing of (all) the prophets?
Although most of these statements are general, there are two identifiable prophets about whom the Qur'an is more specific regarding their death. Interestingly, in the only two cases in which the author of the Qur'an moves away from being completely general and unspecific, he immediately becomes wrong.
The first one is the death of Jesus:
That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God"; - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- 4:157 Yusuf Ali
Quite ironically, throughout the Qur'an the author sings the song of accusing the Jews of killing the prophets (without giving names or being otherwise specific), but in this verse it is all reversed. In S. 4:157 the Jews are said to boast of killing Jesus, and the Qur'an denies this statement and claims that Jesus was not only not crucified but did not even die. Instead, God raised Jesus up to himself (S. 4.158).
However, the Qur'an is wrong on both parts. The Jews certainly never boasted to have killed the Messiah (Christ) and the Messenger of God as Muhammad put it into their mouths as a verbatim quotation; and there are few historical events that are better attested than the Crucifixion of Jesus. Historically, there is no question that Jesus died on the Cross. This topic is a core issue and is discussed in detail in various articles found in the section On the Crucifixion.
The second error is found in S. 3:183. Even though the prophet is not named explicitly, it is clearly Elijah's contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel that is aluded to in this verse. And Muhammad is wrong again. Elijah, the prophet who was given fire from heaven that devoured the sacrifice he had prepared, was definitely not killed by the Jews. Instead, Elijah was taken up into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11). For a detailed discussion of S. 3:183, see the article Divinely Inspired Ignorance?
According to the Bible, Jesus was killed by Crucifixion and Elijah was taken up into heaven without dying, but the Qur'an claims just the opposite, i.e. Elijah was killed by the Jews (3:183) and Jesus was taken up to God without dying (4:157-158).
For the sake of overview, here follows a complete list of prophets that are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, given in an approximately chronological sequence: Adam, Idris (Enoch), Nuh (Noah), Hud(?), Saleh(?), Ibrahim (Abraham), Lut (Lot), Isma'il (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Ya'qub (Jacob), Yousef (Joseph), Ayyub (Job), Shu'aib (Jethro?), Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Ilias (Elias), Al-Yasa (Elisha), Yunus (Jonah), Dhu'l-kifl (Ezekiel?), Zakariyya (Zechariah), Yahya (John), 'Isa (Jesus), Muhammad.
Since it makes no sense to speak of "Jews" before the time of Moses, we need to look at the names which are underlined, being potentially prophets sent to the Children of Israel. Which of these did the Jews kill? With its repeated accusation, the Qur'an gives the impression that the Jews probably killed most of them. That is far from the truth! Among all these, only John and Jesus were killed. The Qur'an does not mention how John died, and it denies the death of Jesus at the hand of the Jews.
What, therefore, is the basis for the repeated accusations against the Jews?
The quranic attack on the Jews (of Muhammad's time and all times) is unsubstantiated and therefore unjust. The quranic treatment of this matter is incomplete, incoherent, and even contradictory. As it stands, these verses constitute hate speech. Taking the totality of these passages, we have to conclude that the Qur'an is both factually wrong and morally wrong on this matter.
1. Clearly, both verbs should be in the past tense. Assuming for argument's sake that the claim of the Qur'an is historically correct, that some or many or all of the prophets were rejected and/or killed by the Jews, then it has to refer to the Jews who were contemporaries of those earlier prophets, and those prophets lived at least 600 years before Muhammad. Thus, both verbs need to be in the past tense. If one wants to bring one of the verbs into the present tense, then it has to be the first one, i.e. "you are disbelieving them" and "they are calling them liars", but not the second one about the killing of the prophets. Why? One can disbelieve in the teaching of the prophets after their death, and one can call them liars even after they have died, but one cannot kill them anymore when they are already dead. Muhammad could have accused the Jews of his own time to currently disbelieve in those prophets without being semantically wrong, but he could not possibly charge them of currently killing the prophets and be correct in such a claim. If he wanted to charge his Jewish contemporaries, he should have put the first verb in each of these statements into present tense, but not the second one.
Can this error be explained otherwise than that Muhammad was too emotional to think straight while uttering these "revelations"? Such an error is understandable when it comes from an angry human being, but could hardly be ascribed to God. This verb tense error is further evidence that God is not the author of the Qur'an.
2. The Qur'an clearly teaches the principle that nobody will bear the sins of others, neither voluntarily nor involuntarily. See, for example, these passages:
On no soul doth God Place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray:) "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Lay not on us a burden Like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith." S. 2:286 Yusuf Ali
And come not nigh to the orphan's property, except to improve it, until he attain the age of full strength; give measure and weight with (full) justice; - no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear; - whenever ye speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfil the covenant of God: thus doth He command you, that ye may remember. S. 6:152 Yusuf Ali
Say: "Shall I seek a lord other than Allah, while He is the Lord of all things? No person earns any (sin) except against himself (only), and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another. Then unto your Lord is your return, so He will tell you that wherein you have been differing." S. 6:164 Al-Hilali & Khan
Whoever goes right, then he goes right only for the benefit of his ownself. And whoever goes astray, then he goes astray to his own loss. No one laden with burdens can bear another's burden. And We never punish until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning). S. 17:15 Al-Hilali & Khan
On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged. S. 23:62 Yusuf Ali
And no bearer of burdens shall bear another's burden, and if one heavily laden calls another to (bear) his load, nothing of it will be lifted even though he be near of kin. You (O Muhammad SAW) can warn only those who fear their Lord unseen, and perform As-Salat (IqamatasSalat). And he who purifies himself (from all kinds of sins), then he purifies only for the benefit of his ownself. And to Allah is the (final) Return (of all). S. 35:18 Al-Hilali & Khan
If you disbelieve, then verily, Allah is not in need of you, He likes not disbelief for His slaves. And if you are grateful (by being believers), He is pleased therewith for you. No bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another. Then to your Lord is your return, so He will inform you what you used to do. Verily, He is the All-Knower of that which is in (men's) breasts. S. 39:7 Al-Hilali & Khan
That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another, S. 53:38 Al-Hilali & Khan
If this is indeed a quranic principle, does the author of the Qur'an follow his own principle in its treatment of the Jews and his repeated accusations against them? Why have Jews living 600 or 1000 or 2000 years after those (allegedly killed) prophets to bear the burden of the charge that "you killed the prophets"?
3. The Bible says clearly that John was first put into prison and later killed by king Herod, the Tetrarch, despite the fact that many of the Jews considered him to be a prophet (Luke 3:19-20, Matthew 14:3-12, 21:23-27). Is it correct to accuse "the Jews" to have killed John the Baptist, when it was Herod, an evil and tyrannical king, and it is clearly said that the people in general considered him to be a true prophet, and the religious leaders did not dare speak negatively of John even after his death because he was revered so much by the people?
Incompleteness and Incoherence in the Qur'an
Contradictions in the Qur'an
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