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    Negativity & Islam – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. The BBC recently (incorrectly) blamed some orthodox Jewish youth on a bus in London for insulting Muslims. Does Judaism have a negative attitude towards Islam?

    A. The history of inter-religious relations has its highly unpleasant chapters, for reasons that are rather obvious.

    There have been times of immense hostility, especially in regard to Christian and Islamic attitudes towards Jews. The pain and persecution which Jews have suffered at the hands of its daughter faiths has generally been excruciating.

    In response, Judaism has said, “If you hurt us, how can we not feel the pain?” – a question which echoes Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice”.

    But Judaism has never tried to eradicate Christianity or Islam and has followed the Maimonidean doctrine that the other faiths are in error but must be given respect. Maimonides says, “Whoever accepts the seven Noachide commandments and is careful to observe them, is one of the pious of the nations and has a place in the World to Come”.

    Maimonides drew a distinction between Christianity and Islam. Whilst seeing idolatrous elements in Christianity, a view with which many of the rabbis of Ashkenaz (e.g. the Me’iri in the 14th century) disagreed, Maimonides said concerning Islam, “The Ishmaelites are not idolaters. They assign unity to God, the Supreme One, and their heart is directed to Heaven”.

    The Muslims were generally more tolerant towards Jews than the Christians were, and Jews often held a position of respect and esteem in Muslim countries. The Jews themselves harboured no feelings of hatred or disrespect towards Muslims. Their principle was that of Rabbi Jacob Anatoli, who said, “All peoples are made in the image of God, for that was the Almighty’s wish”.

    Likewise with the Biblical teaching (Lev. 19:18), “Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. True, Jews value their own identity and tradition as true and sacred, and they say in their morning prayers, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a gentile”, but this does not indicate contempt for members of gentile faiths.

    A Jewish youth in a bus in the West End would certainly wonder how anyone else could possibly not be a Jew, would be scared to be insulted or threatened by a gentile, but would not expect the BBC to wade in and tell lies about Jews and Jewish beliefs.

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