Why the animosity between Muslims and Jews?

As an outsider to both of the above mentioned faiths, but with no axe to grind against either, I recently found myself wondering why there seems so much animosity and even hatred towards each other on both sides.

From an outsiders perspective it seems that the similaritites between the two outweigh the differences i.e. both worship the same Abrahamic deity albeit under differerent names, both have similar but not identical dietary restrictions i.e. Halal and Kosher foods, both recognise the 10 commandments. Admittedly Jewish people are allowed alchohol and Muslims are not, but this seems a reletively minor problem.

Could it be that history has been re-written by modern scholars in order to maximise differences for political aims?

I saw a documentary on Channel 4 (in the UK), can’t find a cite at present unfortunately, where it was claimed that the differences stem back to Ishmael and Isaac, the sons of Abraham. It was suggested that Muslims are descended from Ishmael and Jews from Isaac and the fact that Ishmael was abandoned by Abraham is the reason for the animosity.

Anyone have any opinions or better still hard facts on this matter?

Or it might also have something to do with their view that a bunch of Jews stole muslim land to build a Jewish state on, where muslims are third rate citizens.


That would go someway to explaining the post 1948 animosity that Muslims express towards Jews, but would not explain the animosity that existed prior to the foundation of the state of Israel.

What Latro said, of course, but also probably a matter of a general lack of benevolent government in the area and finding someone they could be angry at who wasn’t in a position of power over them (e.g. capable of shooting you.) Oil hasn’t helped either nor the transformation to desert from relative greenery a few thousand years ago.

Which of course would explain many of the exhortations against Jews in the Koran one often hears bandied about in the more heated discussions.

Cheap shot, Latro.

My take is that, like Christian animosity toward the Jews, Muslim displeasure arose from their “refusal” to accept what its proponents felt to be a ‘better’ religion. They took the rejection rather personally.

Where’s Tamerlane when you need him?

There were these Jewish tribes see, and this new leader of some Arabs called Mohammed. They started out fine together with the Jews helping him out some but when they did not see that his new religion was the way he got a bit resentful and added some nasty stuff about them to the sacred texts too. Still, for many hundreds of years, the dominant Muslims and the Jews within thier lands got along fairly well. Jews were second-class dhimmis but as long as they knew their place they were allowed more rights than elsewhere and more rights than many others … at least most of the time … a few Muslim leaders took those anti-Jewish tracts more seriously than others and a few massacres occurred, but stilll, a lot better than for Jews in Christian lands. And Jews and Muslims got along a lot better than most Muslims and Christians.

Jews continued as a small presence in the ME throughout, and always hung onto the concept of Israel as home stolen from them, but around 1900 Jewish populations in the began to increase and not long after the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem through his lot in with the Nazis. These were not his grandfathers’ Jews coming in as dhimmis, these Jews were building communities and often spoke funny. A few anti-Jewish riots, some retaliation, and the stage was set for conflict as more Jews came escaping from the Holocaust.

Now. I will avoid the bait about the basis for Israel, other than to say that that portrayal is certainly one that is painted by certain sides of the discussion and a different portrayal is painted by another and that multiple threads have gone there before. But certainly it can be agreed that Arab leadership was able to sell the Arab populus on the idea of seeing it as Jews stealing, and that Isreali leadership was able to sell the Jewish returnees on the concept that the Arabs were committed to no compromise and nothing less than their destruction, to having “the sea run red with their blood”. And that gets us to the creation of Israel and the utility of continued portrayal of each other in enemy terms for a variety of purposes by various elements in the power equations.

But no, there is no historic animosity above and beyond any other tribal groups. Actually Jews and Arabs did relatively well together for most of the history of Islam.

Animosity between Jews and Muslims is a relatively modern thing, dated to the late 19th century and the birth of the modern Zionist movement. Prior to the late 1800’s, Jews and Muslims coexisted more or less peacefully in the Middle East for hundreds of years.

Jews and muslims have always co-existed peacefully—but only when the muslims were confident of their power, and the Jews were a small minority willing to accept second-class status in muslim lands.

What the 20th century muslims can’t stand is the fact that the Jews have gotten all uppity, and actually think they have the same rights as muslims.And they even fight back when the muslims try to push them into the sea.

I’m not sure whether said exhortations are from the Koran. In fact, I’m pretty positive they’re not. This is because, in the Koran Jews (along with Christians) are called Ahl al-Kitab, i.e. the People of the Book. The People of the Book are essentially supposed to be treated with the same respect as Muslims, as we believe that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim gods are the one and the same. The animosity you see for the Jews comes from later sources than the Koran.

There was animosity between Jews and Muslims during the birth of Islam as a religion. At first, Muhammad was more hostile towards the polytheistic religion of Arabia and saw Jews as a friendlier faction. However, there came a point when Muhammad demanded that Jews convert to Islam and turn over their wealth to his control. When they refused, he took an antagonistic line against Jews and Judaism.

Also, if I remember correctly, this dispute with Jews resulted in Muhammad’s changing of the direction of prayer – originally it was Jerusalem that Muslims faced toward when praying.

As I hear it, it was the “wealth” angle that was key, not the religion one. The more I hear about Mohammed, the less I like him.

Well, sort of. As long as Jews accepted their status as second-class citizens .

This is a little bit like saying that blacks and whites got along in the Deep South prior to the early 1960s.


Sibling rivalry.

Especially when you read this: “In Shari’a law, there are official discriminations against the Dhimmi, such as the poll-tax or jizya.”
[Tom Lehrer, to the tune of “Swanee”]

“Poll Tax
How I love ya
How I love ya
My dear old Poll Tax!”


There is animosity between the Muslims and most other religions. Note the problems in the Pakistan/India area between Muslims and Hindu, and the hatred of many Muslims for Christians.

Thus, it isn’t Judaism or even Zionism. It is that the way Muslims are taught in many areas makes them a very intolerant faith. Frankly, they are taught to hate and to blame others for their squalor and ignorance.

Do note- not all Muslims are taught this way, but a good number are.

Angua, some dispute Koranic interpretations, but Hadithic texts are clear.

No, it was the religious one. Muhammed initially expected the Jewish tribes in Medina to rally to him and accept him as a true prophet - as the OP noted Islam is in many ways quite close to Judaism. When they did not relations gradually became hostile. It is in fact true that the Qur’an has some more hostile passages in it about the Jews than it does Christians for just this reason - relatively few if any Christians having been in and around Mecca and Medina at the time. Moderate Muslim scholars today regard those passages as being historically rooted and referring specifically to those long vanished tribes, while extremists use them for added ammo when anti-Semitism ( or anti-Jewishness if you prefer ) raises its ugly head.

However Angua is of course correct that the Qur’an also commands tolerance for Jews, Christians and Sabians ( later including Zoroastrians and then, at times, other faiths ), a tolerance that was generally extended, though there were certainly notable exceptions. In fact I think DSeid did a fine job of answering the OP. In general Muslim attitudes towards Jews pre-~18th century seem to have been most often an attitude of disdain or tolerant contempt, rather than the more intense hostility or even hatred that existed in contemporary Christian states.

The current rampant anti-Semitism in the ME/NA does precede the creation of Israel, but not by much. For the most part it arose in the 18th century as the Muslim world became increasingly enfeebled. In Muslim states persecution of Jews in particular usually arose from the masses first, in fact most often first from Christian subject populations, during times of lawlessness and economic stress. As the Muslim world stagnated in those terms in this period, hostility grew and Christian-style anti-Semitism began to be imported and repeated ( i.e. tracts like the ‘Protocols’ ). Israel was really the capper, greatly accelerating an already extant trend.

For further information, I might suggest The Jews of Islam by Bernard Lewis as a fairly even-handed coverage.

  • Tamerlane

And very very many dispute the Hadithic texts as authoritative. My branch of Islam included. Islam tends to be very much open to interpretation, like all religions.

Now, the Koran, on multiple occasions, states that the Jews are People of the Book, they worship the same God as the Muslims, and there is to be no distinction between Muslims and Jews:

And as to them being accorded the same privileges as a righteous Muslim:

I.e., God/Allah makes no distinction between a righteous Christian, Jew or Muslim.


(bolding mine)

I think that’s the Koran advocating tolerance of the Jews and Christians. Admittedly, there is a lot of stuff in there as well about those People of the Book who have strayed from the path, and who do not follow the religion, and yes, that is very much zero tolerance, but its for those who do not follow the religion that they profess to. And, as Tamerlane points out, the passages that are somewhat more vitriolic towards the Jews, are, in my tradition, seen as historical, relevant for 15 centuries ago, but not relevant for today.

And on preview, Tamerlane’s made a much better go of things than I ever could.

Well it’s good to see that the Koran is clear that Jews and other “peoples of the book” are to be treated with respect. That said, I’m not sure that is relevant given the history between the two religions. Mohammed was a warlord who actively spread his religion through conquest. He actively persecuted and/or subdued those who opposed him or rejected Islam. It’s a facet of his character that must be considered when discussing Islam.

The Jews were treated as second or third class citizens under Islamic rule so let’s not suggest that somehow they all just “got along” before the creation of Israel. (the example of blacks under Jim Crow is rather apt). Ambitious politicians and religious leaders also fanned the flames of intolerance by creating easy scapegoats (both Jews and Moslems) when it suited them. None of this animosity is really that surprising as you could replace Jews and Moslems with Catholics and Protestants, Japanese and Chinese, Indians and Tongans etc.