A Closer Look at Anti-Semitism

A Closer Look at Anti-Semitism

The Qurʾān is very clear with regard to racism: it condemns it categorically. There is no difference between a black and white man, nor Jew and Arab. Allāh says:

وَمِنۡ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ خَلۡقُ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَٱخۡتِلَٰفُ أَلۡسِنَتِكُمۡ وَأَلۡوَٰنِكُمۡۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَأٓيَٰتٖ لِّلۡعَٰلِمِينَ ٢٢

“And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your tongues and colours. Surely, in this, there are signs for the persons having knowledge.”[1]

In another verse, the Qurʾān states:

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقۡنَٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٖ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلۡنَٰكُمۡ شُعُوبٗا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓاْۚ إِنَّ أَكۡرَمَكُمۡ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتۡقَىٰكُمۡۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٞ ١٣

“O mankind, We have created you from a male and female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely, the noblest of you, in Allāh’s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. Surely, Allāh is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”[2]

Therefore, the difference of races is only for identification purposes and is a great sign from amongst Allāh’s many signs. Whether this racism occurs in the form of discriminating against people of Afro-Caribbean descent, as was the case in the recent past, especially in the USA; or anti-Semitism, as is the case today – there is no room for either in Islām.

Since among the more prevalent forms of racism today is anti-Semitism, a few important questions arise: What exactly is anti-Semitism? Who is a Semite? What is a Semitic language? Is it correct to believe only a Jew is a Semite and every Semite is a Jew? Who are protected under the laws of anti-Semitism? These require a closer look.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a Semite is a ‘person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic. The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews.[3] The Oxford English Dictionary defined Semite as ‘a member of any of the peoples who speak or spoke a Semitic language, including in particular the Jews and Arabs.[4]

As for the Semitic languages, the Encyclopaedia Britannica acknowledges that Arabic is the most important Semitic language in terms of number of speakers.[5]

Muslims and Jews both agree that Semites are those whose lineage goes back to Sām b. Nūḥ (Shem, the son of Noah).[6] History and Islāmic tradition testifies that Arabs are from this progeny. Imām al-Tirmidhī  ؒ, in his Sunan, reports that the Prophet said:

سام أبو العرب، ويافث أبو الروم، وحام أبو الحبش

“Sām (Shem) is the father of the Arabs; Yāfith (Japheth) is the father of the Romans; and Ḥām is the father of the Abyssinians.”[7]

Therefore, the Middle-Eastern Jews, the Prophet , the Palestinians and the Arabs are all equally included in the linguistic definition of Semites. Why, then, are the Palestinians and Arabs – in particular, the Prophet – not protected under the laws of anti-Semitism?

Let us revisit the definitions. Arabic is certainly a Semitic language. Arabs are, without a doubt, Semites. However, how has anti-Semitism been defined?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a Semite is ‘n. a member of a people speaking a Semitic language, in particular the Jews and Arabs,’ while Semitic means ‘n. a family of languages that includes Hebrew and Arabic. adj. relating to Semitic of Semites, especially the Jews and Arabs.’ On the other hand, the same dictionary defines anti-Semitism as ‘hostility to or prejudice against Jews.’ This is the same definition opted by BBC News.[8]

More questions, of course, arise as to why are Arabs are not protected by the laws of anti-Semitism? Why is the honour of the Prophet Muḥammad not protected under the very laws of anti-Semitism? Why is the Jewish race singled out from among all the Semitic races? The reductionist and somewhat contradictory definitions remain to be answered.

It cannot be said, as some Jewish researchers have attempted to do, that Arabs are not Semites, but Hamites.[9] They claim that lineage should centre around the mother, not the father – i.e. they hold by matrilineal descent, not patrilineal. They then say that Hājar (Hagar), the mother of Ismāʿīl (Ishmael), was Hamitic, not Semitic; therefore, Arabs are not Semitic.

The above logic contains an informal fallacy. That is, if we were to hold by matrilineal descent, there would be no need to insist on being from the offspring of Sām b. Nūḥ (Shem, the son of Noah), nor would there be any reason to call oneself an Israeli, a child of Yaʿqūb (Jacob). Rather, holding by matrilineal descent should mean one considers their lineage through the matrilineal family tree, by the ladies of history, like Sāra (Sarah). Instead of insisting on being a Semite, a different term ought to be used – for example, Sarite. Since the Arabs hold by patrilineal descent, they have all the more reason to be protected under the laws of anti-Semitism, as their patrilineal family tree goes back to Sām b. Nūḥ.

Therefore, the questions still remain: Why may magazine designers disrespectfully depict the Prophet Muḥammad under the laws of freedom of expression, instead of this ‘freedom’ being limited by the laws of anti-Semitism? Why may the residents of Palestine be wrongfully victimised and massacred, and not be protected by anti-Semitism laws? Why is there a discrimination between races in a law that is supposed to prevent racism?


[1] [Al-Rūm: 30/22].

[2] [Al-Ḥujurāt: 49/13].

[3] http://www.britannica.com/topic/Semite (accessed 20th May 2016).

[4] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/semite (accessed 20th May 2016).

[5] http://www.britannica.com/topic/Semitic-languages (accessed 20th May 2016).

[6] http://www.jewsnews.co.il/2014/03/25/arabs-are-not-semites/ (accessed on 20th May 2016).

[7] Al-Tirmidhī (3931), who graded it ḥasan. For a historical evidence, refer to my article What is Evidence?.

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36160928 (accessed 20th May 2016).

[9] http://www.jewsnews.co.il/2014/03/25/arabs-are-not-semites/ (accessed on 20th May 2016).

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