Bernard Lewis on Jesus and Muhammad

There is a vast difference--I mean no disrespect by using this expression--between the foundation myths of the two major religions. The founders of both came into conflict with Jews, but in those conflicts one lost, the other won. That made a profound difference to the perception of of Jews in their sacred history...

Lewis, Bernard. 2004. From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East. p 67.


Anonymous said…
don't you think the way lewis describes interaction with the jews between islam and xianity as "winning" or "losing" is a bit simplistic? if xianitiy in his mind "won" with the jews, then why did the jews remain consistently antagonistic throughout the NT to the gospel? etc.
Samuel said…
The quoted paragraph is a bit too small for me to make sense of what Lewis is trying to convey. (I have no idea what he means by 'win' or 'lose'---'win' what? From the Jewish perspective both Christianity and Islam are the losers!)

PS--It looks like you can't see this thread by clicking the main link, but you can see it if you click the 'comments' link.
FrGregACCA said…
Right, Samuel. This statement is not about Christianity vs. Islam, but Jesus vs. Muhammed. I think that Lewis is saying that Jesus "lost", leading to a great deal of animosity toward Jews historically in Christianity, while Muhammed "won". I think Lewis would argue that Islam did not really become virulently anti-Jewish until the 20th Century, as evidenced by forces within it which got into bed with the Nazis and its ongoing animosity toward the State of Israel.
Samuel said…
FrGreg, that doesn't say what 'spoils' we're talking about that were 'won' and 'lost'? One can suggest a number of things that Jesus and Mohammad each 'won,' and other things they each 'lost.' So still unclear. One can argue that both lost since neither managed to win over all the Jews.

I think Lewis would argue that Islam did not really become virulently anti-Jewish until the 20th Century, as evidenced by forces within it which got into bed with the Nazis and its ongoing animosity toward the State of

Where did Lewis say this? It is not only when Muslims went to bed with the Nazis and Commies did they become virulently anti-Jewish. It was taught them in their Quranic and Hadith traditions from very early on, which they often practiced. I'm gonna sound like a parrot if I reiterate those hateful anti-Jewish verses that nurtured antisemitism down thru much of the Islamdom (but I bet you already read them here). Certainly well before Israel was formed in 1948 have the Muslims been quite opposed to Jews, both in words, in deeds, and discrimination.
shaw said…
FrGregACCA: what i took from the comment was that Christianity "won" while Islam "lost" to the jews -- christianity was a rogue jewish movement that turned the world upside down, while the muslim world still has struggles with jews.

I don't agree with the "win" "lose" language, as I said in my first comment.

alas, it seems that professor lewis baffles us again.
FrGregACCA said…
I have not read the book from which this quote comes; however, I did recently read Lewis' "The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years." From this book, I think his position in general is that Islam as a whole was, in practice, less anti-Jewish historically than over the past 65-80 years.

On the other issue, the quote refers, first and foremost, to conflicts between "the Jews" and "the founders" of Christianity and Islam, not between these religions as such and Jews. Since Lewis is writing from a strictly historiographical and secular perspective (and therefore, not in any way taking the Resurrection into account), it is likely that he would say that Jesus "lost" while Mohammed "won" in their respective conflicts with Jews.
Samuel said…
I've managed to look up Lewis' book thru our online library resource and was able to better understand the context of what Lewis means. He seems to be referring to Muhammad's having won his military battles with the Jews. In the sentence next to the one quoted above Lewis says:

Muhammad won his battle with the Jews and his successors were therefore able, shall we say, to adopt a more relaxed attitude.

(This is on pages 54-55 of his book.)

So it looks like Lewis is referring to military battles which Muhammad certainly won. (With the eventual expulsion of Jews from Arabia.) If so, then it does seem to be an odd comparison since Jesus was very unlike Muhammad in that he never vowed to battle Jews militarily but thru Scripture. So I don't understand how one can compare a military leader (Muhammad) with a non-military religious leader (Jesus). It's like we're comparing apples and oranges since the purposes of their missions, and their approaches, were quite different.

In any case, I still like Lewis and think that most of the time he writes very clearly and with great thoroughness. There are times where I get the sense that, at certain points, he writes to appease Muslims. When you're an expert scholar in an area such as this, you also know the degrees of freedom that exists within which to exercise various modes of expression and judgment. He does, however, have the right to his views.

From this book, I think his position in general is that Islam as a whole was, in practice, less anti-Jewish historically than over the past 65-80 years.

Certainly one cannot discount the times when the two lived in relative peace---as there were such periods. However, historically there has been much violence, persecution and discrimination against Jews---too much to take lightly. As a small example, during the Ottoman empire days Jews were often charged with practicing ritual murder (cited in Lewis' book The Jews of Islam, 1984, p. 158). When you look at the greater amount of violence and discrimination against Jews in centuries past, you can easily see how they result from Muslim hate preaching against Jews down the generations (both in the Quran and Hadith). So it's not just 20th century, but had a long long paper trail.

In addition, thanks to today's media that we can get to know more about the anti-Jewishness going on today, a medium that did not exist back when Jews were persecuted.

It might help to recall what the Hadith taught Muslims about Jews (centuries before the 20th century):

"Let Allah destroy the Jews" (Sahih Muslim Book 4, Number 1080)

"Let there be curse of Allah upon the Jews and the Christians" (Sahih Muslim Book 4, Number 1081)

"Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians" (Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 23, Number 414)

"The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews." (Sahih Muslim Book 41, Number 6985)

"You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me) ; kill him." (Sahih Muslim Book 41, Number 6981)

O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust. (Sura 5:51)
Jonathan said…
The way that I understood this was that from the perspective of early Muslims they "won" (militarily) and therefore didn't need to be concerned with any threat from a Jewish population.
Anonymous said…
Hello all
I am a Muslim.
I read your posts.
I would like to calrify a point in Samuel's comment.
Samuel said: the purposes of their(Jesus and Muhammad peace be upon them all) missions, and their approaches, were quite different.

What Muslims actually believe is different.You may be right as far as approach is concerned, beacuse Muhammad peace be upon him was more like Moses peace be upon him than Jesus peace be upon him, but we believe them all to have the same mission, to teach Divine Unity and Righteousness.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.

الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ 67:2)

The Holy Qur'an

67:2 He who has created death as well as life, so that He might put you to a test [and thus show] which of you is best in conduct, and [make you realize that] He alone is almighty, truly forgiving.

We believe that He was a universal Prophet and Jesus would testify to his truthfulness on His return.

The most important thing I feel called upon to share with you is Hadith:
By Him in Whose hand is the life of Muhammad, he who amongst the community of Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that with which I have been sent and dies in this state (of disbelief), he shall be but one of the denizens of Hell-Fire.

We believe this to be the fulfilment of:

Deutronomy 18
17 The LORD said to me: “What they say is good.
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.

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