Anila Ali is a Muslim American woman educator and activist of Pakistani origins. During her brief, impassioned speech at the November 14, 2023 pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., Ms. Ali pronounced the following words, redolent with ecumenism, and basic decency:
“I stand before you as a Muslim American Pakistani friend of the Jewish people…I declare the war to destroy the Jews and the Jewish homeland must end once and for all.”
Then she continued,
“The holy Quran repeatedly expresses reverence for the Torah and praises the Jewish people. There is a chapter in the Quran, it’s called Bani Israel (sura 17 “Al Isra”) [and it] insists that the Children of Israel will be gathered from exile back into their homeland.”
Ali further claimed,
“And let me tell you Islamic Law explicitly forbids attacking civilians…all of this violates the core of our religion.”
A month earlier, at an October White House “interfaith vigil,” and as part of her “Not in My Name” campaign, Anila Ali cited only the initial portion of Qur’an 5:32 “whosoever killed a person… it shall be as if he had killed mankind,” as an alleged example of the Qur’an’s “repeated expressions of admiration for Jews and Jewish scripture.” The campaign also maintains a tradition of Islam’s prophet Muhammad in the Hamas Covenant which calls for the annihilation of the Jews in Muslim eschatology (end of times theology), was a “heinous false claim.”
Anila Ali’s noble sentiments are tainted, sadly, by her false characterizations of authoritative, foundational Islamic theology. These willful misrepresentations are readily explicated with direct citations from the Qur’an and traditions, as well as two authoritative Qur’anic commentaries, one classical and one contemporary, the latter a modern work written by a renowned Qur’anic commentator from Ms. Ali’s native Pakistan. Moreover, classical and modern Islamic law, and its articulation by Islam’s luminaries, debunk Ali’s contention that jihad depredations against civilians are “forbidden.”
Ms. Ali’s 11/14/23 speech referenced chapter (or “sura”) 17 in the Qur’an, sometimes dubbed “Banu Israel,” (“The Children of Israel’), whose early verses, especially 17:4,5,6,7,and 8, rivet on the Jews. The tone, however, is menacing, not laudatory, or ecumenical. Repeatedly, the Jews are reminded of their “corruption,” as described in their own Torah, and how that begot past calamities, including the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Qur’an 17:8 is an ominous concluding warning that further punishment, even Hellfire awaits them if they refuse to desist from their predilection for sin.
Illuminating, authoritative Qur’anic commentary on pivotal verse 17:8 is provided in the classical commentary “Tafsir Al-Jalalayn” (“Exegeses of The Two Jalals”), and the modern Pakistani commentary “Ma’ariful Qur’an” (“The Wisdom of the Holy Qur’an”). Tafsir Al-Jalalayn is considered the most important single volume commentary ever produced, while Ma’ariful Qur’an, written by the former Grand Mufti of Pakistan, Muhammad Shafi, is a highly esteemed modern reference. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn makes plain that indeed the Jews did “revert” to their sinful ways and were punished by Muhammad and the Muslims, accordingly:
“They reverted by denying Muhammad…and power over them was demonstrated by the killing of Qurayza and the Banu Nadir (two Jewish tribes massacred, including 600-900 of the Qurayza beheaded by Muhammad himself, and submitted by the Muslims) and the imposition of jizya (the deliberately humiliating Koranic poll-tax, per Koran 9:29) on them.”
The seminal contemporary Pakistani commentary Ma’ariful Qur’an affirms that because the Jews “became hostile to Islam and the religious code of laws brought by the Holy Prophet (Muhammad),” they “were expelled and disgraced at the hands of the Muslims,” and Jerusalem “their Qibla (object, or direction of prayer)” came under Muslim control. Ma’ariful Qur’an’s gloss on 17:8 ends with a clarion call for contemporary Muslims to “wage a purely Islamic jihad enjoined by the Sharia (Islamic law)” against modern Israel to restore Muslim suzerainty over Jerusalem by force.
Anila Ali’s partial quotation of Qur’an 5:32 is disingenuous. Ali declined to simply quote the verse’s conclusion which drips with hostility toward the Jews, and augurs their mutilating punishment in Quran 5:33:
“…our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.” [5:33, continuing]: “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.”
Similarly, Ali’s insistence that the Jew-annihilationist tradition, or “hadith” cited in the Hamas Covenant is somehow a “heinous false claim,” is entirely mendacious. This hadith is referenced in at least 3 of the six collections of traditions Muslims hold canonical, including the two most prominent “Sahih” (sound) collections (here; here; here). Moreover at least twice in the past 10-years, major clerics affiliated with Sunni Islam’s “Vatican,” Al-Azhar University, have invoked this tradition in public, one specifically emphasizing its “authenticity.”
Finally, Ms. Ali’s assertion that Islamic law prohibits civilian attacks is also untrue. Recapitulating several centuries of prior Islamic law, al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the famous theologian, legist, philosopher, and paragon of mystical Sufism ( “acclaimed in both the East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad”), wrote the following about jihad, and civilian non-Muslims:
‘[O]ne must go on jihad (i.e., warlike raids) at least once a year…one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them…’
Al-Azhar University just provided re-affirmation of this ugly feature of Islamic law on jihad October 19, 2023 in a religious ruling that all Israelis are considered “combatants” and legitimate targets of Palestinian jihadists.
I cherish Anila Ali’s kind sentiments toward Jews and Israel, expressed in the wake of Hamas’ October 7th jihad carnage in southern Israel. Simultaneously, I find her dishonest tinkering with Qur’an, hadith, and Islamic law to “validate” these sentiments, corrosive and unacceptable. Well-intentioned Muslim interlocutors like Ms. Ali must summon the intellectual courage to offer forthright critiques of the canonical Islamic Jew-hatred and jihadism that animates the global pandemic of Muslim Antisemitism and Antisemitic violence.
Dr. Bostom is a retired Brown University Associate Professor of Medicine, and the author of 5 books on Islam including his updated The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.