CAIR’s Qur’an campaign – what’s the fuss?

CAIR recently launched a campaign to distribute copies of Yusuf Ali’s translation of the holy Qur’an to Americans for free in response to the Guantanamo desecration scandal. Their website reports that they have had thousands of requests. Some folks aren’t happy, however. WindNetDaily has produced a “news” piece about how CAIR have distributed an edition which the Los Angeles school district have banned due to Yusuf Ali’s “anti-Semitic” footnotes and commentary. The piece includes analysis from - you guessed it - Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch.

WND’s report starts with an advert for the Crazy Frog ringtone which is driving everyone else crazy, and mid-way down contains an advert for the Ummah Caramel bar. I presume the people who produce Ummah Caramel do not deliberately advertise on WindNetDaily, which goes to show that these random advertising systems (like Blogads, which results in the blog disappearing to show just the ads on two of the sites on which I’ve seen it running) may not be worth the money they generate.

Yusuf Ali’s translation is actually the first many of us, who converted before the recent batch of new translations appeared, saw. Until about the late 1990s, it was either Yusuf Ali’s or Muhammad M. Pickthall’s. Now we have Majid Fakhry, Abdul-Majid Daryabadi, Ali Ozek et al, Aisha Bewley, and probably others (not to mention the awful Khan-Hilali propaganda piece). Yusuf Ali’s translation has actually been criticised within the community; I saw a pamphet published by one of the Deobandi Ulama councils in South Africa which showed that his work contains mistranslations.

I certainly do not believe that whatever is written by Yusuf Ali about the Jews was intended to be anti-Semitic, certainly not in a racist sense. Several Jews became Muslims in the time of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and were welcomed into the community - notably Safiyya, the daughter of a Jewish elder who was an enemy of the Muslims, and Abdullah bin Salaam (radhi Allahu ‘anhuma). The text gives an indication of the increasing rebelliousness of most of the Jews towards their own prophets, until such time as their community, and the community of those who followed the later Prophets, diverged entirely to become Christian and then Muslim. The story of how elements in their nation killed prophets is not an insult, but a statement of fact. It’s not considered racist to say that Poles murdered Jews after the end of World War II; how is it racist to say that Jews murdered their own prophets?

The “apes and pigs” reference is clearly made to a community of Jews who played tricks with the Sabbath. “Sons of apes and pigs” is an insult; we are not told that the apes and pigs begot human beings. WND alleges that an outfit based in Florida called “Americans Against Hate” claims that the apes-and-pigs reference is to Jews, which nobody denies; AAH’s website, by the way, is overwhelmingly (or entirely) given to attacks on Muslims.

WND then claims that Khaleel Mohammed, notorious for his “defence of Islam” based on his deviant principles, alleged that Yusuf Ali intended the translation as a “polemic against Jews”. Really? The whole translation? It was written, Khaleel says, at “a time both of growing Arab animosity toward Zionism and in a milieu that condoned anti-Semitism”. Yusuf Ali, of course, was not an Arab, but an Indian of Bohra background (whether he died in that sect or not I’m not sure). The LA school district appears to have taken exception to the fact that the translation has a very substantial index and the various references to Jews are included.

I remember reading a review of The Passion of the Christ in the New Statesman, which was written by Ann Widdecombe, a member of the last Tory government under John Major and a practising Catholic. She stated that you could not make this film more sympathetic to the Jews without distorting the story on which it is based, and the same is true of Yusuf Ali’s translation. The text of the Holy Qur’an condemns the disbelievers, not just Jews. As for those who were sincere, of the Jews as well as other nations and religious groups, the following verse was revealed about them:

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.

Commentators have said that this verse (al-Baqara, verse 62) was revealed in response to Sayyidina Salmaan al-Farsi’s (radhi Allahu ‘anhu) concerns about the fate of those he knew before he came to Medina, who were aware of a forthcoming Prophet, and believed in him (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). In the third Sura (verse 110), it is acknowledged that “among them [the people of the Book] are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors”.

It’s worth pointing out that the gospel of Matthew claims that Jesus (peace be upon him) compared non-Jews to dogs, in an incident in which he supposedly refused to cure a girl possessed by a devil or demon. “It is not fair to take the Children’s bread and cast it to the dogs” is the quote (Matt 15:26). Matt 27 states clearly that the Jews, when demanding Jesus’ execution, told Pontius Pilate, “his blood be on us and our children”, giving Christians in Russia and elsewhere excuse to persecute Jews until well into the 20th century. Muslims, on the other hand, deny that Jesus (peace be upon him) was actually crucified or killed at all. These liars criticise our garden because a brick is lying around, ignoring the pile of rubble in theirs.

They cite Robert Spencer, who claims that “the global, mainstream understanding regards [the apes and pigs reference] as a current, universal reference to Jews”, which is an obvious falsehood. As stated above, it is used as an insult. I don’t believe that it should be used in sermons in the mosque on Fridays as Muhammad Tantawi is alleged to have done. WND repeats the well-known falsehood that Tantawi, as the imam of al-Azhar, is “the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world”. He is not. He is, in fact, widely distrusted, and has a history of issuing controversial fatwas. There is simply no pope in Islam, nor any system of “ranking” scholars, who are not clerics.

The piece is, in the final analysis, a vehicle for Spencer to make his usual claims for “reform” of Islam to suit non-Muslims’ agendas. This “affair” is a chance “for Muslims who claim to be moderate to face that honestly and develop a genuine, non-literal understanding of the text that is convincing to their fellow Muslims and propagate it aggressively”. A “literal” interpretation of the “apes and pigs” verse would apply it to one community who played tricks in order to get around the Sabbath; an extended interpretation applies it to all Jews who came after. So surely, a literal interpretation is actually what’s required here? If people really do teach three-year-old girls that God tells us in the Qur’an that Jews are apes and pigs, as is alleged here, they are making one “non-literal understanding” too far.

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