The Roots of Conflict Between Islam & Judaism

by Michael Brenner

Judaism and Islam are monotheistic faiths, and both claim heritage dating back to the ancient figure of Abraham. Despite this, the two faiths have been in conflict intermittently for 1,400 years, and the most notable periods of antagonism were at the start of Islam and in the last 100 years. Common issues of conflict have historically been theological issues, acceptance of Muhammad as a prophet and competition over holy land.

Basic Differences

Judaism's sacred book is the Torah, or the Hebrew Bible -- also known as the Old Testament in Christianity. The Islamic holy book is the Quran, which Muslims believe is the infallible word of God. Jewish Revelation ended before the coming of Jesus, but Islam includes John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad as later prophets. Judaism is uniquely tied to the Hebrew ethnicity, whereas Islam desires to spread its faith to all people.

The Muslims at Medina

Jewish-Muslim relations started out positively. The early Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem as the Jews did, and in 622 Muhammad was invited to Yathrib -- later named Medina -- to be a neutral arbiter between warring Jewish tribes. Muhammad's community, facing persecution in Mecca, migrated to Medina as well. In the early days of this Muslim-Jewish community, both Jews and Muslims were considered "muslims" -- a generic term for those who have surrendered to God.

The Battle of the Trench

Jewish-Muslim relations deteriorated a few years after 622. The Muslims stopped praying toward Jerusalem and turned toward Mecca, and the distinctions between the two communities grew. One notable flashpoint was the Battle of the Trench in 627. As a large army approached Medina, one Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza, renounced a mutual defense pact with the Muslims, greatly exposing an undefended portion of the city. The Muslims eventually won the battle, and all male members of the Banu Qurayza were put to death.

The Temple Mount

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem was once the home of the first two temples of Judaism, the last of which was destroyed by the Romans in the year A.D. 70. The famous Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, is located on the Temple Mount. Muslims also claim the Temple Mount, considering it the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven during a mystical trip from Mecca to heaven. The iconic Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam, are built on the Temple Mount.

The State of Israel

The major root of modern Jewish-Muslim conflict is the creation of the State of Israel. Beginning in the late 19th century, many Jews migrated to Palestine due to European anti-Semitism and inspired by a new philosophy called Zionism, which encouraged the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland. The State of Israel was declared in 1948, which created a Jewish state in what had been Muslim territory for more than 1,000 years.

About the Author

Michael Brenner has been a writer for almost 10 years for various outlets including the "Chicago Tribune," "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," other newspapers and various business websites. He holds two master's degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the areas of interfaith relations and world religions.

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