Professor Moshe Perlmann (1905-2001) was a meticulous scholar of Arabic and Islam, with great fluency in not only Arabic and Hebrew, but also Russian (having been born in Odessa), and German, as well as further written proficiency in Persian, Syriac, French and Italian.
The focus of Perlmann’s work was the Medieval religious polemic, especially Islam’s anti-Jewish (here; here) and anti-Christian tracts (here; here). Unearthing and providing unique annotated translations of pathognomonic texts (catalogued here), with insightful commentary, Perlmann, as obituarist Herbert A. Dawson, observed, allowed the original writings, “to speak for themselves,” leaving readers “to draw whatever moral they can.”
Perlmann, uncompromising in his examination of Islamic religious fanaticism, even in mythically “tolerant” Muslim Spain, brought to light (1949) the “profuse” employment of the dehumanizing Koranic epithet (Koran 2:65/7:166) characterizing Jews as apes, for the incitement of the jihad annihilation of Granadan Jewry during 1066—a massive anti-Jewish pogrom, whose killing of some ~4000 Jews greatly exceeded in scale the much better known Crusader ravages of the Rhineland 30 years later at the outset of the first Crusade. Two decades later, Perlmann lamented how in 1966, the 900th anniversary of this “Granada debacle,” which he remonstrated was “the first major pogrom on European soil,” had “passed unnoticed.”
Not surprisingly, Moshe Perlmann rejected the fatuous notion—still regnant today—that Arab Muslim Antisemitism was somehow a modern European export to the Islamic Middle East (and Islamdom, more broadly). Here is his rather understated debunking of that meme, written in 1955:
…[N]either the popular attitude nor the Arab literary heritage are exactly favorable to the Jew. A goodly layer of derogatory notions, contempt and misgivings antedates the penetration of Western Jew-baiting. The sunna foundations [i.e., traditions of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community, which, along with the Koran, formed the basis for Islamic law] may have “clearly defined” the infidel’s position [i.e., as debased, and humiliated but at least ‘protected’ from a resumption of jihad war]…However, this definition never deterred the people and the legislators throughout the centuries from questioning again and again the rights of the infidel to buildings for worship, the holding of office, amenities of everyday life. In agitated times sunna could not prevent Jew-baiting riots; in normal or static periods to eliminate either its own outlook—social disqualification and humiliation for the infidel—or the masses’ guarded, suspicious and negative attitude.
But it was Perlmann’s salient elucidation of Islam’s theological animus towards Jews—the ultimate, abiding source of Muslim Jew-hatred to this day—which may be his most remarkable, albeit well-nigh unknown, contribution. Perlmann wrote a chapter entitled, “The Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,” within his 1940 PhD thesis, A Study of Muslim Polemics Directed Against Jews, [Entry 11, here:—A Thesis submitted to the University of London for the degree of Ph.D. (Internal) in History, Faculty of Arts. September 1940 (x + 159 pp.)]. Contemporary Islamologist Sabine Schmidtke provided these background details regarding the overall dissertation, including an allusion to Perlmann’s goal to become an academic in the U.S.—which he ultimately fulfilled:
During the years 1937-40 Moshe Perlmann resided in London where he wrote his Ph.D. under the supervision of Arthur S. Tritton (1881-1973) [note: Tritton’s own work included a pioneering study of non-Muslims under the Sharia], which he submitted in September 1940 to the School of Oriental Studies. The subject of his dissertation, A study of Muslim polemics directed against Jews, had already intrigued him during his studies at the Hebrew University. In 1939, Perlmann won the prestigious Ouseley Memorial Scholarship in Persian. It seems that already prior to his arrival in England, or very early on during his stay there, Perlmann toyed with the idea of seeking his academic future in the United States.
What follows, in conclusion, are key extracts from Perlmann’s 1940 Ph.D. thesis chapter, “The Jews in the Koran and the Traditions,” which stand as a permanent res ipsa loquitur testament to his informed intellectual honesty:
Jews in the Koran [All verses enumerated per The Quranic Arabic Corpus]
Forgetting the Divine Dispensation, the Jews transgressed God’s commandments and flouted the prophets, and even slew them (3:181). Therefore many punishments fell upon them (2:61); e.g., some of them were turned into apes for desecrating the sabbath (2:65; 7:166). Muhammad came to confirm their scriptures (3:3; 4:51), but they did not accept him. They concealed the revelation (2:42; 3:71), or did not understand it (2:78); they tried to mislead people (3:69; 3:99), having no compunction about deceiving the pagan Arabs (3:69). Therefore, although they knew from their books all about Muhammad “as they knew their own children,” (2:146), they made false statements about the scriptures (4:51; 5:49) distorting the texts.
In contradiction to them, the Prophet declares that Ibrahim [Abraham] and Ismail [Ishmael] were Muslim prophets (2:124; 3:67; 3:68), who built the Meccan temple (2:125; 3:97) before the revelation of Musa [Moses], to which the Jews refer. Thus, Islam is the original revelation. This cuts the ground from under the feet of the unbelievers. They make blasphemous statements: That God’s hand is chained up (5:64); that Uzair [Ezra] is the son of God (9:30). At the same time, they are stubborn in their opposition to the true prophet. They must be regarded as enemies (3:28; 5:51; 5:57). The believers will find that they are their fiercest enemies, the Christians being much more friendly (5:82). Therefore, after they had rejected many friendly overtures (2:59; 5:81), it was decided that they must be fought against, made tributaries, and compelled to pay poll-tax, as a mark of their humiliation (9:29).
Jews in the Traditions
Persisting in their obduracy, they did not shrink from plotting, practicing sorcery and poisoning, until they were finally crushed and driven out of Arabia. The Jews extended their hatred of the Prophet to all Muslims. They mispronounced the usual “Peace be unto you”, so that it came to mean: “Poison be upon you”; for which reason it is wiser and safer to reply with a mere: “The same to you”…They always try to trick the unsuspecting Muslim. To imitate them is positively forbidden…They became, in a way, the incarnation of evil. No wonder that, when the world comes to an end, and when Dajjal [t[the Muslim Antichrist]hreatens to destroy those of the true faith, the Jews will be betrayed in their hiding-places even by the crying of the rock: “Here is a Jew behind me. Kill him.” [<[Sahih Muslim Bk 41 #6985]/em>
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