October 31, 2002 Special Reports No. 11

Based on Koranic Verses, Interpretations, and Traditions, Muslim Clerics State: The Jews Are the Descendants of Apes, Pigs, And Other Animals

October 31, 2002 | By Aluma Dankowitz*
Special Reports No. 11

Depicting Jews – and sometimes also Zionists – as "the descendants of apes and pigs" is extremely widespread today in public discourse in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

For example, in a weekly sermon in April 2002, Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, called the Jews "the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs."[1]

In one of his sermons, Saudi sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam and preacher at the Al-Haraam mosque – the most important mosque in Mecca – beseeched Allah to annihilate the Jews. He also urged the Arabs to give up peace initiatives with them because they are "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs."[2]

"Read history," called Al-Sudayyis in another sermon, "and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels, distorters of [others'] words, calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race 'whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs...' These are the Jews, an ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption..."[3]

In a sermon at the Said Al-Jandoul mosque in Al-Taif, Saudi sheikh Ba'd bin Abdallah Al-Ajameh Al-Ghamidi explained that "the qualities of the Jews" were present at all times and in all places: "The current behavior of the brothers of apes and pigs, their treachery, violation of agreements, and defiling of holy places... is connected with the deeds of their forefathers during the early period of Islam – which proves the great similarity between all the Jews living today and the Jews who lived at the dawn of Islam."[4]

In an August 2001 sermon, Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, Palestinian Authority official and imam of the Sheikh Ijlin mosque, Gaza City's main mosque, called on the Palestinian people to forget their internal disagreements and turn all weapons against Jews: "lances must be directed at the Jews, the enemies of Allah, the nation accursed in Allah's book. Allah described [them] as apes and pigs, calf-worshipers, idol-worshippers..."[5]

Seeing Jews as "descendants of apes and pigs" is common also in Shi'ite Islam. Such statements appear, for instance, in a 1998 speech by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on the occasion of the Shi'ite 'Ashoura holiday. Nasrallah regretted that the holiday fell "on the 50th anniversary of the bitter and distressing historical catastrophe of the establishment of the state of the grandsons of apes and pigs – the Zionist Jews – on the land of Palestine and Jerusalem." He closed his speech with these words: "... We reaffirm the slogan of the struggle against the Great Satan and call, like last year: 'Death to America. To the murderers of the prophets, the grandsons of apes and pigs,' we say: ... 'Death to Israel...'"[6]

These statements are made not only by clerics and preachers. Following their lead, public opinion leaders in the Arab world also call the Jews "the descendants of apes and pigs." The image has pervaded the public consciousness, even in child-rearing. In May 2002, Iqraa, the Saudi-Egyptian satellite television station, which according to its website[7] sets for itself the goals of "highlighting aspects of Arab Islamic culture that inspire respect," "highlighting the true and tolerant picture of Islam and refuting the accusations directed against Islam," and "planting a spirit of mutual understanding and dialogue among members of the nation and opening channels of cultural connection with the cultures of other nations," interviewed a three-and-a-half-year-old "real Muslim girl" about Jews. On "The Muslim Woman Magazine" program, the girl was asked whether she liked Jews; she answered, "no." When asked why she didn't like them, she said that Jews were "apes and pigs." "Who said this?" the moderator asked. The girl answered, "Our God." "Where did He say this?" "In the Koran." At the end of the interview, the pleased moderator said: "No [parents] could wish for Allah to give them a more believing girl than she... May Allah bless her, her father and mother. The next generation of children must be true Muslims. We must educate them now while they are children, so that they will be true Muslims."[8]

In April 2002, a weekly talk show on the Al-Jazeera satellite television station, "The Opposite Direction" which claims to have tens of millions of viewers across the world, addressed the question "Is Zionism worse than Nazism?" The moderator, Dr. Faisal Al-Qassam, included in the discussion the opinion of a viewer who wrote in from the station's website: "The sons of Zion, whom our God described as the sons of apes and pigs, will not be deterred unless there is a real holocaust, that will destroy all of them at once, together with the traitors – those who collaborate with them, the scum of this [Islamic] nation."[9]

Salim 'Azzouz, columnist for the Al-Ahrar Egyptian opposition daily, affiliated with the religious Liberal Party, described Israel's May 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon: "They fled with only the skin on their bodies, like pigs flee. And why say 'like,' when they actually are pigs and apes?"[10]

This paper aims to place these references to Jews as apes and pigs in their religious and historical context and show their roots in Muslim religious sources.

Chapter One:

Islamic Religious Sources on the Jews - The 'Descendants of Apes and Pigs'
According to Islam, the ancient Jews were turned into animals for transgressing the word of God.[11] This divine punishment is mentioned in the most important sources of Islamic religious law, in both the Koran's recounting of the divine revelation, and in the extremely reliable Hadiths (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) compiled by the leading ninth-century sages Muslim and Al-Bukhari,[12] which mention also mice, lizards, and other animals in the same context.

The divine punishment of Jews is mentioned in three Koranic verses: "... They are those whom Allah has cast aside and on whom His wrath has fallen and of whom He has made some as apes and swine..." (5:60); "...You have surely known the end of those from amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath, in consequence of which we condemned them: Be ye like apes, despised" (2:65);[13] and "when, instead of amending, they became more persistent in the pursuit of that which they were forbidden, we condemned them: Be ye as apes, despised" (7:166).[14]

Arab literature (Adab) also discussed Jews' transformation into animals. In his 9th century treatise The Book of Animals, the greatest of these authors, Al-Jahiz,[15] mentions that it is generally thought that the cheetah, eel, white ant, mouse, and lizard were originally Jews. He mentions the tradition telling how a sage saw a man eating a lizard and said to him: "Know that you have eaten one of the sheikhs of the sons of Israel." He does not mention why they were changed into animals, but does say that proof of this is that "the lizard's foot resembles the human hand."[16]

Chapter Two:

Koranic Commentary: Christian and Muslim Sinners Were Also Transformed into Apes and Pigs
Although in the Koran, transformation into apes and pigs is connected only with Jews, Koranic commentary links transformation into apes and pigs with Christians as well. Verse 5:112-115 relates that the Apostles wanted to know whether God could bring down a table laden with food from the heavens. Jesus directed this request to God, and it was answered. However, God warned him that anyone who ate at the table and would then commit blasphemy would be punished in a way that no one had yet been punished. In his commentary on this verse, the renowned 10th century commentator Al-Tabari[17] says, that despite God's warning, some did commit blasphemy and were punished by being turned into apes and pigs – or, in another version, only into pigs.[18]

Another verse linking Christians with apes and pigs is 3:61; according to the commentary on this verse, a deputation of Christians from Najran came to Al-Madina to debate the Prophet about the question: Was Jesus the son of God, as the Christians claimed, or flesh and blood, with no mother or father, like the first man, as the Muslims claimed? After finding that they could not agree, they decided to meet again and curse each other, thinking that God's curse would apply to whichever of them was lying. When the Christian deputation saw that the Prophet brought with him his relatives from the 'Ali bin Abu Taleb family, they were frightened, and acknowledged his prophetic mission and decided to make peace with him, recognize his rule, and pay jizya [poll tax paid by non-Muslims under Muslim rule]. According to a Hadith of the Prophet, cited mostly in Shi'ite sources, had they instead cursed him they would have been turned into apes and pigs.[19]

In the Islamic traditions, Muslims too were threatened with being turned into apes and pigs. However, for Jews and Christians this punishment was a thing of the past, for Muslims it would be meted out on Judgment Day. In his article "Apes, Pigs, and the Islamic Identity," the researcher U. Rubin indicates that the Muslims threatened with being turned into animals were not ordinary sinners, but those whose sin had a Jewish or Christian nature. The use of a punishment connected to Jews and Christians was aimed at fighting Jewish and Christian influence in Islamic society that threatened the unique Islamic identity. Islamic identity was supposed to be based on unity and morality; thus, any Muslims imitating Jews or Christians constituted a threat to it.

Muslim unity was threatened by Muslims who had rejected orthodox ideas and were suspected of following the Judeo-Christian example. Thus, most traditions on Muslims who were to be punished on Judgment Day by being transformed into animals related to the Qadaris. The Qadaris rejected the idea of predestination (Qadar) and their views were perceived by those who opposed them to be of Judeo-Christian origin; thus, they were stigmatized in the way highly typical for Jews and Christians by being associated with transformation into apes and pigs. Moreover, the ideas of the Qadaris were significantly widespread in the city of Basra; thus, Basra is described in the traditions as the place where such transformation was particularly likely to come about.

Danger to Muslim morality came from Muslims who adopted profane aspects of Judeo-Christian culture. Thus, eschatological transformation into apes and pigs was associated also with Muslims who committed sins such as drinking wine, playing instruments in the company of singing slave girls, and, sometimes, wearing silk; other sins were giving false testimony, usury, and homosexuality. Some of these sins were linked with Jews and Christians (usury, wine, music); others were connected with all non-Arabs (silken garments). These deeds were thought to pose a threat to Islamic identity; thus transgressors were threatened with this classical Judeo-Christian punishment.[20]

The idea of transformation into animals was also used by both of Islam's two major factions, the Sunnis and Shi'ites, in their claims against each other. According to Shi'ite tradition, the second Muslim Khalifah, Omar bin Al-Khattab, who is particularly admired by the Sunnis, wanders the earth in the form of an owl. Another Shi'ite tradition is that the murderer of the Prophet's grandson Hussein bin 'Ali, admired by the Shi'ites, was punished by being turned into a four-eyed dog. The murderer was also sentenced to desperately seek water and not be able to get to it even when he found it, because he had prevented Hussein's family from reaching a water source at the Battle of Karbala.[21]

In contrast, Sunni tradition has it that some of the Shi'ites in Al-Madina and other places were turned into apes and pigs, and that their hearts and faces would change their form at the time of their death. This is in the context of the charge that the Shi'ites greatly resemble Jews, "which should not be wondered at," as Dr. Abu Muntasir Al-Baloushi explains on a Sunni Web site,[22] "because the Jews invented the Shi'a [the Shi'ite religion] and [the Shi'a] is pervaded by [the Jews'] beliefs and principles, from the day it was created."

Chapter Three:

The Historical Roots of the Punishment
The belief that people were transformed by supernatural intervention – usually divine punishment – into animals, statues, or stars was common among the Arabs and other peoples before Islam.

In the Jewish and Christian sources (Genesis, 19:26) Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she violated the divine prohibition against looking back at Sodom.[23] Another familiar story from the pre-Islamic period is that of Isaf and Na'ila – two lovers who made a pilgrimage to Mecca. When they found themselves alone in the Ka'abah, they fornicated, and were immediately turned into stone. Al-Jahiz said that the shrimp was originally a dressmaker who stole thread and was turned into a threaded creature, to remind her of her crime. Al-Jahiz also said that the snake once had the form of a camel, but God punished it by forcing it to crawl on the earth. Iranian legends link some animals – bears, elephants, tortoises, vulture, crows, owls, hornets, hoopoes, apes, pigs, dogs, and lizards – with transformations that occurred after Islam began. The planet Venus was purportedly a prostitute who ascended to the heavens and became a star by virtue of her knowledge of the greatest name of Allah. In The Thousand and One Nights, people are frequently changed into animals and back again, usually by having water sprinkled on them.[24]

Various researchers have attempted to explain the origin of the punishment of transformation mentioned in the Koran. The researcher F. Viré maintains that the Koranic punishment originates from the well-known legend mentioned in the Talmud, that some of the builders of the Tower of Babel were cursed by God and turned into apes. He bases this story on a Talmudic tractate of Sanhedrin,[25] in which the builders who sought to reach the sky "were divided into three groups. One said, 'Let us ascend and dwell there;' one said, 'Let us ascend and worship the stars;' and one said, 'Let us ascend and make war.' The ones who said, 'Let us ascend and dwell there,' God dispersed. The ones who said: 'Let us ascend and make war,' were turned into apes and ghosts and demons and evil spirits. And the ones who said: 'Let us ascend and worship the stars,' for them God confused the languages of all the earth."[26]

Ilse Lichtenstadter explains that these verses were part of Prophet Muhammad's attempt to gain the support of the Jews of Mecca, by threatening with severe punishment if they persisted in refusing to join him. She identifies two ancient sources for the punishment of transformation into apes mentioned in the Koran. Apes played a role in legend or ritual in two ancient cultures. In India, the monkey-god Hanuman was widely known, and tales about him reached the Arabian Peninsula via the spice trade between India and southern Arabia. The ancient Egyptians had the baboon god Thoth, usually depicted as a monkey with a dog's head. The stories of a race of people with dogs' heads, associated with the baboon, also reached Christianity. According to a Greek legend, St. Christopher had once belonged to a race of dog-headed people, and upon his conversion to Christianity he was given the ability to speak like a human instead of barking. He was martyred, (possibly) during the rule of the Roman Emperor Decius, in the 3rd century; his symbol is a dog's head. The influence of Christian-Syrian culture reached the Arabian Peninsula; the legends of men with animals' heads could have reached the Prophet.

Lichtenstadter also describes the attitude towards the animals connected to the punishment. Pigs are linked with idol-worship, as they were offered as idolatrous sacrifices; therefore the Koran prohibits eating them. The ape is identified in ancient sources with evil, demons, and the devil; thus, those who were transformed into apes were banished from human society and thrust into the sphere of the devil.[27]

The influence of the idea of transformation into animals on the Muslim consciousness is marked throughout history. In Spain, for example, during periods of friction between the various religious communities Muslims called Jews "apes" and Christians "pigs and dogs." In North Africa under the Muslim Aghlabid dynasty (9th through 11th centuries), Jews were forced to wear a shoulder patch with a picture of a monkey and Christians had to wear a patch with a picture of a pig. These images also had to be affixed to the doors of their respective homes.[28] Furthermore, the concept of transformation influenced Islamic dietary law. Generally speaking, Shi'ites enlarged the number of animals thought to be of human origin and forbade their consumption. Thus, for example, the hare was also included in this list. In contrast, the Sunnis tended to cut down the list; although there are Sunni traditions on people being transformed into animals, they are not commonly cited by Sunni jurists when they determine dietary laws.[29]

Chapter Four:

Islamic Commentary on the Transformation of the Jews into Apes and Pigs

A. The Circumstances of the Punishment
In his comprehensive treatise on the Koran, 10th century commentator Al-Tabari explains that Jews were transformed into animals because they refused to accept Friday as the day of rest. Jews, he said, like the other nations, were ordered to consider Friday their holiday "because of its virtues, and its importance in the heavens and in the eyes of the angels, and because Judgment Day would come on Friday." The Muslims agreed to accept Friday as the most important day, while the Jews refused, claiming that Saturday was the best day, as Allah created the heavens, the earth and everything else in six days and rested on the seventh. The Christians, too, refused to follow God's command to honor the sixth day, saying that Sunday was the best day. Allah instructed Jesus to allow them to take Sunday as their day of rest, provided that they did so according to certain precepts; however, the Christians did not follow these precepts and their insubordination is mentioned in the Koran. Allah also told Moses to allow the Jews to take Saturday as their day of rest, upon the condition that during it they would refrain from fishing and from all work permitted on weekdays. However, the Jews did not meet these conditions, and therefore, they were punished.

Jews who were transformed into animals are largely identified by Koranic commentary as residents of the village of Iliya,[30] situated on the Red Sea coast. The Koranic commentary tells the story of how Allah made great schools of fish appear on Saturday and disappear before nightfall, to test the Jews' faith and obedience to His commandments. This was too much to bear for the Jews, and they found ways of getting around the divine prohibition against fishing on Saturday. Ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the first Koran commentators, wrote that one Jew secretly caught a fish on Saturday, tied it with a string, and threw it back into the water after tying the string to a stake in the ground. The next day, he pulled the fish in and ate it. When he saw that he was not punished, he repeated his actions on the following Saturday, and on the Saturday after that. Eventually, the neighbors noticed the smell of the fish from his cooking, and began following his example. For a long time they ate in secret, and Allah did not hasten to punish them, but when they began to fish openly and sell their prohibited catches in the markets, they were punished.

Al-Tabari mentions another tactic used by Jews to circumvent the prohibition. One Jew who craved fish dug a pit with a channel leading from it to the sea. On Saturday, he opened the channel so the waves would wash the fish into the pit. On Sunday, the man cooked the fish. The aroma of the cooking fish reached the neighbors, who followed his example, and it soon became common for the Jews to eat fish caught on Saturday. When the sages warned them, they claimed they were fishing on Sunday, when they removed the fish from the pit, and not on Saturday, when they opened the channel.[31]

Not all the Jews acted in the same way. The Koran commentators identify three groups in this context: some of the Jews sinned and violated the divine precept not to fish on Saturday; some warned the sinners of Allah's punishment and forbade them from continuing to do so. The others held their tongues; although they did not eat the fish that the sinners caught on Saturday, they also did not forbid the sinners from sinning.[32]

In such a situation, when the sinners refused to stop sinning, those who followed the divine precept decided that they were unwilling to live in the same village with the sinners and built a wall between them. One day, the sinners were not seen leaving their gate. Those who observed the divine precept climbed the wall and went to check the houses, and found them locked. When they opened the doors, they found that everyone – men, women, and children – were turned into apes. "They locked their houses at night, when people lock themselves in, and awoke as apes."[33] The 13th century Andalusian Koran commentator, Al-Qurtubi,[34] said that the apes identified their human relatives, approached them, smelled their clothes and cried. The humans, in contrast, could not identify their relatives, but told them: "'Didn't we forbid you [from violating the word of God]?' The apes nodded their heads in assent." According to some commentators, the young people of the village became apes while the elderly became pigs.[35]

In his doctoral dissertation "The Sons of Israel in the Koran and in the Muslim Hadith Tradition," Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi explains the Jews' transformation into apes and pigs in the Koran in another way. Tantawi devotes a chapter to the various ways in which Allah punished the sons of Israel, among them changing their form. In explaining Koran verse 5:60, Tantawi says that the Jews asked the Prophet Muhammad what prophets he believed in. The Prophet enumerated Abraham, Ishmail, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes [sic], Moses, and Jesus, and said that he did not differentiate between them. At the mention of Jesus, the Jews denied his prophecy, saying: "We do not believe in Jesus or anyone who believes in Him [that is, Muhammad himself], and we do not think our religion is worse than yours." Against this backdrop, the Koran clarified the evil of the religion of the Jews, whom "Allah cursed and against whom He was wroth, and He turned some of them into apes and pigs."[36]

In his treatise The Life of Animals, the 15th century Egyptian scholar, Al-Damiri,[37] mentions another tradition linking Jews' attitude towards Jesus and the punishment meted out to them. According to this commentarial tradition, Jesus encountered a group of Jews who slandered him and his mother, saying, "Here comes the magician, son of the sorceress." When Jesus heard them he cursed them, and then Allah turned them into pigs.[38] Al-Tabari also presents the Koranic story about Jesus' cursing Jews[39] as explanation for the punishment of turning them into apes.

In his commentary, Al-Tabari provides another explanation for why Jews were turned into pigs. He describes a woman from among the sons of Israel who believed in Allah and fought a holy war against the king of the sons of Israel "for the religion of Allah." Three times she waged war, with people who believed in her and followed her, and three times she was defeated. Her men were wounded and killed, but she managed to escape. After the third attempt, she despaired, and called to Allah: "Had this religion a shield and a savior, You would have already revealed him." It is aid that the woman fell asleep in sadness, and that during the night Allah answered her pleas and turned the villagers into pigs.[40]

B. The Punishment in Practical Terms
Most of the commentators take the writings literally and maintain that the Jews were physically changed into apes and pigs, as explicitly stated in the Koran. Only one Koran commentator, Mujahid,[41 cited by various other interpreters, wrote that the Jews were not physically transformed, but that change was metaphoric, as in Koranic adage about the Jews being like "an ass carrying books"[42] (62:5). According to Mujahid, it was not their external form that was changed; rather their hearts were changed [and their souls came to resemble those of apes]. However, according to the commentators, Mujahid is alone in this view.[43]

Recently, the Hamas monthly Falastin Al-Muslima published a series of articles on how Allah punished Jews. One chapter was devoted to the punishment of transforming them into animals. The series' author, Ibrahim Al-'Ali, takes the approach of most Koran commentators, explaining that the change was actually physical. He writes: "Allah did not mete out the punishment of transformation on any nation besides the Jews. The significance of the punishment is actual change in the image of the Jew, and the perfect transformation from a human condition to a bestial condition – an actual change from human appearance to the form of genuine apes, pigs, mice, and lizards... The transformation was actual, as it is not impossible that the omnipotent Allah, who created man in his human form, would not be capable of changing the Jew from human into animal..."

Al-'Ali cites the tradition in which the Prophet's wife 'Aisha called the Jews "the brothers of apes and pigs." As the tradition goes, "the Jews came to the Prophet and said to him 'Poison be upon you' [which in Arabic sounds close to 'peace be upon you']. The Prophet answered, 'Poison be upon you,' and 'Aisha added, 'Poison be upon you, brothers of apes and pigs, and the curse of Allah and his wrath too be upon you.'"[44]

C. The Logic Behind the Punishment
As the 14th century Koran commentator Ibn Kathir[45] says, every deed has its appropriate recompense. He goes on to explain why Jews were punished by being transformed into apes and pigs: the Jews conspired to fish on Saturday, preparing hooks, nets, and poles ahead of time. When the schools of fish appeared near the shore on Saturday, they were caught by the nets, which the Jews had cleverly devised so that they could not escape that day. In the evening, the Jews came to collect the fish; when they did, Allah turned them into apes, which most closely resemble humans but are not really human. The Jews' actions and subterfuges were outwardly like the truth, but in essence opposed to it – and their reward was thus suited to their deeds.[46

In a chapter of the Hamas monthly Falastin Al-Muslima that discusses the punishment of turning the Jews into animals, Jordanian researcher Dr. Sallah Al-Khaledi explains: "Perhaps the logic of this transformation is that Allah wanted them to be humans who would live as real people and actualize their humanity in the best possible way. But when they rebelled against Allah's laws, they rejected the divine grace, and thus relinquished their humanity and honor and turned spiritually into animals. Then Allah [also] changed their form into apes, and turned them into real animals, [thus] creating a correlation between the spiritual and physical images..."

"Adherence to divine law is one of man's dignified qualities, while rebellion against divine law is the abolition of man's human qualities... Accordingly, an aggressive, oppressing and sinning man relinquishes human qualities in favor of the bestial qualities [within him], and he [becomes] an animal in his soul, in his emotions, and in his traits, even if he is human in his external form... The aggressive and rebellious Jews were apes spiritually and emotionally, in their souls, in their behavior, and in their traits. They are not part of the human race except in their external form, body, senses, and voices. Their transformation by Allah into apes created a correspondence between their real essence and their fo rm."[47]

D. Did the Jews Who Were Transformed Have Offspring?
Another issue on which the Koran commentators and authors of the Adab prose literature focused was whether the Jews who were changed into animals had offspring.

Al-Qurtubi explains that two approaches developed among clerics on this matter. According to the first, all apes today are the offspring of the sons of Israel. This was also the view of Ibn Qutaiba,[48] the important ninth-century scholar and author of famous Adab works, who thought that apes who were originally Jews do reproduce.[49]

According to the second approach, the apes who used to be Jews left no offspring. Therefore, today's apes, pigs, and other animals are the offspring of animals in existence before the divine punishment. Ibn Abbas, for example, maintained that anyone whose form was changed lived for no more than three days and did not eat, drink, or propagate.

Those who believe that today's animals are the offspring of the sons of Israel base their belief on some reliable traditions from the Prophet Muhammad, in which he warned against eating particular animals out of fear that they were originally the sons of Israel. In the tradition in the reliable compilations of Muslim and Al-Bukhari, the following is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: "A group of the sons of Israel, and it is not known what they did, was lost, and I fear that they are mice. Don't you see that when mice are given camel's milk they don't drink it, and when they are given sheep's milk they drink it?" As the 13th century Hadith commentator Al-Nawawi[50] explains, "The flesh and milk of camels are forbidden to the sons of Israel, while the flesh and milk of sheep are not. Therefore, the mice's refraining from drinking camel's milk and their not refraining from drinking sheep's milk proves that they are the sons of Israel in animal form."[51]

Al-Qurtubi also mentions the tradition in Muslim's compilation, according to which a lizard was brought to the Prophet but he refused to eat it, saying, "Perhaps it is of the [people] of the generations whose form was changed." In Falastin Al-Muslima, Ibrahim Al-'Ali also cites traditions in which the Prophet is wary of eating lizards. According to one of the traditions, for example, in the compilation of traditions accepted as reliable by the ninth-century sage Abu Daoud,[52] people in the company of the Prophet caught lizards, roasted them and ate them. One of the roasted lizards was offered to the Prophet, who took a palm frond and with it counted the fingers of the lizard [which looked like a human hand], saying: "A group from among the sons of Israel turned into reptiles, and I do not know, perhaps the [lizard] is of this group." In the tradition appearing in Muslim's compilation, the Prophet was firmer about the origin of lizards. It is said that a Bedouin entreated the Prophet to clarify his position on eating lizards, and the Prophet said: "Allah was angry at one of the tribes of the sons of Israel and turned them into reptiles crawling on the earth. I think that these are them [the lizards]; I don't eat them and I don't prohibit it."

Al-Qurtubi notes that the 12th century Andalusian judge Ibn Al-Arabi[53] adopted the approach that today's animals are the offspring of the sons of Israel, and mentions another tradition underpinning Ibn Al-Arabi's opinion. Some of the versions of Al-Bukhari's compilation of traditions mention the words of Amer bin Maimoun[54]: "During the Jahiliya [pre-Islamic period] I saw a female ape who had committed adultery, and [apes around her] stoning her and I joined them and stoned her too." In Ibn Al-Arabi's view, the animals passed the knowledge of the religious laws [including the law about stoning adulterers] from generation to generation, down to the time of bin Maimoun. He adds that the Jews changed the [law] of stoning and Allah wanted them to uphold it while they were in a different form [i.e. apes].[55]

The Prophet's fear, in various traditions, that mice, lizards and other animals are humans who were transformed, is explained by Al-Qurtubi: This was a hypothesis raised by the Prophet before he received the divine inspiration that made it clear to him that Allah did not give offspring to such humans in changed form. After he got this inspiration, he was no longer fearful, and stated: "Allah did not destroy people or torment them [and at the same time] give them offspring. The apes and the pigs [we see today] existed before." According to Al-Qurtubi, this tradition is most reliable, and it appears in Muslim's compilation of traditions. He adds that the tradition about eating lizards in the Prophet's presence and at his table without [the Prophet's] condemnation proves that they are not the offspring of the sons of Israel.[56]

Like Al-Qurtubi, Ibrahim Al-'Ali prefers the approach according to which Jews punished by transformation to animals had no offspring. In Falastin Al-Muslima, he writes that Jews who were turned into apes, pigs, lizards, and mice were also punished by not being able to reproduce. "They existed in the world for as long as Allah wanted, and then he made them extinct without their leaving offspring. Remaining [in the world] were the apes, pigs, and other animals which had existed before [the divine punishment]... and it is they who propagated and left offspring..."

But, Al-'Ali goes on to explain, "the extinction of Jews punished with transformation does not mean that their punishment had ended. The punishment left its impression in the souls of the Jews who came after them: their spirit, their opinions, their feelings, and their ways of thought – which are reflected in face and external appearance – became like their nature and like the appearance of apes and pigs, and this profoundly affected their ways of behavior."

In Falastin Al-Muslima, Ibrahim Al-'Ali presents "scientific" proof for the claim that Jews were punished in this way by Allah. He states that Jews invented the theory of evolution in order to rid themselves of the shame of the ancient punishment: "... Since Jews felt disgrace and shame because of this special punishment, that changed them into the brothers of apes and pigs, they attempted to dispel this accusation from themselves, with the help of the satanic thought that guided them in despising the entire human race by saying that [man's] origin was in animals, and that it developed over time from an ape to human form, by means of the theory... of the Jewish ape Darwin."[57]

Associating Jews with apes, pigs, and other animals, which is widespread in the Arab and Muslim world among both Shi'ites and Sunnis, is firmly grounded in the most important Islamic religious sources, and also has roots in the folklore of other, ancient peoples. This idea has been used not only in religious writings but also in prose and fiction, both in the past and today.

*Aluma Solnick is a Research Associate with MEMRI.

Note: All links provided were accurate at the time of publishing but may no longer be so.

[1] www.palestine-info/arabic/palestoday/readers/mashhoor/22_4_01.htm.


[3], April 19, 2002.

[4], Undated.

[5] Palestine Television, Palestinian Authority, August 3, 2001.


[7] see

[8] Iqraa Television, Saudi Arabia/Egypt, May 7, 2002.

[9] From official transcript, Al-Jazeera TV, Qatar, May 15, 2001.

[10] Al-Ahrar (Egypt), May 30, 2000.

[11] The Arab term for this kind of physical transformation is maskh, meaning "change of external form to a more abhorrent form." See Lissan Al-Arab, "Maskh."

[12] Muslim bin Al-Hajjaj (died 875) and Muhammad bin Isma'il Al-Bukhari (died 870).

[13] According to Koran commentators, this is a reference to the punishment of transformation into apes banished [from the divine] good, humiliated and despised.

[14] Elsewhere, the Koran speaks in general of the transformation of the infidels (non-Muslims): "If we so will, we may change them (la masakhnhum) where they are…" (36:67) It should be noted that this is the only place in the Koran where the term maskh is used, and that this term refers to a change in form that takes place on Judgment Day. This concept was not always linked to the idea of punishment by transformation into apes and pigs. The first Koran commentators were divided regarding the maskh awaiting sinners, offering a number of possibilities such as transformation into stones, laming, or crippling in the legs and arms. In the Hadith literature, too, there is a tradition depicting an eschatological maskh with no mention of apes and pigs. Most of the traditions concerning future maskh describe a threefold catastrophe heralding Judgment Day: the earth will split open and swallow the sinners (hasf), [rocks] will be thrown [from the sky] (qadhf), and there will be transformation into a lower life form (maskh). Sometimes there are also mentions of an earthquake (rajf) in this context. An examination of the historical background of the appearance of these traditions shows that they emerged during the civil wars among the Muslims in the Umayyad period. The great distress of that time cultivated a sense of impending apocalypse, which in turn gave rise to traditions that anticipated the end of the world and Judgment Day. See Uri Rubin, "Apes, Pigs, and the Islamic Identity," Israel Oriental Studies XVII (1997), pp. 89-93.

[15] Omar bin Bahar Al-Jahiz (died 869).

[16] Al-Jahiz, Omar bin Bahar, Kitab Al-Hayawan.

[17] Muhammad bin Jarir Al-Tabari, died 923.

[18] Al-Tabari, 5:115. Other sources tell that an Israelite tribe that manifested undue skepticism when the miracle of the table was vouch-saved to Jesus, was turned into lizards. See: M. Cook, "Early Islamic dietary law," in Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam (JSAI) 7(1986), 223.

[19] A tradition mentioned, for example, in the book by Fakhr Al-Din bin Muhammad Al-Tarihi (died 1087) Majma' Al-Bahrain. See

[20] Uri Rubin, "Apes, Pigs, and the Islamic Identity," pp. 93-102 It should be noted that even today, Islamic preachers deter their congregations from transgressions such as drinking wine, singing and playing music with Hadiths threatening the sinners' that they will be transformed into apes and pigs. Sermons of this kind are not as common as sermons mentioning Jews as the offspring of these animals, but are more common than sermons referring to Christians in this context. See for example the sermon of the Sudanese preacher Muhammad Abd Al-Karim on singing,

[21] At the battle of Karbala (680), the grandson of the Prophet and his men were murdered. This gave the Shi'ite movement its aura of martyrdom. The tradition of the four-eyed dog is taken from "Maskh," Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition, 737.

[22] See the Web site of the Iranian Sunni League:

[23] It is interesting that the case of Lot's wife's transformation is not mentioned in the Koran's version of the story of Lot (Koran 11:81).

[24] See Ch. Pellat, "Maskh," Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition, 736-738

[25] Sandedrin tractate, 11:109a.

[26] See F. Viré, "Kird," Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition.

[27] Ilse Lichtenstadter, "And become ye accursed apes," in Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam (JSAI), 14 (1991), pp. 162-175.

[28] F. Viré, "Kird," Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition.

[29] M. Cook. "Early Islamic dietary law," JSAI 7(1986), 223-233.

[30] Ibn Kathir (7:166) explains that Iliya is situated on the coast between Egypt and Al-Madina. According to Al-Damiri, Iliya is between Midian and Al-Tur. Other places identified in the commentary with "the village on the coast" are "Median" situated between Iliya and Al-Tur (see Al-Tabari 2:65, Ibn Kathir 2:65 or Tiberias.

[31] Ilse Lichtenstadter identifies two Jewish folklore motifs that apparently influenced Al-Tabari's explanation of the punishment. One is the legend of the Leviathan and the Sambation River: In the Torah, God uses the Leviathan to defeat the enemies of his people, and in the Talmud, the Baba Batra tractate (746) tells how the Leviathan was slaughtered by God for food for the righteous in the Hereafter. With regard to the Sambation River, it is told that it is a river full of sand and rocks that rushes and surges during the week but is quiet on Saturday. According to another version, the river is quiet during the week and rises on Saturday. It would seem that it is the version in which the river rises on Saturday which underpins Al-Tabari's commentary, because the schools of fish arrived on Saturday but not during the week. See Ilse Lichtenstadter, "And become ye accursed apes," in JSAI, 14(1991), pp. 159-161.

[32] Two commentator positions emerged on the matter of what happened to the Jews who neither fished nor prevented the others from fishing. According to one view, only the actual sinners were changed into animals, and they were then destroyed; the other two groups that did not sin, whether actively or passively, were not. According to the second view, only those who explicitly spoke out against and forbade the sin were saved, and those who remained passive were also transformed. See, for example, 7:166.

[33] Al-Tabari 2:65, Ibn Kathir 2:65.

[34] Ibn Farrah Al-Qurtubi (b. 1273).

[35] Al-Qurtubi 2:65.

[36] Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, "The Sons of Israel in the Koran and Muslim tradition," Cairo: Dar Al-Shurouq, Second Edition (2000), pp. 695-697.

[37] Kamal Al-Din Al-Damiri (b. 1405).

[38] Al-Damiri, Kamal Al-Din, Hayat Al-Hayawan, Vol. I, 386.

[39] According to Al-Tabari's commentary on 5:78: "Those of the children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by David and by Jesus, son of Mary; that was because they disobeyed and were given to transgression..." See Al-Tabari 2:65.

[40] Al-Tabari 5:60.

[41] Mujahid bin Jaber Al-Maki (died circa 718-722).

[42] "The case of those who were made subject to the Law of the Torah, but did not carry out their obligations under it, is like that of a donkey carrying a load of books. Evil is the case of the people who reject the Signs of Allah, and Allah guides not the wrongdoing people." (62:5).

[43] Al-Tabari, 2:65, Ibn Kathir, 2:65, Al-Qurtubi 2:65.

[44] Falastin Al-Muslima (London), September 1996, pp. 54-55.

[45] Isma'il bin Amer Ibn Kathir (died 1373).

[46] Ibn Kathir, 2:65.

[47] Falastin Al-Muslima (London), September 1996, pp. 54-55.

[48] Muhammad bin Abdallah Ibn Qutaiba (b. 889).

[49] "Maskh," Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition , 737.

[50] Yahyah Al-Nawawi (b. 1277).

[51] This interpretation appears in Ibrahim Al-'Ali's article in Falestin Al-Muslima, September 1996, pp. 54-55.

[52] Abu Daoud Al-Sijistani (b. 889).

[53] Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Arabi (b. 1148).

[54] One of the important men of the second generation of supporters of the Prophet in the city of Kufa.

[55]Al-Qurtubi expresses reservations about this tradition, claiming that perhaps it "is one of the things that was attributed forcibly to Al-Bukhari." He says that some scholars doubt that anyone not obligated by the religious precepts can commit adultery [that is, apes], and thus God's punishments apply also to animals. He adds that "If this is true, [and the female ape was stoned by the other apes], she was from among the demons [jinn], because the ritual precepts apply to man and Jinn alone."

[56] Al-Qurtubi, 2:65.

[57] Falastin Al-Muslima (London), September 1996, pp. 54-55.

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