After initially maintaining an attitude of indifference and neutrality, the Jews gradually began to show their hatred and rancor against Islam. In the beginning they steered a middle course between the Muslims and the pagans and the Arab tribes of Makkah and Madinah; or, were rather inclined towards the Muslims. The Jews of Madinah had, in the beginning, felt closer to the Muslims having found a striking resemblance of their own religious beliefs to such fundamental teachings of Islam ‐ such as prophecy and Prophet hood, belief in the Hereafter, Unity of Allah, ‐ and their own faith. This is notwithstanding the differences in detail as well as the fact that undue veneration of certain Prophets (alaihimus salaam) and adoption of pagan customs through their age‐old association with heathens had beclouded their pristine faith in monotheism. It was thus reasonably expected that if they did not side with the Muslims, they would at least remain nonpartisan.
At any rate, Islam testified the divine origin of scriptures and called upon the Muslims to have faith in all the Hebrew Prophets peace be and blessings upon him. This was later to become a fundamental tenet of faith in Islam as affirmed by the succeeding Qur’anic verse:
“Each one believeth in Allah and His Angels and His scriptures and His messengers ‐ We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” [Qur'an 2:285]
Would that the Jews had understood the conciliatory mood of Islam; had it been so, the history of Islam or rather that of the world would have been entirely different today. Then Islam would not have faced the impediments it had to encounter in the dissemination of its message,
especially in its initial stages, resulting from the strife between the early Muslims armed only with the strength of their faith and the powerful and influential, educated as well as wealthy Jews of old.
This enmity can be attributed to two causes. One of these was envy and covetousness, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Had there been a political leader in place of the Prophet of Allah peace be and blessings upon him he would have tactfully met the Jews halfway, especially in view of their importance in the tangled politics of Madinah. Even if it were not possible to placate the Jews, a national leader would have at least avoided setting them at odds against him by concealing his ultimate objective. But, as Messenger of Allah peace be and blessings upon him, he had to proclaim the truth, interdict what was forbidden and
countenance no vestiges of evil and peccantliness. He had been saddled with the responsibility to deliver the message of Allah to the whole World throughout all races and nations including the Jews and Christians as well as to invite them to accept Islam regardless of its costs or consequences. This was really the path taken by all the Prophets of old‐‐a distinctive mark only akin to them, one which is in no way followed and cherished by politicians and national leaders alike.
But, this was what the Jews detested most for it struck at the very roots of their beliefs and outlook, leading them to become hostile to Islam and the Muslims. They gave up their earlier policy of steering the middle course and decided to oppose Islam in every way possible, openly as
well as through intrigues. Israel Welphenson, quoted here, has been frank and straightforward in his analysis of the reasons for ill will between the Jews and the Muslims.
“If the teachings of the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him had been restricted only to the denunciation of idolatry and the Jews had not
been called upon to acknowledge his Prophet hood, there would have been no conflict between the Jews and the Muslims. The Jews might have then commended and acclaimed the Prophet’s doctrine of monotheism and backed him or even supported him with men and other
material resources until he had succeeded in destroying the idols and effacing polytheistic creed rampant in Arabia. But this depended on the condition that he left the Jews and their religion well enough alone and not demanded the acceptance of the new Prophethood. For the bent of Jewish temperament cannot take kindly to anything that tries to seduce it from its faith, they can never acknowledge any Prophet save one belonging to Bani Israel.” (Al‐Yahud fi Balad il‐‘Arab, p. 123).
The Jews were further shocked and agitated when some of their learned rabbis like ‘Abdullah Salam, whom they held in high esteem, embraced Islam. The Jews could never imagine that a man of his stature and erudition would accept the new faith. Thus, this only served to make the Jews all the more annoyed and jealous of the Religion.
The animosity of the Jews against Islam was not such as to be content with defying or putting up a bold front against it. Although Muslims shared their faith in monotheism, it was only but logical as well as reasonable to expect that if the Jews were called upon to give their verdict on the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him’s faith vis‐a‐vis the idolatrous creed of the Quraysh, they would speak well of Islam.
They would cite the soundness of its belief in one God against the multiplicity of deities taken for granted by the pagans of Makkah. But their hatred against Islam had so infuriated them that they were even willing to deny that gospel truth. Once, when some of the rabbis went to
Makkah, the Quraysh asked them whether their idolatrous religion or that of the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him was better, to which they answered: “Your religion is better off than his and you are more rightly‐guided than them.” The comment of Dr. Israel Welphenson on the reply given by the Jews is worth repeating here.
“But, surely, the thing for which they deserved to be reproached and which would be painful to all those who believe in the Unity of Allah. Whether they be Jews and pagan Quraishites wherein they had given preference to the religion of the Quraysh over what had been brought
by the Prophet of Islam.” (Al Yahud fi Balad il‐‘Arab, p. 142).
The same writer further goes on to say:
“Deception, mendicity and similar means for entrapping the enemy have been sanctioned by the nations for achieving a military objective in times of warfare. Yet the Jews ought not to have committed the grievous mistake of declaring roundly that adoration of idols was preferable to the Islamic faith in the Unity of Allah. Not even if they feared to miss the distinction by doing so. For Bani Israel had, in the name of their forefathers, held aloft the banner of Allah’s Unity for ages amidst heathen nations of the old, had all along braved innumerable trials and tribulations and gone through fire and blood for its sake. It was their bounden duty to sacrifice their lives and whatever they held dear to humble the idolaters and polytheists.“ (Al‐Yahud fi Balad il‐‘Arab, p. 142).
As a matter of fact, the situation was sufficiently serious so as to warrant a reference in the Qur’an:
“Hast You not seen those unto whom a portion of the Scripture hath been given, how they believe in idols and false deities and how they say those (Idolaters) who disbelieve: These are more rightly guided than those who believe?” [Qur'an 4:51].