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YAHŪD , collective noun and appellative for Jews in pre-Islamic Arabian poetry, the *Koran, and Islamic literature, cognate with the less common plural hūd and the uniquely Koranic hāda, a verb that means "to be Jewish" or "to practice Judaism." For the most part Yahūd is used to describe either the Jews of, or slightly preceding, *Muhammad's time or Jews living anywhere between then and the time of the writer employing the term. This is in distinction to the equally widespread Banū Isrā'īl which – with some significant exceptions in the Koran and its commentaries, where it refers to Muhammad's Jewish contemporaries – generally indicates ancient Israelites from the period of the patriarchs and the exodus from *Egypt all the way down to Jesus and the destruction of the Second Temple (and thus this designation often includes Christians). A third term, ahl al-kitāb (people of the book, scriptuaries), is essentially a timeless epithet for the Jewish people (though it, too, frequently encompasses Christianity). While the latter two labels are sometimes employed in neutral or even positive contexts, the Yahūd are almost invariably portrayed as evildoers.

According to Islamic tradition Muhammad first came into consistent contact with Jews after the hijra – the emigration of the fledgling Muslim community from Mecca to Yathrib/Madīna (*Medina) in 622 c.e. – where a number of Jewish tribes (chief among them the Banū *Qaynuqā', *Naḍīr, and *Qurayẓa) had once dominated, but now were dominated by, the pagan Aws and Khazraj. Though at the beginning Muhammad wooed the Jews – including them in his "Contract of Madīna," adopting many of their rites, and presenting himself as the successor to the illustrious line of biblical prophets – their unwillingness to accept his new dispensation (and their frequent mocking of the same) soon soured relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities. After the Battle of Badr (624 c.e.) the Banū Qaynuqā' were exiled from Madīna and their property confiscated in punishment for alleged fifth-column activity, and the Banū Naḍīr shared their fate the following year in the wake of the Battle of Uḥud. The Banū Qurayẓa were dealt with far more harshly following the Battle of the Trench (627 c.e.), their 800 or so men publicly executed in the center of town and their women and children sold into slavery. In 628 c.e. the northern Jewish fortress of Khaybar, whither many members of the exiled tribes had fled, was reduced by Muslim forces. The survivors were allowed to remain on their land in exchange for a tribute consisting of half the annual produce. (Muhammad married the wife of the "king of Khaybar" – the 17-year-old Ṣafiyyah – after torturing her husband to death for not revealing the whereabouts of his treasure. This was his second wife of Jewish origins.) The Jews of Khaybar were finally expelled after Muhammad's demise by the second caliph, 'Omar, in fulfillment of Muhammad's dying injunction that "two religions shall not coexist in Arabia."

The portrayal of Jewish norms and historiography in Islamic classical literature ranges from the impressively accurate (including near verbatim recapitulations of biblical and midrashic passages and relatively sophisticated rehearsals of talmudic sugyot) to the confused, propagandistic, and fantastic (Jews excise urine-splattered flesh, pluck each other's eyes out in retribution, are enjoined by the Torah to forgo booty in war, and believe Ezra is the son of God as Christians believe Jesus is the son of God; Jewish law forbids the consumption of geese and ducks, prohibits the use of sand for purification if water cannot be found, and commands its adherents to slaughter a yellow heifer if an unidentified corpse is found in a field; the Second Temple was destroyed by Antiochus, the shekhinah was the head of a dead cat, the messiah is known in Jewish tradition as al-dajjāl ("the deceiver"), King David had one hundred wives and Moses accompanied his people into the promised land). With rare exceptions, the Jews are perceived in Muslim literature as the historical epitome of excess and evil and – having been abandoned by God as a result of such noxious traits – also the model of misery. They may be said to function as the emblem of all that Muslims should not be, a kind of sunna (exemplary tradition) in reverse. They will ever be Islam's nemesis (far more so than the Christians), until they are ultimately defeated and destroyed in the Eschaton.


A. Geiger, Judaism and Islam (trans. F.M. Young) (1970); S.D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts through the Ages (1955), esp. chap. 4; C. Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible (1996); H. Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds (1992); B. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an: An Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (2002); U. Rubin, Between Bible and Qur'an: The Children of Israel and the Islamic Self-Image (1999); G. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet: A Reconstruction of the Earliest Biography of Muhammad (1989); N. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (1979); G. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia: From Ancient Times to their Eclipse Under Islam (1988); M. Cohen and A. Udovitch, Jews among Arabs: Contacts and Boundaries (1989); S. Wasserstrom, Between Muslims and Jews: The Problem of Symbiosis under Early Islam (1995).

[Z.A. Maghen (2nd ed.)]