Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Brief History From the Muslim Perspective

Following is an excerpt taken from Tamim Ansary’s book Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes pg. 320-324. Please note that the title here is my own and Ansary put this piece under the chapter ‘The Crisis of Modernity’.

The most problematic single territory for the competing claims of nationalism versus nation-statism was Palestine, soon to be known as Israel. Before and during World War II, the Nazis’ genocidal attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe confirmed the worst fears of Zionists and gave their argument for a sovereign Jewish homeland overwhelming moral weight, especially since the Nazis were not the only anti-Semites in Europe, only the most extreme. The fascists of Italy visited horrors upon Italian Jews, the French puppet government set up by the Germans hunted down French Jews for their Nazi masters, the Poles and other Eastern Europeans collaborated enthusiastically in operating death camps, Great Britain had its share of anti-Semites, Spain, Belgium – no part of Europe could honestly claim innocence of the crime committed against the Jews in this period. Millions of Jews were trapped in Europe and perished there. All who could get away escaped in whatever direction lay open. Boatloads of Jewish refugees ended up drifting over the world’s seas, looking for places to land. A few were able to make their way to the United States and resettle there, but even the united States imposed strict quotas on Jewish immigration, presumably because a single country could absorb only so many immigrants of any one group; but just perhaps some anti-Semitism was mixed into that policy as well.

The one place where the refugees could land was Palestine. There, earlier immigrants had bought land, planted settlements, and developed some infrastructure of support. Toward that slender hope of safety, therefore, the refugees headed, overcoming heroic hardships to begin building a new nation in an ancient land inhabited by their ancestors. Such was the shape of the story from the Jewish side.

From the Arab side, the story looked different. The Arabs had long been living under two layers of domination by outsiders, the first layer being the Turks, the next the Turks’ European bosses. Then, in the wake of World War I, amidst all the rhetoric about “self-rule” and all the hope aroused by Wilson’s Fourteen Points, their land was flooded by new settlers from Europe, who slogan was said to be “a land without a people for a people without a land” – an alarming slogan for people living in the “land without a people.”

The new European immigrants didn’t seize land by force; they bought the land they settled; but they bought it mostly from absentee landlords, so they ended up living among landless peasants who felt doubly dispossessed by the aliens crowding in among them. What happened just before and during World War II in Palestine resembled what happened earlier in Algeria when French immigrants bought up much of the land and planted a parallel economy there, rendering the original inhabitants irrelevant. By 1945, the Jewish population of Palestine almost equaled the Arab population. If one were to translate that influx of newcomers to the American context, it would be as if 150 million refugees flooded in within a decade. How could that not lead to turmoil?

In the context of the European narrative, the Jews were victims. In the context of the Arab narrative, they were colonizers with much the same attitudes toward the indigenous population as their fellow Europeans. As early as 1862, a German Zionist, Moses Hess, had drummed up support for political Zionism by proposing that “the state the Jews would establish in the heart of the Middle East would serve Western imperial interests and at the same time help bring Western civilization to the backward East.” The seminal Zionist Theodor Herzl wrote that a Jewish state in Palestine would “form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” In 1914, Chaim Weitzman wrote a letter to the Manchester Guardian stating that if a Jewish settlement could be established in Palestine “we could have in twenty or thirty years a million Jews out there…They would develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal.” Arabs who saw the Zionist project as European colonialism in thin disguise were not inventing a fantasy out of whole cloth: Zionists saw the project that way too, or at least represented it as as such to the imperialist powers whose support they needed.

In 1936, strikes and riots broke out among the Arabs of Palestine, serving notice that the situation was spiraling out of control. In a clumsy effort to placate the Arabs, Great Britain issued an order limiting further Jewish immigration to Palestine, but this order came in 1939, with World War II about to break out and the horrors of Nazism fully manifest to European Jews: there was no chance that Jewish refugees would comply with the British order; it would have been suicidal. Instead, militant organizations sprang up among the would-be Jewish settlers, and since they were a dispossessed few fighting the world-straddling British Empire, some of these militant Jewish groups resorted to the archetypal strategy of the scattered weak against the well-organized mighty: hit and run raids, sabotage, random assassinations, bombings of places frequented by civilians – in short, terrorism.

In 1946, the underground Jewish militant group Haganah bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing ninety-one ordinary civilians, the most destructive single act of terrorism until 1988, when Libyan terrorists brought down a civilian airliner, Pan Am Flight 103, over Scotland, killing 270.

The horrors of Nazism proved the Jewish need for a secure place of refuge, but Jews did not come to Palestine pleading for refuge so much as claiming entitlement. They insisted they were not begging for a favor but coming home to land that was theirs by right. They based their claim on the fact that their ancestors had lived there until the year 135 CE and that even in diaspora they had never abandoned hope of returning. “Next year in Jerusalem” was part of the Passover service, a key cultural and religious rite in Judaism. According to Jewish doctrine, God had given the disputed land to the Hebrews and their descendants as part of His covenant with Abraham, Arabs, of course, were not persuaded by a religious doctrine that assigned the land they inhabited to another people, especially since the religion was not theirs.

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States led efforts to create new political mechanisms for keeping the peace, one of which was the United Nations. Palestine was just the sort of issue the United Nations was designed to resolve. In 1947, therefore, the United Nations crafted a proposal to end the quarrel by dividing the disputed territory and creating two new nations. Each competing part would get three patches of curiously interlocking land, and Jerusalem would be a separate international city belonging to neither side. The total territories of the proposed new nations, Israel and Palestine, would be roughly equal. Essentially, the United Nations was saying ,”It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong; let’s just divide the land and move on.” This is the sort of solution that adults typically impose on quarreling children.

But Arabs could not agree that both sides had a point and that the truth lay somewhere in the middle: they felt that a European solution was being imposed on them for a European problem, or more precisely that Arabs were being asked to sacrifice their land as compensation for a crime visited by Europeans on Europeans. The Arabs of surrounding lands sympathized with their fellows in Palestine and saw their point; the world at large did not. When the matter was put to a vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations, the vast majority of non-Muslim countries voted yes to partition.

Most Arabs had no personal stake in the actual issue: the birth of Israel would not strip an Iraqi farmer of his land or keep some Moroccan shopkeeper from prospering in his business – yet most Arabs and indeed most Muslims could wax passionate about who got Palestine. Why? Because the emergence of Israel had emblematic meaning for them. It meant that Arabs (and Muslims generally) had no power, that imperialists could take any part of their territory, and that no one outside the Muslim world would side with them against a patent injustice. The existence of Israel signified European dominance over Muslims, Arab and non-Arab, and over the people of Asia and Africa generally. That’s how it looked from almost any point between the Indus and Istanbul.

On May 15, 1948, Israel declared itself born. Immediately, Arab armies attacked from three sides, determined to crush the new country before it could take its first breath. But instead, Israel did the crushing, routing the armies of its three Arab adversaries, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, and so it was Palestine, not Israel, that became the stillborn child. When the war ended, a war that Israel remembers as their War of Independence but that Arabs called the Catastrophe, some seven hundred thousand Arabs found themselves homeless and stateless, living as refugees in the neighboring Arab countries. The lands that were supposed to become Palestine were annexed (mostly by Jordan). The bulk of the Arab refugees collected on the West Bank of the Jordan River, where they seethed and stewed and sometimes staged small raids into the land that had once been theirs.

In the aftermath of the war of 1948, the Arabs lost the public relations battle even more drastically than they had lost their land. For one thing, some prominent Arabs publicly and constantly disputed Israel’s “right to exist.” They were speaking within the framework of the nationalist argument: Zionists wanted Israel to exist, the Arabs of Palestine wanted Palestine to exist, and since they claimed the same territory, both could not exist: the assertion of each nation’s “right to exist” was inherently a denial of the other nation’s “right to exist.” But in the shadow of the Nazis’ attempted genocide, asserting that Israel had no right to exist sounded like saying, “Jews have no right to exist.”

To make matters worse, at least one Arab notable made no bones about actually endorsing Nazi anti-Semitism. This was the Mufti of Jerusalem, who had lived in Nazi Germany during the war and now spouted racism from many pulpits including his radio broadcasts. The weight of world opinion, the tone of media reporting, and the rantings of Arabs such as this mufti subtly conflated the Arab cause with Nazism in the public mind, especially in the West. Arabs not only lost the argument about the land but in the process became the Bad Guys who deserved to lose their land. This combination of feeling wronged and feeling vilified fed a spiraling resentment that rotted into the very anti-Semitism of which Muslims stood accused.

Caliphate of the Rightly Guided Caliphs vs the Umayyads


Map of Expansion of the Caliphates

The rightly guided caliphate was the period of spread of Islam to various corners of the world. The companions and the soldiers of Allah fought for the cause of Allah and to spread the revealed word of Allah to the far corners of the world. The four guided caliphs were not interested in worldly interests but preservation of the religion of Allah and abiding by the teachings of Muhammad (pbuh). As for Banu Umayyah, the love of the world had crept into their hearts and they transformed the honorable system of caliphate into a kingship. They began to indulge in worldly pursuits and the chasing of power. This alienated them from the common people especially the Islamic scholars, who would avoid them.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said, “The caliphate of Prophecy will last thirty years; then Allah will give the kingdom to whom He wishes” (Abu Dawud). This is exactly what happened because after thirty years, the Umayyad dynasty took over and the caliphate system began to resemble the kingdoms of emperors and kings where the son inherits power from the father. This was the first most controversial difference between the first four caliphs and the Umayyad dynasty. This step was initiated by Mu’awiyah, the first Umayyad Caliph. Before him during the time of the rightly guided caliphs, the leader would be chosen by his peers or appointed by the previous caliph. But this changed when Mu’awiyah appointed his son Yazid to be caliph before his death. This was a new and alien concept never practiced before in Islam where a father appoints his own son, thereby, becoming a monarchy (Kuiper, 2012). Many of the companions contested to this, such as, Hussein, Ibn Umar, Ibn Zubayr, and others. They did not want the Islamic caliphate to turn into hereditary empires like the Romans and Persians. This very controversy led to another thing which never existed before: a second caliphate existing simultaneously in Mecca by Ibn Zubayr.

Another difference between the earlier righteous caliphate and the later Umayyad leadership was that the former focused on expansion due to concern for spreading the word and religion of Allah all across the world, whereas, the latter focused on secular issues and securing their own power interests. They began to focus on administrative concerns and trying to manage the large empire that was under their control even at the expense of ignoring religious concerns, which bothered many devout Muslims (Nawwab, Speers, & Hoye, 1968, p. 57). A brother would turn against brother, an uncle against nephew to try and remove power from one and secure it for himself. Execution of political opponents became a common phenomenon (Najibabadi, 2001, p. 119 & 166). Rather than trying to secure leadership of the next caliph to a worthy person, which was the way of the rightly guided caliphs, the Umayyad kings would do everything in their power to assure the success of their own sons to inherit it after them. Perhaps this is why after 90 years of leadership, they “rarely shook off their empire’s reputation as a mulk – that is, a worldly kingdom” (Nawwab, Speers, & Hoye, 1968, p. 63).

Another difference between the first four caliphs and the Umayyad dynasty was that the latter used money to secure power and influence people (Najibabadi, 2001, p. 253). They lived lavish lives and threw heavy loads of wealth on people to keep them content so that they will not oppose their leadership. They would even offer provinces for rule to opponents provided they accept the right of caliphate for the Umayyads and would be under them in hierarchy (Najibabadi, 2001, pp. 251-253). The first four caliphs, however, were beyond such petty politics. They took utmost care in ensuring that the public treasury is not used for personal gain. They would only take from it what was necessary to survive and even then would feel guilty about it. They would utilize the wealth that Allah granted them through conquests for what benefits Islam and the Muslims. This is because they were trained under the guardianship of the best man to walk the face of the earth: Muhammad (pbuh) (Najibabadi, 2001, p. 22). He had instilled within them a strong desire for the afterlife and Allah’s pleasure. Having lived a life of kufr and then converted, they appreciated the gift of Islam and did not take it for granted.

However, not everything about the Umayyad dynasty was bad. They had some good aspects as well. For example, the Umayyad Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz was an exception to all of the other caliphs. He was brought up in Medina around pious Muslim scholars and was a devout Muslim. When he came into power, he reversed many of the corrupt policies of the Umayyads particularly their obsession with worldly gains. He discontinued impermissible practices, such as, imposing of a poll tax on converts. Umar bin Abdul Aziz wanted to bring the government back to the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Because of his justice, he was well liked even by his enemies (Nawwab, Speers, & Hoye, 1980, p. 60). A descendent of Umar bin Al-Khattab through his mother, he had justice in his blood. He paid no attention to tribal loyalties as his predecessors and treated all Muslims equally (‘Umar II, 2007). He was liked by all segments of the Muslim society including his critics. (Kuiper, 2012)

In conclusion, the first four caliphs led an exemplary lifestyle as foretold by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). They did not waste their time chasing the worldly pleasures, rather, they focused on expanding the message of Islam far and wide and keep justice throughout the empire. They made sure to follow the example laid out to them by their beloved prophet and did not turn away from his teachings. The Umayyad dynasty, however, was completely self-centered and focused on expansion for the purpose of obtaining territory and wealth. They used this obtained fortune for self-interests or as bribes. The people did not view them as devout like the first four, rather, corrupt, stingy, vengeful, and unjust. Umar bin Abdul Aziz was their only caliph that tried to revive the earlier methodology of the first four caliphs among them, however, after his demise they went back to their old ways.


Kuiper, K. (Ed.). (2012, August 17). Umayyad Dynasty. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Najibabadi, A. S. (2001). The History of Islam (Vol. II). Riyadh: Darussalam.

Nawwab, I. I., Speers, P. C., & Hoye, P. F. (Eds.). (1968). Aramco and Its World—Arabia and the Middle East. Washington, D.C.: Arabian American Oil Company.

‘Umar II. (2007, July 11). Retrieved December 10, 2016, from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Some Intresting Facts About Islam in the United States


Following are details about Islam in America which I found very interesting in the Wikipedia article Islam in the United States. The sources for the facts are given in the original article on Wikipedia. I’ve only hand picked certain facts which I found intriguing. Some of the facts are from other articles linked from this original piece. I haven’t really found anything which seems way too out there but if someone does, then please let me know in the comments section below and I will be more than happy to remove it. Please let me know the source as well.

  • It is the third largest religion in the United States after Christianity and Judaism.
  • According to a new estimate in 2016, there are 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, about 1% of the total U.S. population
  • Muslims are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States.
  • Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population.
  • One of the earliest accounts of Islam’s presence in North America dates to 1528, when a Moroccan slave, called Estevanico by his Spanish masters, was shipwrecked near present-day Galveston, Texas. He and four survivors subsequently traveled through much of the American southwest and the Mexican interior before reaching Mexico City.
  • One of the first documented Muslims in North America was Anthony Janszoon van Salee (1607–1676), a landholder and merchant of mixed Dutch-Moor descent who settled in New Netherlands (modern New York) in the 17th century. His father, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, was a convert to Islam and tried very hard to convert his fellow Europeans who were Christian to become Muslim and was a very passionate Muslim missionary. Anthony had four daughters and one of them was named Sara, who married John Emans. They are fifth great-grandparents of Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1921, until his death. Anthony’s notable descendants include the Vanderbilt dynasty as well, who were once the wealthiest family in America. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest American in history until his death in 1877. After that, his son William acquired his father’s fortune, and was the richest American until his death in 1885. The Vanderbilts’ prominence lasted until the mid-20th century. Branches of the family are found on the United States East Coast. Contemporary descendants include fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, her youngest son, journalist Anderson Cooper, musician John P. Hammond, screenwriter James Vanderbilt and actor Timothy Olyphant.
  • Records from the American Revolutionary War indicate that at least a few Muslims fought on the American side. Among the recorded names of American soldiers are “Yusuf ben Ali” and “Bampett Muhamed”.
  • Historians estimate that between 15 and 30 percent of all enslaved African men and less than 15 percent of the enslaved African women were Muslims. These enslaved Muslims stood out from their compatriots because of their “resistance, determination and education”. Some newly arrived Muslim slaves assembled for communal salat (prayers). Some were provided a private praying area by their owner.
  • The two best documented Muslim slaves were Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Omar Ibn Said. Suleiman was brought to America in 1731 and returned to Africa in 1734. Like many Muslim slaves, he often encountered impediments when attempting to perform religious rituals and was eventually allotted a private location for prayer by his master. Omar Ibn Said (ca. 1770–1864) is among the best documented examples of a practicing-Muslim slave. He lived on a colonial North Carolina plantation and wrote many Arabic texts while enslaved. Born in the kingdom of Futa Tooro (modern Senegal), he arrived in America in 1807, one month before the U.S. abolished importation of slaves. Some of his works include the Lords Prayer, the Bismillah, this is How You Pray, Quranic phases, the 23rd Psalm, and an autobiography. In 1857, he produced his last known writing on Surah 110 of the Quran. In 1819, Omar received an Arabic translation of the Christian Bible from his master, James Owen. Omar converted to Christianity in 1820, an episode widely used throughout the South to “prove” the benevolence of slavery. However, some scholars believe he continued to be a practicing Muslim, based on dedications to Muhammad written in his Bible.
  • Prior to the late 19th century, most documented non-enslaved Muslims in North America were merchants, travelers, and sailors.
  • In 1785, George Washington stated a willingness to hire “Mahometans,” as well as people of any nation or religion, to work on his private estate at Mount Vernon if they were “good workmen”.
  • In 1776, John Adams published “Thoughts on Government,” in which he mentions the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth” alongside Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and other thinkers.
  • In 1797, President John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, declaring the United States had no “character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen.”
  • In his autobiography, published in 1791, Benjamin Franklin stated that he “did not disapprove” of a meeting place in Pennsylvania that was designed to accommodate preachers of all religions. Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”
  • On December 9, 1805, President Thomas Jefferson hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House for his guest Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, an envoy from Tunis.
  • Thomas Jefferson defended religious freedom in America including those of Muslims. Jefferson explicitly mentioned Muslims when writing about the movement for religious freedom in Virginia.
  • The first country to recognize the United States as an independent nation was the Sultanate of Morocco, under its ruler Mohammed ben Abdallah, in the year 1777. He maintained several correspondences with President George Washington. In December 1777, Moroccan sultan Muhammad ben Abdallah included the United States of America in a list of countries to which Morocco’s ports were open. Morocco thus became the first country whose head of state publicly recognized the new United States. Relations were formalized with the Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship negotiated by Thomas Barclay, and signed by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Muhammad ben Abdallah in 1786.
  • Among South Asians in the country, the large Pakistani American community stands out as particularly well educated and prosperous, with education and income levels exceeding those of U.S.-born whites. Many are professionals, especially in medicine (they account for 2.7-5% of America’s physicians), scientists, engineers, and financial analysts, and there are also a large number of entrepreneurs.
  • The number of mosques in the United States in 2011 was 2,106. The six states with the greatest number of mosques were: New York 257, California 246, Texas 166, Florida 118, Illinois 109, and New Jersey 109.
  • Muslims in the United States have increasingly made their own culture; there are various Muslim comedy groups, rap groups, Scout troops and magazines, and Muslims have been vocal in other forms of media as well.
  • America’s Islamic Heritage Museum in Washington, DC opened on April 30, 2011 dedicated to the history of Islamic culture in the U.S.
  • After the September 11 attacks, America saw an increase in the number of hate crimes committed against people who were perceived to be Muslim, particularly those of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. A publication in Journal of Applied Social Psychology found evidence that the number of anti-Muslim attacks in America in 2001 increased from 354 to 1,501 following 9/11. Arab American Institute reported an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes ranging from discrimination and destruction of private property to violent threats and assaults, some of which resulted in deaths.
  • 51% of American Muslims express worries that women wearing hijab will be treated poorly, 44% of American Muslim women who always wear hijab express a similar concern
  • In a 2007 survey, 53% of American Muslims reported that it was more difficult to be a Muslim after the 9/11 attacks. Asked to name the most important problem facing them, the options named by more than ten percent of American Muslims were discrimination (19%), being viewed as a terrorist (15%), public’s ignorance about Islam (13%), and stereotyping (12%).
  • 2014 Pew poll found that Muslims were the most disliked religious group in the United States with an average 40% cold rating.
  • 54% of Muslims in America believe that the U.S. government’s anti-terrorism activities single out Muslims.
  • 76% of surveyed Muslim Americans stated that they are very or somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world, while 61% express a similar concern about the possibility of Islamic extremism in the United States.
  • Overall, from restaurants to supermarkets, halal meat sales are projected at $20 billion in 2016, up by one-third since 2010, according to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, which certifies halal food and promotes education on the topic.

Origin of the Idea of Rejecting the Islamic Veil As a Religious Obligation


Following is an excerpt from our much larger essay entitled: Evidences for the Obligation of a Muslim Woman’s Headscarf (Khimar) & Outer Garment (Jilbaab).

If there has always been a consensus over the obligation of a Muslim woman’s headscarf (khimar) and outer garment (jilbaab), then where does the idea of rejecting the Islamic veil as a religious obligation come from among some Muslims? It seems to have two root causes for its existence. First, during the reign of Western imperialism in Muslim lands, they used to look down on the practice of veiling for Muslim women and thought it should be abolished (Campo 2009, 297). Second, some Muslims, who had developed a sort of inferiority complex towards the West, thought it would be wise to adopt Western ideals in order to achieve the same success as their colonial rulers (Ahmed 1992, 148). Thus, it was an imported idea brought in Muslim lands from the outside in the 19th and 20th centuries.
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Covering the Head for Women in Traditions Other Than Islam

Following is an excerpt from our much larger essay entitled: Evidences for the Obligation of a Muslim Woman’s Headscarf (Khimar) & Outer Garment (Jilbaab).

Today, the idea of covering the head for women has become associated exclusively with Islam. It is seen as something which is derogatory and only practiced within Islam. However, throughout history many other civilizations also practiced this concept in one form or another. It is only post-Renaissance that this action has gradually become abandoned among women.


A headdress in 15th century Europe

In France, from 1485-1510, covering the head was a show of virtue and honor. In fact, “married women’s headdresses completely concealed their hair through most of the second half of the 15th century” (Leventon 2008, 102). In England, the practice of “completely covering the woman’s head was wholeheartedly adopted” (Leventon 2008, 316). Up until the late 13th century, it was considered immoral and shocking to wear a hairnet alone without some sort of ribbon or barbette around the head to go along with it, in addition, some women also wore veils (Cosgrave 2000, 113). In Italy, “women often wore turbans” throughout the 15th and 16th centuries (Cosgrave 2000, 140). In some orders, during this period, female widows wore “head-rail covering the hair, ears and neck” in addition to a veil during daytime (Boucher 1966, 187). The only thing changed this was the Renaissance in northern Europe when women started to show “occasional glimpse of hair” (Leventon 2008, 102). Hence, some form of covering the head for women was seen as appropriate for most European cultures until the Renaissance. This was especially true for married women.
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