Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsFollowing the death of Muhammad and under his successors known as Caliphs, the Islamic religion spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula. It was also during this time that the Islamic world diverged into two main branches - the Sunna and Shi'a, a division originated in a dispute regarding Muhammad's rightful successor. The Muslim Empire lasted in different forms up until the beginning of the 20th century, when it ended with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Over the centuries several imperial centers arose, each viewing itself as a leader of the entire Muslim community.

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 secondsDuring the years of expansion, in early medieval times, the derogatory characterizations and descriptions of the Jews found in the Quran were expanded and amplified in Islamic sacred texts, such as the Hadith, a collection of traditions containing sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as in literature dealing with the life of the Prophet. At the same time however, the traditions and policies stemming from the more tolerant attitudes were present as well. The vast territories that came under Islamic rule brought with them large numbers of non-Muslim groups and peoples. This diversity demanded a practical policy that would regulate the activities of non-Muslims and would ascribe a clear place to them.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 secondsMembers of monotheistic religions gained the status of Dhimmi, non-Muslims under protection of Muslim law. On the one hand, this status meant they had to exist under restrictions and limitations, but on the other, it allowed them a certain level of religious and social autonomy. As part of this status, Jews who were living in various areas throughout Islamic ruled North Africa, Iberia, and the Middle East, were able to exist in relative peace, especially compared to Jews in Christian Europe. However this relatively peaceful existence depended on their acceptance of their inferior status in society. Islam, again, regards Judaism and Christianity as divine religions.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsThe Jews and the Christians are what is called "People of the Book", that is they have a divine book given to them by God. Therefore Jews and Christians, although they are inferior to Muslims and although they should always be subordinate to Muslims, under Islam, or under Islamic law and Islamic culture, they enjoy tolerance. They are allowed to practice their religion, they enjoy internal autonomy. However it should be essential that their inferiority toward Islam, vis-à-vis Islam, should always be emphasized. Now if we look at the attitude of Muslims or Islam toward Jews and Christians we have to distinguish between texts and historical conduct.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 secondsTexts as I mentioned - Jews enjoyed tolerance, they are "People of the Book", but there ara also a series of restrictions imposed upon the Jews. For instance Jews were not allowed, ideally, to build synagogues, they were not allowed to ride horses, they were supposed to wear special dress, or signs on their dress, they had to pay a special tax called Jizya, which is a poll tax, and here the Quran says that they had to do it in a humiliating way, so textually there is a very clear discrimination against Jews. In reality we can see changing periods, and it depends on the place and time, and historical circumstances.

Skip to 3 minutes and 26 secondsWe can say clearly that Jews enjoyed much greater tolerance under Islam than under Christianity. until the modern period. More than that, except for a few cases, there was no forced conversions of Jews, except for Iran and in Morocco in the 11th century, and we hardly saw any physical attacks on Jews. In this regard Islam as a religion, or the Muslim world, was much better toward Jews than Christianity, in fact Jews historically regarded Islam or the Muslim kingdoms as what they called "Malkhut Khesed", that is "righteous kingdom". Jews emigrated from Christian countries to Islam.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsFor instance if we look at the 15th century, when there was the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain, the Ottoman Empire, the largest Muslim empire at the time, opened its gates toward the Jews, welcomed the Jews, and tens of thousands of Jews moved to the Ottoman Empire where they enjoyed great tolerance and autonomy, and Jews were very grateful to the Ottomans. On the other hand as I said, Jews are always subordinate, inferior to Muslims. Here we should say that the Muslims were very anxious lest the non-Muslims do not understand their place, that is whenever a minority tried to change its allotted place of inferiority, here you can say Muslim tolerance disappeared, and then we see signs of great intolerance.

Skip to 5 minutes and 1 secondFor instance in Spain, when we had a Jew, Shmuel HaNagid, fulfilling a very high position in the in the Muslim Kingdom, this created anger when he died, and his son succeeded him there were anti-Jewish riots which ended in a mass pogrom. That is Jews should know their place. In the 19th century for instance we see much greater intolerance toward Christians, because Christians violated their allotted [place], or tried to challenge their rightful place in the Muslim hierarchy, Jews were in fact not touched.

Attitudes toward Jews under Muslim rule

Prof. Meir Litvak

The vast territories that came under Islamic rule over the years, brought with them large numbers of non-Muslim groups and peoples. This diversity demanded a practical policy that would regulate the activities of non-Muslims and would ascribe a clear place to them. Members of monotheistic religions gained the status of Dhimmi, non-Muslims under protection of Muslim law. On the one hand, this status meant that they had to exist under restrictions and limitation, but on the other, it allowed them a certain level of religious and social autonomy. As part of this status, Jews, who were living in various areas throughout Islamic-ruled North Africa, Iberia and the Middle East, were able to exist in relative peace, especially compared to Jews in Christian Europe. However, this relatively peaceful existence depended on their acceptance of their inferior status in society.

How were the monotheistic minorities perceived in the time periods discussed here?


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References

  • Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava, Mark R. Cohen, Sasson Somekh and Sidney H. Griffith, eds., The Majlis: Interreligious Encounters in Medieval Islam (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1999).

  • Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava, “Jews and Christians in Medieval Muslim Thought,” in Robert S. Wistrich, ed., Demonizing the Other: Antisemitism, Racism, and Xenophobia (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999).

  • Cohen, Marc R. , Jewish Self Government in Medieval Egypt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).

  • Gil, Moshe, Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

  • Goitein, Shelomo Dov, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, 6 vols. (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1967-1993).

  • Lewis, Bernard, The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton, 1984).

  • Lewis, Bernard, Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

  • Litvak, Moshe and Ofra Bengio, eds., Division and Ecumenism in Islam: The Sunna and Shi‘a in History (New York: Palgrave-McMillan, 2011).

  • Meddeb, Abdelwahab and Benjamin Stora, eds., A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

  • Nirenberg, David, Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2014).

  • Stillman, Norman A., The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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