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Jews under Christianity and under Islam

Jews under Christianity and under Islam
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As we can see, during the Middle Ages and into modern times, Jews and Judaism were entitled to the protection of Islam as “People of the Book”. At the same time the derogatory terms and characteristics ascribed to them in the early Muslim scripture continued to persist and animosity toward the Jews remained. In many areas, Jews were also encouraged to convert to Islam, though in most instances they were not coerced to do so. In addition the threat of intolerance was also present in the lives of the Jews, as it was for the Christians, lest they not accept their inferior status. Thus there were periods and regions where Jews were exposed to anti-jewish violence.
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Professor Litvak mentioned the 1066 Grenada Massacre, where a large number of Jews were murdered. An additional example is the persecution of Jews by the Almohads in Spain, Morocco, and Yemen. It is also important to mention that in Shi’ite Iran, from the 16th century all the way into the 20th century, there were severe anti-Jewish policies culminating in persecution and forced conversions. Though there were indeed exceptional cases of anti-Jewish violence, one thing appears to be clear when discussing Jewish life under Islam until the modern period - the violent antisemitism that developed in medieval Christian Europe, did not appear in the Islamic and Arab world. Why is this so? In Christian thought, the Jew is the killer of Christ.
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He also steals Christian children around the Passover holiday to take their blood to bake Matzot. These are irrational thoughts about the Jews, because the events that they purport to describe are not truly believable. Irrational, and I stress the word irrational, antisemitism of this type, seems to have sprouted on Christian European soil in the 12th century. Living by this time in relative segregation, the Jews were particularly vulnerable to Christian attacks. They did not belong. They were considered strangers. They had come to Western Europe in the early Middle Ages as traders and as such were considered strangers in a predominantly agricultural feudal situation. Factors that led to irrational antisemitism in Europe, were absent in medieval Islam.
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First of all the, Jews were not strangers. They were indigenous peoples. Secondly, they were, many of them merchants, but Islamic society itself was a heavily mercantile society, so that the Jews were not resented; there was plenty of commerce around for various peoples. Jews were urban dwellers, but as such they did not earn the enmity of Christian [Muslim] burghers, because the city was more effectively integrated into the political landscape. It is true that the Quran depicts the Jews as killers of their own prophets, but it makes no accusation regarding the Prophet Muhammed or of Jesus himself, who is said to have risen to heaven rather than to have been crucified.

Prof. Mark R. Cohen

Though there were indeed exceptional cases of anti-Jewish violence, one thing appears to be clear when discussing Jewish life under Islam until the modern period – the violent and destructive early forms of antisemitism that developed in medieval Christian Europe do not appear in the Islamic and Arab world. Why is this so?

References

Cohen, Mark R., Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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