Are Muslims Anti-Semitic?
Are Muslims Anti-Semitic?
Israel has been bombing Gaza for the past few years and the ongoing siege of this small piece of land has caused hundreds of thousands (1.8 million souls) to suffer. Many innocent civilians have lost their lives due to the shortage of necessities such as medicine, electricity, clean drinking water etc. The siege of Gaza has been described by many as “the largest concentration camp in the world”. Israel has received immense criticism due to its barbaric treatment of the people of Gaza. Hundreds of women and children have been killed by Israeli missiles, deliberately targeting densely populated areas. Due to the increasing criticism of Israel’s actions, many Zionist propagandists have adopted an already exhausted tactic to avert the heat and that is to accuse the critics of anti-Semitism or hating Jews. This accusation may be true in many cases, as Israel’s actions have caused some to start hating the Jewish people in general but as far as the Muslims are concerned there is no reason to assume such things. Some Zionist propagandists have even suggested that Islam and Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic and hence cannot be trusted to govern the affairs of Jews. There are some Zionist historians who have even attempted to distort history to make this very point and others have painted the picture of Jewish/Muslim relationships with a very negative spin. Many academic historians in western universities are Zionist sympathisers and they wouldn’t hesitate to interpret history to serve their political ends in the Middle East. Hence the statement of Professor Dean Phillip Bell (professor of Jewish history at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, Chicago):
‘Jews under medieval Islam never suffered from the same general negative perception as in the Christian West. Despite regional variations and high medieval political instability, in medieval Islam multicultural environments, combined with active engagement in sciences and literature, led to something of an Islamic golden age for the Jews, at least according to most historical accounts. It has been primarily in the context of recent political developments that the once assumed positive views of Jewish life under medieval Islam have been seriously questioned.’
The following paragraphs represent an attempt to put the record straight historically.
Muslims dominated international politics for centuries and were able to carve empires as well as loose them throughout history. First emerged the Umayyad Empire (the largest so far); then came the Abbasids and then Ayyubids, Memlukes, Ottomans, Mughals etc etc. These Muslim dynasties governed a large part of the world stretching from China to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). Millions of people lived in relative harmony under the Islamic political hegemony. Many were non-Muslims including large Jewish populations in Europe as well as the Middle East. Prior to the advent of Islam as a political power, Jews were facing heavy persecutions at the hands of Christian authorities and when the Muslims emerged on the scene the Jewish people welcomed them as liberators, as confirmed by Zion Zohar (Jewish historian):
‘Thus, when Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar from North Africa in 711 CE and invaded the Iberian Peninsula, Jews welcomed them as liberators from Christian Persecution…’
This liberty from the “Christian persecution” was not an isolated event, rather it seems to have taken place elsewhere, as confirmed by Karen Armstrong:
‘Toward the end of the seventh century, a Hebrew poem hailed the Arabs as the precursors of the Messiah and looked forward to the ingathering of the Jewish exiles and the restoration of the Temple. Even when the Messiah failed to arrive, Jews continued to look favourably on Islamic rule in Jerusalem. In a letter written in the eleventh century, the Jerusalem rabbis recalled the “mercy” God had shown his people when he allowed the “Kingdom of Ishmael” to conquer Palestine. They were glad to remember that when the Muslims arrived in Jerusalem, “there were people from the children of Israel with them; they showed them the spot of the Temple and they settled with them until this very day.”…In about 750 the Jewish author of “The Mysteries of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai” saw the building [the Dome of the Rock] as a prelude to the messianic age. He praises the Muslim Caliph as “a lover of Israel” who had “restored the breaches of Zion and the breaches of the Temple”’
The early Islamic conquests came as a mercy for the Jews in particular, as they were facing extinction at the hands of their persecutors. The new rulers allowed the Jews to practice their religion freely and what followed was the often denied “Golden Age”. Many Zionist historians question whether the theory of the golden age is actually historically sustainable. They are aware that accepting the “Golden Age” theory will question the very notion of inherent “Islamic” anti-Semitism. However, there are some Sephardic Jewish historians who do not question the validity of such a hypothesis. One of them is Zion Zohar and this what he has to say in this regard:
‘Born during this era of Islamic rule, the famous Golden Age of Spanish Jewry (circa 900-1200) produced such luminaries as: statesman and diplomat Hasdai ibn Shaprut, vizier and army commander Shmuel ha-Nagid, poet-philosophers Solomon Ibn Gabriol and Judah Halevi, and at the apex of them all, Moses Ben Maimon, also known among the Spaniards as Maimonides.’
Zion Zohar claims the existence of a “golden age” that produced major Jewish personalities. Such conditions can only exist in a peaceful abode. If the Jews were persecuted by Muslims or if the Muslims had pursued an active anti-Jewish policy then the existence of such a golden age would be inconceivable. Many Zionist polemicists cite isolated incidents such as the accountability of Banu Quraidha (a Jewish tribe in Medina) and the pogroms of Granada (1066 c.) to claim an anti-Semitic policy on part of the Muslims. Such polemical claims are rejected even by some Jewish historians. Bernard Lewis is one of them who states: ‘massacres such as that in Granada in 1066 are of rare occurrence in Islamic history.’ Furthermore, the Islamic policy towards the people of other religions is clearly stated in the Quran:
‘Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion nor drove you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity’.
Equity was the norm to be pursued by Muslims in every age and if one sifts through the pages of Jewish chronicles, one finds equity, on part of the Muslims, all over them. So, as long as Muslims are not fought by the people of other religions they are commanded to adopt kindness and justice as a policy. Occasional tensions were created due to political circumstances of the age rather than some hateful policy. What follows below will amply demonstrate that Muslims not only provided Jews with a secure abode, they appointed the latter on major governmental posts. There were at least two Jewish prime ministers in Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus). One (Hasdai ibn Shaprut, 915-990 c.) was the premier to one of the most powerful Umayyad Caliphs in Spanish history, Abdur Rahman III and the other (Samuel ha Nagid, 993-1056 c.) was the prime minister of Granada. The latter was killed in the pogroms of 1066. Both these individuals, due to the immense power they exercised, served their religious interests well and provided patronage to hundreds of Jewish institutes. Bahya bin Paqudah (1080 c.), One of the Jewish inhabitants of Cordoba, had the following to say about the prosperity of Spanish Jews:
‘If one of our contemporaries looks for similar miracles now, let him examine objectively our situation among the Gentiles [Muslims in this case] since the beginning of the Diaspora and the way our affairs are managed in spite of the differences between us and them both secret and open, which are well known to them. Let him see that our situation, as far as living and subsistence are concerned, is the same as theirs, or even better, in times of war and civil disturbances. You see how both their leaders and their vulgar peasants toil much more than the middle and lower classes among us, according to our Lord’s promise contained in the Scriptures.’
Jewish institutes flourished during the Golden Age of Al-Andalus and some of the best scholars were born during this period. Jews excelled in all areas. Whether it was education or commerce they had their fair share in it. Such was the condition of the sons of Israel in Umayyad Spain. Many had travelled through Muslim lands for either business or education, while others were travelling to the Holy Land for pilgrimages. One of the Spanish Jewish travellers described the condition of Jews in Abbasid Baghdad. This is what Benjamin Tudela (1168 c. ) had to say:
‘In Baghdad there are about forty thousand Jews, and they dwell in security, prosperity, and honour under the great Caliph [al-Mustanjid, 1160-70 CE], and amongst them are great sages, the Heads of the Academies engaged in the study of the Law…’
Hence, not only did the Jews flourish in Umayyad Islamic Spain, they prospered simultaneously thousands of miles away in Abbasid Baghdad. There was no difference in the living conditions of the Jews of both Islamic dynasties. There seems to be consistency in the Muslim behaviour. If there was anything anti-Jewish in the Muslim psyche it would have manifested itself time and time again, just like it did in Christian lands. The more one considers the views of medieval Jews on Islam’s protection the more one is convinced that Muslims are far from anti-Semitism. An Italian Rabbi, Obadiah Yareh Da Bertinoro, travelled to Memluke Jerusalem in 1486 and wrote a letter to his father telling him about the country and its people:
‘The Jews are not persecuted by the Arabs in these parts. I have travelled through the country in its length and breadth, and none of them has put an obstacle in my way. They are very kind to strangers, particularly to anyone who does not know the language; and if they see many Jews together they are not annoyed by it. In my opinion, an intelligent man versed in political science might easily raise himself to be chief of the Jews as well as of the Arabs…’
Similar sentiments were expressed by Jews living under the Ottoman protection. In 1420 Rabbi Yitzhak Tsarfati wrote a letter to his persecuted German brothers from the Ottoman Turkish territory (Edirne [Adrianople]) inviting them to join him in prosperous and tolerant Islamic lands:
‘Your cries and laments have reached us. We have been told of all the sorrows and persecutions which you suffer in German lands. Listen, my brothers…if you…knew even the tenth of what God has blessed us with in this land, you would give heed to no further difficulties. You would embark at once to us…Here the Jew is not compelled to wear a yellow hat as a badge of shame…You will be free of your enemies. Here you will find peace.’
Here we have an example of an Ottoman Jew inviting his German brethren to join him for a better life. There are multiple Jewish testimonies to suggest that the Jews of the Ottoman Empire were some of the most prosperous in the world. They were well protected and valued. A Jewish chronicler Elijah Capsali describes the Jewish prosperity in the Ottoman Empire in this way:
‘The Jews gathered together from all the cities of Turkey, both far and near, each person coming from his own place, and the community gathered in Constantinople in its thousands and its tens of thousands. The heavens helped them, too, and the king provided them perfect estates and houses filled with all kinds of goodness. The Jews resided there with their families and their clans; they were fruitful and swarmed and multiplied, and the land was full of them. From that day on, whenever the king conquered a place where there were Jews, he would immediately shake them up and drive them from there – and despatch them to Constantinople, the seat of his kingdom, and he would pick them up and cuddle them forever. Now, since the Jews feared the Lord, he provided them with houses filled with all kinds of goodness in a place where formerly, at the time of the King of Byzantium, there were only two or three congregations, the Jews increased in numbers, becoming a people with more than communities, for the land could not support them altogether – for their property was overwhelming.’
Due to this overwhelming prosperity of Jews in the Ottoman lands many migrated from Europe to escape persecution, in hope for a better future. There are many examples of such migrations and Salonika became one of the biggest centres of Jewish migration. The Portuguese Jewish chronicler Samuel Usque sheds some light upon the condition of Jewish migrants in the Ottoman city of Salonika:
‘The majority of my children who have been persecuted and exiled from Europe and many other parts of the world have taken refuge in this city, and she embraces them and receives them with as much love and good will as if she were Jerusalem, that old and ever pious mother of ours.’
An Italian Jewish traveller, David dei Rossi, who travelled through the Ottoman Empire, further elaborates on the success of Jewish migrants:
‘The Exile here is not like in our homeland. The Turks hold respectable Jews in esteem. Here and in Alexandria, Egypt, Jews are the chief officers and administrators of the customs, and the king’s revenues. No injuries are perpetuated against them in all the empire.’
The above goes to show that the Muslims have one of the best records in protecting minorities. If Jews were deemed inferior or second class citizens or if they were despised, how could they have achieved so much throughout the Islamic world? The Islamic Law had tools to preserve Jewish well being and that was the Muslim attitude consistently. In some cases Jews felt so comfortable with the Islamic system that they applied to Sharia courts for justice and arbitration, even though there were independent Jewish courts for that purpose. Amnon Cohen, an Israeli historian, studied court records covering the sixteenth century, stored in the archives of the Islamic court of Jerusalem, whereby he found one thousand Jewish cases filed form the year 1530 to 1601. Cohen published his research in 1994 and his research made some astonishing discoveries, as he himself states:
‘Cases concerning Jews cover a very wide spectrum of topics. If we bear in mind that the Jews of Jerusalem had their own separate courts, the number of cases brought to Muslim court (which actually meant putting themselves at the mercy of a judge outside the pale of their communal and religious identity) is quite impressive…The Jews went to the Muslim court for a variety of reasons, but the overwhelming fact was their ongoing and almost permanent presence there. This indicates that they went there not only in search of justice, but did so hoping, or rather knowing, that more often than not they would attain redress when wronged…The Jews went to court to resolve much more than their conflicts with Muslim or Christian neighbours. They turned to Shari’a authorities to seek redress with respect to internal differences, and even in matters within their immediate family (intimate relations between husband and wife, nafaqa maintenance payments to divorcees, support of infants etc.).’
Cohen provides some further insight into the Jewish experience from sixteenth century Ottoman Jerusalem:
‘Their possessions were protected, although they might have had to pay for extra protection at night for their houses and commercial properties. Their title deeds and other official documents indicating their rights were honoured when presented to the court, being treated like those of their Muslim neighbours…The picture emerging from the sijill documents is baffling. On the one hand we encounter recurring Sultanic decrees sent to Jerusalem – in response to pleas of the Jews – to the effect that “nothing should be done to stop them from applying their own law” regarding a variety of matters. There are also many explicit references to the overriding importance of applying Shari’a law to them only if they so choose. On the other hand, if we look closely at some of the inheritance lists, we see that the local court allocated to female members of Jewish families half the share given to male members, exactly as in Islamic law. This meant, ipso facto, a significant improvement in the status of Jewish women with respect to legacies over that accorded them by Jewish tradition, although it actually meant the application of Islamic law in an internal Jewish context…he [the Muslim Judge] defended Jewish causes jeopardized by high-handed behaviour of local governors; he enabled Jewish business people and craftsmen to lease properties from Muslim endowments on an equal footing with Muslim bidders; more generally, he respected their rituals and places of worship and guarded them against encroachment even when the perpetrators were other Muslim dignitaries.’
And finally Cohen concludes that the Jews of Ottoman Jerusalem were free and happy:
‘No one interfered with their internal organisation or their external cultural and economic activities…In a world where civil and political equality, or positive social change affecting the group or even the individual were not the norms, the Sultan’s Jewish subjects had no reason to mourn their status or begrudge their conditions of life. The Jews of Ottoman Jerusalem enjoyed religious and administrative autonomy within an Islamic state, and as a constructive, dynamic element of the local economy and society they could – and actually did – contribute to its functioning.’
Therefore, Muslims did not pursue an anti-Jewish policy nor did they ever persecute Jews due to religious differences. The historical record presented above shows beyond any doubt that the Zionist propaganda is false and that the Muslims have no desire or precedent to annihilate the Jewish people. If anything, the Zionists are the biggest threat to the Jewish people, as they are the ones committing crimes in the name of a “Jewish State”. The current hostile environments are products of the foolish Zionist policies and any attempts to find a historical pattern to substantiate the current conflict in the Middle East will be rejected. Muslims have consistently demonstrated ability to do justice and they will continue to pursue the same course in the future. The Zionist state of Israel has utterly failed to treat the Muslims of Palestine justly and it shows no signs of changing. This ideology has already claimed the lives of millions (due to Zionist policies since 1948) of Palestinians. How long more will the “International Community” allow this oppression to continue? Why don’t we all work for the return of the Golden Age, where all lived together in peace? Why don’t we revive the system that nurtured the Golden Age? Karen Armstrong points to that very system in the following words:
‘The Muslims had established a system that enabled Jews, Christians, and Muslims to live in Jerusalem together for the first time.’
 Dean Phillip Bell, Jews in the Early Modern World. New York, 2008, p. 25.
 Zion Zohar, Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry, New York, 2005, p. 8-9.
 Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem: OneCity Three Faiths. London, 1997, p. 233-40.
 Zion Zohar, Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry, New York, 2005, p. 8-9.
 Bernard Lewis, Jews of Islam, Princeton, 1987, p. 45.
 Quran, 60:8.
 The Book of Direction to the Duties of the Heart, translation of Bahya ben Joseph ibn Paqudah’s Arabic work al-Hidaya ila Faraid al-Qulub by Menahem Mansoor. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973, p. 171.
 Benjamin of Tudela, The Jew in the Medieval World, a source book edited by Jacob R. Marcus, New York, 1972, p. 185.
 Rabbi Obadiah Yareh Da Bertinoro, quoted in The Jewish Caravan edited by Leo W. Schwarz, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1946, p. 249.
 Rabbi Yitzhak Tsarfati quoted by Howard M. Sachar. Farewell Espana, New York, 1994, p. 75.
 Elijah Capsali quoted by Joseph R. Hacker “The ‘Surgun’ System and Jewish Society in the Ottoman Empire during the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries.” In Ottoman and Turkish Jewry: Community and Leadership, ed. Aron Roderigue, Bloomington, IN, 1992, p. 6-7.
 Samuel Usque, Consolation for the Tribulation of the Jews, trans. Martin A. Cohen. Philadelphia, 1965, p. 211-12.
 David dei Rossi, quoted by Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Philadelphia, 1979, p, 291-92.
 Amnon Cohen, A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem (XVIth Century). Part One, 1994, Pennsylvania, p. 8.
 Ibid, p. 17.
 Ibid, p. 18.
 Ibid, p. 20-21.
 Ibid, p. 22.
 Ibid, p. 22-23.
 Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem: OneCity Three Faiths. London, 1997, p. 245