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Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Ishmael's House by Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert has done it again. He has produced a masterpiece on the Jews from Arab countries. His work is very thorough giving the reader a vivid picture of what it was like for Jews to live under Muslim rule. He cites many sources and has an excellent bibliography in the back for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject.

Jews have been living amongst Arabs in the Arabian peninsula for thousands of years. By and large they were mostly traders. They got on well with their fellow denizens often time forming alliances with various tribes based on self interest. Judaism and Christianity made an impact on life in the Peninsula. There was even a Jewish Kingdom in Arabia headed by Dhu Nawas. His kingdom would later be over run by Byzantine allied Ethiopians. When Muhammad preached his message the Jews did not heed his call they chose to stick to their own religion. This lead to a war where in Jews were driven out of the Arabian Peninsula.

Else where in the Middle East the Islamic Armies often had Jewish allies helping them conquer Byzantine cities. Byzantine Christians discriminated against Jews rather heavily. Jews were rewarded by giving trading rights and rights to resettle in Jerusalem. Since that time Jewish existence has been rather schizophrenic under Muslim rule. On the bright side they were given a right to secure dwelling and even rose to high positions of authority. Something of this nature never really occurred in the Christian Lands. The Jews in Arab Lands never experienced a Holocaust, Inquisition or Russian massacres. On the other side of the coin Jews were never totally equal. They were a Dhimmi or protected person who was tolerated but never seen as an equal. Various Dhimmi laws were put in place to remind the Jew that he was less then his Muslim country man.

Muslim Spain providing the best example. Jews were thoroughly integrated into the country. They were invited in to conduct business and trade. Jews became doctors and philosophers and often reached high positions in the Kings court. Sometimes directly beneath the King himself. Moses Maimonides was the Sultan's official doctor in Egypt. In Iraq the Exilarch was accorded high honors even Muslims bowed to him. Turkey was the hven for Jews fleeing persecution in Christian Spain. Later in History Turkey would show an example of great tolerance to Jews. Jews were given their own court system and could conduct business as they saw fit. For Jews it was heaven.

The Dhimmi laws on the other hand left he Jews degraded. Being forced to wear different clothing, pay special taxes that could often mean poverty and impoverishment for Jews were always present. Granted not all Muslim rulers chose to enforce these laws but they were on the books. The laws were inherited from the Byzantines. Sometimes Jews were limited as to what careers they could pursue. There were rare occasions that Jews faced massacres and forced conversion.s

The last part of Jewish existence in Arab countries ended on a poor note. Many Arabs were hostile to Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish State on previously Muslim land. This did lead to government sponsored discrimination, torture and imprisonment just for being Jewish. The Jews were often attacked by mobss of people which resulted in property destruction, loss of life and rape.

Perhaps one day the Jews and Arabs can exist together in friends as equals. Using the example of Spain and Iraq and Turkey and then improving upon that.

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One blond hair blue eyed Calfornian who totally digs the Middle East.
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