Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians

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The Saving Power of Nonviolence. Why They Enchant Us. Great Adventurers of the Twentieth Century. Katie Luther Graphic Novel. The Quran is a sacred book with profound, and familiar, Old and New Testament resonances. And the message it promulgated, Islam, came of age during an extraordinarily rich era of interaction among monotheists. Jews, Christians, and Muslims not only worshipped the same God, but shared aspirations, operated in the same social and economic environment, and sometimes lived side by side, indistinguishable by language, costume, or manners.

Today, of course, little of this commonality is apparent, and Islam is poorly understood by most non-Muslims. But despite their dhimmi status, the Jews were free to practice their religion and were better off under the Muslim rule than under the Byzantine Christians.

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Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians

Medieval Islamic civilization developed into its most productive period between the years and , and Jewish civilization in the Islamic world followed suit. The fact that, with the spread of Islam, Arabic became the language of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, including the Jews of those countries, facilitated cultural cross-influences. For several centuries, most Jewish writing in those regions, both secular and religious, was in Arabic, written in Hebrew letters. Beginning with rabbis like Saadya Gaon in Iraq, and continuing especially in Muslim Spain, Jewish thinkers followed in Muslim footsteps and applied the same kind of loving study and exploration to the Hebrew language that Muslim scholars were doing to Arabic, the language of the Quran.

They developed the study of Hebrew grammar, which was something new in Jewish thinking. Over time, they worked out the understanding of Hebrew grammar that is in use today. During this period, some of the greatest works of Jewish philosophy, grammar, law, philology, and lexicography were written, in parallel with great advances in these fields in the Islamic world.

Muslims and Jews in History

Jewish poetry in Hebrew found a renaissance during this period as well, and its meters, styles, and contents parallel those of its Muslim Arabic counterpart. In Spain, Jewish civilization flourished along with the flowering of the Islamic and secular sciences and culture throughout the region, known in Arabic as al-Andalus.

The relatively open society of al-Andalus was reversed and then ended by the coming of North African armies to help defend against the Spanish Christians, who were pushing the Muslims southward from their strongholds in the north. Jews were highly restricted under the Islamist Berber regimes and eventually began moving northward to newly conquered Christian areas where, for the time being, they were treated better.

Holocaust | About Jews, Muslims and Christians

The reversal of Jewish good fortune in Spain was mirrored in other parts of the Islamic world, where by the thirteenth century the open and humanistic qualities of Islamic society began to give way to a more feudalistic mentality of rigidity and control. Many Jewish communities were forced into ghettos and in places Jewish and Christian communities were destroyed.

Military Guide Lumps Christians, Jews with 'Extremists'

As the Islamic world declined, so too did the Jewish communities within it, and Jewish intellectual, cultural, and religious creativity generally tended to shift toward the Jewish communities of Europe. It is difficult to compare fourteen centuries of Islam to twenty centuries of Christianity, but it is generally true that while discrimination occurred against Jews in the Islamic world on a regular basis, they were rarely persecuted. In Christian Europe, much energy was devoted to coercing Jews to repudiate their religious beliefs. For centuries, Christians zealously tried to convert Jews; this occurred much less under Islam.

During these times, numerous Christian theologians and Church officials were guilty of propagating anti-Semitic legends and stereotypes.


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  8. In past centuries, Muslim scholars and Islamic thinkers have been far less guilty of this. Early Muslim literature contains no "Jewish monsters". Anti-Semitic stereotypes first appeared in the Muslim world in the nineteenth century when large parts of the Arab world were conquered by European colonial powers. It is striking that almost all the anti-Semitic myths that proliferate in the Arab and Muslim world today were fashioned in the Christian or Western world.


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    For centuries, most of the world's Jewish population lived in Muslim-ruled territories. Although Jews were always treated as dhimmis, there were periods of tolerance and even prosperity.

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    During the tenth and eleventh centuries in the Muslim-ruled part of the Iberian Peninsula called Andalusia Al-Andalus , Jewish, Christian, and Islamic arts and sciences flourished in harmony. The most beautiful Moorish palaces were built, calligraphers and illustrators created beautiful Torah scrolls, Bibles, and Korans, and Jewish linguists translated Latin texts into Arabic and Arabic texts into Latin. This period came to an end when the fanatical Berber Almohad rulers of North Africa invaded Andalusia.

    The Almohads treated the dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, most Jews and Christians emigrated.

    Some, such as the family of the prominent Jewish philosopher Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms. When the Catholic king of Spain ordered the expulsion of the Jews in , Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II issued a decree to the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire "not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially". According to the American historian, Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled".

    Jews prospered under the rule of several Ottoman sultans and made significant contributions to science and administration. The first printing house in a Muslim country was set up by a Jew in Istanbul in