by Elliott A. Green
1st part of 2
Jews and Zionists are generally and deplorably unaware of conditions for Jews in the
This understanding has been reinforced by the Hamas' rise among Palestinian Arabs. The Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its charter is clearly a Judeophobic document, drawing on medieval Judeophobic Muslim sources. It is not merely anti-Israel. Article 7 of the Hamas charter repeats the medieval Muslim fable about the Jews at the End of Days, which I summarize:
At Judgement Day, the Muslims will fight the Jews who will hide behind rocks and trees. The rocks and trees will cry out: O Muslim, a Jew is hiding behind me. Come kill him.
This article aims to first sketch the status of non-Muslims — called dhimmis — in Islamic society, trying to define the nature of Muslim tolerance. Then we will cite an account by a medieval Jew of the Jews' condition in medieval Islamic society. We will also give a famous medieval Jew's opinion comparing the Jews' status in Islam with that in Christendom. Lastly, we will show that within the context of dhimmitude, of dhimmi status, which Jews shared with Christians and other non-Muslims, the Jews were in fact at the bottom of the social barrel, low man on Arab-Islamic society's totem pole, and in
Books, articles and document collections by Bat Ye'or, Norman Stillman and others, have done much since the early 1970s to demonstrate the nature of the dhimmi status, the dhimma, for the intelligent reading public, and have highlighted the position of the Jews under Islam. In addition, recent decades have seen a broad stream of information about Islam become more available to the general educated public, although Muslim apologetics have flourished as well, perhaps even more so. Christians, Jews (including Samaritans), and Zoroastrians were subject to the dhimma in Middle Eastern countries, and this status was later extended to Hindus farther east.
Tolerated non-Muslims in lands conquered by Islam — dhimmis — were required to pay tribute, the jizya, either personally or through their religious-ethnic community. The grounds for this in Islamic law are found in the Quran [sura 9:29i]. The jizya can be considered a license to live for another year until the time comes for the next payment. Qur'an 9:29 and 2:61 also require that non-Muslims, specifically Jews and Christians, People of the Book, are to be "brought low," that is, humiliated. Islamic society developed and refined these rules of dhimma over the centuries. These regulations stipulated that dhimmis could not bear arms. Their garments must differ from Muslim garments. They had to always show respect and deference for Muslims, such as dismounting from their donkeys when encountering a Muslim on the road. A dhimmi's testimony in court was worth half of a Muslim's testimony. This list is incomplete and, of course, the body of rules varied somewhat with time and place. Further, when Muslim states were weak, not all of the rules could be enforced. For instance, dhimmi mountaineers could often ignore many of the humiliations as long as they stayed away from Muslim cities. It is significant that the dhimmis' status tended to worsen over time as their proportion of the population decreased.
Here's an illustration of one of the dhimma humiliations as viewed by the Danish traveler, Carsten Niebuhr (1761-1762):
Moshe Gil found accounts — in the Cairo Geniza documents — of Jews in
. . . and the living man was made a guarantor for the dead, and he who stayed — for the one who ran away; afterwards they had to pay an additional tax. And if you saw who paid all those moneys you would have been startled, and lamented over them and say of them: Could such a large 'onesh [here meaning an irregular punitive tax or exaction] have come from those poor people?
Jacob Barna'i found records of the
Now, contrary to what many Jews and other people have believed, conditions in Muslim lands were often worse for Jews than in Christendom. At least this was the opinion of the great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides (1135-1204), who fled
[as punishment] God has hurled us into the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us... Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they.
Maimonides was in correspondence with far flung Jews, from Europe to
Moshe Sharon, a respected Israeli historian of Islam, argues that the fact that the Qur'an singled them [Jews] out as the enemies of the Muslims in many ways institutionalized their inferior status in comparison to the Christians.
The 9th century Muslim writer al-Jahiz claimed: "...the hearts of the Muslims are hardened toward the Jews but inclined toward the Christians." He pointed out that "in his time the Christians were both socially and economically better off than the Jews." He explained this by the political resistance of the Jews of Medina to Muhammad. Carlo Panella concluded: "The Jews were in the last place on the social scale..." in Muslim society.
The Italian historian of Islam, Francesco Gabrieli, wrote that
"the name 'Yahudi' [=Jew] acquired on Muslim lips the same odor of hostile scorn for the Jews that the term 'Jew' had in the Western world, more hostile and scornful than that of the epithet 'Nasrani' [= Christian]." het 'Nasrani' [= Christian]."
Like al-Jahiz, Gabrieli and Panella explain this by the Muslim memory of the Medina Jews' political resistance to Muhammad.
This Jewish social inferiority is confirmed not only by the medieval Baghdadi Arab al-Jahiz but by a Turk quoted by Bernard Lewis. This 19th century Turk referred to some Greek Orthodox subjects of the
"... whereas in former times, in the Ottoman state, the communities were ranked, with the Muslims first, then the Greeks [Greek Orthodox], then the Armenians, then the Jews, now all of them were put on the same level. Some Greeks objected to this, saying: "The government has put us together with the Jews. We were content with the supremacy of Islam."
A British envoy confirmed this ranking. Dr John Bowring was in
The Mussulmans. . . deeply deplore the loss of that sort of superiority which they all & individually exercised over & against the other sects. . . a Mussulman. . . believes and maintains that a Christian — & still more a Jew — is an inferior being to himself. [emph. added]
And although the Jews' situation did improve somewhat under Muhammad Ali's rule in the
The condition of the Jews forms, perhaps, an exception [to the general improvement of non-Muslims] & cannot be said to have improved comparatively with that of the other Sects
The above quotes and authorities sufficiently demonstrate that in general the Jews were at the bottom of the barrel in Arab-Muslim society. It would logically follow that Jews were also at the bottom of the barrel in
Towards the end of Mamluk rule — which lasted from the Mongol withdrawal in 1260 to the Ottoman conquest in 1517 — a monk named Francesco Suriano lived in the Franciscan monastery in
"I wish you to know how these dogs of Jews are trampled upon, beaten and ill-treated, as they deserve, by every infidel nation, and this is the just decree of God. They live in this country in such subjection that words cannot describe it. . . there in
The Ottoman Empire seems to have improved the Jews' status in
About 300 years after Suriano, Chateaubriand, the great French writer, found the Jews still on the bottom of the social barrel. He visited
SPECIAL TARGET OF ALL CONTEMPT [I.E., OF BOTH MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS], THEY LOWER THEIR HEADS WITHOUT COMPLAINT; THEY SUFFER ALL INSULTS WITHOUT DEMANDING JUSTICE; THEY LET THEMSELVES BE CRUSHED BY BLOWS... PENETRATE THE DWELLINGS OF THESE PEOPLE, YOU WILL FIND THEM IN FRIGHTFUL POVERTY...
Nothing can prevent them from turning their gaze towards
Yet, not all Christians living in
"As we are on the question of repairs, we must say something about the Jewish Synagogue. One year ago only, seeing the liberal dispositions of Mehemet Ali Pasha [Muhammad Ali] and Ibrahim Pasha [his son, general, and deputy], they dared to speak about their Synagogue. They asked that their House of Prayer, being in a ruinous condition and in danger of falling in, might be repaired. So, those who did not even dare to change a tile on the roof of the Synagogue at one time, now received a permit and a decree to build." [emph. added]
Neophytos' words: "those who did not even dare," imply the inferiority of the Jews even to the Christians. This shows the depth of Jewish degradation in the Jewish holy city of
The next witness about the Jews' lowly status in the city is none other than Karl Marx, a surprise witness to be sure. In his report in the New York Daily Tribune (15 April 1854) on the origins of the Crimean War, Marx describes conditions in Jerusalem, where religious rivalries focussed on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher served the Powers as pretexts for the war:
"The Mussulmans, forming about a fourth part of the whole, and consisting of Turks, Arabs, and Moors, are, of course, the masters in every respect, as they are in no way affected by the weakness of their Government at Constantinople. . . "Nothing equals the misery and the suffering of the Jews at Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town, called hareth-el-yahoud, in the quarter of dirt, between the Zion and the Moriah, where their synagogues are situated — the constant objects of Mussulman oppression and intolerance, insulted by the Greeks, persecuted by the Latins . . . " [emph. added]
Note that Jews were humiliated by the Christians in the city, as well as by Muslims. To be sure, Marx was never in
We will stop our examples with Gerardy Santine, a Frenchman who lived in
...the sons of
Bovet wrote that "the Jews are still, to this day, the most miserable part of the population of the
We have shown above 1) the state of oppression, humiliation, and economic exploitation, dhimmitude, of Jews and Christians in traditional Arab-Muslim society, 2) the Jews' worse status under Arab-Islam than elsewhere (according to Maimonides), and 3) the Jews' inferior status even to Christian dhimmis in Arab-Muslim society in general and in Jerusalem in particular.
Elliott A. Green
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