Judeo-Islamic relations

Brian Ulrich has a must-read post that summarizes the history of Jews and Muslims in the middle east.

Some highlights, in conveniently digestible factoid format:

- Documents such as the Covenant of Umar (third caliph) were the inspiration for many of the dhimmitude laws, but these guidelines were never in the Qur'an.

- The Covenant was really theory, but in practice was rarely fully implemented by local rulers. The prejudices and stereotypes against Christians and Jews in practice were analogous to those against Hispanics in modern America.

- The Cairo Geniza is a vast collection of correspondences of medieval Egyptian Jewry, that fully demonstrate how well-integrated Jews and Christians were in the Islamic society, and that they played important political and social roles therein.

- Muslim rulers relied on Jewish and Christian religious leaders to help govern their respective communities.

- The Crusades and the Mongol invasions were when a cohesive pan-Islamic identity really began to emerge - as external threats often have a crystallizing effect on identity.

- Anti-semitism in its present form in the middle east was largely a European import of recent (post-colonial) origin.

Brian later posts a related note from the Qur'an, namely 9:29:

"Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allâh, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allâh and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islâm) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Brian explains, using the uncontroversial Yusuf Ali translation,

the first 29 verses of this were proclaimed to reflect the policy of the new state following this victory. It was an aggressive policy against those who had attacked or betrayed the Muslims. At this point, again according to the Muslim tradition, there was a warlike environment in which fighting for the faith was required. Now granted, I strongly suspect that later generations of Muslims used this to justify expansionist policies, but that hardly seems the most natural interpretation - plausible perhaps within this sura, but not in the context of the Qur'an as a whole. The last clause is grammatically complicated; as Bernard Lewis noted in his book there are a bunch of different interpretations, particularly of the last word. This is also clearly a source for the later practice of jizya, something also affirmed in hadiths about Muhammad's relationship with the Jews of Khaybar, though there humiliation wasn't an issue - the aggression here seems to be entirely based on the specific conditions it is addressing.

I have little to add to Brian's commentary, and also look forward to his coming discussion of Sura 5, especially verses 12 onwards. In addition, I think that the matter of the Banu Qurayzah is important and I will address that in a future post.

Brian teaches Middle Eastern history at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, my alma mater. He also blogs regularly at American Footprints, the absolute best liberal foreign policy group blog out there.

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