Muslim-Jewish relations changed dramatically in the late 19th and 20th centuries, with no positive upturn in sight for the 21st. What happened? Why was it so much easier for Jews to survive in the medieval Muslim empires in comparison with the modern Muslim states (many of which simply expelled their Jewish populations in 1948)? What survival lessons can we learn from this contrast?
One of the most difficult things most 21st century students face when they study Jewish history is the fact that, generally speaking, Jews fared better in Muslim lands than in Christian lands. To be sure, the Jews were second-class citizens under both the crescent and the cross, and longer periods of peace were punctuated by outbursts of violence, but in terms of the frequency, scale, and venom associated with anti-Jewish activity there is not much room for argument: for the vast majority of the time between the rise of Islam in the 7th century and the rise of modern Zionism in the 19th, Jews were on the whole more likely to thrive in the Muslim Middle East and North Africa than in Christian Europe. We will be studying the notable exceptions–the Almohad invasions of Spain, for example, that drove Maimonides and his family into exile–but let us use this unit to look at the Rashidun Caliphate, which represented the earliest Muslim governing body in the 7th century.
Required Survival Gear:
Khaleel Mohammed, “Produce Your Proof: Muslim Exegesis, the Hadith, and the Jews,” Judaism 53:1/2 (2004)
Recommended Survival Gear:
These two videos are set a few centuries after the Rashidun Calliphate, but they will give you a sense of how Muslim culture and thought had an impact on two major Jewish thinkers: Rabenu Bahya (author of Hovot Ha-Levavot, the Duties of the Heart) and Rav Avraham ben Harambam (Abraham Maimuni, the son of Maimonides).