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Muslims and Jews: a historical perspective that reveals surprises

Once upon a time, a widely circulated Jewish document described Islam as "an act of God's Mercy".

Also, Jews in the near East, north Africa and Spain threw their support behind advancing Muslim Arab armies.

No, these aren't fairy tales or propaganda. The relationship between Muslims and Jews really was that cooperative and marked by peaceful coexistence.

Just ask Khalid Siddiqi of the Islamic Education and Information Center in San Jose, California where he also teaches Islamic Studies and Arabic at Chabot College and Ohlone College.

Siddiqi notes that the first quote above is from S. D. Goitein's book Jews and Arabs. The second is from Merlin Swartz's 'The Position of Jews in Arab lands following the rise of Islam' (reprinted from The Muslim World. Hartford Seminary Foundation LXI1970).

Swartz also says the Muslim Arab conquest marked the dawn of a new era. Those forces that had led to the progressive isolation and disruption of Jewish life were not only checked they were dramatically reversed.

In an interview with Sound Vision, Siddiqi gave numerous examples of Jews flourishing under Muslim rule in places like Spain, Morocco, North African in general and various parts of the Middle East.

Siddiqi points out that Islam as a religion has given specific guidelines for the followers of Islam to base their relationship with any non-Muslim. These include People of Scripture, like the Jews, people who belong to other religions, and even atheists. Non-Muslims must be treated on the basis of Birr (kindness) and Qist (justice), as referred to Surah 60 verse 8 of the Quran.

It started at the time of the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him)

The peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Jews began at the time of the Prophet.

Siddiqi notes that the Jews welcomed the Prophet when he arrived in Madinah at the time of Hijrah (migration), along with the rest of the city's inhabitants.

But the Prophet had begun the step towards good relations with Jewish and other communities in Madinah even before getting there.

After receiving an invitation to Madinah from one of the city's tribes that had accepted Islam, the Prophet signed treaties with the city's Jewish, Christian and polytheist tribes before he arrived there.

These treaties clearly laid out responsibilities of each of the parties. It was based on these that the Prophet established the Mithaq al Madinah, the constitution of Madinah.

Siddiqi says this was the first constitution of the world and one of the greatest political documents ever prepared by any human being. It is the oldest surviving constitution of any state.

Under this constitution, any Jew who followed the Muslims was entitled to their assistance and the same rights as anyone of them without any injustice or partisanship.

It said the Jews are an Ummah (community of believers) alongside the Muslims. The Jews have their religion and the Muslims theirs. As well, it noted that each will assist one another against any violation of this covenant.

Jews during the Muslim era

Despite this early breach of contract, there are still numerous examples from Muslim history of Muslim-Jewish cooperation and coexistence.

Siddiqi gave examples of how Muslim Spain, which was a "golden era" of creativity and advancement for Muslims was also one for Jews.

While Europe was in its Dark Ages and Jews were reviled there, Muslims in Spain during the same period worked side by side with Jews in developing literature, science and art.

Together, they translated classical Greek texts into Arabic. This task later helped Europe move out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.

Jews flourished under Muslim rule in Egypt as well, where they achieved very high positions in government.

Siddiqi quotes some lines from an Arab poet of that time, to illustrate: 'Today the Jews have reached the summit of their hopes and have become aristocrats. Power and riches have they and from them councilors and princes are chosen'.

Today: the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland has destroyed good Muslim-Jewish relations

So what happened?

Although not the only cause, a large part of the deterioration in Muslim-Jewish relations comes from the emergence of Zionism, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland by Zionist Jews and British colonizers, as well as their continuing oppression.

Siddiqi says, "while this reaction results in anti-Jewish feeling it must be seen in its proper historical context. It must be remembered that anti-Jewish sentiments in so far as it is to be found in the contemporary Arab world is strictly a modern phenomenon and one that runs counter to the time honored Islamic tradition of fraternity and tolerance.

"The very widespread popular notion that present day Arab-Jewish hostility is but another chapter in a long history of mutual animosity is totally false. If there is one thing the past makes clear it is precisely that Arabs and Jews can live together peacefully and in a mutually beneficial relationship. History also makes it very clear that they are the heirs to the Islamic tradition of openness and tolerance."

The key to reestablishing good relations between Muslims and Jews again is justice, notes Siddiqui. This principle is foreign to neither Islam nor Judaism.

In Islam, standing up for justice, he points out, must be done even if it is against ourselves, our parents, our kin, the rich or the poor. This is clearly mentioned in the Quran (4:135).

Siddiqi points out that the emphasis on justice is also mentioned in Jewish scripture in the prophecies of Michael in chapter three: "Zion shall be redeemed with justice and by those who will come to her with righteousness."




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Your Comments

kamal, chicago - wrote on 2/8/2012 6:35:02 PM
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Comment: Just came back from Morocco. The reason there are not many Jews left in Morocco is that the state of Israel actively encourages Jews to move to Israel while it bombs and harasses its Palestinians.


Lynn, - wrote on 2/6/2012 11:59:05 AM
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Comment: "In an interview with Sound Vision, Siddiqi gave numerous examples of Jews flourishing under Muslim rule in places like Spain, Morocco, North African in general and various parts of the Middle East." If this is so true; Why then, you must ask, are there no Jews and few Christians left in Morocco today? I do appreciate that this site allows free commenting from both sides.


Muslimah, Minneapolis - wrote on 4/16/2011 8:01:55 PM
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Comment: Great article, thank you so much for this. I'd also suggest reading Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal for more details on this topic.


Suheil, - wrote on 2/9/2011 11:05:05 PM
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Comment: Oh please. Readers, do not be mislead by this incorrect drivel. Sound Vision is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and wants everyone to believe Islam is all good and no bad. However, the great Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides wrote, "Inasmuch as the Muslims could not find a single proof in the entire Bible nor a reference or possible allusion to their prophet which they could utilize, they were compelled to accuse us saying, “You have altered the text of the Torah, and expunged every trace of the name of Mohammed therefrom.” They could find nothing stronger than this ignominious argument." Maimonides himself fled the oppression of Muslims in Spain. And he warned his fellow Jews that ignoring this horrible treatment was very dangerous. So, dear readers, it remains! Maimonides: "Remember, my co-religionists, that on account of the vast number of our sins, God has hurled us in the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us, as Scripture has forewarned us, ‘Our enemies themselves shall judge us’ (Deuteronomy 32:31). Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they …. Although we were dishonored by them beyond human endurance, and had to put with their fabrications, yet we behaved like him who is depicted by the inspired writer, “But I am as a deaf man, I hear not, and I am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth.” (Psalms 38:14). Similarly our sages instructed us to bear the prevarications and preposterousness of Ishmael in silence. They found a cryptic allusion for this attitude in the names of his sons “Mishma, Dumah, and Massa” (Genesis 25:14), which was interpreted to mean, “Listen, be silent, and endure.” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, ad locum). We have acquiesced, both old and young, to inure ourselves to humiliation, as Isaiah instructed us “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.” (50:6). All this notwithstanding, we do not escape this continued maltreatment which well nigh crushes us. No matter how much we suffer and elect to remain at peace with them, they stir up strife and sedition, as David predicted, “I am all peace, but when I speak, they are for war.” (Psalms 120:7). If, therefore, we start trouble and claim power from them absurdly and preposterously we certainly give ourselves up to destruction.”


amira, - wrote on 12/31/2010 9:28:09 PM
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Comment: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhist, atheist.. i mean honestly does it really matter what and how the other person prays or think.. i mean i do understand that democracy is an ideology and we as human beings try our best to get as close as possible to this perfect world. but what is it going to take or add to you as a person or as wealth if your neighbor thinks or prays in a different way or if he doesn't pray or think at all .. i mean honestly what is happening is ridiculous. i agree that people need to acknowledge that there is a difference between religion and fanatic parties. i mean im muslim i have christian friends and muslim friends and i really wish i had jews friends diversity is nice people should try that.. i mean what i dont understand is when for example 1 Muslims fighting against 1 christian lol and u see a bunch of muslims defending that muslim and a bunch of christian defending that christian without even knowing whats going on. like come on.. and what happening with the propaganda world wide against islam i do take it as an offense because i as many others like me are not narrow minded.. someone had commented that islam and jews are the only 2 religion that have only one God. dude thats not something to say i mean lol its not up to you to judge or to comment on stuff like that.. and u need to relate to everyone coz we are all humans we all have red blood and we all eventually will die.. we all laugh smile cry and have emotions.. Islam teaches us ethics and ethics are not dont drink dont sin dont kill .. ethics are to have a wide heart and to understand and preach in a peaceful way .. people will want to be like you if you show ethics, honesty, understanding, knowledge, respect no matter what religion u follow... and its about setting a good example and about disciplining yourself to good ethics and behavior.. there is good Muslims and bad Muslims good Christians and bad Christians good Jews and bad Jews, good atheist and bad atheists good Buddhist and bad ones . this one relates to upraising and education at home and school and not religion. and when considering fanatic Muslims, Christians, Jews , or any other religion or belief .. fanaticism is fanaticism and once you reach that point you are no longer following any religion. there is a HUGE difference between religious people who are more committed to religion than others from the same faith and between fanatics.point is its only when us as humans will be able to relate to others from the humanitarian perspective and doing it honestly not for the image or popularity. i mean im not an idiot i dont want to go in politics right now but i mean i have a brain i think i know whats right and whats wrong and i know when my leaders or other leaders are giving me the "bull speech" .. one last thing to add. the propaganda against Islam is allowed by Muslims themselves no one else to blame. unfortunately because of the corruption. corruption is everywhere but its what you do to minimize it and its damage and the rules and regulations that doesn't differentiate between one person and another just because he X or Y or Z.. that's what differs the developing countries from the developed ones. one last thought is that the struggle is a power struggle there is a correlation between power, money and religion mix all 3 and u have a recipe for a disaster.


amira, - wrote on 12/31/2010 9:27:00 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhist, atheist.. i mean honestly does it really matter what and how the other person prays or think.. i mean i do understand that democracy is an ideology and we as human beings try our best to get as close as possible to this perfect world. but what is it going to take or add to you as a person or as wealth if your neighbor thinks or prays in a different way or if he doesn't pray or think at all .. i mean honestly what is happening is ridiculous. i agree that people need to acknowledge that there is a difference between religion and fanatic parties. i mean im muslim i have christian friends and muslim friends and i really wish i had jews friends diversity is nice people should try that.. i mean what i dont understand is when for example 1 Muslims fighting against 1 christian lol and u see a bunch of muslims defending that muslim and a bunch of christian defending that christian without even knowing whats going on. like come on.. and what happening with the propaganda world wide against islam i do take it as an offense because i as many others like me are not narrow minded.. someone had commented that islam and jews are the only 2 religion that have only one God. dude thats not something to say i mean lol its not up to you to judge or to comment on stuff like that.. and u need to relate to everyone coz we are all humans we all have red blood and we all eventually will die.. we all laugh smile cry and have emotions.. Islam teaches us ethics and ethics are not dont drink dont sin dont kill .. ethics are to have a wide heart and to understand and preach in a peaceful way .. people will want to be like you if you show ethics, honesty, understanding, knowledge, respect no matter what religion u follow... and its about setting a good example and about disciplining yourself to good ethics and behavior.. there is good Muslims and bad Muslims good Christians and bad Christians good Jews and bad Jews, good atheist and bad atheists good Buddhist and bad ones . this one relates to upraising and education at home and school and not religion. and when considering fanatic Muslims, Christians, Jews , or any other religion or belief .. fanaticism is fanaticism and once you reach that point you are no longer following any religion. there is a HUGE difference between religious people who are more committed to religion than others from the same faith and between fanatics.point is its only when us as humans will be able to relate to others from the humanitarian perspective and doing it honestly not for the image or popularity. i mean im not an idiot i dont want to go in politics right now but i mean i have a brain i think i know whats right and whats wrong and i know when my leaders or other leaders are giving me the "bull speech" .. one last thing to add. the propaganda against Islam is allowed by Muslims themselves no one else to blame. unfortunately because of the corruption. corruption is everywhere but its what you do to minimize it and its damage and the rules and regulations that doesn't differentiate between one person and another just because he X or Y or Z.. that's what differs the developing countries from the developed ones. one last thought is that the struggle is a power struggle there is a correlation between power, money and religion mix all 3 and u have a recipe for a disaster.


STEVEOH, NAPLES - wrote on 10/17/2010 7:27:20 AM
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Comment: NOBEL PRIZES--JEW VS MUSLIM With regard to the Internet circulated comparison of number of Nobel prizes won by Jews (129 with 0.2% of world’s population) compared to those won by Muslims (7 with 20% of world’s population)-- The question is whether this disparity is due to a defect in innate Arab-world intelligence or due to their being harnessed to religion? The comparison of Nobel prizes awarded leaves out important facts that can lead to different conclusions than the one implied, namely that “Jews are God’s chosen people” and therefore superior to the rest of humanity. For example: 1. The Nobel Prize is a political thing, as evidenced by Barak Obama getting one for doing nothing. 2. The Nobel committee has contained far more Jews than Muslims. That obviously biases the process since Jews are notoriously partial to their own. 3. Money leads to power and power can get Nobel Prizes--Jews have a heavy influence on the flow of money world wide. 4. The Jewish pursuit of money drives invention, and invention is what Nobel prizes are primarily about. 5. The Muslim backwardness (up to 80% illiteracy) is not about inherent intellect, it is about religion not yet being civilized by the secular state. Between 1980-1999 there were 370 Arab country patents registered in the U.S., but over 16,000 from S. Korea alone. Does that make Koreans superior and chosen by God?. The number of computers per 1000 people in Muslim lands is 18. The number per 1000 world wide, including all the poor nations, is 78. On and on such comparisons could go showing that Islam stultifies progress and thus opportunity for Nobel prizes. 6. The Arab world began to awaken intellectually prior to the advent of Islam and its “god driven” program of stamping progress out. Thus it is religion, not brains (although one must wonder about the brain of anyone who slavishly follows so-called holy books), that keeps Muslims out of contention for Nobel prizes. 7. Prior to the state intervening, Jews, following their “holy book,” slaughtered hundreds of thousands of non-Jew women and children, plundered and stole from their neighbors (perhaps it was this “god” mandate that created the mindset of “jewing” other people out of their money), kept the “young virgins for themselves” stoned disobedient sons to death, etc…, all on command of their god. Read the Bible. If read for what it says, rather than cherry-picked for a few soothing words, it is the most Jew incriminating document there is. 8. Arab states have not done well with the wealth they have pumped out of the ground they happen to be sitting on, but neither can it be argued that the Jewish control of money has been salutary. For example: Jews heading a Federal Reserve that prints fiat money that devalues the lives of people everywhere, Jewish industrialism and environmental destruction and worker oppression, World Bank Jews and the financing of wars and subjugation of peoples and nations. 9. If one were to make a list of graft and greed, that list would not be complimentary to the Jews--note that on the program "American Greed" that a large proportion of the “stars” (such as Bernard Madoff) are Jews, not Muslims. 10. The supremacist “god’s chosen” mentality of Jews has led to over 50 devastating in-breeding genetic problems in their population, far more than in the Muslims. The above is not to pick on the Jews, but to give some balanced thought to those who insist the Jews are superior or “chosen.”. It is also not to justify the horrendous acts of Muslims who try to follow their holy book to a tee, unlike Jews and Christians who simply gloss over the Biblical commands to kill unbelievers, stone children, practice incest and polygamy, and “worship” a god who takes delight in the “sweet smell” of burning Jewish victims and revels in showing how big and bad he is by slaughtering millions of men, women, children, animals, etc. "Jew" and "Muslim" have to do with man-made religions centered on anthropomorphized gods (not the true creator of the universe who would find it impossible to do the things that holy book gods do) that have resulted in more human misery than any other ideology. Fact, reason, conscience, and personal responsibility are the classroom of god; faith, belief, hope, and obedience to man-made holy books are the playground of evil. For excellent intelligent discussions on how the creator of the universe and our immortality have nothing to do with the 43,000 pathetic religions humans have concocted over the millennia, see the site: asifthinkingmatters.com.


John, edmonton - wrote on 8/27/2010 1:36:46 AM
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Comment: A rather one-sided story is given about the jews and muslims in Spain. Yes, there were times that jews were treated well by muslims. But I can also give many examples when tolerance towards jews was very limited. Remember the Granada massacre in 1066 when muslims killed thousands of jews? Abu Ishaq wrote the following anti-Semitic poem at the time: Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on. They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators? How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent? Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right!


Angela, jaffrey, nh - wrote on 7/15/2010 11:11:02 AM
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Comment: Thank you so much for this article. I have begun to read Islamic and Jewish history in and understand the world we live in. This article gave me so much insight and hope for the future that we will leave to our children. Though I do know that European Christians drove the Moors out of Spain and did their best to destroy everything that they had accomplished. I have always thought to be a crime against humanity that ranks up their with the burning of the ancient Library at Alexandria; but I had no idea that both Jews and Muslims both contributed to this "golden age" as you called it. I come from a Christian background and was never taught much about Islam or Judism. The only way we can overcome hate is with knowledge and foregiveness. I think your article was an excellent building block for my evolving foundation of knowledge and I will pass this information on to my children. I sincerely hope others of all faiths will the same. Thank you again sir.


Ali, - wrote on 6/10/2010 9:49:21 AM
Rating: Rating

Comment: Everyone should go to Jews-For-Allah.org. It's a great site about this kind of stuff. Muslims and Jews are the only true monotheists in the world today--and what's more is that we both WORSHIP OUR LORD--ALLAH/YHWH! Orthodox Jews pray three times a day and Muslims pray five times a day. Moreover, our praying styles are very similar. Prophet Muhammad [SAW] treated the Jews with great respect and called them "People of the Book." Personally, I can relate more to a Jew about religion than to a Christian. The only reason Muslims and Jews don't seem to get along is because of Zionism and how the media portrays each group as incompatible. In truth, Muslims and Jews are brothers of the same religion of Islam, just Jews need to realize that Hazrat Isa [AS] was the Masih and that Prophet Muhammad [SAW] was the Final Seal of the Prophets, the Paraklete, and the Prophet Similar to Moses [AS]. May Allah guide us all upon the straight path.


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