Muslims and Jews: A historical surprise

Mosque and Synagogue in Paramaribo, Suriname

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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Salaam alaykum - this is a very good article illustrating that Jews and Muslims are not natural enemies as many seem to insist. We need these teachings and stories from our history so we can live more peacefully in the present and look to a better future. How a nation treats another nation is in proportion to what the majority of individuals believe about each other, whether the belief is based on truth or falsehood. We need to see more of the truth and you have provided it. Allah bless you. sister Rose



It's wonderful to see so many people committed to furthering mutual understanding and respect between Jews and Muslims - rather than fanning flames of rage and hostility as others have resorted to in these difficult times. May God bless you and reward your efforts!


san francisco

Assalam alaykum!This is just to appreciate your effort in rekinle the mutual relationship enjoyed by both jews and muslims in the past as illustrated in your article.I'm very sure that this article we go a long way in bringing peace and progress to the world. As a muslim,we need to do more dawah through our daily interaction with our brothers in islam and people of other religion.May Allah continue to shower his blessing on you.Kamaldeen



Assalamu Alaikum-Insha'Allah there will be more articles like that we can work to end the anti-Semitism that exists all too frequently in Muslim communities today. Insha'Allah one day soon there will be justice and peace for Muslims and Jews.



Asalam alaikum- this is a good artical indeed.hope this artical takes out the misunderstanding between both the communities,Insha-Allah


bijapur karnataka INDIA

The article makes an effort to shed light on the peaceful relationship Islam enjoyed with Judaism in various periods of history. It is niceto see people looking for these peaceful times with an an eye and interest of creating peace in the near future. The history of Palestinian and Israelirelations is not quite as simple as the author alleges though. There is a lot of study that must be pursued with an open mind from both Arabs and Jews. For example, to the question, are there cases where Jews expelled Arabs from their homes and their land? Yes. However there is another question that must be asked as well,Are there nearly a million Jews that were expelledfrom their homes in many Arabic Muslim countries during the years of 1948-1952? Yes. Were most of the lands that Jews live on in Palestine-Israel bought from Arabs through the national fund and from people as prominant as even the Mufti of Jeruslam? Yes. Did Engand make conflicting promises about this land to both the Jews and the Arabs? Yes. Did this create some of the hard feelings? Yes. Were Palestinians offered about half of the land in 1948? Yes. Did the Palestinan's reject this partition plan and decide to attack Israel nstead? Yes. Did this occur again in 1967 and 1973? Yes. Did Israeli's Prime Minister offer 97% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine to Arafat? Yes. And did Arafat reject this offer. Yes? Is it possible that Arafat never wanted a Palestinian state for his people but rather used the Palestinain cause to galvanize the Fundamentalist Movement within Islam? Yes.Isn't it time we live in peace and simply face facts like I have outlined? Yes. Am I open to hear other facts that you may like to share with me that I have not mentioned here. Yes, I would. I am not afraid of facts nor should you be afraid of facts. I am glad that you all are trying to make things better. Let's all decide to learn more, Love more, understand more and strive for peace more. Shalom=Salam.Shaul



One really good book about Muslim Spain and the contributions of Muslim, Jews and Christians at the time is "The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain" by Maria Rosa Menocal. The book highlights the cooperation between these three religious groups under Muslim leadership. It is an eye-opener, especially for those who believe that Muslims cannot offer a society to the world that is just, pluralistic and progressive. A highly recommended read.



The tone of the comments here are very promising.I am constantly working hard in the Jewish community to drive home the point that at least 85% of Muslims in the world do not support MilitantJihadist {terrorist} activity~ there are many Americans that don't get this....that don't get that it's the minority of fundamentalists that have grabbed the bull horn and make a lot of noise,, and that it is not always so easy to raise your voice in places like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebenon, Palestine etc...but I have seen the beginnings of a formal and earnest Reformation amongst Kindred spirits that is currently winding up to make a move,,,a power move to make the voice of Islam that is fashioned after the period of peace between the people of the book,, and are prepared to take the sweetest parts of Islam and emphasis them,, the parts that embrace democracy and pluralism.. People are not asking any more for the most part, where are the descenting Muslim voices? We are hearing you now,, I am bouncing the sound you make into the Jewish community~ I am trying to do my part,, keep doing what you are doing,, it's working. Salam,shaul



Great approach by Shaul NYC dated 12/31/04. one would say 'Labbaik' and raised the voice more laud and clear.Let us take off our hands from our eyes and put both of our hands on our hearts. Let all to believe in Justice and Justice only to stop killing of innocent every where.



Salaam wa Shalom!Happy to read of Muslims and Jews reestablishing its traditional alliance. Here in Spain we still see the remains of the greatness this alliance brought. Let me add that Jewish troops from Spain were instrumental in the swift conquering of this land and were highly trusted by the Muslim commander Tariq. This is shown by the fact that Jewish troops were left to defend some of the most important cities, among them Seville.Long live the alliance of believers, be they Jews, Christians or Muslims!Wassallam/ Omar




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