So the other day I started reading In Ishmael's House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands, a gift I received for my birthday. I recall this being one of those recommended by Amazon.com after it saw other books I had viewed. I think at the time I was interested in Jewish life and the treatment of Jews while living among Muslims because Zachary Karabell's book, Peace Be Upon You, (one of my favorites from 2010), made me better understand coexistence is possible...and there was historical proof for it having happened. People who say Muslims and Jews have never gotten along since the days of Isaac and Ishmael and Muslims have always persecuted the Jews and what we see of Muslim Arab hatred for Israel is only proof of that aren't entirely truthful.
So I put this book on my Wishlist thinking perhaps one day I'd order it. At least it was on the list as a reminder. Fast forward to birthday 2011 and I received it from a thoughtful friend! Having just finished a book pretty much detailing why Islam is so awful (a book I'd had for a couple years and decided to finally read in my quest to read books I have here instead of checking out more library books), I was weary of another Muslim-bashing book and when I found out the author, Martin Gilbert, was Jewish, I thought, "Oh no! This isn't like Karabell's book at all!" But then I started reading and overall have found it fair. (I've read about 150 pages with about 200 to go.)
In all honesty, I've heard the Muslim side of some of these stories. I've read enough Muslim-leaning blog posts and snippets from books and articles and talked to Samer enough to have heard the justification given for Muhammad's treatment of Jews. And I'd often thought it seemed fair enough. He was asked to be the leader or mediator guy in Medina and when the Jews broke their commitment, covenant, signed agreement (whatever!), they were punished. Martin Gilbert didn't present those stories in the same manner. In fact it was after reading the short chapter on Muhammad and the Jews that I had my "Oh no!" reaction. He described more of a cleansing of Arabia or a moving out of the Jews for the sake of the Arab Muslims which made me think of modern-day Palestine in reverse. He did say Muhammad initially seemed OK with the Jews, but his later response changed when the Jews refused to accept him as a prophet. *shrug* I don't know the true story of what happened. But at least now I've heard two sides of the story, right?
He didn't totally condemn Muhammad, by the way. In fact he concluded the chapter with "Throughout the centuries to follow, Muslims had to decide in their relations with the Jews whether to see them as cursed people, or as a people protected by Islam. Mohammed's example gave them ample reason to take either view. Although he had protected Jews living under dhimmi status and granted them religious freedom, he had also subjugated them and punished them severely." (pg. 26) Based on what I know of the story from Muslim, Jewish and secular sources that seems pretty accurate. Maybe this author didn't tell the whole story of how bad the Jews were and why they deserved the "severe" punishment and how it was par for the course at that time in history and even seemed OK with other Jewish tribes. I think he didn't represent that point of view quite fairly. Or maybe that is the Muslim side of things coming out from my memory.
I just know it seems whenever I read most any book - aside from the Bible - Jews (pre-Zionism) never do much of anything wrong. It sincerely comes across as if they are mostly innocent victims who were just bullied by many throughout history for often made up reasons. Like they killed a Christian child to use his blood for their Passover. Or made too much money in their businesses and people were jealous of their wealth. Stuff like that. Has that been your reading experience as well?
I may share more notes from this book later, but this post is long enough. Share your thoughts if you'd like.