"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lesson from a Brave Muslimah & Stories of Jews in Muslim Lands

Besides the subject of Muhammad's example of how to treat Jews, here's a sampling of some of the topics discussed in this book's first 200 pages. There are some encouraging stories at the end of this post!

In Ishmael's House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands  by Martin Gilbert


The Fatimids for the most part treated the Jews well enough. Until Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah came on the scene destroying all synagogues and churches and giving Jews and Christians the "choice of conversion to Islam or departure from the countries under his rule."  A year before his death, however, he changed his mind and synagogues could be built and Jews could practice their religion again.  The lesson from al-Hakim: "although the dhimmi laws made room for both persecution and protection, their effect was decided by the temperament, religious zeal and personal caprice of Muslim rulers." (pg. 38)

The author notes Caliph al-Hakim likely had mental issues so ...


Chapter 4 -- Jews thrived in Spain under Muslim rule for a time and even held high positions. I think it was here that a Jewish man commanded a Muslim army until someone got jealous.  Yet later a Muslim tribe from North Africa the Almohads or "Unitarians" (for the unity of God) came into the region and they were much less tolerable. Either convert to Islam or leave.  (Throughout the book so far, I am amazed at how often Jewish people are forced to move from one place to another. Reminds me of reading the biblical tale of the Jews wandering in the desert.)

It was during the Almohads rule that the great Jewish scholar Maimonides lived.  In fact he outwardly converted to Islam.  "He advised his fellow Jews: 'Utter the formula' - of conversion -'and live.'"  A footnote says, "Maimonides was echoing Deuteronomy 31:19: 'I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.'"  (pg. 56)

Moses influencing the Jews in a convert-or-die situation!


Page 64 records how Jews flourished in Baghdad and assisted in its construction,

yet page 66 records how in Fez, Muslim leaders realized the Jews' conversions to Islam were insincere and devised special clothing and "degrading costume" for all Jewish men who supposedly had converted to Islam.


The book records "brief glimmers of light whenever Muslim nobles intervened on behalf of the Jews" (against common folks who testified against the Jews) yet also sad times when Jewish children were given to Muslim families enabling "authorities to take advantage of a particular Islamic theological position - fitra - that maintained that all males were born Muslims, and that they became Jews or Christians only because of the education received from their non-Muslim parents." (pg. 67)

The author notes Ibn  Aqnin who said many Muslims believed they would gain "considerable reward from Allah" for taking children from Jews and Christians.

God-sanctioned kidnapping is sad.


The Mamluks were not kind to Jews in Egypt, yet the Jews in the Persian city of Shiraz did pretty well.  (pg. 71)

At times the Jews lent aid to Muslims in fighting Christians.  (pg. 72) And when the Jews were expelled from Christian Europe, they were welcomed and protected in Muslim lands (pg. 76).

The Ottoman Empire was good for Jews suffering not only in Christian lands, but also in other Muslim lands such as Yemen. Jews from those places found refuge for the most part among the Ottomans.  (pg. 82)



What I like about the book is that the author will be sharing how awful Jews were treated by a Muslim mob...well, I don't like those stories, but I will be thinking how wrong it all is and then...ah, hope!  Then he will start a new paragraph sharing how individual Muslims stood against the mob mentality to protect the Jews!  And I remember looking off into the distance last night hoping that if ever an angry, murderous mob were in my town that I would not be tempted to join it and do harm to others. And that I wouldn't be afraid of them and go hide and pretend they are not doing these awful things. But that I would be bold in doing right and standing up to the bullies! 

Here is one example from a Tunisian leader, Muslim ruler Muhammed al-Munsif ("known to the French as Moncef Bey"):

"When the Germans occupied Tunisia at the end of 1942, Moncef Bey summoned his senior officials to his palace and told them: 'The Jews are having a hard time but they are under our patronage and we are responsible for their lives.  If I find out that an Arab informer caused even one hair of a Jew to fall, this Arab will pay with his life.'"  (pg. 181)

In Baghdad Jews found favor and help from the Mayor, Arshad al-Umari who rid the city of Yunis al-Sabawi who wanted to target Jewish houses and shops. (pg. 189)

Later in Adhamiya north of Baghdad when anti-Jewish fervor spread, Mordechai Ben-Porat told this story from when he was just 18 years old.  "'Armed with vicious tools such as axes, knives and all manner of sticks and clubs,'" he could "hear very clearly 'their strident voices and calls on Allah to sanction their murder of Jews.'"  His family "barricaded themselves into their home and climbed up to their roof to see what was happening....'I watched as our "good" Moslem neighbours, living on the opposite side of the street, those to whom mother would offer occasional savoury dishes from her kitchen participated in the general madness: they guided the raving attackers to our front door.'" 

I noted after reading one such tale how horrible it is that people who for years got along, lived together and were friendly, good neighbors would turn their backs on that in the name of religion and politics and nationalism!  It's so sad to see a root of bitterness allowed to grow into a cancer of destruction, isn't it?

But here is the good part of this particular story.  Ben-Porat continues:  "But at the very moment when the mob reached [his] house, the wife of another Muslim neighbour, Colonel Taher Mohammed Aref, stopped them from proceeding. Holding one of her husband's guns and a hand grenade, she 'stood facing the menacing crowd. ... Her determination and show of arms convinced them of her serious intent and they retreated.'  Ben-Porat never forgot this woman's actions: 'It was an act of bravery and left an indelible impression on my mind.'"  (pg. 191)

I want to be brave like this unnamed woman who stood up against the mob to do the right thing!   Even when that mob was her people of her faith and the ones being defended were not.


Thoughts?  Corrections? Please have your say in the comments!


Lat said...

The story of Ahmed reminded me of that happened in Bosnia,where Christians persecuted Muslims.I remember watching a documentary about two women friends of both faiths and how one turned against another.It was very sad.

The same goes to what happened in Gujerat,where thousands of Muslims were killed by a Hindu mob.Stuffs like this will keep happening until a new awakening is born.

Susanne said...

Lat,I was also reminded of the Hutus and Tutsis in Africa. They got along for so many years, were good neighbors and then for some reason, it went terribly wrong. We need to rid ourselves of any roots of bitterness and anger and choose to do right like this muslim lady did.

It's so sad when relationships sour especially to this extent! So often it seems to happen when one group gets to feeling wronged by another one. Oftentimes small things are exploited. We must learn to forgive and not allow friendships to be destroyed so easily.

Thanks for your comment!

Suroor said...

I read somewhere that the greatest harmony between Jews and Muslims has been when both were persecuted by Christians :D I think everyone needs a common enemy to unite! Look at Jews and Americans now - their common enemy are Muslims. In early Islam the Christians of Najran had a very peaceful interaction and dialogue with Muslims and the two were against Jews! It is like families with three children - there are always two united against one poor guy. So I think (not as religions) but as religious groups all three can be wrong at times and can be mean and evil and hateful. And then two unite to go against the third. But just like three siblings they are the children of Abraham and there is that link that runs through and unites them. The only way to unite all three would be to send all non-Abrahamic religionists after them :D LOL

PS: I have seen debates of Abrahamic people against atheists and they really do unite :)

Susanne said...

Haha! I like your solution to this problem! :D Good analogy about the 3 siblings. That makes a lot of sense! I really appreciate your comment. Thanks for taking time to read and leave your thoughts! :)

Becky said...

I really liked Suroor's comment, and great post Susanne! Loved the glimmers of hope when the Muslims stood up for the Jews.