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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gilbert on Muhammad and the Jews

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.


Wafa said...

Actually my experience is completely different since i read books from the point view of Muslims which stated that Jews are the roots of all evil in the world. But those are only some of the books. That's why i decided to change my reading completely. I look for books who wont blame this or that, but only state the fact and let me decide and have my own view on the matter. Plus reading more books or articles about the matter-any- would give me clearer view as it turns out from my experience.

Looking forward to reading more of your posts about this book :)

Suroor said...

There are always two sides of a story and every nation sees a rise and fall. I have been raised hearing the stories of persecuted Palestinians and my mother's father was a Palestinian refugee in Egypt so I have heard enough stories to last me a life time. But about a year or so ago I decided never to form biased opinions in my life. Certainly Israelis are to be blamed more for what is happening in Palestine but Palestinians are not always right either and I wonder - Jews in Arabia were these terrible and evil people, let's suppose, does that mean they deserved to be wiped out?

I don't have answers to these questions but they are things I think about sometimes when I am bombarded with stories against Jews.

Susanne said...

Wafa', you are so wise! I also would prefer books that just present the facts so I can make up my own mind. It seems those are hard to find as everyone has a bias. I guess that's why it's good to read a variety of books or articles on any subject and hopefully the truth is in there somewhere. I appreciate your feedback!

Susanne said...

Suroor, you always amaze me with the way you try to look at others' points of view and see the bigger picture. I truly admire this about you so very often!

I think that's the key to getting over all this hatred in the world. Realizing there are other sides to the story and trying to find some common ground and understanding and maybe even friendship!

People like you and Wafa' give me great hope!

I appreciate your comments, Ladies!

Lat said...

My father told me about a relative who owns a watch shop.This shop was give to him by his former boss,a Jew,before he left to settle overseas.The fact that he willing gave the shop to my relative who works in his shop, shows how good relationships are important.Not all Jews and Muslims are fighting over this or that.

Any you are right.Everyone has biases and we must be discerning enough to recognize it.

Susanne said...

Lat, I love hearing stories like that so thanks for sharing the watch shop story about your relative! :)