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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Dhimmis Developed in Middle East (3rd Class Jews)

Nadene Goldfoot
The Abbasid Empire of the 10th to 12th centuries and their relationship to Muhammad and the Quraysh Tribe * brought unwelcome changes for Jews living in some Middle Eastern countries. They existed from the 8th century to the 12th and ruled from Baghdad. Their empire went from Central Asia to North Africa.  They claimed descent from Mohammed's Uncle Abbas.   Though Mohammed died in 632,  many people living in rural areas and in the lower classes had not yet accepted Islam.  The majority were practicing Zoroastrians.  Others were Nestorians, Orthodox and Coptic Christians.  Jews were the smallest group.

The Abbasids wanted to impress the Muslim theologians, so they persecuted the non- Muslims. Harun al-Rashid, and Mutawakkil were Caliphs and were very tough.  The dhimmi (non-Muslims) lived under harsh rules.
1.They could not build places of worship.  Any built after the Arab conquest had to be demolished.
2. They had to wear special clothes.
    a. In 800's Baghdad's Caliph al-Mutawakkil had Jews wear a yellow badge (Nazis used this idea)
3. Some were even branded on their foreheads.
4. Their homes could not be taller than Muslims' homes.
    a. Jews of North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco) lived in ghettos ( 9th to 19th centuries)
    b. Morocco Jews had to walk barefoot or wear shoes of straw outside ghetto (largest Jewish community in Islamic countries)
5. Testimony against Muslims was not admitted in court
6.  Even children learned to practice degradation of Jews by throwing stones at them, harassing them.  I saw this done in the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God  with Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas.  The children threw stones at Mohammad in Mecca when he first started preaching.  It leads me to think that children have been doing this for a long time to anyone that is scorned and they got away with it.

Outside the capital everyone was at the mercy of the local governor.
7. Dhimmi were required to pay the head tax in a prostrate position, given a seal instead of a receipt, which they hung around their necks.

This brought about the desired effect.  Conversions were then common.

Even with all this, there seemed to be some semblance of tolerance in Islam.  Christians and Jews held positions of honor as businessmen, court physicians, philosophers and even as  vazirs at times.  The exception to this were the Zoroastrians.  Most of the persecutions happened to them and the lower-class Christians and Jews.

Islam supremacy was preached by the Umayyads.  They were the people that had lost their empire to the Abbasids.  This caused resentment with the aristocrats and intelligentsia of Iran and Syria.  This religious zeal of the Abbasids persecuted the majority of the rural population.  Perhaps it was they who the author of "Aghani" wrote:  "Oh, that the tyranny of the Umayyads would return.  Oh, that the justice of the Abbasids would go to hell."  

There were many periods that  Jews in Muslim lands in and around the fallen Judea lived in peace and thrived culturally and economically.  Their position was not a secure one, however, anymore than it was in Eastern Europe.  It only took changes in the political or social climate and then they would suffer from persecution, violence and often, death.  Oftentimes it was when Jews  were seen as being too comfortable in this Islamic society that anti-Semitism would be apparent.

On December 30, 1066, Joseph HaNagid, Jewish vizier of Granada, Spain (then a Muslim land) , was crucified by an Arab mob that then razed the Jewish quarter of the city and killed 5,000 Jews living there.  It was incited by their preachers who imagined the Jews had political power.

In 1466, Arab mobs in Fez killed thousands of Jews, leaving only 11 alive after the Jewish deputy vizier was said to be offensive to a Muslim woman.  This started a wave of killings throughout Morocco.

This sounds very familiar to events happening in Eastern Europe.  Jews were even worse off there, living with  unexpected pogroms happening, touched on in the movie "Fiddler on the Roof." which was based on historic facts.  My own grandmother, immigrating to the states at about age 17, came from Poland with legs that had been broken in a pogrom, as she told her young grandson, my cousin.  We witnessed the results from the condition of her legs.

Jewish history even records times when the Ottoman Empire invited Jews back to work on economic facets of their empire.  Some did in fact return, probably finding life in Eastern Europe far worse.  They were pretty much dependent on the good graces of the existing ruler of the day in either land.

Now, for the Arabs of the fallen Ottoman Empire to have to accept Jews in their midst seems to be too much for them.  This means accepting people who were of  a dhimmini level to be treated as equals.  Unlike the Muslims of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where dhimminitude did not seem to occur,  they  had developed a completely different  attitude towards Jews.  In fact,  some religious leaders had interpreted the Koran a little differently in areas towards Jews.  I'm finding that interpretations are as varied as they are in Judaism and especially in Christianity.   For instance, the main fiqh in Afghanistan and Pakistan is "Hanafi".  Morocco follows the fiqh "Maliki".  Saudi Arabia follows "Hanbali", as does Qatar, though with Qaradawi now as a head religious leader in Qatar, they may have recently changed their fiqh.   Jordan follows "Shafi'i".

* Quraysh Tribe:  At the time of Muhammad, the Quraysh tribe had passed the height of their power and were losing their prestige and control.  There was disunity among the clans.  This invited rival tribes from the neighboring areas to challenge their prestige.  The pilgrimage season was over and the tribes scattered over the peninsula and raided for water, wealth and women.  The leaders of the Quraysh tribe sent well-protected caravans north to Syria, Egypt and Iran to sell goods and replenish stock for the next year.  So the Quraysh knew more about the outside world.  They were affected by the wars between Byzantium and Iran.  Jewish and Christian tribes lived in Arabia.  I believe the movie I cited above was showing all this history of the Quraysh tribe.

Resource:  Textbook: 2nd edition Middle East Past & Present by Yahya Armajani, Thomas M. Ricks, pages 65-74 Abbasids
Myths and Facts: a concise record of the Arab-Israeli conflict by Mitchell G. bard PhD and Joel Himelfarb Joel Himelfarb is the assistant editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times and a contributing editor to the American Spectator and to the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal.p. 175-177.  

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