By T. O. Shavanas, who wrote the book: “The Islamic Theory of Evolution: The Missing Link between Darwin and The Origin of Species.”
In the contemporary Western media, it is common to read that Muslims are intolerant to Jews and other people of faith. Unfortunately, I have to agree that the contemporary Muslim world is filled with hatred against Jews contradictory to the practice of Prophet and his followers in the early Muslim history. This hatred is not anything to do with Islam. Unfortunately, similar hatred exists in Jews community also. If this current hatred were originated and instigated by religion of Islam, we would have experienced persecution and extermination of Jews and Christians from Muslim world. In fact, Jews flocked into the Middle East from the west to escape from European persecution and anti-Semitism.
Even the historians from Jewish faith record a different history than what is popularized today by media. The current hatred between Jews and Arabs is the result of colonialism and the growth of state-sponsored form religious cults and extremism in that part of the contemporary world. Muslims and Jews lived together helping each other to build a great civilization for several centuries within Islamic morality of peaceful coexistence until the Western conquerors destroyed such peaceful coexistence.
Until Islam spread from Arabia to Spain in sixth century, the Jewish people were engaged in agriculture and manual labor. Soon after these lands came under house of Islam, Jewish people became merchants, artisans, physicians, and scientists. This transformation of Jewish life pattern in Muslim empire of Prophet and his early followers is the best evidence that pure form of early Islam was not a fanatic, chauvinistic, and ethnocentric cult as we see in the contemporary Muslim world in the east.
Jewish Historian, S.H.Goiten states:
“The Jews took their full share in this great Middle-eastern mercantile civilization [Islamic civilization], in particular from tenth to thirteenth centuries; and it was at that time and in that part of the world that Judaism itself received its final shape.” [Ref: “A Mediterranean Society.” By S.H. Goiten. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967, Pages. 6-7].
Other historians repeat the same story.
American historian philosopher, Will Durant, agrees with S.H.Goiten’s statement of, “Judaism itself received its final shape” in the early Muslim empire:”
“Saadia ben Joseph al-Fayyumi …grew up in Egypt…Saadia took a leaf or two from Moslem theologians, and followed their methods of exposition, even, now and then, the details of their argument. In turn his work permeated the Jewish world, and influenced Maimonides. ‘Were it not for Saadia,’ said ben Maimon, ‘the Torah would almost have disappeared.’” [Ref: “The Story of Civilization” by Will Durant. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950, Vol. 4. Pages.367-368).
Heinrich Graetz, the leading 19th century Jewish historian, states:
“Wearied with contemplating the miserable plight of the Jews in their ancient home and in the countries of Europe, and fatigued by the constant sight of fanatical oppression, the eyes of the observer rest with gladness upon their situation in the Arabian Peninsula. Here the sons of the Judah were free to raise their heads, and did not need to look about them with fear and humiliation, lest the ecclesiastical wrath be discharged upon them, or the secular power overwhelm them. Here they were not shut out from the paths of honor, nor excluded from the privileges of the state, but, untrammeled, were allowed to develop their powers in the midst of free, simple and talented people, to show their courage, to compete for the gifts of fame, and with practiced hand to measure swords with their antagonism.” [Ref: A History of Jews” by Heinrich Graetz (New York 1894) page p. 3: 236.]
The Christian Patriarch insisted with Caliph Omar to include a clause in the edict [see the edict above] preventing Jews living with Christians in Jerusalem . However, later Caliph Omar realized the injustice of this provision and invited Jews to live in Jerusalem.
Karen Armstrong documents this:
“Umar [the brother-in-law of Prophet Muhammad] invited seventy Jewish families from Tiberias to settle in Jerusalem…They were also allowed to build a synagogue—known as the ‘Cave’ near Herod’s western supporting wall…Muslims had not only liberated them [Jews] from the oppression of Byzantium but had also given Jews rights of permanent residence in their Holy City…Towards the end of the seventh century, a Hebrew poem hailed the Arabs as the precursors of the Messiah.” [Jerusalem by Karen Armstrong. page.233]
Jewish Historian, Max I. Dimont states:
“The image of modern man holds of the Jew in the Islamic Age in no way corresponds to reality.” .” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 193)
“The improbable but true tale of a camel driver’s establishment of a world empire in the name Allah, wherein the Jews rose to their Golden Age of creativity, only to be plunged into a Dark Age with the eclipse of the Crescent and the ascent of the cross.” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 183).
“Span of Jewish Golden Age in the Mohammedan civilization corresponded to the life span of the Islamic Empire itself.” .” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 192)
“Within a hundred years the Mohammedan Empire rose to challenge Western civilization. Yet, within this religion,… the Jews not only survived but rose to one of their greatest literary, scientific, and intellectual peaks…Seven hundred years passed and the pendulum swung. The Islamic world crumbled and the Jewish culture in the Islamic world crumbled with it.” [Ref: “Jews, God and History.” By Max I.Dimont:. New York.1962. Page 17].
These historical facts expose the Islam is a tolerant religion that encourages the uplifting of all people, not the Muslims alone. So great was the fame of Rabbi Moses ben Maimonides (1134-1204 A.D), the author of Mishneh Torah (The “Second Torah”) that:
“Richard the Lion Heart, King of England, offered him a post as his personal `physician, but Maimonides refused, feeling more at home in the culture of Arabic civilization than in the barbaric atmosphere of feudal Europe.” [Ref: “Jews, God and History.” By Max I.Dimont: New York.1962. Page. 179].
The rejection of the offer from the Christian King of England by Maimonides is shows that Jews felt more at home and free in Muslim empire than in the Christian empire.
“Though the Mohammedan Empire is dead, the human elements which shaped its grandeur is still living…It sprang from a deep wells of human creativity within the people themselves. For seven hundred years Arab and Jew lived side by side in peace and with mutual respect.” .” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 205)
“In Spain…King Reccared, with fearful zeal of a new convert, spread his newly found Christianity with sword so fierce that not only were the Visigoths baptized, but large number of Jews as well. When the Mohammedans conquered Spain and granted everyone religious freedom, many of these forcefully converted Jews did not return fully to the Mosaic religion” .”
(Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 213)
“Throughout North Africa, Egypt, and Ottoman Empire, Jews enjoyed almost complete religious and economic freedom for several centuries.” .” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 223)
“Even the Black Death, or bubonic plague (1348-1349), …was put into the service of killing Jews (in Europe). Before the Black Death swept Europe, it had hit Mongolia and Islamic Empire. Mongols , Mohammedans, and Jews had all died together without anyone having thought of blaming Jews” .” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 237)
“Technically, all non-Mohammedans had to pay a head tax for protection, which exempted them from military service and denied them the right to hold pubic office. But as far as the Jews were concerned, these were neglected laws, for the Jews seldom had to pay such a head tax, often served with great distinction and high rank Moslem armies and rose to the highest posts in government services, including grand viziers and princely rank.” .” ( Ref: “Jews, God and History.” by Max I.Dimont. New York.1962. Page 192)
Jewish Historian, Ilan Halevi States☹
“It is true that the Arab world was much more tolerant than Christian West towards the Jews living within it, and that, in the land of Islam, especially in the Arab world, the concept of anti-Semitism such as it developed in Europe in the 19th century lacks the roots and encrustation that it has in Germany or Russia.” [Ref: “A History of Jews, Ancient and Modern.” by Ilan Halevi. P. 199].
I would not claim that there were no intermittent persecution of Jews and Christians by some Muslims. However, according to Karen Armstrong, these persecutions occurred only during the time when House of Islam was invaded by Christians and Jews. [Holy War by Karen Armstrong. Page 30]. However, in the contemporary Muslim majority countries all people including Christians and Jews are oppressed. In Egypt the bureaucratic stonewalling prevents Christians to build a church. Recently, Muslims of Egypt attacked Coptic Church claiming that the church bell is too loud. But Muslims have no complaint with their call for prayer over loud speakers five or even more times a day. In Saudi Arabia, Christians are not allowed to carry a cross or a Bible in public. Even Muslims of different school of thought cannot practice their faith in that country. These practices of political Islam are contrary to the teaching of the Koran and Prophet.
Karen Armstrong, Professor at Leo Baeck College for Study of Judaism and the Training of Rabbis and teachers, states in her book, Holy War:
“Indeed the word ‘Islam’ comes from the same Arabic root as the word ‘peace’ and Koran condemns war as abnormal state of affairs opposed to God’s will: when the enemies of Muslims ‘kindle a fire for war, Allah extinguishes it. They strive to create disorder in the earth, and Allah loves not those who create disorder’ (Koran 5:64). Islam does not justify a total aggressive war of extermination, as Torah does in the first five books of the Bible… Islam recognizes that war is inevitable and sometimes a positive duty in order to end oppression and suffering. The Koran teaches that war must be limited and be conducted in as humane way as possible…[Mohammad instructed Muslim army that] they must not molest priests, monks, nuns nor the weak and helpless people who were unable to fight. They must not massacre of civilians nor should they cut down a single tree nor pull down any building. This was very different from the wars of Joshua.” [Ref: Karen Armstrong. Holy War. Page 25]
Henry Grady Weaver from The Foundation For Economic Education, Inc, Irvington-On-Hudson, New York, states in his book, “The Mainspring of Human Progress:”
“Prior to the Crusades, it had never occurred to the invaders that a strong man needs not be brutal. The Saracens (i.e., Muslims) were fierce in battle, but they were not cruel. They did not kill the wounded; they did not torture their prisoners. When they struck down an opponent, it was not uncommon to help them. (Read Sir Walter Scott). They did not persecute Christians. They were honorable. They told the truth; they kept their word. The English knights were especially impressed; and due in small measure to the lessons learned from the Saracens, the British aristocracy developed into one of the finest ruling classes the world has ever known.” [Ref: Henry Grady Weaver: “The Main Spring of Human Progress.” New York 1984. Page 122]
About the author: He wrote the book: “The Islamic Theory of Evolution: The Missing Link between Darwin and The Origin of Species.” And he is co-author of the book: And God Said, “Let There Be Evolution”: Reconciling the Book of Genesis, the Qur’an and the Theory of Evolution, by Prof. Charles M. Wynn and Prof. Arthur W. Wiggins (Editors).