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The "Golden Age": harmony between Arabs and Jews?

QUESTION:

What is the 'Golden Age'? Did the Muslims really blossom together with Christians and Jews?

ANSWER:

* In fact, the years between 900 and 1200 in Spain and North Africa are known as the Hebrew "golden age," a sort of Jewish Renaissance that arose from the fusion of the Arab and Jewish intellectual worlds. Jews watched their Arab counterparts closely and learned to be astronomers, philosophers, scientists, and poets.

But this was a time of only partial autonomy. Jews were free to live in the Islamic world as long as they paid a special tax to Muslim rulers... Jews had their own legal system and social services, were forbidden to build new synagogues, and were supposed to wear identifying clothing.

- U.S. News and World Report, 8/16/99

* "At its peak about one thousand years ago, the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to science, notably mathematics and medicine. Baghdad in its heyday and southern Spain built universities to which thousands flocked. Rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists. A spirit of freedom allowed Jews, Christians, and Muslim to work side by side. Today all this is but a memory"
- Francis Ghiles, "What is Wrong With Muslim Science" Nature, 24 March 1983.


QUESTION:

How did this 'Golden Age' start? How can we encourage it again?

ANSWER:

* In 711 CE, Tariq, an Arab general, with 12,000 Berbers crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco and won the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors expanded north into France but were stopped at Tours by Charles "The Hammer" in 733. The Moorish area was pushed south below the Pyrenees and later confined to Andalusia. "Only those places which offered armed resistance were subjected to the full rigor of Islamic custom, summary execution of all adult males and the enslavement of women and children: this grim fate seems to have befallen the inhabitants of Cordova, Zaragoza and possibly Merida."

- from "Moorish Spain", R.Fletcher (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1992)

* For a time, Andalusia split into a number of estates with feudal barons often murdering or enslaving their neighbours and destroying their crops and vineyards.

Abd-er-Rahman III became Sultan in 912. (In 929 he assumed the title Kaliph.) He re-united Moorish Spain and carried war to the northern barbarians. In 920 he put the garrison of Muez to the sword and in 923 he entered Pamplona and destroyed its cathedral.

By 1010 anarchy had returned to Andalusia. Mass-murder, looting and assassination became common-place, Cordova was wrecked and palace after palace was ravaged by the Berbers. Medinah Ez-Zahra was reduced to a heap of blackened stones, its garrison put to the sword and the mosque desecrated as the men, (among them 60 promising scholars) women and children sheltering therein were butchered. Some 20 or so independent city-states came into existence. Some supported the arts: Mo'tamid of Seville not only collected books but the heads of his enemies. Andalusia was therefore easy picking for a new Berber invasion of the Almoravids, a puritan Muslim sect from Morocco. The Jews and Christians suffered the intolerance of the Almoravids: they were cruelly persecuted, massacred or else transported.

- "The Moors in Spain", S. Lane-Poole (T.F. Unwin, London, 1899)


QUESTION:

OK, perhaps there was upheaval, but wasn't Moorish Spain a center of scientific innovation?

ANSWER:

* ...the scientific and philosophical scholarship of the Greeks and Persians had been lost to the West but was introduced to European intellectual life via the Islamic world in Spain. The work of Newton would have been inconceivable without Muslim mathematics and navigational instruments such as the astrolabe made possible the great voyages of discovery by European explorers.
- from "Moorish Spain", R. Fletcher (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1992)


QUESTION:

Certainly the 'Golden Age' implies a greater level of tolerance, especially for Jews...?

ANSWER:

* "But Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch." There was beauty but little tolerance. Witness the Jews of Granada who were butchered "in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126." Learning was restricted to a small elite who had the means to study: also fundamentalists persecuted the scientists from time to time. For centuries, anarchy rather than good order and civilized behavior, had been the general rule.
- from "Moorish Spain", R. Fletcher (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1992)

* My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west--How can I find savour in food? How shall it be sweet to me? How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet Zion lieth beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains? A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain--Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.
- by Yehuda Halevi, My Heart Is In the East, 1141, Translated from the Hebrew by Nina Salaman, 1924, This edition published in 1924 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Essential Texts of Zionism


QUESTION:

How were Jews treated in Arab regions outside of Moorish Spain?

ANSWER:

* In Libya, then known as Tripolitania, Jews were considered as property of their Arab masters, who would bequeath the Jews to their heirs upon death.

Writing in 19th century Syria, one Jew lamented, "When a Jew walked among them [the Muslims] in the market, one would throw a stone at him in order to kill him, another would pull his beard, yet another spit on his face He became the symbol of abuse."

In the 12th century, Egyptian Jews were the object of anti-dhimmi riots so successful that one observer noted the Jewish population had "greatly declined" in their wake.

In 1884, the Sultan of Morocco said Jews had to work on Shabbat, could only "clean foul places and latrines," had to part with merchandise at half-price and accept counterfeit coinage, to name a few of the provisions.

- source: Middle East Digest - September 1999


QUESTION:

Didn't Jews and Arabs get along well in Arab lands?

ANSWER:

While Jewish communities in Arab and Islamic countries fared better overall than those in Christian lands in Europe, Jews were no strangers to persecution and humiliation among the Arabs and Muslim. As Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis has written: "The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam."
- by Mitchell Bard, referencing Bernard Lewis, "The Pro-Islamic Jews," Judaism, (Fall 1968), p. 401.