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Jews under Muslim Rule

What is the Muslim attachment to Jerusalem?

Islam divides the World into two parts. First is the Dar al-Islam ("house of Islam"), the part of the World where Islam holds sway and Islamic law is in effect. The rest of the World is the Dar al-Harb ("house of war"), where all is fair game except the "People of the Book". As "People of the Book", Jews were protected under Islamic law in those early days. As dhimmis (protected ones), Christians and Jews were allowed a place in Islamic society, as subordinates to the Muslim conquerors.

Peoples subjected to Muslim rule usually had a choice between death and conversion, but Jews and Christians, who adhered to the Scriptures, were allowed to practise their faith, but in acknowledgement of the superiority of their Muslim masters. They had to pay an annual poll tax and had to live with some stringent regulations. They were forbidden to criticise the Qur'an, Islam or Muhammed, to seek to convert a Muslim or touch a Muslim woman. They couldn't take public office and couldn't bear arms. They were not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims or to drink wine in public. They had to show public deference toward Muslims, always yielding them the centre of the road and were not allowed to give evidence in court against a Muslim. Dhimmis were also forced to wear distinctive clothing and from the 9th Century this took the form of a yellow star for Jews.

As Mohammed's influence grew in Medina, so the lot of Jews took a familiar turn - it was a similar situation as it had been for Jews under Christian rule, but, in general, Jews were treated better by the Muslims. Although they were able to live in relative peace and thrive culturally and economically, their position was never totally secure, however, and changes in the political or social climate would often lead to persecution, violence and death.

It was never as bad as it had been at the hands of the Christians, but there were some exceptions. There were the massacres and forced conversions in North Africa and Spain in the 12th Century perpetrated by the fanatic sect of the Almohads. Also, in 1066, a Jewish vizier was assassinated in the Berber kingdom of Granada, Spain, and afterwards the entire Jewish community of 5000 souls was wiped out by the Muslim mob. The Islamic Empire was to begin to crumble a couple of centuries later, battered by Genghis Khan and his Mongol army in the 13th Century, followed by the Moguls, Ottoman Turks and Almihades among others. It was all but over by the 16th Century. Muslims still held sway in many pockets throughout the Near East and North Africa, but not as part of a great empire.

Muslims identify Jerusalem as the third holiest site of the Islamic faith. We must ask ourselves why that should be as the name Jerusalem does not appear once in the Qur'an (though it appears over 700 times in the Old Testament), neither does it appear in Muslim prayers. The only justification given is the claim that Mohammed himself visited Jerusalem in a dream and, from there, 'ascended to heaven'. The Qur'an states, 'Glory be to Him who made His servant go by night from the Sacred Temple to the farther Temple whose surroundings we have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He alone hears all and observes all'.

The Sacred Temple refers to Mecca and the farther Temple, supposedly, is Jerusalem. There is confusion regarding this farther Temple, as, at that time, there was no temple, Jewish or Muslim, of any kind in Jerusalem! Some commentators have even said that this farther temple was a mosque elsewhere in Arabia. Others have said that the farther temple is the al-Aqsa Mosque, that can still be seen today in the Old City of Jerusalem. The only problem is that this Mosque was built in the reign of Umar, at some time after 635 AD, but Mohammed had died three years earlier.

A few years after Mohammed's death the Muslims were in the land, having defeated the Romans at the battle of Yarmouk. They captured Jerusalem from the Byzantines, who had wrenched it back from the Persians nine years earlier. On the Temple mount they built the shrine of the Dome of the Rock in 691 AD, still there today as the city's most recognisable and controversial feature. The land was now generally namedthe Holy Land by the Christian world.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)

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