On Mark Cohen’s Book “Under Crescent and Cross:
 The Jews in the Middle Ages ”

On Mark Cohen’s Book “Under Crescent and Cross:
 The Jews in the Middle Ages

“the myth” and the “counter myth,” and Cohen’s position as he develops it in the course of his book. How he describe the position of Jews (and dhimmis in general) in medieval Islamic society as opposed to that of Jews (the only sizeable minority) in European Christian society in the same period?


Under Crescent and Cross-, is a distorted account to a polarization that began in the seventies of the last century, within historical writing about Jewish-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages.

The book manifests a challenging endeavor from the writer to contribute to a reasonable, objective, historical interpretation of the subject.

Wherein, each pole is trying to pull towards its authenticity, whether in the “interfaith utopia” (the myth) or the discriminatory relation (countermyth).

The writer makes a comparative historical assessment of Islamic-Jewish and Christian-Jewish relations during the early and High Middle Ages.

The myth; was first advocated by European Jewish historians in the nineteenth century who considered, that relations between Jews and Arabs were more congruent than the so-called lachrymose (tearful) relations between Jews and Christians in Europe.

Some thought it as an interfaith utopia, an absolute state of a “Golden Age,” overstating this with Muslim Andalusia as the model.

Conferring with this opinion, Jews lived securely, protected by a tolerant arena, holding prominent positions in Muslim learned society.

But according to the writer: “ Interfaith utopia was a myth insofar as it ignored the Jews’ inferior legal status and the fierce persecution of non-Muslims (Jews and Christians) in North and Andalusia in the twelfth century by the infamous “fundamentalist” Almohads, and other occasional outbursts of hostility and violence in Spain and elsewhere in the Islamic world.” [1]

Those who endorsed this utopia were Arab and Arabist writers, who argued that relation between Jews and Muslims had been harmonious until the coming of Zionism.

The disparity of Christian persecutions to Jews in the Middle Age and comparing it to the Islamic world providing a peaceful haven for the Jews in the same era allowed the creation of such a myth.

Jewish scholars as well, in the nineteenth century altered this discernment into an old assumption, consequently with their hindrance of the advancement of their assimilation into gentile society. Taking the massacre of the Jews in Granada in 1492 that ended in their expulsion from Spain, as a first comparison for the Christian enmity and the Muslim generosity.

This myth has been employed by the Jews to attain a significant political perseverance, that anticipated to enforce the fulfillment of a promise by liberal Christian Europe towards Jewish equality and unrestrained professional and cultural opportunities, by means of Islamic examples of tolerance in Islamic Spain that permitted Jews to attain high positions as far as ministers, and cultural opportunities such as given to Maimonides[2].

Europe was celebrating its accomplishment of the spirit of the French Revolution and the promises of equality to the Jews as well as to give them subsidies and liberation.

This myth endured in the Twentieth Century in accordance with the escalation of the Anti-Semitic and Nazi era, in an attempt maybe to lessen the negative sentiments that was approaching Jews in the Turkish Empire that was grasping them, through emphasizing the memory of tolerance and decent treatment that could reflect on the current situation and people state of minds.

This myth was “unchallenged until its adoption by Arabs in their propaganda war against Zionism.” According to this view, Jews and Arabs have enjoyed peace and harmony in Islamic rule, especially in times; Jews were persecuted and expelled by Christians. The common antipathy toward Israel began only with Zionism and its claim the right to Palestine. According to this view, Arab and Muslim hatred of Jews will end, when Zionism abandon its colonialist quest.

At the same time, Christian Arab writers, who felt the need to affirm historical Islamic tolerance of the non-Muslim, stressed such emphasis on Islamic benevolence.

This continued to give way to Arab hostility in reaction to Zionist encroachment that became a theme of Arab propaganda against Israeli both in politics and in writing.

The countermyth; Jewish writers, in which most were non-specialist modern authors, journalists, or blog masters, have promoted the countermyth and some were historians. These claimed that Islam has been an intolerant religion from the very beginning, and continued to persecute Jews, as poorly as the Christians in the Middle Ages. The countermyth at its farthest extreme blames Islam for the current conflict between the Jews and Arabs.

The countermyth disregards the security that the Jews possessed across centuries of existence under Islamic rule, as well as the deeply Arabized culture of the Jews of the Islamic Middle Ages.

Some of them even believe that the “ Islamist violence of today is a continuation of the violence in the past toward Jews and Christians.” Some have even “challenged the belief that there ever was a period of Jews and Muslims living together and sharing cultural values in Muslim Spain.”

The Arab polemic manipulation of the myth of the interfaith utopia joined with Jewish consciousness of the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in the Arab world catalyzed a re-evaluation of Jewish-Muslim relations. It achieved its prominence after the six-day war.

Such polemic views were initially fashioned by Christian Arabs that grew into a generalized Arab sentiment.

From the other side, AIPAC [3] started its “myth and facts”[4] circulation in exploiting the idea of peaceful and harmonic relations among the Arabs. And contemplated the Muslim regime in the Middle Ages as a system of coercion and oppression.

Later Friedman[5] went as far as cataloging what he called less widely known hatred and persecution that befell Jews in Muslim lands from the very birth of Islam.

This was followed with other writings from Rose Lewis and Albert Memmi stressing on Muslim ill-doings in Palestine towards the Jews, and making parallel comparisons with Christian discrimination against the Jews.

Others also continued in extensive writings about parallel comparisons to Islamic and Christian persecutions to the Jews.

Scholars also tried to promote the countermyth considering the Jews hatred as a tradition in Islam since it’s making.

Others as WOJAC[6] went to find the Jews from the Arab lands as refugees from persecution from the hands of the Arabs. These also think Jews are going to Israel as an exchange of population that counterbalance the exodus of tens of thousands of Arabs from Israel and thereby cancels any obligation on Israel’s part to repatriate those refugees.

The misfortune of Arab Jews, in the making of the state of Israel that concentrated on Ashkenazi Jew, also led to a countermyth for them to gain assimilation and self-identity in the present.

Religions in Conflict:

The writer’s first comparison begins with the tension among religions that mounted along the centuries between Christians and Jews.

From the beginning, Christianity was a religion that evolved from Judaism itself. A radical, messianic movement that posed a significant threat to the modus vivendi[7] between the Jewish leadership and the Roman government.

Christianity’s innovative, socially dissident explanations and interpretations of some Judaism’s most central principals were particularly intimidating to the Jewish leaders whose authority has been already restricted by the Romans.

As Christianity is a religion that depended on conversion. It intended the conversion of Jews to Christianity. It challenged the Jews assertion to divine election.

The enmity between the two religions was in a shape of survival struggles. Judaism perceived Christianity as a religion that threatens its continuity. Hence, Jews continued to fight and plot against Christianity whenever opportunities allowed. This engraved in the Christian consciousness the persecution of the Jews against them.

In accordance, the conflict between Judaism and Christianity was a significant counterpoint in the building of the Christian identity. Hence in order to be considered a Christian, one has to refute Judaism on the basis of Jewish Scripture, to believe that the promises of the old Testament no longer applied to the people of Israeli, to emphasize that the stubborn defiance of contemporary Jews stemmed from a congenital rebelliousness manifested already in the children of Israel is backsliding into idolatry and their scoffing at their prophets, and to scorn and vigorously combat Christians who elevated Judaism by observing its commandments and customs . [8]

Islam, however, from its birth, didn’t attack Judaism. On contrast; the observer can quickly notice how much the Quran rings with echoes of the Bible. Mohammad (PBUH)[9], moreover, acknowledges Judaism as a religion as well as Christianity.

It is not sure if Mohammad (PBUH) accepted Judaism and Christianity because they were already well-established religions, and it was going to be a lost war for him to fight them at his beginnings. But it was a smart tactic of embracing other beliefs, especially that his message emerged from theirs.

From the beginning, Islam didn’t appear as a religion that will end all religions, unlike the relationship between Christianity and Jews, in which the latter are blamed for the death of Jesus. Mohammad (PBUH) didn’t present himself as the Messiah from one side, and Islam didn’t start in a demographic space that was occupied by a Jewish majority from another side.

Islam, therefore, presented itself as a non-confrontative religion to the Jews. Moreover, presented Ibrahim as the first monotheist and Muslim. The Quran comes as a complimentary to the Bible in this sense, not as an opponent.

However, Jews established hatred to Mohammad (PBUH) as a result, which resulted in Mohammad’s (PBUH) expulsion to two of the major Jewish tribes and the killing of its people.

The countermyth promoters that consider this as a fundamental Islamic persecutory posture toward the Jews have used this incident.

Those who advocate the myth, however, indicate to the many adaptations of Islamic rituals and rules that were innovated from Judaism. For instance, the concepts of “ law of Jews” and “Sharia” are originally Jewish traditions. Islam in this sense succeeded in avoiding imitation to Judaism but yet, adopting similar methods.

Legal Position:

The Jews in the old centuries received autonomy in both Christian and Islamic rules in their religious practices. In this sense Jews always applied Jewish law in most of the religion and civil affairs from Jewish jurisdictions and judges.

Conversely, having a legal status doesn’t imply a social status.

Along the Jewish relation to Christian rule, Jews were granted rights that allowed them to practice their religion in different forms of parts that showed individual reconciliation since the Romans, from Augustus, Theodosius, Honorius, until Justinius. Such agreements continued to serve to underline the status of the Jews until the Middle Ages. However, it always classified them as a minority and continued to exclude them from evolving into high conditions in the societies.

Some liberal jurists[10] claim that jurists had a relatively liberal standpoint towards Jewish treatment, even when the situation deteriorated in the 12th and the 13th centuries. Legislators confirmed the fundamental rights of the Jews, which include their rules in marriage, divorce, and custody. Other jurists didn’t consider the Papal announcements seriously about “enslaving Jews,” and in other locations, Jews were able to take high positions that the Christians do not offer.

In other situations, the apostolic laws and the church tried to enforce differentiation in which it forced the Jews to dress with a mark that indicates who they are. Some kings in 1215 used these laws to extort Jews and snatch them out of money.

In the 13th century, the Christian State abandoned the past traditions implemented since Augustus that indicated to the protection of the Jews as the witnesses to the truthfulness of Christianity. This opened the channel to the expulsion of the Jews from the Christian societies.

The Crusade massacres that occurred in 1096 convinced Henry IV that Jews are as vulnerable as other groups such as the monks, merchants, and women who need more protection. Since that time, Henry IV created a model of what was called “ Truce of God” – Land Peace, this lull gave the Jews protection from one side, but censured them from using a weapon, which meant taking part of their nobility away at that time.

Their legal rights presumed to be granted. However, in terms they obtained reasonable treatment in personal municipal affairs, and even conceived some memberships forms in cities, they continued to perceive marginal status in comparison with the Christians who attained full citizenships in those countries.

In certain crucial times, the authority would have granted the elite to decline the Jews amongst them. And as time passed, such cities resolved to divest from the Jewish problem for good through expulsion. Their marginalization resulted in their deportation.

Christianity inherited from the Roman law, the conception that Jews are people of protection from violence and intervention in practicing Judaism. In these specifics, the church, as well as the state, meddled with the status of Jews in accordance to their need to them as well as their ideologies.

In the church, for instance, the popes contested to conserve Jews rights to preserve them as witnesses, and simultaneously they were inclined toward them off the Christian society.

In the early Middle Ages, when the Jews offered commercial services that others didn’t provide, the rulers applied the most forgiving applicable decrees concerning them. When the need to them was in less demand, the rules found in Jews, especially those who worked in loans, as a perceptive resource for manipulation and inflicted high taxes on them.

In the best scenarios Jews were able to elude rigid rules against them through bribery and inducement, and in the worse scenarios they were subjugated to overall violence, that ensued hatred towards them, and culminated in expulsion and expropriation.

In Islam, it is important to refer to two significant dissimilarities amid Muslims and Christians.

First, Islam considered Jews and others who are not Muslims and live under the Islamic rule to be subject to the jurisdiction of Islamic law.

In contrast, the church evaded authorities over Jews. The Christian State continued to increasingly tighten its hold on the Jews until they constituted a special case of monarchical property outside the shield of progressing public law.

Islamic law never proclaimed the ruler’s possessory rights over the now- Muslims. Non-Muslims were its subjects, albeit they were second-class ones, but certainly not their possessions.

Secondly, in Christendom, the Jews were the only infidels living within the Christian society.

In the Muslim rule, they were considered among a wider range of on-field; dhimmi[11]s, who were considered People of the Book.

This distinction is seen when we compare certain features of the legal literature of Islam and Christendom. The Theodosian law in the fifth century that includes a separate section for Jews, which continued in the ninth century.

On the other hand, the Islamic law books do not contain a comparable synthetic subdivision for Jews.

Jewry law in Christendom with its inherent duality, secular, and ecclesiastical and its recurrently subjective application presents a study in disparity with the consistency and correlated steadiness of the Islamic law of dhimma.

Ardent Muslim religious leaders and scholars often wielded pressure under the sultans, the official guardians of the dhimma, especially in the later Middle Ages. But the objective of clerics was mainly to apply the restrictions rather than invent new, stringent ones.

The significance of these aspects can be esteemed when compared with the secular law in the Christian West.

Dhimma Law derives its main specifications from the Pact of Omar, in which the non-Muslims agree to a host of discriminatory regulations in return for protection.

This Pact is attributed to both Omar’s; Omar Bin Khattab[12] and Omar bin Abdul Aziz[13]. There is no text of the document that can be dated before the Tenth or Eleventh Century. But the stipulations themselves evolved out of principles of pre-Islamic tribal custom.

Islam adopted the Persian-Roman-Greek and Christian Roman recognition of Judaism as a recognized religion. Islam has carried the principles even further since the Quran has already decided “there is no compulsion in religion.” Regardless of how scholars tried to explain it, it has been used by late Muslim students as a prescription of Islam’s tolerance and religious pluralism.

Mohammad (PBUH) ascertained a new model for religious toleration in the Constitution of Medina, his treaty with the Arabs and some of the Jews of Medina, which allowed religious autonomy to the latter.

When Mohammad (PBUH) fiercely repressed the Jews in reaction to their enmity and derision, such an action was not the norm in Muhammad’s (PBUH) treatment to non-Muslims. His treaties with the Jewish or Christian inhabitants of various other oases and towns in Arabia guaranteed them safety in return for tribute, called jizya, was an enduring policy.

After the death of the Prophet (PBUH), other treaties were granted during conquests in which assurances of protection were offered for persons and property, including houses of worship and freedom of religious observation.

The duty to protect the defeated dhimmis is repeated in the hadith. A saying attributed to Omar bin Khattab on his death–bed speaking to his successor about Ahl al- dhimma says: “I charge him with the protection of God and the protection of his messenger, that he should observe the compact made with them and fight those that attack them and not overburden them beyond their capacity”.

Al jizya[14] is the only non-Muslim infirmity cited overtly and only once in the Quran: “Fight against those who have been given the Scripture until they pay the jizya” “a Yadin wa hum saghirun” [15]

The terms used to explain this verse took lots of analysis and interpretation.

However, the medieval Islamic opinions conclude that the Quran itself does not prescribe humiliating treatment for the dhimma when paying jizya.

This law didn’t make much of a burden to Jews who were already under such restriction from the Persian and Roman laws; on the contrary, it reduced their loads. Nevertheless, the jizya was a slap to Christians who lived under the Persian and Roman States were exempted from taxes.

Many researchers doubted the originality of the Pact of Omar, and among them was Tritton, the real shape of the Pact, that takes a form of a letter from the defeated citizens to the Khalifa. It could have been originally a letter sent upon the victory or the conquest of that particular land, in which the Christian citizens sent assurances for their loyalty to the new ruler. However, this changed a long time and made it appear as if it was a begging letter from the defeated.

It is important to the point that the Pact always indicates the Christians and not the Jews. But it was eventually applied to the Jews as well.

In its first condition, the past echoes with the Roman Christian law to the Jews, that indicates that non-Muslims cannot build new worship places or renew what was destroyed from it. This might have sometimes been used, but the number of worship places and churches in the newly conquered cities such as Kufa and Cairo shows that both the Jews and the Christians succeeded in deploying the law. Or this law wasn’t used in the first place.

The Islamic authorities showed interest in applying this law in irregular periods. However, the Islamic jurist has created criterion for prohibiting building for worship houses in very complicated forms. There have also been exceptions, in which the status of the conquered city implied.

Public display of religion:

Some stipulations of the Pact are related to the public display of worship. Islam intended to minimize the visibility of dhimmi religions to protect its superiority. This, however, was for Christians rather than Jews, since Eastern Christian conducted many of its ceremonies outdoors, in forms that included the display of the cross and sacred books in the roads and markets. Christians had to forgo public processions on Palm Sunday and Easter. In this sense, Islam considered Christianity idolatrous, which made Muslims strict in applying those conditions.

Most of those conditions were intended for Christians, especially that Jews, performed their rituals internally and not in public.

Somehow, the same situation applies to the Jews in the Roman Christian times. In which Jews were under a curfew during Eastertide. Pope Innocent III wrote: “ the Jews, contrary to ancient customs, publicly run about streets and public places and everywhere deride as they are wont Christians because they adore crucified on the cross, and attempt through their improprieties, to dissuade them from their worship.”

The Pact of Omar accentuates a significant difference between the Muslim and the Christian attitude towards Jews. Whereas, Christianity enacted against public display of infidel profanity. Islam embodied a challenging encounter to the veracity of Christian religion.

Islam was much less in tension than Christianity in its relationship to prior monotheistic religions, it did not worry itself with the public exhibition of Jewish and mainly religious ritual on account of blasphemy but because it wished to keep Jews and Christians and their religions in their deserved quiet position.

Henceforth, hierarchy, more than theology, motivated Islamic law in this matter.

Preaching and dhimmi conversion to Islam:

Alongside the prohibition of public celebrations, the Pact of Omar orders non- Muslims not to preach or put obstacles to those who wished to convert to Islam from their religions. This stipulation recalls the Christian–Roman Jewry law: “Jews shall not be permitted to disturb any man who has been converted from Judaism to Christianity or disturb any man who has been converted from Judaism to Christianity or to assail him with any outrage.”

But then again, the context is different: Christianity fought hard to prevent neophytes from reverting to Judaism, which had a disconcerting consequence on Christian self-assurance. Conversion or relapse from Christianity to Judaism represented an ideological setback to Christianity’s fundamental principle that Judaism had “ died” at the hour of Christendom’s birth.

The stipulation in the Pact of Omar does not suggest a concern with relapse. Asserting its superiority, Islam directly prohibits conversion to any religion other than itself.

Symbols of Separation and Humiliation:

There are some stipulations in the Pacts of Omar that are denoted to demean the dhimmis. Amid those, the dhimmis have to speak in a different manner than the Muslims, and to evade from using honorific names, and to avoid Arabic scriptures on their seals as well dress in distinctive garb.

The obligation to dress differently appears to be in source instigating from the Christian prescription that made its first appearance in the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council[16]. The original purpose, in Christendom, was to bar sexual relations between Christians and Jews. Enforcement that was ensued gradually and erratically. In places where the “Jewish badge” was not commuted into a cash payment, it served to underline the alien, outsider status of the Jews and render them more vulnerable to violence from the general public.

The settings around the origin of the law requiring non-Muslims to distinguish themselves in the dress are revealingly different.

Tritton[17] believes that the first to imply the requiring rule of identifying clothes was Omar bin Abdel Aziz, who forced on the non-Muslims to wear the zunnar, it was the Christians in this case who wanted to recognize themselves in wearing the zunnar that they were in the habit of using it long before Islam. On the contrary to humiliation, the zunnar was a sign of clothing carried by local Christians in conquered territories that were not a stigma, but a continuing tradition from pre-Islamic times, that was an insignia of high status. As well as the removal of this zunnar was a sign of degradation.

This shows that this condition was not invented by Arabs to humiliate or degrade non-Muslims. But it intended to preserve the difference in the exterior looks that the locals were used to before the conquests.

This law continued along the centuries. However, it wasn’t implied except occasionally. In the Geniza, there are abundant references to clothing that indicate no differences between the Jews and Muslims during Fatimid and early Ayyubid times. To the contrary, it seems that it was often difficult to tell them apart.

Even then, in contrast to Europe, there is no indicating that Muslims feared contracting impurity through intimacy with Jews and Christians, they could marry women and eat their meat.

In Christendom however, the distinctive garb regulation, motivated in the first instance by fear of environmental contamination through sexual contact, was designed to segregate and exclude.

The Pact of Omar and the European Charters:

The pact of Omar is different than the charters of privileges granted to the Jews in Europe in its operational method.

The Latin Charter constituted the traditional instrument using which lords expressed the obligations and privileges of groups within their domain: churches, monasteries, towns, and vulnerable dependents like Jews.

It was normal for each rule to renew the patent upon his consent.

This created a certain amount of insecurity for the Jews, for the new king might subjectively choose not to recommence their guarantee of security. Or, the ruler might modify the privileges by removing former protections or adding new restrictions. Similarly, the constitution pro judges of the papacy had to be reissued by each new Pope.

Islamic jurists debated whether the stipulations of the Pact needed to be renewed by an Imam if, for some misdeed of the dhimmis, the Pact had been negated.

However, the original compact served for all later generations. By the same insignificance, a ruler could not grant a reprieve to dhimmis from any of the Pact’s restrictions. Muslim detestation of improper innovation assured non-Muslims that the authorities would not add or detract capriciously any of the infirmity and protection that controlled and shaped their relations with the majority society.

Similarly, Latin Christendom loathed innovation. But it seems to have been able to sustain changes in the legal status of the Jews by relying on relevant ancient precedents or rationales. In an example to this, the authors of German law codes in the Thirteenth Century were able to justify the German Emperor’s overlordship over the Jews as “serfs of his Imperial Chamber” and also of their servile status on the basis of an ancient story told by Josephus, according to which the Jews who survived the Roman siege of Jerusalem were sold into slavery to the victorious Roman Emperor Vespasian.

For non-Muslims, the relative stability over time of the fundamental law regarding their legal status assured them a considerable degree of continuity in this matter. Further, the Muslim judges remained faithful to the principle of noninterference in the adjudication of intro-Jewish issues unless brought before them voluntarily by the parties.

In Christian lands, however, Jews often endured collective punishments for the alleged or real transgressions of individuals.

Instances of mob assault on an entire Jewish community because one Jew violated the Pact are exceedingly rare. They include the massacre in 1066 in Granada[18], a favorite of the countermyth pragmatics but, nonetheless, an exception to the rule in the classical period of Islam.

Economic Factors:

Early Christendom censured the accretion of wealth, especially that engendered through commerce. Throughout the history of economics, the stranger everywhere appears as the trader or the trader as a stranger.

The first Jews to cross the horizon of the indigenous inhabitants of the Latin Christian world were mainly long-distance merchants. They originated mostly in the New East, arriving in Northern European through trade routes that linked first the pre-Islamic and then the Islamized Orient with Italy, Southern France, and the Eastern Germanic regions. Some crossed Latin Christendom between Spain and the Slavic lands, where they procured pagan slaves for marketing in the slave emporium at Verdun and ultimately for resale in Muslim Spain.

Due to the theological disdain of the Jews, long rooted in Christianity, general suspicion of the Jew-as-merchant was added. However, when trade became a competitive profession, it eventually resulted in the Jewish expulsion from Christian ruled lands.

However, Islam forms the beginning encouraged profit. This in many ways supported the economic activity that resulted in the bourgeois appearance in the Far East.

Hierarchy, Marginality, and Ethnicity:

In Christianity, there were three social levels: feudal, civil and church. The terminology of freedoms was also understood as the person’s rights and his obligations in receiving the proper status in his society.

In Islam, it is widely thought that feudal and corporation is absent from Islam in general. However, the hierarchy can be dignified in Islam, even though many intended to overlook.

Marginalization was another aspect to the hierarchy that shaped the social structure of both societies.

Marginalization can be best describing the status of Jews in Middle Ages that continued as well as inflated.

In the Christian world, it could be said that Jews started from the lowest level in the hierarchal system, but in a marginalized position.

Until 1012, Jews have lived within an acceptable sphere that comprised of social exchange between the Jews and the Christians in the centuries that incorporated the Berber conquer. They lived in a relatively peaceful situation that included high ranks from some time to another, even fighting in times of wars with the Christian warriors. They reserved their cultural identity through rejecting attempts to their conversions and their pledge to prohibit marriage outside Judaism.

Even in this period that was considered relatively quiet, the idea of expulsion wasn’t absent. A letter referred to Pope Leo VII in 936, in which the pope responds to a request made by one of his priests in a different province, asking if they should force the Jews into conversion. The pope responded by urging the inquirer to try to show them the way to God not by the strength, and if they declined, the church has the right to exercise them.

Until the Eleventh Century Jews received support from the different succeeding kings who principally wanted to benefit from the Jews economic benefits.

But the 1012 incident was to become a bad omen to the brutal expulsions that were about to occur in the late Middle Ages which presents a demonstration to the tenuousness of Jewish entitlements to live among Christians.

With the commencement of the Crusader wars, Jews were ultimately debarred from the society as a result of the emerging religious sentiments among the Crusaders, in which Jews were regarded as infidels. By that time the Jews were included with the idolatrous and lepers, who forced them into a strictly marginalized position that compelled them into wearing symbols. The Jews were compelled to sew individual signs on their garments that besmirched their situation.

Consequently, this resulted in their exclusion from the marginalized status they received in earlier centuries in the social hierarchy.

By the end of the Thirteenth Century Jews were not considered any more part of the society.

The old Augustine Law that granted the Jews rights as witnesses to the superiority of Christianity no longer protected them but continued to assure their deteriorated position in the Christian social hierarchy. As a result, when intolerance with the Jews prevailed, this led to the making of the expulsion policy that increased between the Thirteenth and the Fifteenth Centuries.

In Islam, and the reference will continue to be in the Pact of Omar, it is true that the Pact stipulated to distinguish between the dhimmi and the Muslim, but it never showed a tendency to expulsion. It meant to make a social hierarchy that distinguishes them from the Muslims.

This hierarchy in Islam identified Muslims and non-Muslims into what became dar al Islam and dar al Harb[19]. Dar al Harb is on the borders of Dar al-Islam, and the Muslims are ordered to fight against infidels who are in Dar al Harb. In this manner, they force them to choose between Islam and the sword. A non-Muslim living in Dar al Harb can enter the Islamic countries for trade for instance with a warranty of safety. But this warranty is temporary. Those who have higher ranks in protection are non-Muslims who reside in Islamic countries, with the option of paying jizya. In this regard, they can practice their religions and are not forced to enter Islam.

The dhimmis were marginalized in Islam but received a recognized and protection position within the social hierarchy.

The Jew as a Townsman:

Jewish urban inhabitants in the Middle East had a less questionable legal status than did the Jews of Christian Northern Europe. Unlike the cities of Christendom, those of Islam did not develop local autonomy detached from the universal law of Islam.

In northern Europe, the Jewish townsman lacked full citizenship according to the system of civil law that compelled the Christians citizens into a corporate unity. Thus he found himself in a marginal situation.

Also, the Jew particular tie to royal or baronial authority, through the charter, which protected him by defining his rights and obligations, placed him in an irregular category that did not match with the social order of the Christian community. For many Jewish communities in Latin Christendom, this marginality ultimately deteriorated into exclusion.

As per the Islamic city, there was neither civil law nor corporate autonomy with which the Jew could be out of correspondence. Regardless of where Jews lived, one unified law- the obligations and rights of the dhimma, itself a part of the universal sharia –determined their status. It is true that the Jew was marginal within the hierarchy of Islamic society, but he was neither excluded nor expelled, and never did become.


Regardless to separate habitation, old Jews and non-Jews socialized in both the Christian and the Islamic environment.

In Christendom, Jews and Christians mingled freely in Europe. The

Church Councils by the Eleventh Century protested against eating or drinking with Jews or staying with them in the same house. The Church Council as well, through the fourth Lateran Council, under Pope Innocent III expressed concern about sociability between Christians and Jews. Sexual relations are cited as the reason for instituting the requirement that Jews (and Muslims) wear different clothing.

In Spain, Jews and Muslims associated however freely with Christians, continuing the centuries- old habit of interfaith sociability under Muslim rule before the Christian reconquests.

Interreligious Polemics:

The different influences that have been involved in the gradual exclusion of the Jews from the Christian human sequence might have contributed to their total extraction for the limited religious toleration that has been stipulated by Augustine in his doctrine of the witness. Nonetheless, Christianity could not remain passive until the redemption. It found itself obligated to combat as well as to resist Judaism, which persistently continued to maintain its exclusive claim to divine election.

Interreligious Polemics represented one of the main approaches to discourse that continued during the sequence of the Middle Ages the religious conflict that marked the first encounter between Judaism and each of its rival plaintiffs to religious truth.

For both Christianity and Islam, polemics was considered a medium for expressing their inherent intolerance of Judaism; for Judaism, polemics afforded a way of proclaiming a tireless conviction that the Jews retained God’s whole love as well as the fundamental religious reality.

There was a significant difference, however, between judaeo–Christian and judaeo–Islamic debates. In Christianity, anti-Jewish polemic was an essential component of spiritual self–definition. For Islam, the anti-Jewish argument was incidental, not essential; hence; both in tone and in frequency, it was more pleasant than its correspondence in Christianity.

Judaism responded with corresponding moderation, if not apathy. This great contrast reflected and helped determine the characteristically lower level of persecution that distinguished Islam for Christendom in relations with Jews.


Not even anti–lachrymose revision of Jewish history in the middle ages managed to gloss over the fact that the Jews in Christendom suffered greatly, especially for the twelfth century on. Well, known are instances of large- scale massacre that began during the Crusades. Jews charged with killing Christian children were tortured and, in many cases, executed.

Others were persecuted for allegedly poisoning wells or stealing and torturing.

Jews experiences economic persecution. The Talmud was burnt, and Jews were forced to attend conversion sermons- measures intended to weaken the hold of Judaism on its adherents. And Jews were expelled from towns and kingdoms.

In Islam, Islam’s classical centuries were punctured by anti-dhimmi persecution, some of it quite violent, especially for Christians. For Jews, it was different – less frequent and less brutal than anti-Jewish persecution in Christendom.

In all incidents that mentioned persecutions against the Jews, it is clear that they were always treated as dhimmis and not as Jews. And according to Lewis[20] who summarizes: “ the commonest reason by far for such outbreaks in premodern times was that the dhimmis were not keeping their place, that they were acting arrogantly, that they were getting above themselves.”

Generalizing with Dumont’s[21] insight: in any hierarchical society, groups with different status coexist more or less harmoniously, integrated into the same whole, as long as they are “ agreed on the code which ranks them and separates them .“

Persecuting Society:

Whether their expulsion is measured regarding deportation, murder, assault on property, or forced conversion, the Jews of Islam did not experience physical violence on a scale remotely approaching Jewish suffering in Western Christendom.

Even when dhimmis as a group experienced growing oppression and persecution in the post-classical period, the stern circumstances found in Europe could not match.

The Black Death, which raged through Europe between 1348 and 1350, witnessed massive pogroms against Jews who were accused in poisoning wells in an attempt to destroy Christian civilization. Even though Black Death ravaged the Islamic world as well but Jews were never blamed for it, or they tried to eliminate them.

Response to Persecution:

The Jewish response to abuse differed markedly in Christian and Islamic territories. In northern Europe, Jews faced with the alternative of death or forced conversion, frequently chose a good death–martyrdom, even by suicide.

Martyrdom, rather than surrender to forced conversion, seems to have been a response to persecution introduced by Ashkenazi Jewry during Middle Ages. It represented a substantial, generalized elaboration of the classic Jewish martyrdom portrayed in the Midrash[22].

The Jews of the Ashkenazi considered Christians theologically idolatrous, and they obliged by the Mishnaic ruling that a Jew must die rather than capitulate to idolatry.

By contrast, Jews in Islamic lands when threatened with execution unless they converted typically accepted the religion of Islam rather than a martyr’s death. Rabbinic teachers also excluded Islam from the category of idolatry.

It is also important to say, that while Islam, like Christianity, prohibits apostasy. In all three great persecutions of the classical period, Al Hakim[23], Al Mohads[24], and in Yemen. Jews and Christians forced to accept Islam was allowed to revert to their original faith after the persecution had subsided.


In his introduction, the writer explains that Under Cross and Crescent is a response to a polarization that had occurred, especially since the 1970s in historical writing about Jewish-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages, in two poles that represented the myth and the countermyth.

The book is a comparative study addressing the status of the Jews in both Islamic and Christian states in the Middle Age.

As the book was written after Oslo Accords, it cannot but be a part of an Israeli attempt to understand or make sense of life in the State of Israel.

In the series of reading this book, I couldn’t but resemble the facts of today. Of how rules are determined by the one in power.

Along with history, Jews represented minorities in numbers inside big societies, whether it Islamic or Christian. It has been the Jews choice to remain a minority since Judaism is unlike Christianity and Islam, not a missionary religion.

There is no doubt about the suffering and the arbitrary persecution that befell upon them a long history. However, taking the scene to the current situation today, and watch what the State of Israel as a ruling majority do to the Palestinians as homogenous people and minorities such as Bedouins, Ethiopians and the current affair with Sudanese immigrants. It proves that the expulsion, persecutions, collective punishment, imposed taxes, forced conversions (hence to Israeli citizenship) are not acts that the world imposed on Jews. They are acts imposed by the powerful, conquerors, etc.… over the weaker, marginalized, etc.

The attempt of the writer was to prove that neither the myth of interfaith utopia existed, nor the countermyth of persecution did. An attempt that this comparative study proved right.

However, from the birth of Islam until the last days of the Islamic Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century. The persecutions that beheld the Jews do not reach a handful of events that in most of the time were a response to Jewish treacherous behaviors. And in the rest, when persecutions occurred, it occurred not because they were addressed to Jews, but as a result of a conduct of a particular ruler as in the case of al-Hakim, who persecuted Christians as well, and his people.

In fact, Islam has been a real haven to Jews from its birth.

Aside from the few verses that mentioned Jews and imposed Jizya, and the Pact of Omar, which both do not necessarily imply persecution or degradation of the Jews. They lived and prospered in the Islamic lands since Mohammad (PBUH), and were protected by the dhimmi protection law along history.

It is also true that Jewish-Islamic relation deteriorated as a result of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.


[1] Introduction, Under the Crescent and Cross

[2] Moses Maimonides, original name Moses Ben Maimon, (born March 30, 1135, Córdoba [Spain]—died Dec. 13, 1204, Egypt), Jewish philosopher, jurist, and physician, the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism. His contributions to religion, philosophy, and medicine have influenced Jewish and non-Jewish scholars alike. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/358539/Moses-Maimonides

[3] American Israeli Public Affairs Committee

[4] Near East Report

[5] Saul S. Friedman

[6] The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries.

[7] A Latin phrase signifying an agreement between those whose opinions differ, such that they agree to disagree. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/modus+vivendi

[8] Rosemary Reuther.

[9] When writing the name of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims often follow it with the abbreviation “PBUH.” These letters stand for the English words “peace be upon him.” Muslims use these words to show respect to one of God’s Prophets when mentioning his name. http://islam.about.com/od/glossary/g/pbuh.htm

[10] Walter Parker.

[11] The question of how tolerant Islam was, and is, towards other religions requires a definition of terms. If a lack of discrimination is the criterion for tolerance, one answer will emerge. If a lack of persecution, defined as active and violent repression, is the criterion, the question gets a different answer. Discrimination against dhimmis was institutionalized in traditional Islamic societies. Persecution, on the other hand, was rare and atypical. The dhimmi communities had their chiefs and judges, with their family, personal and religious laws. Many of the dhimmi restrictions seem to go back to the early days of the Arab conquest and to have been instituted as security precautions to protect occupying military and administrative personnel.[14] Most of the restrictions were social and symbolic in nature. http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Dhimmi.html

[12] Born 584- 589 CE – died 6 November 644 CE), was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs (rulers) in history. He was a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He was an expert Islamic jurist and is best known for his pious and just nature. He has sometimes referred to as Omar I by historians of Islam, since a later Umayyad caliph, Umar II, also bore that name.

[13] Born 682 – 720 CE was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. He was also a cousin of the former caliph, being the son of Abd al-Malik‘s younger brother, Abd al-Aziz. He was also a great-grandson of the Great Caliph and companion of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, Umar ibn Al-Khattab.

[14] Under Islamic law, jizya is a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state‘s non-Muslim citizens, who meet certain criteria. The tax is and was to be levied on able-bodied adult males of military age and affording power (but with specific exemptions). From the point of view of the Muslim rulers, jizya was a material proof of the non-Muslims’ acceptance of subjection to the state and its laws, In return, non-Muslim citizens were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to the Muslim state’s protection from outside aggression, and to be exempted from military service and the zakat taxes obligatory upon Muslim citizens.

[15] Surat Attawba 9; 29

[16] The Fourth Council of the Lateran was convoked by Pope Innocent III with the papal bull of April 19, 1213, and the Council gathered at Rome’s Lateran Palace beginning November 11, 1215.

[17] Arthur Stanley Tritton

[18] The 1066 Granada massacre took place on 30 December 1066 when a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, which was at that time in Muslim-ruled al-Andalus, assassinated the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred many of the Jewish population of the city.

[19] The notions of “houses” or “divisions” of the world in Islam such as Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb does not appear in the Qur’an or the Hadith. Early Islamic jurists devised these terms to denote legal rulings for ongoing Islamic conquests a century after Mohammad PBUH. The very first use of the conditions was in Iraq where Abu Hanifa and his disciples.

[20] Bernard Lewis

[21] Louis Dumont

[22] Midrash is a method of interpreting biblical stories that go beyond simple distillation of religious, legal, or moral teachings. It fills in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at. The purpose of Midrash was to resolve problems in the interpretation of difficult passages of the text of the Hebrew Bible, using Rabbinic principles of hermeneutics and philology to align them with the religious and ethical values of religious teachers.

[23] Abu ‘Ali Mansur Tāriqu al-Ḥākim, called Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allāh literally “Ruler by God’s Command”), was the sixth Fatimid caliph (996–1021). He has been referred to as the “Mad Caliph,” primarily as a result of the Fatimid desecration of Jerusalem in 1009.Histories of Al-Hakim can prove controversial, as diverse views of his life and legacy exist.

[24] The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids‘ Maghribi and Andalusian territories by 1147, treated the dhimmis harshly. Reports from the period describe that, after an initial 7-month grace period, the Almohads killed or forcefully converted Jewish communities in each new city they conquered until “there was no Jew left from Silves to Mahdia. Cases of the mass martyrdom of Jews who refused to convert to Islam are also reported. Many Jews fled from territories ruled by the Almohads to Christian lands, and others, like the family of Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands. However, sources from the beginning of the Almohad period still describe few Jewish traders working in North-Africa.

[i] Most footnotes information has been accessed from Wikipedia.

Leave a Reply