It is commonly believed that anti-Semtism was unknown in the Muslim world until introduced by Christianity. The "golden age" of Jewish culture under Muslim rule has been glorified and fictionalized for political reasons. The pinnacle of this great idyll was supposedly reached in Muslim Spain (al Andalus). There, Muslims and Jews ruled together and Muslim conquerors gave the towns over to Jewish garrisons. Jewish viziers were at the right hand of Muslim rulers. They idyll did not last long. In 1066, the downfall of the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela (Rabbi Joseph Halevi the Nagid) was the occasion for a horrific pogrom in Granada. The vizier was killed and the Jewish quarter of Granada was raised to the ground on December 30-31 of 1066. About 4000 Jews were killed in this incident, which puts a blemish on the fable of Jewish-Muslim coexistence in Spain. One must specify without sarcasm, however, that this was the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, and it was shortly at an end. In 1090, the Almoravid dynasty took over Granada and Jews faired far less better under their rule, though still surviving. However by 1172, most of Islamic Spain had been conquered by the fanatic Berber Almohads, who practiced mass forced conversions of both Christians and Jews.
A poetic polemic by one Abu Ishaq of Elvira, written some time before the pogrom, probably helped to incite it. The poem shows clearly that the violence against the Jews and the downfall of Joseph ibn Naghrela was not a purely political affair and that anti-Semitism was there in the Muslim culture to be used either as a motivation or as a political device against opponents. The poem cannot be dismissed as the opinion of one man only, since it was followed by a horrendous pogrom. It contains many of the elements of modern anti-Semitism, especially Muslim anti-Semitism: the proper place of Jews is subservience to Muslims, they should not be allowed to become arrogant, the Jews control the government, they sell unfit food to Muslims (a theme repeated and amplified in modern Palestinian propaganda). It is also apparent that even in Muslim Spain, the accustomed place of the Jews was relatively low on the social scale, and their prosperity in Granada was considered an impudent imposition:
These vivid and concrete images of poor and miserable Jews were evidently familiar to abu Ishaq's readers, very likely not only from Christian Europe, which would not have been used to set an example for Muslims. This poem, written at the supposed apex of Jewish prosperity in Spain, should lay to rest the notion that anti-Semitism was unknown in Muslim culture and that Jewish life among Muslims was a paradise of coexistence. The Jews sometimes achieved high office - especially in Spain, Morocco and Iraq. But this was not due to their popularity. It was rather due to their vulnerability, and therefore, their dependability as allies of the rulers. A Jewish vizier could not, as often happened with Muslim viziers, develop an independent power base and overthrow the ruler, since he was totally dependent on the protection of the ruler. However, the use of Jews to fill high positions made the rulers vulnerable to attack by their enemies through the Jews, and when the protection of the ruler was lost, the most honored Jewish official was frequently torn to pieces, and with him, the entire local Jewish population.
If this poem had appeared in isolation, we could say it was a lone voice. If the pogrom of Granada had been the last manifestation of Muslim anti-Semitism we might say it was an exceptional tragedy due to political circumstances. But the pogrom was eventually followed by forced conversion and persecution. It is difficult to see how all these different manifestations can all be ignored in order to buttress the myth of the Jewish "Golden Age" in Spain.
The Muslims were usually no worse than the Christians, but they were not very much better. Jews generally existed in two modes among Muslims and Christians: either they were poor and despised or if prosperous, enjoyed a precarious existence vulnerable to the envy and greed of their non-Jewish neighbors.
The "Sanhaja" addressed at the outset of the poem is the ruling Berber confederation.
January 6, 2010
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Go, tell all the Sanhaja,1
The words of one who bears them love, and is concerned
Your chief has made a mistake
He has chosen an infidel as his secretary
Through him, the Jews have become great and proud
And have gained their desired and attained the utmost
And how many a worthy Muslim humbly obeys
And this did not happen through their own efforts
O, why did he not deal with them, following
Put them back where they belong
Roaming among us, with their little bags,
Scrabbling in the dunghills for colored rags
They did not make light of our great ones
These low-born people would not be seated in society
Badis!4 You are a clever man
How can their misdeeds be hidden from you
How can you love this bastard brood
How can you complete your ascent to greatness
How have you been lulled to trust a villain
God has vouchsafed in His revelations
Do not choose a servant from among hem
For the earth cries out against their wickedness
Turn your eyes to other countries
Why should you be different and bring them near
--You, who are a well-beloved king,
An are the first among men
I came to live in Granada
They divided up the city and the provinces
They collect all the revenues,
They dress in the finest clothes
They are the trustees of your secrets
Others eat a dirham's worth, afar,
They challenge you to your God
They envelop you with their prayers
They slaughter beasts in our markets
Their chief ape has marbled his house
Our affairs are now in his hands
He laughs at us and at our religion
If I said that his wealth is as great
Hasten to slaughter him as an offering,
And do not spare his people
Break loose their grip and take their money
Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them
They have violated our covenant with them
How can they have any pact
Now we are the humble, beside them,
Do not tolerate their misdeeds against us
God watches His own people
1 The Berber confederation that ruled that part of Spain.
2 An allusion to the Muslim slogan that Jews are sons of dogs and apes (Kuran Sura 2:61; 5:60 and 7:166).
3 Infidels were not allowed to participate in public parades, according to the regulations governing al dhimma (Jews and Christians).
4 The king
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