How are Jewish people and Muslims similar?

Jews and Muslims

Both religions see themselves as religious communities chosen by God and have to follow detailed rules in order to please their God.

At the beginning, Mohammed, the prophet of Islam (around 570 to 632), was friends with Jewish traders. However, the Jewish tribes around Medina did not want to join the new religion - which Mohammed expected of them.

In the so-called trench warfare in front of Medina (627) the tribes, led by Mohammed, were victorious. The Jews who were not converted to Islam were slaughtered. The Muslims conquered the Arabian Peninsula, migrated further to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The Jews as protectors

Common principles of belief subsequently allowed a peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims. As a people of the "owners of the scriptures", the Jews were subject to protection, "dhimmi" in Arabic. Although they had to endure a series of prohibitions and restrictions, they were not exposed to any danger to property or life.

The Qur'an says: "Whoever offends a dhimmi has offended me, and whoever offends me has offended Allah." However, the Jews were not allowed to build synagogues, ride horses and camels, or bathe with Muslims. And they had to identify themselves in order to prevent undesirable mixing on both sides.

Labeling: an invention of Islam

The labeling of Jews began in Muslim countries in the 9th century. Around 807, the Abbasid caliph Harun Al-Raschid decreed that Jews should wear yellow belts. Yellow hoods became mandatory for the next 50 years.

Around 1005, the labeling regulations increasingly served the purpose of humiliation. In Egypt, the caliph decreed that Jews should attach bells to their belts and wear a wooden calf figure (to commemorate the passing of the golden calf) around their necks when bathing.

The Seljuks, the new dynasty in Baghdad, increasingly viewed Jews as inferior. Starting in 1058, several caliphs ordered that Jews had to put colored stains on their clothing - a clear sign of humiliation.

A Jew from Baghdad wrote around 1121 that he had two yellow spots on his head and neck, a lead pendant with the word "dhimmi" and a yellow belt. The increasing number of regulations suggests that they were not consistently implemented by the Jews.

Cultural heyday among the Muslims

In Christian countries it became dangerous for the Jews. Religiously persecuted, they cheered the Muslim conquerors in Persia, Byzantium, Palestine, North Africa and on the Iberian Peninsula.

Arabic was widely spoken, which made communication easier. The great centers of Judaism accompanied the rise of science among Muslims, especially under the rule of the Abbasid caliph dynasty.

In Baghdad, the academies took on a leading role in Judaism. The head of the Babylonian Jews in Baghdad was de facto the religious head of all Jews. But with the Abbasids, academies also emerged in Kairouan and Fes in North Africa, as well as a smaller one in Cordoba in what was then Al-Andalus, today's Andalusia.

With the Reconquista (the reconquest of Spain by the Christian kings) and the development of Jewish life in Central Europe, the Jews became mediators between the worlds, traders of goods and conveyors of knowledge and writings.

The fertilization by the new knowledge favored the rise of Jewish philosophy, art and science. First in Babylonia, then in Egypt and especially in Al-Andalus, Judaism experienced one of its golden ages.

Power politics destroys peaceful coexistence

The heyday continued until fundamental Muslim Berbers, the Almoravids, and especially the Almohad tribe, conquered Andalusia from their co-religionists from the end of the 11th century.

When they also conquered North Africa, Jews again had to flee from the question of "conversion or incineration". From the 15th century, Jews therefore fled to the newly founded Ottoman Empire, which was also Muslim, but much more moderate.

The sultans welcomed them to the emerging empire and offered them security. The Jews, in turn, brought new technical knowledge, the best trade and financial contacts to all of Europe, as well as assets to make the Ottomans more powerful.

Not only in the Ottoman Empire, but also in North Africa and the Persian Gulf, Jews enjoyed a relatively quiet life in the middle of a tolerant society in the centuries that followed. In Morocco, Iraq, and Persia in particular, Jews became important officials, scientists, and poets.

Change in Relations in the Middle East

The colonization of Israel and Palestine since the end of the 19th century brought about a turning point in the relationship between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. Friendly at the beginning and happy about the approaching progress, the emotions soon turned into existential fear on both sides and into widespread hatred.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was followed by an attack by neighboring Arab countries. This made the conflict general, so it was no longer limited to the Land of Israel.

While many Jews and Arabs are trying to get along, radical groups are taking advantage of the tense situation more and more brazenly today. They abuse fears and stir them up in order to achieve political goals. These actions often take place under the guise of faith and religion.

Although Islam and Judaism have a lot in common and could coexist peacefully, this is how Muslims and Jews are turned against each other. The religiously motivated threats push a wedge between religions and people.