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The Jews of Islam (Routledge Library Editions: Islam) [Paperback]

Bernard Lewis

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Book Description

3 Dec 2010 Routledge Library Editions: Islam

Against a vivid background of Jewish and Islamic history, Bernard Lewis portrays the Judaeo-Islamic tradition – a cultural relationship parallel to the Judaeo-Christian heritage. He traces its origins in the early Middle Ages, its flowering, and its ending, followed by the incorporation of most of the Jews of Islamic countries into the state of Israel. The book examines the relations of Islam and other religions; the formative and classical periods of the Judaeo-Islamic tradition in medieval Islam; the development of the Ottoman Empire; and its eventual demise in the twentieth century. This book was originally published in 1984.


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"An elegant and masterly survey. It is a measure of Mr. Lewis's gift for synthesis that all the many findings of recent sholarship, including his own in the Turkish archives, are made to fit into a coherent and plausible pattern."--New York Times Book Review

"Lewis refuses . . . simplistic approaches and tries to explain the complex and often contradictory history of Jewish-Muslim relations over fourteen hundred years. He does this in prose that combines eloquence, dispassion, and wit."--Norman A. Stillman, New York Review of Books

"[A] pioneering and masterful primer."--Jacob Neusner, Boston Globe --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Two stereotypes dominate most of what has been written on tolerance and intolerance in the Islamic world. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Jews of Islam, Bernard Lewis 10 April 2000
By Ali Abbas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book examines the presence and role of the Jews in Islam, with a treatment that spans not only through the text of the Quran, but also an application of the laws and injunctions contained in the the practice of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, by the Islamic jurists.
While the book attempts to dispel the notion of muslims as being intolerant, it does not shy away to bring about a factual realization embodied in texts, particularly historical texts, that formed the basis of records maintained by the islamic governments, particularly during the Ottoman regime.
The role of the Jews, not only as a presence among the muslim communities, but also a treatment of the various traditions that served to be shared and transmitted in both the religions, is treated at length.
While the discussion of Jews as a religious minority forms the basis of the book, it is nevertheless impossible to treat them alone, since Christians and their attitude towards the Jews as well as Muslims, served to demonstrate the intricacy of the social fabric existent between them, interwoven with the many realities that spanned beyond the frontiers of the Islamic state. Growing tensions between Islam and Christianity and the relation and influence it exercised on the treatment of the Jews would amply support the later statement.
Over all, it is a book that offers a much needed outlook on Islam's position on minorities, with ample bibiliography for further research.
A must read!
-- Ali Abbbas
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars generally well done 23 Jan 2005
By Michael Lewyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was always vaguely aware that Jews sometimes got better treatment from Muslims than from Christians. But this book explains the roots in Muslim theology of Muslim/Jewish relations (under which non-Muslim monotheists were tolerated as second-class citizens), and shows how large some Jewish communities were.

I was surprised to learn that in the 15th century, Turkey was so attractive for Jews that Jewish writers wrote about Turkey as glowingly as later writers wrote about America. For example, Isaac Zarfati, a refugee from Germany, wrote: "I proclaim to you that Turkey is a land wherein nothing is lacking, and where, if you will, all shall yet be well with you . . . Here every man may dwell at peace under his own vine and fig tree. Here you are allowed to wear the most precious garments. In Christendom, on the contrary, you dare not even venture to clothe your children in red or in blue, according to our taste, without exposing them to the insult of beaten black and blue, or kicked green and red . . . O Israel, wherefore sleepest though? Arise! And leave this accursed land forever!" (p. 136)

Similarly, in the 16th century Portuguese refugee Samuel Usque described Turkey as "a broad and spacious sea which God opened with the rod of His mercy as He opened the Red Sea at the time of the exodus . .. here the gates of liberty are always open for the observance of Judaism" (Id.)

But the situation deteriorated in the last several centuries: it is not altogether clear why, and maybe Lewis isn't completely sure himself. Lewis speculates that Jews lost contact with Europe, and thus (unlike Christians in Islamic lands) no longer had trade connections or language skills to offer to the national economy, and were thus more easily persecuted because of their poverty and uselessness. But why did the Jews lose touch with the rest of the world? What went wrong? It is not quite clear.

A side note: the unfavorable reviews of this book attack Lewis for being too pro-Muslim, while the unfavorable reviews of "Semites and Anti-Semites" attack him for being insufficiently pro-Muslim and anti-Israel. If Lewis is getting shot at from both sides, he must be doing something right.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Jews of Islam 19 Feb 2002
By Moris Senegor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very enlightening account of not only the Jewish experience in Islamic lands, but also of the overall treatment of non-Muslim subjects within Muslim territories. This historical background is essential to the understanding of present relations between Islam and the West, as well as Israel and its surrounding Muslim neighbours. Lewis writes in a style easy to read, and yet still academically rigorous. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wishing to get beyond current media headlines and dwelve deeper into the roots of contemporary unease between the West and Islam. As for Jews like myself who grew up in Muslim countries, it is essential reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, Complete and Insightful 12 Dec 2011
By Dr. Smoker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Make no mistake: this book is no apology-manual for the history of the Jews in Islam. Like always, Bernard Lewis presents the facts as he finds them and does not appear to have an agenda beyond that. He does not make the typical straw man argument that many other authors of recent times have made about Islam, that it is anti-semitic, violent, and bigoted, whereas Christianity is a religion of peace because Jesus preached passive resistance and the gospels have many peaceful quotations. To the contrary, he actually claims that ant-semitism never existed in Islam until it was introduced by Christian European colonialists during the 18th century upward.
Lewis defines anti-semitism as: A. The obsessive fanaticism of and about Jews. B. The assigning of Jews of cosmic evil and blaming all of the world's ills on them and C. Holding Jews to double-standards. According to him, persecuting the Jews and disliking them is not anti-semitism, it is a normal (and unfortunate) part of the human condition to dislike and persecute those who are different from us. That being stated, anti-semitism never existed in Islam up until recent times. However, persecution and hatred of the Jews did.
The "dhimmi" laws of Islam are well-known by many at the present time. However, Lewis describes how the dhimmi laws were applied at different times and across different Muslim societies. The Ottoman Turks were by far the best in their treatment towards the Jews. Jews were generally unmolested in their religious activities and had several opportunities to reach high social positions and prestigious professions. The Turks never saw the Jews as dangerous, and often saw the Jews as useful, because of their ties to Europe and their knowledge of European inventions and artillery. However, most Jews were poor and there were a few notable incidents of violent fanaticism that occurred occasionally in Turkey.
The Arabs were "moderate" in their treatment of the Jews. At times they were hostile, viewed themselves as innately superior and often dismissed or debased the Jews. However, under Islamic Spain, Jews were able to reach high positions, notably the famous Rambam. The Persians, on the other hand, were by far the worst in their treatment of the Jews. The Persians treated Jews as an "untouchable" social class, which obviously pre-dates Islam and comes from their caste-oriented neighbor India. The Persians had a plethora of humiliating laws and decrees, such as that Jews could not walk outside when it was raining, because their dirtiness would rub off of them and drip onto the street, thus dirtying the shoes of Muslims. This really sheds led onto the modern quagmire of Iranian-Israeli relations and hostility.
I would also like to add my own insights: One must remember that Islam was never a sect within Judaism, that Mohammed and his early followers were not Jews and that Muslim theology does not believe the Jews were chosen. Christianity, on the other hand, was a sect within Judaism, Jesus and his early followers were all Jews and that Christian theology still believes that the Jews were chosen. There is an inherent anti-semitism within Christianity because of these three points. This however, does not exist in Islam. Islam views Jews (and Christians) as being a flawed version of the one true faith, that are tolerated as natural inferiors, dhimmis. The fanatical obsession with Jews and the assigning them with cosmic evil with introduced to Islam by Christian imperialist interlopers. The Jews became a convenient scapegoat for the miserable condition that most Muslims and that time and still to these times are living in. That last thesis is developed in more detail in some of Lewis' other works, such as "Middle East Mosaic", "The Arabs in History" and some of his videos on Youtube. Lewis ends the book with then end of what he calls the "Judeo-Islamic tradition". Because of the relatively recent introduction of anti-Semitism into the Middle East from Europe, the tradition has come to an abrupt end.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lewis Continues to Astound 19 Aug 2013
By Robert J. Pruger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read a fair number of Bernard Lewis's books. He continues to do astounding work (far better than other scholars in this field who are 1/2 his age); and "The Jews of Islam" is a wonderful example. I would have given it 5 stars, but I've read some of this content before.

Bias is an unfortunately all-too-human trait. Yet Dr. Lewis has an amazing capicity to be fair. His critics (and he has many, mostly undeserved) could take a page from his approach. He is scrupulous in examining how jews faired in Moslem-dominated societies over the last 1,400 years and compares that to their treatment under European-dominated Christendom (what a wonderful word that only Lewis would use today). if you want to understand how one of the root causese of todays middle eastern conflict, you can't do better than Dr. Lewis.
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