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Five Muslim Rulers That Saved Jews



January 25, 2015

There is a great history of tolerance within Islam, which states that Jewish citizens of a Muslim state are a protected minority. This article demonstrates this decree of protection by naming five Muslim rulers that saved their Jewish subjects from certain death.

The Jewish Tribe Protected by Decree Of The Prophet ()

Ahmad bin Yahya

The Banu Harith (Hebrew: Banim Chorath) are an Arabian Jewish tribe that were protected by their Muslim rulers for over 1,300 years. Ever since the Prophet Muhammad () explicitly stated they should be protected in the Constitution of Medina. In the 1930s most of the tribe lived in the Yemeni city of Najran, Saudi Arabia conquered the city in 1934 and the community began experiencing increased persecution which culminated in the local governor Amir Turki ben Mahdi giving the 600 Jews living there a single day to either flee the city or convert to Islam.

The Jews chose to leave and Saudi soldiers escorted them to the Yemeni border. They settled in the cities of Saada and Aden. The Saudi King Abdulaziz demanded their return, but Yemen’s Shia Muslim King, Ahmad bin Yahya, refused his demand as he considered them to be Yemeni and not Saudi refugees.

It is impossible to say what the fate of this Jewish tribe would have been, but it is likely to have ended tragically as Judaism is forbidden within the borders of Saudi Arabia. Today the remnants of Banu Harith live in Yemen and Israel.

While these actions were truly commendable, there are questions as to the general treatment of Jews under Adhmad bin Yahya’s rule. While stories of persecution do exist, he was also one of the few Muslim leaders that permitted his Jewish subjects to leave for Israel – which prompted nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews to flee to the fledgling state.

The Moroccan King Who Defied the Nazis

King of Morocco, Mohammed V

During the holocaust the pro-Nazi Vichy Government of France controlled Morocco. In 1941 they attempted to enact laws that would discriminate against Moroccan Jews, setting quotas on the number of Jewish doctors and lawyers, ejecting students from French schools and forcing many Jews living in the European quarters to move to “Jewish areas”. All of this would have almost certainly ended in the transportation of Moroccan Jewry to Europe’s gas chambers.

Shocked at these laws the King of Morocco, Mohammed V, told Jewish leaders that in his opinion Vichy laws singling out the Jews were inconsistent with Moroccan law. He believed that Jews should be treated equally with Muslims. He emphasized that the property and lives of the Moroccan Jews remained under his protection. “There are no Jews in Morocco. There are only subjects,” the King was reported to have said. In a blatant show of defiance the King insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the 1941 throne celebrations. Due to his strong stance, Vichy administrators were unable to implement their discriminatory laws and the Jewish community was saved.

But the story did not end there, in response to anti-Jewish rhetoric in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel the King warned Muslims not to hurt Moroccan Jews, reminding them that Jews had always been protected in Morocco.

The Sultan That Sent a Navy To Save Jews

Bayezid II, Sultan of Ottoman Empire

In 1492 Spain expelled its Jewish and Muslim populations as part of the Spanish Inquisition. The ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Bayezid II, responded to Spain’s ethnic cleansing by sending the Ottoman Navy to rescue the victims of the inquisition and resettle them in Ottoman lands.

The Sultan then sent out proclamations throughout the empire stating that the Jewish refugees were to be welcomed, granting them permission to settle anywhere in the Empire as full and equal citizens. He ridiculed the conduct of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had expelled the Jews by saying “You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler, he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!” – in recognition of the incredible contributions the Jews would make to his empire.

Bayezid then sent a decree to all the governors of his European provinces, ordering them not only to refrain from repelling the Spanish refugees, but to give them a friendly and welcome reception, threatening those who treated the Jews harshly with death.

The Muslim General and His Jewish Army

Tariq ibn Ziyad

During the 7th and 8th centuries Iberia (Spain and Portugal) was a divided kingdom ruled by the Catholic Visigoths, the region was home to a Jewish minority who suffered intolerable persecution under their Christian rulers. In the spring of 711, a Muslim army invaded Iberia. They were led by Tariq ibn Ziyad, serving the Arab governor Musa ibn Nusayr. The Muslim army engaged Roderick (Luthariq) the Visigoth King in battle and defeated him. They then marched northward to the Visigoth capital of Toledo. Both Latin and Arabic chroniclers record that the Jews of the city “opened the gates of Toledo” to Tariq, enabling him to conquer the city.

Rather than simply offering the Jews protection for their act of bravery, Tariq elevated the Jews to protectors of the empire and positioned Jewish garrisons to watch over the cities of Toledo, Granada and Seville. Possibly the first instance in history where a Jewish army protected their Muslim cousins.

The Prophet Muhammad ()

Many mistakenly believe that Muhammad () was an enemy of the Jews. Much of the confusion stems from the Battle of the Trench, which Muslim tradition records was a two week battle that raged between Arab and Jewish tribes against the Muslims of Medinah. After the Jewish tribes were defeated, between 600-900 Jewish men were sentenced to death.

However, this was a battle that involved betrayal and treachery. To understand the Prophet’s (()) view of the Jews we must look at the relationship in its entirety.

Muhammad (()) was married to Safiyya – a Jewish lady. On one occasion she came to Muhammad () in tears after being taunted for being Jewish by Arab women. After consoling her he said, “If they discriminate you again, tell them that your husband is Muhammad, your father was the prophet Aaron and your uncle was prophet Musa. So what is there in that to be scornful towards you”.

It is well documented that Muhammad (()) had Jewish wives, friends and many subjects. And it is the treatment of these Jewish subjects in lands under his control that laid the blueprint of tolerance and protection that Muslim rulers have shown Jews throughout the centuries.

In one of history’s major examples of state endorsed religious tolerance, Muhammad (?) drafted the Constitution of Medina declaring Jews a protected minority, free to practise their religion. It is this Constitution that offered protection of Banu Harith, the Yemeni tribe in our first story. And it is this constitution that inspired every Muslim ruler we have mentioned to protect their Jewish citizens.

(16) To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.

(24) The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.

(25) The Jews of the B. ‘Auf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.

(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha‘laba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha ‘laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.

(37) The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally’s misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.

(38) The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts.

(46) The Jews of al-Aus, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in purely loyalty from the people of this document. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. He who acquires ought acquires it for himself. God approves of this document.