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Jews flourished under Muslim rule

Last updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 12:57 AM


Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
 


Rabbi Reuven Bulka, City of Ottawa’s Wayne Sprague and I were on a TV panel following the desecration of mosques in Gatineau, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Charlottetown and vandalism in Jewish synagogues and cemeteries. We agreed that Canada is a great country and that Canadians are tolerant and fair. But we also felt that there are racists and bigots in Canada - among politicians, academics, members of the media and others - who promote hatred of Jews and Muslims through anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Many Muslim countries and Israel deserve criticism for their policies, I think. But to condemn a religious faith, distort its teachings and blame an entire community for the wrongs of a few is wrong, hateful and in some cases malicious.

The three of us agreed that hate and cruelty violate the principles of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and those of Canada too.

We have differences on the Middle East. My writings going back decades make clear that I believe in equality, freedom and justice for all the people of the world. Islam teaches me that there is one God who created all living beings and that He loves His creations and He is just and merciful.

I  do not believe, however, that hostility between Jews and Muslims would benefit Palestinians or Israelis. But if Canadian Muslims and Jews worked together in Canada to promote human rights and equality for all Canadians irrespective of religion or ethnicity, it would make Canada a better place for all Canadians and might also help Palestinians and Israelis in searching for a just peace.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) treated non-Muslims with justice and compassion. He made pacts with Jews and idol worshippers in Madinah and respected his covenants.

Imam Mohamad Jebara of the Cordova Academy in Ottawa states: “Jews were expelled from Jerusalem in the year 70 CE by the Romans, who destroyed the temple of Herod, commencing the Jewish Diaspora. When Rome adopted the Christian faith after 325 CE they maintained a strict ban on Jews coming near Jerusalem. This ban remained until the Christians of Jerusalem surrendered the city to the Muslim Caliph Umar.

Muslims then permitted the Jews to come to Jerusalem for the first time in over 600 years, but only for pilgrimage as the Christians had stated in the surrender terms that they would only surrender the city to the Muslims on condition that the Jews were not permitted to live in the city. Later, during the Abbasid caliphate, Muslims allowed Jews to settle in the city again. Jews remained there until the city fell to the Crusaders in July 1099. Jews were again forbidden to enter Jerusalem till Salahuddin liberated the city in October 1187 and Muslims then allowed Jews free entry into Jerusalem with no restrictions.”

Generally, Jews lived in peace and flourished under Arab, Ottoman and Muslim Spanish caliphs. When Spain expelled Jews in the 15th century, European countries were reluctant to accept them. The Ottoman Empire, however, welcomed them. During Hitler’s time too, German Jews sought refuge in Turkey and among Muslims elsewhere.

Some Muslims assisted Jews during the Holocaust. Faith Matters, a British organization, identified such Muslims in a booklet, The Role of Righteous Muslim Persons.  They were from many countries and were among those Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem called Righteous Gentiles. 

Sadly, Jews have also been persecuted in Muslim countries by unjust rulers who also persecuted others. Muslims suffered from their own oppressive rulers and from colonial occupiers. Jews suffered greatly for centuries with anti-Semitism in the Soviet empire and in the West culminating in the Holocaust.

The Holy Qur’an criticizes the action of some Jews. It criticizes Muslims too.

Says the Holy Qur’an: “O people, we have created you from a single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most pious among you. God has full knowledge and is well-acquainted (with all things).” (4:13)

In the 1980s the Ottawa Muslim Association, which I led at that time, cooperated with Christian and Jewish organizations in a Tent of Meeting on Parliament Hill to celebrate their shared heritage as descendants of the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). This was the first time in Canada that Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups worked together. Now such cooperation is quite common.

Jewish Family Services in Ottawa has  provided social services to Somalis, and set up a mentoring program for them, for some time. For several years mosques and synagogues have been twinned in Toronto, and other cities in Canada and the United States, to expand better understanding.

Jews and Muslims differ on the Middle East. Canadian Muslims passionately believe in a just peace in the Middle East that treats Israelis and Palestinians as equals in every respect. 

Jews and Muslims must work together and with Canadians of other faiths to promote human rights, equality, justice and opportunity for all Canadians and to make Canada a model of peace and justice in a troubled world.

— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge. He founded the Muslim Coordinating Council which seeks to uplift the Muslim community and work with Canadians of other faiths to promote human rights for all Canadians. He has received the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the Queen’s Diamond and Golden Jubilee awards.

 
   
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