Saturday, October 3, 2009

Jews and Muslims and the weirdness of history

History is a fascinating social science. Just about every civilization and culture that has had contact with another have also experienced inter-cultural friction. Among the bristlier subjects along this vein are the struggles between Jews and Muslims and the emotions these subjects evoke in so many.

Considering the fundamental similarities between the religions (monotheistic belief in God and a common spiritual ancestory) it is remarkable how there are types from either of these faiths (or any faith) who focus purely on the differences between their religious traditions and those of others. Many people in today's world appear enthralled to the idea that the world's religions are necessarily in conflict with each other.

In reading I have come across a few tidbits in history that I thought I might share as they might have the ability to show people the big picture: that there were times in the past when the two communities cooperated together - and hopefully this will help inspire some people to believe that it is still possible for the two communities to cooperate.

When Christians were engaged in holy wars (the crusades) to conquer the holy land, they were often bizarrely brutal. In 1099 120,000 European crusaders sieged Jerusalem. The Muslim and Jewish inhabitants fought to defend their city against the Christian invaders. In the end the Christians were victorious and decided to slaughter the entire Muslim and Jewish population of the city. Also a little known 10th century central asian empire called Khazaria was in fact a Jewish state. The royalty were of turkic descent and converted to Judaism and much of the nation followed suit with time (Judaism was the state religion but the nation comprised subjects from many faiths). An interesting story covers the demise of the nation: Rus (an Eastern European nation of the time) soldiers wanted to pass through the nation to conquer Baghdad / Muslim lands. The Jewish royalty of the time refused to allow the Rus to pass through their territory, thus refusing to facilitate their attack on Muslim Baghdad. The Rus resorted to sacking the Jewish nation instead. Another interesting bit of history (from before the days of Islam): One of the famous cases of the enslavement of Jews was their conquering and enslavement by the Babylonians. The Jews were freed from slavery by the conquering Iranian king Cyrus in 539 B.C.

It would seem to me that if God wants us to learn a lesson from history then it is nice and simple: there are good and bad people of any background/faith and surely we should all cooperate with whomever is good from any background or spiritual tradition.

P.S. Perhaps it should also be noted that people of many many religious backgrounds (Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc.) fought for freedom with Allied forces in both world wars I and II.