Sunday, February 23, 2014

Muslims tolerated Jews under their control

 A Moroccan dressed as a Jew symbolises how Arab regimes (the donkey) are manipulated by Jewish power

This fascinating article by anthropologist Aoum Boum in The Tablet blames European influences for the modern demonisation of the Jews in the Arab world. Traditionally in Muslim societies, Jews had powers of good but also evil. As long as Jews were controlled, they were tolerated.
In the streets of Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia as well as in those of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, one of the most shared and lingering perceptions between liberal and Islamists, Shi’a and Sunni alike, remains their belief in a Jewish plot behind the social, economic, and political chaos that disrupts the peace of Arab cities and states, undermines their Islamic solidarity, and threatens to destroy their fragile economies. Jews have largely vanished from the Arab world, but those looking for a scapegoat, as Drumont did, have found a way to reanimate the “collective powerful Jew,” imagining a hidden Jewish hand that conspires to throw their cities and countries into turmoil. Tweets, Facebook postings, radio and TV commentators, graffiti, and banners circulate around virtual and real landscapes stressing how Jews are bringing down Arab governments and replacing them with new subservient allies.

But it’s a relatively recent idea. In fact, Jews were historically frequent, and eventually essential, mediators and intermediaries in traditional Middle Eastern and North African societies. In most villages and towns, local residents held Jews in good faith. Even sultans surrounded themselves with Jewish traders, advisers, and ambassadors and sought their advice to revive economies and establish relations with foreign powers.

Indeed, while Jews could embody threatening forces in many traditional Middle Eastern world-views, their cultural identity in Arab societies tended to be associated with the same kind of danger presented by women—which meant that as long as Jews could be controlled, like women, then their Muslim patrons had nothing to fear. Jews and women alike were, for example, forbidden from entering granaries or gardens and barred from getting close to beehives, because their presence was thought to threaten the annual yield.

This equivalence explains why it was widely accepted throughout many parts of the Arab world to leave a Jewish man in the presence of Muslim women without the company of male member of the household: He was assumed to be weak and controlled and therefore safe. In practice, that meant Jewish peddlers had access to Muslims’ households, while Muslim traders were denied such access.

Jews were also thought of as rainmakers who could bring a good harvest by guaranteeing the fertility of the soil. Folk narratives of Arab and Berber tribes throughout North Africa stated that the Prophet Mohammed and his companions prayed for rain after a severe drought and only met with success when an old Jew went to a grave, took a bone, and started praying with his fellow Jews: In the middle of their prayers rain began to fall. Arabs and Berbers alike attributed this power to the fact that Jews smelled bad, and so, therefore, God granted their wish for rain showers—but nevertheless, in times of drought, Jews were called upon to pray for rain, even though they were typically not allowed to get close to the village spring, out of fear that they might desecrate it.

Curing sickness was in many occasions the exclusive province of Jewish rabbis and saints. Barren Muslim women turned to local Jewish “saints” in hopes of becoming pregnant; families sometimes sought rabbis’ blessings to cure infertility, mental illness, paralysis, and epilepsy. Women, and sometimes men, visited nearby Jewish shrines in their local villages, leaving candles or some coins on site and sometimes attaching a piece of cloth to a tree or plant by the tomb representing their wish. (In some places, these traditions persist: Visitors to the region around Errachidia in southern Morocco, also known as Ksar Souk, will notice piles of clothes, body hair, chains, and sometimes women’s bras and underwear on a shrub around the tombs of three rabbis locally known as Yihia Lahlou, Moul Tria, and Moul Sedra.)

Yet Jews and sometimes Christians—their fellow outsiders in the Muslim world—could also be associated with evil in some contexts. The curse of a Jew was believed to be more fearsome than those from fellow Muslims; religious pilgrims went to great lengths to avoid seeing Jews before traveling to Mecca. Jews were asked to provide preventive charms for protection against evil eye and bad spirits, but it was also believed that when a Jew entered a Muslim’s house, the angels deserted it.

Read article in full 

Moroccans protest exhibition about Jews (Elder of Ziyon)

1 comment:

Selina said...

Of course, let's use someone for what we can get from them but abuse them at the same time. Typical