To Be a Jew

Once in a while an article pops up in the media about Jews and Muslims living together in peace in Iran.  In today’s political climate it must seem odd from a western standpoint.  If you take the politics of Israel out of the equation, you find that Jews and Muslims have a lot in common, not just religiously but historically.

“We consider ourselves Iranian Jews, not Israeli Jews. So the hostilities between Israel and Iran do not affect us.”  ~CNN

Since the earliest times of the Crusades, Jews (the cursed for killing Christ), along with Muslims (infidels) have bore the brunt of Christian persecution.  Many were forcefully converted under threat of the sword.  Those who didn’t or lapsed were often burned at the stake or killed by any number of other gruesome means.  The Jews fled to Muslim territories who historically were friendly to the Jews.

“Thousands of Jews who fled Spain went to Turkey, which historically has been very nice to the Jews. Opening his doors to them, the Sultan of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Bayezid II, declared: ‘They tell me that Ferdinand of Spain is a wise man but he is a fool. For he takes his treasure and sends it all to me.'” ~SimpleToRemember

It was during this horrific time in Christian history that the converted Jews would meet secretly recite the Kol Nidrei (All Vows) prayers to renounce their forced vows to be Christians.  The prayers are largely in Aramaic and chanted at the start of the evening of Yom Kippur.  The Christians eventually started campaigns to burn these “lapsed” converts at the stake.

As a result of this severe repression and migration of Jews from Spain (and the Portugal) the Ottoman Empire prospered and became one of the greatest empires in the world.

The Islamic Empire founded by the Prophet Muhammad had always had a place for Christians, Jews and Pagans.  It is not only seen in much later centuries such as the multicultural booming society of Muslim controlled Spain prior to the Inquisitions.  Contrary to what you see today due to hardened politics, such a multicultural characteristic is the very foundation of what is makes up the Islamic “Ummah”.

The Constitution of Madina which created the Islamic Ummah (Islamic Nation State) begins with,

“In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful. This is a covenant from Muhammad the Prophet [governing the relations] between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib [Medina], and those who follow them and joined them and laboured with them. They constitute one ummah.”  ~Constitution of Madina

The Islamic Empire began in Madina (Yathrib) after the Prophet and his followers fled bitter persecution from the Quraish tribes in Makkah.  In Madina the loosely organized warring tribes of Pagans, Christians and Jews were called together to discuss a historic peace agreement.  The Prophet Muhammad  was chosen to chair the meeting as the arbiter.  The agreement would be the very first democratic constitution in the world and is known as the “Constitution of Madina” and would put an end to the tribal fighting.

In the document each tribe was equal under the agreement, though many of them had different responsibilities under the law.  It detailed the rights of each tribe, their responsibilities under the alliance to defend each other and help pay for defense.  The Constitution consisted of 60 articles.  The document secured the safety of women, freedom to practice each religion and acceptance of Madina as a Sacred place where all weapons and violence were banned.

The Constitution of Madina is a founding document detailing the outline for what an Islamic state should look like.  Under this document, the Islamic Ummah not only afforded rights, responsibilities, defense and grounds for common law, but also grounds for security actions against any of the tribes that violated the Constitution agreement that they had accepted (Article 16).  The Islamic State was a multicultural Ummah designed to establish peace among the tribes, establish a state and vote in a Statesman, the Prophet Muhammad (Article 52).

Conversely, in modern times many Muslims make the fatal error of believing that the Islamic “Ummah” only includes Muslims and often forget that Jews and Christians (People of the Book) even hold a special protected status in Islam.  Since the concept of inclusion existed as late as the 19th century (and even today in Iran), we can safely conclude that it is a relatively new misconception among some Muslims that the Islamic Ummah is a Muslim only “fraternity”.

Iran having a Jewish community that is happy to be Iranian is nothing new.  It has been there for a long time and I have seen articles about it over the years.  It is amazing to me and commendable, given the crisis in the Middle East, that the Iranians (Shia) have preserved this original idea of Islamic “Ummah” and have thriving Jewish communities.

“The Jewish community in Iran does not hide its heritage. At the synagogue, Michael Malakon leads the prayer service. He says he is proud of his Jewish identity. And even in a country that is so hostile towards Israel, Malakon says he can practice freely and that he has many Muslim friends.

“I hang around with all kinds of young people and I have a lot of Muslim friends,” Malakon tells CNN after finishing the noon prayer on a Monday. About 20 people were in attendance, usually from local businesses around the synagogue. None of them tried to hide the fact that they were Jewish — and inside the synagogue the Star of David is proudly displayed in many places, alongside passages from the Torah.” ~CNN

Constitution of Madina is a document that all Muslims should read and take note, but is most often neglected by us to our detriment.

Regardless of the politics of the nation state of Israel, to be a Jewish citizen of an Islamic society should be something they can be proud of, not in fear of.

“They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer].

They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous.

And whatever good they do – never will it be removed from them. And Allah is Knowing of the righteous.” ~Qur’an3:113-115


(A link to the instrumental version of “Kol Nidrei” can be heard, here.  It’s really a quite beautiful piece played on the viola.)

See also:  Inside Iran: The road to Esfahan