People of the Book Their Struggle to Modernize and Coexist

Grant J. Brill Prof. Kurt Messick RE 330 – Religions of the Middle East 30 March 2009

Brill 2

Introduction
“People of the Book” is a term that is given to encompass the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam who all share an intimate religious history in the Middle East. Today, it is easy to attribute their grievances to colonialism; however, this can sometimes be too simplistic as each religion has reacted differently and followed different paths that have developed into what we see today. In this research paper we will examine some of the fundamental events that have led to the religious complexities we see today. To a certain degree each religion has begun modernizing at a different point in history. For the purposes of this paper, modernization of each faith in the Middle East began for the Christians and Muslims in 1071 with the defeat of the Byzantine Empire in Tukey, and for Judaism in 1517 with the beginning of the reformation. The goal is not just to track their historical efforts to adapt to a region whose geopolitical atmosphere makes the separation of religion and politics impossible, but to also look at the problems facing the people of the book’s ability to peacefully coexist.

In 1007, the Byzantine Empire was in decay throughout the Turkish plains. The Muslim Seljuks had been victorious and were now headed toward Constantinople.1 Meanwhile, the Byzantine Empire was primarily Christian yet the Byzantium governments allowed for few civil liberties leaving its citizens open to a change in government. Consequently, when Muslim armies entered the region they were welcomed as liberators, and rightly so as Muslims entered viewing Christians as equals since they

1

Wolff,Richard. The Popular Encyclopedia of World Religions. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2007, (pg 251)

Brill 3 were people of the book.2 While this inspired some Christians to convert to Islam and some to maintain their identity it developed into a crisis that Pope Urban II in France had to address. His response was the Christian Crusades which to much surprise started with the persecution and massacre of the Jewish population in Europe. Each of the four Crusades launched between 1099 and 1204 ended with increasing disaster, and in the end, the crusaders were only able to secure Constantinople. The ruthless tactics of indiscriminant killings employed by the crusaders left an impression on Muslims that can be seen today. After the Crusades, Islam became not only the dominant religion in the region but also less merciful when dealing with other faiths, in particular Christianity. As Christianity receeded Islam became more and more prevalent in the region, Christian communities assumed a low profile so as to not be perceived as a threat or rivalry by the more predominant Muslims. This profile would continue until the end of World War I. Meanwhile in 1517, Europe’s Reformation era was in full swing with its aim of revitalizing the Christian church through means of conversion. In the sights of the Christian church were the numerous Jews who after centuries of exile and persecution had found safe havens in much of Europe. Perhaps no one had greater hope for converting the Jews as Martin Luther (1483-1546) who viewed conversion to be relatively simple, based upon the success of the apostles during the time of Christ. Luther was wrong though, making a fatal error in not taking into account that it was the result of over a thousand years of persecution and exile that the Jews were in Europe and not in the Holy Land with much of the aggression carried out by Christians. Unable to come to

2

Makari, Peter E. "Christian Presence in the Middle East." International Review of Mission 89, no. 352 (2000) (pg 34)

Brill 4 terms with the Jewish resistance, Luther became enraged, publishing On the Jews and Their Lies which opened with the statement: I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that those miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews and who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them.3 While the immediate impact of this document was relatively insignificant it would underline a Christian extremists’ point of view against the Jews, but more importantly it came to represent an "anti-Semitic descent" viewpoint that would later embody the basis of the Holocaust carried out by German Chancellor Adolph Hitler.4 By the Nineteenth century the Jewish Reform movement had begun, pioneered by Moses Mendelsohn the new modern Jewish belief was that they were “no longer a nation but a religious community.”5 This was not an effort to coexist with other religions but rather it was an effort to coexist with the hosting governments by “living as free and equal citizens and to be assimilated into the dominant culture.”6 The Jewish Reform movement gained increased popularity in Europe as a whole and especially in the United States, despite the opposing views of the Orthodox Jews who were set on retaining their identity and traditions as an autonomous people. A unifying factor came though with the turn of the century in the form of Zionism. Zionism was initially inspired with the help of Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist who became politically vocal in asserting a need for the creation of a Jewish homelandthat “would become a center of Jewish cultural life.”7

3

Luther, Martin. "On the Jews and Their Lies." 1543.http://www.humanitasinternational.org/showcase/chronography/documents/luther-jews.htm (accessed 27 July 2008). 4 Wolff,Richard. The Popular Encyclopedia of World Religions. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2007, (pg 219) 5 "The evolution of secular Judaism." The Humanist 53, no. 2 (1993) (pg 32). 6 Wolff,Richard. The Popular Encyclopedia of World Religions. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2007, (pg 220) 7 Ibid. pg 222

Brill 5 Contrary to the Reform Jews, Zionism emerged as a response to the growing antiSemitism in Europe. Reform and Orthodox Jews were not great supporters of the Zionist movement for several reasons. Reform Jews feared that the launching of a Zionist movement would only bring about a new set of problems, while Orthodox and Conservative Jews disagreed with the movement because biblically it was supposed to be a messenger of God that would take them to the Promised Land. In the end, Zionism was able to justify itself through the biblical ties it had to Palestine.8 This would be further enhanced by an effort by the British government to combat the growing Ottoman Empire during World War I. Britiain’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration which stated that the British government was in “favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”9 Meanwhile, in the holy land, the decline of the Byzantine Empire gave rise to the Ottoman Empire. With the rise of Muslim conquests (the Seljuks being one of them) the Byzantine Empire found itself in a fractured and helpless state. As a last chance effort, they sent out an attack on one of the Muslim uprisings under the leadership of Osman in 1302. The attack failed and Osman’s victory gave him the momentum he needed to expand his army into the full grown Ottoman Empire of the early Twentieth century. While the Ottoman Empire promoted freedom of religion, it gave special protection to its Orthodox Christians who were threatened by the Catholic Church; it also claimed Islam as its official religion even though it never full heartedly embraced Islamic Law.10 When World War I emerged, the Ottoman Empire was not the strongest it had once been. In the
8 9

Neusner,Jacob. The Basics - Judaism. New York: Routledge, 2006. (pg 162-163) Bickerton, Ian J, and Carla L Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Fifth ed. New Jersey: PEARSON Prentice Hall, 2007, (pg 49) 10 Beylerbeyi, "The Ottoman Empire." Jan 2008.http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=OTTOMAN_EMPIRE_(13001453)_WEST_TO_DANUBE_E (accessed 24 July 2008).

Brill 6 aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) and the Crimean War (1853-1856), states were breaking off from the Ottoman Empire to seek their own autonomy.11

With the end of World War I, a new era emerged in the Middle East as a result of Western imperialism violating the natural transition of history in the Middle East or more importantly the right to control the holy land. Effectively, with a few strokes of reorganization in a land that had been largely under the control of one dynasty, the west starting with the division of Africa where boarders were drawn more in line with NorthSouth and East-West orientation than with regard to the roaming nomadic tribes, then with the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 where Britain and France assumed control of various parts of the Fertile Crescent, and finally with the creation of the state of Israel12. As a result a vastly Muslim land was shaped into new autonomous Arab governments founded by Christians who helped write the new Arab states constitutions13 forcing Muslims to “identify themselves as citizens of nations, not members of a community”14, and one of the holiest cities in the Middle East, Jerusalem, was now marked as the Jewish homeland. The effects of Western imperialism had several adverse effects on all three of the religions and all the effects resulted as a consequence of the reintroduction of Christianity and Judaism through the means of a outside civilization as opposed to being justified under the will of god. For both Christians and Jews the problem was not their existence in
11

"Ottoman Empire: History." http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0860176.html (accessed 24 July 2008). 12 Pormann, Peter E. "Why the modern Middle East?." The Lancet 367, no. 9515 (2006) (pg 971) 13 Frazee, Charles A. "Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: The Challenge of the Future." Chruch History 69, no. 1 (2000) (pg 254) 14 Aslan,Reza. No god but God - The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005.(pg 235)

Brill 7 the holy land, rather it was their reemergence as an authority in a region that was Islamic. The fact is that Christians in the region, ever since the Seljuk Empire, were wary of the emergence of a Christian program designed to help spread Christianity because of the fear that Muslims would perceive it as a threat15 as were the same feelings held by many Reform Jews when approached with the idea of Zionism. The setting was a time bomb for the Islamic movement. One of the first flashpoints was in French colonized Algeria in 1952 with the National Liberation Front whose revolts launched the Algerian War for Independence. While a localized conflict the Muslim world looked at the conflict as a gleaming example of the Islamic Fundamentalism to come. After the success of Muslim revolts in Algeria in 1962 a wave of Fundamentalism swept through the region starting in Egypt. The goal of this Islamic movement was not so much an effort to drive out Christianity and Judaism as it was to drive out the Western colonies. It met mixed success, but no matter how fierce the movement was, it could not remove the systems of governance installed by the West. Arguably, the greatest impact the Islamists had was the incorporation of Sharia law within the government’s legal system. To Israel, the Islamic movement was nothing new having already fought two wars over their right to exist. To the Christians however, the new Muslim dominated governments forced them to once again step down into unassuming civil roles or face persecution. Economically the systems set in place by Western imperialism were never meant to be fully autonomous, for one main reason, they wanted to use the Arab states for their own wealth. Consequently, many of the states relied more heavily on support from

15

Makari, Peter E. "Christian Presence in the Middle East." International Review of Mission 89, no. 352 (2000) (pg 34)

Brill 8 Europe to survive than was reciprocated by Europe. When many states claimed their independence as a result of the Islamic movement they found themselves not nearly as prosperous economically. Fueling increased anti-Western sentiments, they came to believe that Western imperialism had set them up for failure.

Conclusion
In essence, the Reformation under the Islamic movement signaled a step back into Islamic-based governments. In turn, this became the equivalent of a nearly five-hundred year regression of Western civilization. Yet at the same time what was needed to legitimize governments in the holy land was a government based on the religion of the land and not based purely on politics. It was also vital for the Islamic movement to preserve the integrity of Islam as the Western system created a situation where, “advances in science and technology were creating a new spirit of autonomy and independence which led some to declare their independence of God.”16 As important as it was for fundamentalists to revive Islam and expel the West, the seed of Western civilization had been planted in social settings across the region. As a more Islamic government began to take root, people realized the limitations on civil liberties when it comes to having a legal system based on the rules of the governing religion. Today, the civil liberty enjoyed by Western civilization has created an uprising in the Islamic world in an effort to modernize toward the western way of life where more than anything a separation of church and state exists. Leading issues include women’s rights in society especially as a wife where women are treated almost as second class citizens based on Islamic Law. Another leading
16

Armstrong,Karen. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. (pg 146)

Brill 9 issue is conversion to other faiths whether as a result of ones desire to marry in anther faiths church or for ones own spiritual reasons. What Islam faces is the problem of a religion that in fundamentally designed to make church and state one, in a world where the only way to adapt and modernize is to become more western separating out religion and as a result becoming more friendly towards other faiths. After five wars and countless terrorist attacks Judaism in Israel is still in constant flux when it comes to modernizing. Religiously an absolute secular system might eliminate some of the problems in the country, but it would not only put Judaism at risk of loosing its faith, but more importantly doesn’t eliminate the problem of their right to occupy the third holiest city in the Middle East. In an effort to find a median to their religious practice a new wave of Judaism inspired by Mordecai Kaplan in the 1920’s called Reconstructionist Judaism. The idea behind Reconstructionist Judaism is to take a step back from the Conservative and Orthodox approaches to look at the Torah with a modern perspective. Reconstructionist Jews view the Torah as an evolving book that is holly only because it is among the first words of the earliest Jewish people.17 Though Judaism may in some small part be changing its religious practices the law of the land creates a problem set based on the proximity in which religions have to worship on holly sites. For example Judaism has the right to worship at the Temple Mount, while Islam worships at the Dome of the Rock, and Christianity has the Church of the Holly Sepulcher.18 The problem is that most of the holly sites are holy to multiple religions and their remains an inability to worship together in the same area.

17 18

Sasso, Dennis C. "Judaism: An evolving religous civilization." Encounter 63, no. 1/2 (2002) (pg 187) "Religous Freedom." April 1, 2008.http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Facts+About+Israel/People/SOCIETY+Religious+Freedom.htm (accessed 24 July 2008).

Brill 10 Modern day Christians in the Middle East face a whole different set of problems surrounded by the emergence of their old fears of not wanting to becoming assuming. Slowly though, since 1974 the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) has raised awareness between Muslims and Christians. While still facing mixed success, the MECC has spear-tipped coexistence between Christianity and Islam by conducting cross dialogues and awareness campaigns to help create and understanding and friendship between both beliefs. MECC has had success in developing relations in Cyprus, human rights issues in Iran, bridging social gaps in Lebanon, and the expanding of peace between religions in Sudan and Syria.19 The efforts of the MECC are visible in the region, but in order for it to work it takes support from all religions.

Work Cited
Aslan,Reza. No god but God - The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005. Armstrong,Karen. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.
19

Bailey, Betty J, and J. Martin Bailey. Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003.

Brill 11 Bailey, Betty J, and J. Martin Bailey. Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. Bickerton, Ian J, and Carla L Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Fifth ed. New Jersey: PEARSON Prentice Hall, 2007. Neusner,Jacob. The Basics - Judaism. New York: Routledge, 2006. Wolff,Richard. The Popular Encyclopedia of World Religions. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2007. Frazee, Charles A. "Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: The Challenge of the Future." Chruch History 69, no. 1 (2000) Makari, Peter E. "Christian Presence in the Middle East." International Review of Mission 89, no. 352 (2000) Pormann, Peter E. "Why the modern Middle East?." The Lancet 367, no. 9515 (2006) Sasso, Dennis C. "Judaism: An evolving religious civilization." Encounter 63, no. 1/2 (2002) "The evolution of secular Judaism." The Humanist 53, no. 2 (1993) Beylerbeyi, "The Ottoman Empire." Jan 2008. http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=OTTOMAN_EMPIRE_(13001453)_WEST_TO_DANUBE_E (accessed 24 July 2008). Luther, Martin. "On the Jews and Their Lies." 1543.http://www.humanitasinternational.org/showcase/chronography/documents/luther-jews.htm (accessed 27 July 2008). "Ottoman Empire: History." http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0860176.html (accessed 24 July 2008). "Religous Freedom." April 1, 2008. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Facts+About+Israel/People/SOCIETY+Religious+Freedom.htm (accessed 24 July 2008).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful

Master Your Semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer: Get 4 months of Scribd and The New York Times for just $1.87 per week!

Master Your Semester with a Special Offer from Scribd & The New York Times