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John (Trip) Adler

Historical Study A-40


Paper #3
2/25/04
Exchange and Symbiosis in Relations Among Peoples of Different Faiths

In the Islamic Middle East and European Christendom in the Middle Ages,

exchange and symbiosis rather than war and aggression were more characteristic of

relations among peoples of different faiths. However, war and aggression were present to

some extent. To first address there being more exchange than war, we can look at the

example of the Jews and their role in trade. While the Jews were not fully accepted in

either Muslim or Christian society, they were tolerated and not considered full aliens.

Therefore, they were in a good position to participate in trade, which made them

appreciated by their local towns. This is an example of how exchange was present

between people of different faiths. However, although this was the general trend, history

is not black and white, and it is true that war did break out occasionally. The success of

Jews increased their unpopularity, resulting in occasional times where angry mobs would

seize their property, kill them, or drive them out.

Symbiosis was dominant over aggression, even though this was occasionally 

present.  We can indirectly see symbiosis among peoples of different faiths by looking at 

art and architecture from the Middle Ages and how different cultures contributed to it. 

One of the best examples of this is the synagogues of the Iberian Peninsula, which were a 

key point of convergence.  One such Synagogue, that of Tomar in Portugal, was built by a 

Christian­oriented workshop, but has a plan typical of mosques in Islam.  This is evidence 
for how Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures all converged.  The fact that each of these 

cultures respected the other cultures enough to allow the cultures to converge with their 

own illustrates the symbiosis that existed among them.  These faiths existed together for 

so long, that the peoples of each culture considered aspects of other cultures to be part of 

their own.  Again this trend was not always the case.  An example of aggression would be 

when the Almoravids and Almohads came from North Africa and invaded al­Andalus. 

Rather than following the traditional policy of tolerance for minorities, they were largely 

intolerant, especially to the Jews whom they persecuted.  Therefore, we can see that 

exchange and symbiosis was generally the trend in the Middle Ages, even though war and 

aggression occasionally broke out.