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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, August 18, 2005


AN IMPROVED STATUS FOR JEWS under the Rule of Muhammad Ali after the Uprising

Under the Islamic law regarding non-Muslim religious groups in the Muslim state, that is, the non-Muslim subject peoples, called dhimmis -- the non-Muslims could not build new houses of worship. Nor could they repair existing religious structures --churches, synagogues, etc.-- except under certain complex stipulated conditions. This often led to extortion of bribes in order to obtain repair permits, and sometimes unauthorized or even authorized repairs were later deemed illegal and subject to penalties meant more as exploitation than as enforcement of law. These dhimmi peoples were not necessarily minorities; sometimes they were majorities, as in Lebanon before World War I, in various parts of India that were Muslim-ruled before the British came, in all the countries conquered by the Arabs or other Muslims at the beginning of the conquest of the particular land, etc. This body of law, called the laws of dhimma, was modified and softened in the Ottoman Empire starting about 1840 as the Empire found that it needed the support of Western powers in order to suppress internal rivals for power, such as Muhammad Ali, and to defend itself from hostile outside powers, such as the Russian Empire. These laws --whether or not still officially laws of the state -- are still practiced in some form or other, to some extent or other, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc. For his part, Muhammad Ali was receiving support in 1834 from France. Paradoxically, Muhammad Ali, so relatively tolerant to Jews in Jerusalem in the 1830s, persecuted Jews in Damascus in 1840 with the encouragement of the local French consul and the French government in Paris.

Muhammad Ali's regime was much more tolerant towards the dhimmis (sometimes called rayahs) than the preceding Ottoman regime in Israel --or than the previous Mamluk regime [under Ottoman suzerainty] in Egypt-- had been. This tolerance extended even to the Jews, who had been the low man on the totem pole, the underdog of the underdog, before his time. This description of the Jews' previous status was attested by Chateaubriand after his 1806 visit to the country [see a previous post on this blog].

Neophytos reported that after the 1834 uprising, Christians were liberally granted permits to repair and in practice were allowed to build new structures. Observing this, he noted, the Jews too asked for repair permits. As he describes the situation, the Jews received a permit to build. In some cases, Christians had built new structures without specific permission, since they were in practice allowed to do so.

"As we are on the question of repairs, we must say something about the Jewish Synagogue. One year ago only, seeing the liberal dispositions of Mehemet Ali Pasha [Muhammad Ali] and Ibrahim Pasha [his son, general, and deputy], they dared to speak about their Synagogue. They asked that their House of Prayer, being in a ruinous condition and in danger of falling in, might be repaired. So, those who did not even dare to change a tile on the roof of the Synagogue at one time, now received a permit and a decree to build. They finished at the end of August. They built the Synagogue all of stone , and in place of the wooden roof they erected a Cupola. The building was large and spacious, and could contain about 1,000 persons. It was long, but only 10 pics in height. The Cupola was also very low for they feared the stability and certainty of the government." [in Extracts from Annals of Palestine 1821-1841 (Jerusalem, Ariel publishering house, 1979; compiled by Eli Schiller) p 78. Originally published in Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. XVIII, 1938]

One stipulation of dhimma was that non-Muslim structures must not be higher than Muslim structures. Hence, the Jews built the cupola [dome] low since they feared that if Muhammad Ali were overthrown or driven out [as did happen in 1840] then the restored Ottoman regime or another new regime might destroy the structure for being higher than a Muslim structure.

Note that NeoPhytos describes the Jews as the most abject, humiliated, and intimidated of the dhimmis, more so than the Christians. He writes that only after the Christians had obtained permits, "they dared to speak about their Synagogue." More to the point, he continues, "those who did not even dare to change a tile. . . at one time [under the previous dispensation], now received a permit."

This abject, humiliated, and intimidated status of the Jews, precisely in Jerusalem --but not only there-- was noted even years later in reports by Karl Marx, French writer Gerardy Santine, and others.

Bat Yeor, an Egyptian Jewess using a Hebrew pen-name meaning "Daughter of the Nile," has become an outstanding, world renowned authority on the meaning and history of dhimma, the laws applying to the non-Muslim's status in the Muslim state, and the relationship between Muslims and dhimmis. She wrote the following about the Islamic law pertaining to non-Muslim houses of worship:
"In theory the laws concerning places of worship depended on the circumstances of the conquest and the terms of the treaties [of surrender to the Muslims]. Construction of new churches, convents, and synagogues was forbidden, but restoration of pre-Islamic places of worship was permitted, subject to certain restrictions and on condition that they were neither enlarged nor altered."
[Bat Yeor, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1996), p 83].
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Coming soon: Demographics of Jerusalem in the 19th century. Never a Muslim majority, a Jewish majority from 1854 [Karl Marx] or from 1860 [Gerardy Santine], or from 1870 [Prof. Ben-Arieh].


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