I watched an episode of “America Unearthed” on television a few days ago and in that episode paleo-geologist Scott Wolter was looking for ancient biblical relics in America. His hypothesis was that the lost tribes of Israel may have emigrated to America but he found no evidence of this in the end. One thing he mentioned was the Jews in Spain and how after the demise of the Moors who ruled Spain the Jews were exiled from Spain. Many went into Europe where they were “tolerated” by those Christian kingdoms and I kept waiting for Wolter to mention those Jews who went into the Ottoman Empire but he never mentioned it. Once again Muslim history was ignored and that bothered me.
The historical fact is that in 1492 when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella came to power in Spain there were about a quarter of a million Jews living in Spain at the time. About 25,000 of them ended up in Holland, England, German, and Scandinavia after the Christian reconquest of Spain as the infamous Spanish Inquisitions began. About 3000 Spanish Jews ended up in France and about 5,000 in the Americas. The majority of Spanish Jews ended up in Turkey, the seat of the Ottoman Empire. Morocco took in about 20,000 of them while Algeria took in about 10,000. Estimates are that about 50,000 Spanish Jews converted to Christianity yet practiced their Judaism in secret while pretending to be Christians in Spain. About 20,000 died en route to various places of exile.
Regarding Muslim history and the Spanish Jews, known as Sephardic Jews, it was the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II who undertook a mass evacuation of Jews from Spain who had been ordered by Ferdinand and Isabella to convert to Christianity. Bayezid II sent out the Ottoman Navy under the command of Admiral Kemal Reis to Spain in 1492 with orders to evacuate Spanish Jews and bring them into the lands of the Ottoman Empire. He proclaimed throughout the empire that the Jewish refugees from Spain were to be welcomed in Ottoman lands and he granted them the right to become Ottoman citizens. He ridiculed Ferdinand and Isabella telling his courtiers, “You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler, he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!” In his edict to welcome the Spanish Jews the Sultan threatened death to those who treated the Jews harshly or refused them entry into the empire. The Jews in Spain had contributed much to the rise of the Ottoman Empire. They had introduced new ideas, methods, and craftsmanship to the Ottoman Sultans. These Sephardic Jews even introduced the first printing press in Constantinople in 1493 which was the seat of Ottoman power. Under the reign of Bayezid II the Jews enjoyed a period of flourishing culture and produced several brilliant scholars, scientists, astronomers, poets, and writers within the Ottoman Empire. Back in Spain they had contributed greatly to the growth of society under Muslim rule and Bayezid II considered them an asset not a liability.
When Ferdinand and Isabella took over Spain and drove out the Muslim rulers there one of the first edicts they issued was that Jews were to either convert to Christianity or leave the country. Most Spanish Jews chose exile over conversion and the result was that the economy of Christian Spain suffered a great loss of an important portion of its workforce. Many Spanish Jews went to North African nations like Morocco and Algeria. There their skills, trade connections, and investiments were put to good use for the Muslim Ottoman Empire. The Jews in Spain were ordered to convert to Christianity in 1492 but it was not until 1502 that Spain ordered Spanish Muslims (known as the Moors) still living there to either convert or leave. Like the Jews most Moors left Spain at the time and Spain once again suffered further loss of capital and its workforce. Under Muslim rule Spain had become a beacon of civilization as there was much scholarship, invention, and many new idea that emerged out of the Muslim lands in Spain. Unlike the Christian rulers the Muslim rulers did not force non-Muslims to convert to Islam. Rather, Christians and Jews were allowed to continue to practice their respective faiths.
The Spanish Inquistiions lasted for 300 years and they are the darkest times in Christian history. Many people were tortured and killed “in the name of God” by order of the Catholic Popes. Jews and Muslims were always suspect even those that did convert to Christianity. They continued to be persecuted by the Inquistion because they were converts and the Inquisitors were uncertain as to their sincerity. Europe became a Hell-Hole during the time of the Inquistions as did the Americas which were just beginning to be explored and settled. Thousands of Native Americans were slaughtered by order of the Inquisitors in the Americas and their entire cultures were devasted and erased from human history. These Inquisitors arrived in the Americas with the European explorers and armies and they wasted no time trying to convert the natives. Those who did not convert to Christianity were summarily slauughtered and that included men, women, and even children. “In the name of God”? I think NOT!
All religions have committed atrocities over the aeons. All religions have gone through a dark age. Islam is going through such a dark age today I believe. I point this out for a few reasons. First, Wolter intentionally ignored a great part of Jewish and Muslim along with Christian history in his program the other day. Secondly, there is an attempted rewrite of human history going on today in which historical fact is either ignored or downplayed and replaced by some myth or half truth or, in some cases, by outright lies. Thirdly, I point out the television show and the history of the Spanish Jews to bring to light the FACT that the hatred we see today between Muslims and Jews has NOT always been so. This hatred is NOT the norm historically but the exception. This is important to realize and remember I believe. Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II demonstrated the historical norm and tradition when he sent Ottoman Admiral Kemal Reis and the navy to rescue the Jews from Spain in 1492 from the growing Christian persecution. He demonstrated that FACT and NORM further by giving the Spanish Jews asylum in Ottoman lands and giving them the right to Ottoman citizenship. But he further demonstrated that norm by allowing the Jews in Ottoman lands to continue to practice their faith rather than trying to convert them to Islam. He was following the command of the Qur’an which states, “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” (Holy Qur’an sura 2:256)