Umar and the Blind Beggar

Then ‘Umar got hold of his hand, took him to his house and gave him something from his home, then sent him to the treasurer of the Bayt al-Mal [State Treasury] and said: “Take care of this man and other similar men. By Allah, we have not done justice to him that we ate (jizya) from him when he was young but we forsook him when he was old. Verily, the alms are for the poor and destitute. The poor are the Muslims and this one is a destitute from the People of the Book.” So he removed the jizya from him. Abu Bakr said, “I have witnessed this (incident) of ‘Umar and I also have seen that old man.”

How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe

Wren acknowledges the European debt to what he calls ‘Saracen’ architecture twelve times…he explains how his study of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals had led him to believe that Gothic architecture was a style invented by the Arabs, imported by the returning Crusaders, and before that via Muslim Spain. ‘Such buildings,’ he concludes, ‘have been vulgarly called Modern Gothick, but their true appellation is Arabic, Saracenic, or Moresque.’

The Golden Age

The House of Wisdom, founded by the caliph al-Mamun, became the world’s centre of learning. Whereas Alexandria had been the previous intellectual capital, with Greek and Roman manuscripts written on locally sourced papyrus, Baghdad become the new chaperone of philosophical and scientific inquiry, with conversion of all documents into Arabic, scribed on locally manufactured paper. One of the early assimilations that occurred at the House of Wisdom was the adoption of Hindu numerals (1–9) as well as the base-ten system and the concept of “zero.” An Arabic system of expressing abstract formulas (to the consternation of high school students everywhere) was introduced by al-Khwarizmi, which he termed al jabr, or algebra.

The Islamic Origins of the Jury System

The structure of the lafif resembles the jury in nearly every detail as it appeared in England in the twelfth century. If one compares the [eight] characteristics of the English jury with the characteristics described above for the Islamic jury, the Islamic jury (1) was a body of twelve witnesses drawn from the neighborhood and sworn to tell the truth, (2) who were bound to give a verdict, (3) unanimously (and if twelve did not agree, more would be found until there were twelve who agreed), (4) about matter from what they had personally seen or heard, (5) binding on the judge, (6) to settle the truth concerning facts in a case, (7) between ordinary people, and (8) obtained as of right by the plaintiff.

Sultan Abdulhamid, Theodor Herzl and Palestine

“If Mr. Herzl is your friend, as you are my friend, tell him not to take a further step in this matter. I do not wish to sell even a tiny portion of land, because this country does not belong to me. It belongs to my people. My nation has watered this fatherland with its blood … The men of my Syrian and Palestinian contingents have all become martyrs at Plevna. All of them, without exception, have remained on the battlefield and did not return. I do not wish to give up any part of the Ottoman state. Let the Jews keep their millions … I cannot allow surgery on a living body.”

The Ottoman Caliphate and Arab Nationalism

…there was no nationalist fervour among the Ottoman Empire’s Arabic-speaking subjects. One historian has credibly estimated that a mere 350 activists belonged to all the secret Arab societies operating throughout the Middle East at the outbreak of World War I, and most of them were not seeking actual Arab independence but rather greater autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.

When the Judge Ruled Against the Caliph

When [the fourth Caliph] Ali was setting out to Siffin, he found that he was missing a coat of armour of his. When the war was over and he returned to Kufa, he came across the armour in the hands of a Jewish man. He said to the Jew, ‘The armour is mine; I have not sold it or given it away.’ The Jew said, ‘It is my armour and it is in my hand.’ He replied, ‘Let us go to the qadi [judge]!’

The Black Man

At this, Muqauqis said to the delegation, “How could you agree to make him your leader and superior, whereas he ought to have been your subordinate?” To this the delegation replied, “No, despite the fact that you see him as black, he is the best among us in knowledge, in nobility, in intellect and opinion, and we do not look down upon the black man.” Muqauqis said to ‘Ubada, “Come forward, O black [man] and speak to me gently, for I fear your colour, and if you were to talk to me in a harsh tone, my distress shall be all the greater.” ‘Ubada, noticing Muqauqis’ fear of black people, said, “We have in our army a thousand people darker than me.”

Bernard Lewis on How the Ottomans Treated Jews

More than a century later Samuel Usque, a Portuguese Jew who wrote a famous book called The Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, expresses a similar view. Usque sets forth these consolations in two categories, the one human, the other divine. Among the human consolations the “most signal is great Turkey, a broad and spacious sea which God opened with the rod of His mercy as He opened the Red Sea at the time of the exodus … here the gates of liberty are always open for the observance of Judaism.” This must have come as a considerable surprise to a traveller from sixteenth-century Portugal.