The Position of Jews in Arab Lands

There can be little doubt, then, that for Jews the Arab conquest meant a marked improvement in their legal condition. From a previously degraded class of aliens, almost always resented by the Christian majority and frequently the object of open persecution, they were now elevated to a new position and granted a positive legal status with clearly defined rights guaranteed by law. And what is equally important, they were no longer regarded as a separate entity, legally or otherwise, but were thought of as part of a larger class of protected persons in relation to whom they enjoyed full equality.

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.”

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.