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Coexistence among the Peoples of the Book under Abd al-Rahman III
By Craig Mackay
Paper given at the Forward into the Past Conference, Wilfrid Laurier University (2012)
Introduction: During the 9th century the emirate of al-Andalus was in a state of decay. External and internal threats were reducing the dominance of the ruling elite and the emirate was faced with the possibility of disintegration. Abd al-Rahman III, as the Umayyad heir, assumed the role of emir of al-Andalus during this time of turmoil within the Islamic community. Rahman III eventually proclaimed himself Caliph in 929 when an increased level of stability and prosperity had been reached within his territory. Upon his enthronement, Rahman III pursued a policy of tolerance, allowing the Jews to join in the functions of the state using their skill, knowledge and expertise to the benefit of al-Andalus. Rahman III was also forced to deal with muwallad (Iberian Muslims) and mozarab (Iberian Christians) resentment, working to pacify their opposition through military campaigns and religious propaganda. Further resistance arose as the Christian principalities of the north made incursions into the territory of al-Andalus, forcing Rahman III to dispatch military forces to subdue the Christian armies. Following their submission, a peaceful relationship was established to economically benefit al-Andalus. A policy of coexistence among the Peoples of the Book was pursued by Abd al-Rahman III as such an existence was conducive to economic prosperity. To pursue these ends, the Jewish community was tolerated and protected, while the muwallads, mozarabs and Christian principalities were managed through violence and enforced cooperation within the Iberian Peninsula.
Peaceful relations between the Muslims and the Jews were sustained under Rahman III as this relationship yielded benefits for the economy of al-Andalus. According to Qur’anic law, the Jews were to be tolerated, protected and allowed to practice their religion; however, they would also be required to pay the jizya tax. It was thus in the economic interests of Rahman III to protect the Jews as a taxable population resource. The Jewish culture was also indifferent to ruling and did not possess any allies within the Iberian Peninsula or its surrounding territories. The Jews therefore did not pose a threat to Muslims aspiring for government leadership and could be entrusted with important state and economic functions. This trust was particularly beneficial for the state given the high level of education in the Jewish population, making them ideal for diplomatic, financial and public administrative functions of the state. Additionally, as Jews living in a territory dominated by Muslims and facing possible persecution, they relied heavily upon the state for protection. As a result of these factors, the Jews became natural allies of the Islamic court. Considering the Jewish education and loyalty to the Caliphate, it was an intelligent manoeuvre by Rahman III to protect and integrate the Jewish population into the economy as this would lead to further prosperity for al-Andalus.