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Historiography/Historical Writing

(4,041 words)

Author(s): Fred Astren
Modern critical historical study of Jews in the medieval Islamic world began with rise of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement in the mid-nineteenth century. Based upon the application of “scientific method” to Jewish literature, history, and culture, this movement was consistent with contemporaneous European historical and cultural intellectual trends that sought to develop discourses of peoplehood and national identity. Mirroring issues related to Jewish emancipation and Westernization, the movement sought t…


(1,790 words)

Author(s): Fred Astren
The Arabic term dhimma in Muslim law and tradition describes the legal status of certain categories of non-Muslims in Muslim society. Dhimma may be translated as “protection” or “covenant of protection,” indicating the contractual character of the status, whereby the Muslim community granted protection and hospitality to non-Muslims in exchange for their acknowledgment of Muslim sovereignty and dominance. The assignee of dhimma (known as a dhimmī) was excluded from military service and was subject to other limitations. In exchange for communal recognition and autonomy, dhimmīs

Muslim conquests and the Jews    

(2,484 words)

Author(s): Fred Astren
The Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries expanded Muslim political power from its early seventh-century base in Arabia to an empire that included the heart of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, and eventually penetrated into Central Asia and India in the east and modern-day France in the west. Only a little is known about the immediate effects of these momentous historical developments on Jewish communities, but it is to be assumed that Jews had much the same experiences, …

Damascus Document   

(1,281 words)

Author(s): Fred Astren
The Damascus Document, designated CD for “Cairo Damascus” and also known as the Zadokite Fragments, was originally found among materials from the Cairo Geniza in two incomplete manuscripts dated to the tenth and twelfth centuries. Fragments of eight manuscripts were subsequently discovered in Cave 4 at Qumran along with other, smaller fragments, all of which include additional material not found in CD. The Qumran finds indicate that CD is properly understood to be one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, originating in a Second Temple setting whose spe…

Qirqisānī, Jacob al-

(2,877 words)

Author(s): Fred Astren
Jacob al-Qirqisānī(Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb ibn Isḥāq ibn Sama‘wayh al‑Qirqisānī) was a Karaite polymath whose major extant work, Kitāb al-Anwār wa ʾl-Marāqib (Book of Lights and Watchtowers), was written in 937. Little is known about his life, although his nisba indicates Qarqisiyyah (the ancient town of Circesium) on the eastern bank of the Euphrates near its confluence with the Khābūr River. Some of his writingsmay have been based upon personal experience, including travel in Persia and India.  His Kitāb al-Anwār wa ʾl-Marāqib is a massive work that includes law, exegesis, philo…

Malik al-Ramlī     

(638 words)

Author(s): Fred Astren
Malik al-Ramlī was the leader of a nonrabbinic Jewish movement in the mid-ninth century. Most of what is known about him comes from the tenth-century Karaite Jacob al-Qirqisānī, who states that Malik lived in Ramle in Palestine, as is indicated by his name. His followers were known in al-Qirqisānī’s time as al-Ramliyya or al-Malikiyya. He is treated in al-Qirqisānī’s heresiography in the same section as Abū ʿImrān al-Tiflīsī, and it is noted that neither “composed a book on the Law,” an observation that marks them in contrast to other nonrabbinic leaders, esp…


(3,207 words)

Author(s): Jonathan G. Katz | Fred Astren
1. In the middle ages Conversion to Islam by Jews in the Middle Ages must be examined in two different contexts. The first is conversion as an element of Islamization, the complex religious, social, and cultural changes that transformed societies of the Middle East, North Africa (see Maghreb), al-Andalus, and parts of Central Asia over the course of two to four centuries (or more in some areas). Second are records of individual Jews, known and unknown, who converted. Evidence for these is found in Muslim narrative sources and in Jewish and Muslim legal writing. Understanding the impact o…