Medieval Spain Tolerance Comparison

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According to Maria Menocal's Ornament of the World, medieval Spain was a haven from the religious intolerance and dark ages that Europe had succumbed to. When compared to scholarship by Thomas Glick and David Niremburg, the medieval Spain presented in Maria Menocal's Ornament of the World is very narrow and overly positive, as it does not show the intolerance between Jews, Muslims and Christians, the conflict within the religious groups or how the tension increased when Christians gained power from the Muslims.

Rights in Al-Andalus were based on the "dhimmi" principle that Muslims, Christians and Jews were all considered people of the book and thus had religious freedom and peaceful relations were encouraged 1. However, there is evidence of much conflict between these factions with regards to meat markets, money lending, and sexual exploits that often led to hatred or even violence 2. One major source of conflict within the meat markets was due to the dietary restrictions of Jews and Muslims as opposed to those of Christians. Jews and Muslims had similar dietary laws, although animals butchered by Jewish tradition were acceptable to Muslims, those butchered by Muslims did not meet Jewish standards 3. Furthermore, parts of an animal, that could not be eaten by those of the Jewish religion, were sold at discounted prices to Muslims and Christians causing resentment, and even a Papal bull from Pope Benedict XIII stating excommunication for those who purchase meat from Jews 4.

Jews also suffered in their roles of community moneylenders. There was much inter-religious money borrowing, and Jews were often appointed tax collectors and were most associated with usury despite the other faith's use of interest and financing 5. Restrictions were put in place that would not allow Christians to accumulate too much debt, however; there were no such barriers for Muslims and many times money conflicts were dealt with by violence. Property destruction, unlawful imprisonment, as well as murders and beatings of Jewish tax collectors were not uncommon, and both Muslims and Christians were guilty of such acts 6.

All three religions were very harsh to those who copulated outside of their religion. Minority groups feared losing cultural identity an felt they had more to lose by inter-faith relations 7. Muslims chose to purchase legislation from the ruling power of the state as an official procedure to restrict sexual relations. One such piece of legislation requested the death penalty be imposed upon guilty women 8. Some Jewish women in Zaragoza were disfigured for sleeping with a Muslim while a Jewish man was subject to mob justice while visiting a Muslim brothel 9.

Turbulence within the religions was also present with hierarchies dividing those of the same faith against each other. Muslims viewed themselves in three classes: Arabs who had ancestry in the old families of the Arabian world, Berbers who converted during the Arab take over of North Africa, and Neo-Arabs who were Hispano-Romans introduced to Islam in Al-Andalus 10. Arabs were by far the minority, however; but were viewed as the ruling class 11. Berbers were stereotyped as either ignorant herders or brutal soldiers 12. Neo-Muslims were the vast majority in Al-Andalus but occupied the lowest class of Spanish Muslims 13. Even as late as the eleventh century, Neo-Muslims were fighting against constant ethnic slurs, labeled as cowards, chided for their European appearance and thought of as Christian tribesmen 14.

Inter-religious conflict was not exclusive to Muslims. Christians who were Arabized endured harsh criticism. Paul Alvarus, a respected Christian cleric lamented in his The Unmistakable Sign how the young Christians have ignored and despised Christian texts and forgotten their own language in favour of Islamic libraries and Arabic language 15. In the ninth century some Christians became martyrs to protest the vast conversion to Islam many of their peers...
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