In 610 CE, Muhammad had revelatory visions in a cave in Medina, revelations that would later make up the Quran and the commandments of Islam. Meanwhile, the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula were finally living in relative safety after years of tortuous oppression by the Byzantine Christians.

Muhammad was forced to flee from Mecca to Medina, where Jewish tribes who had lived there for generations were more accepting of his monotheistic beliefs. In fact, Muhammad and his followers even adopted many Jewish customs. However, the Jews did not accept Muhammad’s claims to prophecy and things took a negative turn between the early Muslims and the Jews.

As Muhammad’s followers continued to conquer much of the Middle East and North Africa, the Jews in these lands were given “dhimmi” status. This meant that if they paid the annual tax and kept their heads down, they could generally live without fear. And while the system occasionally broke down, this relative freedom enabled a flourishing of Jewish thought and set the stage for some of Judaism’s most influential scholars and philosophers.

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About The Jewish Story: Understand three thousand years of Jewish history in these short videos based on the book Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith by the renowned historian Sir Martin Gilbert. Learn the Jewish story from the ancient Israelites of the Bible to Hellenization, the Jews of the Middle Ages to modern day, and more.

About Unpacked: We provide nuanced insights by unpacking all things Jewish. People are complex and complicated — yet we’re constantly being pushed to oversimplify our world. At Unpacked we know that being complex makes us more interesting. Because of this, we break the world down with nuance and insight to drive your curiosity and challenge your thinking.

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