Multiculturalism in Medieval Islam

Medieval Islam provides a model for tolerance and
multiculturalism from which contemporaries of all faiths could
learn a lesson or two. While there was certainly legal
discrimination against non-Muslims, or dhimmi, under
Islamic rule, dhimmi shared space with Muslims on all
levels of society, from the streets to the courts. Christian and
Jewish merchants prospered in cities like Istanbul, and Ottoman
rulers waived religious requirements to allow dhimmi into
coveted army positions. Many Sephardic Jews in particular emigrated
to the Ottoman empire as refugees from Europe, where the Spanish
began expelling Jews in 1492. One such ?migr?, the Sultan’s doctor,
was so renowned that he had a quarter of Istanbul named after him;
another Jewish man served as prime minister.

Even the most successful dhimmi, however, had to
observe certain restrictive rules. Non-Muslim males had
second-class legal status, and all dhimmi had to
externally differentiate themselves from Muslims by wearing
deliberately bright clothing and using inferior modes of
transportation. Unfortunate and unfair as these regulations were,
however, Islamic society did manage to provide the closest thing to
equal religious opportunity that the medieval world had yet to see.
This remarkable tolerance, which serves as a sort of historical
precedent for Islamic multiculturalism, ended in the 16th century
with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and its subsequent turn
towards conservatism.
Brendan Themes

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Multiculturalism in medieval Islam

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