Walter Hackney’s letter of Feb. 17 concerning Christian-Muslim relations over time omits one outstanding feature on the Muslim side: the fact that, under the caliphs, Christians and Jews were recognized as “peoples of the book” and given legal protection as minorities (dhimmi status).
This practice dated back to Muhammad himself and became integrated into Islamic law by the ninth century. To be sure, protection did not mean equality: Christians and Jews had to pay a special tax, wear special clothing, were prohibited from building new churches or synagogues and show their subordination to ruling Muslims in a variety of ways.
But they were guaranteed protection of their internal worship, customs, and laws. Of course, enforcement of these provisions varied with time and place, depending on how secure or insecure the ruling Muslims felt at any given time (the Crusades didn’t exactly help).
But these protections compared favorably with those afforded to minorities in Europe in the Middle Ages and Reformation eras — as witnessed by the fact that many Sephardic Jews found refuge in the Ottoman Empire after being driven from Spain in 1492.
These facts need to be remembered both by Westerners and by radical Islamists today.
history professor emeritus