Panel 5f. Historical social movements and community evolution

Chair: Benedikt Koehler, Earhart Foundation Grantee

Palestinians in Jerusalem and Jaffa, 1948: A Tale of Two Cities
Itamar Radai, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

This study engages in the period of inter-communal war in Palestine, from December 1947 to May 1948. The belligerents in this conflict were the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) on one side, and the Palestinian Arabs, aided by some volunteers from Arab countries, on the other side. During this war, the larger ‘mixed’ cities, Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa, became a main battlefield. The Palestinian Arab communities in Jerusalem and Jaffa were chosen as a case study for their size, centrality, and significance to the Palestinian Arab community and national movement. Historian Rashid Khalidi called for research to uncover the internal reasons for the Palestinian debacle in 1948, alongside the well-known external reasons, particularly the Yishuv’s military superiority. This study, in response, engages in the Palestinian local arena by using a comparative approach, in order to find better explanations for this military and social collapse. The main hypothesis is that social and geopolitical characteristics, accruing especially to Jaffa, led to the rapid and total collapse of this city vis-à-vis Jerusalem. On a countrywide scale, those traits brought about the disintegration and collapse of the Palestinian Arab Society under Jewish military pressure. The findings show differences in patterns of political, social and economic organization, stemming out of different characteristics of the population and the social changes undergone during the Mandate era. This study describes, in addition, how the rise of a middle class under the Mandate, mainly in the larger cities, accelerated the fall of the Palestinian Arab society in 1948, since members of this class tended to abstain from taking part in the national struggle and the war effort. The research is based on: Arab documents; Palestinian and Arab press of the time; diaries, memoirs and testimonies; and intelligence archival material (Israeli and British). Most researches on the 1948 War period had focused, so far, on the political and military aspects. This study contributes to the study of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 from the social point of view, which was mainly neglected by the research so far.

Judaism in Najran during pre-Islamic and early Islamic history
Owed al-Nahee, University of Birmingham

Najran is a large region located in the south-east of Arabian Peninsula. During the time under study, it is widely understood that pagans and Christians formed the majority of the Najran population. To argue this view, the present study examines the most important aspects of Judaism in Najran, whose adherents formed a minority community in Najran’s multi-faith society. The discussion begins by discussing the most important primary sources and recent research concerning to the study question. The research then evaluates the controversy surrounding the date of the arrival of Judaism and its spread among Najranites. It discusses the political, social and economic conditions of Najranite Jewry from the end of the Himyar kingdom prior to the emergence of Islam. In relation to the period under Islamic rule, the study debates the status of Najranite Jewry, who became subject to new laws which profoundly influenced aspects of their lives. After that, the study examines the most important practices of Jewish religion, such as houses of worship, priestly organisation, clergy, sources of Jewish law and use of Scripture. It gives special attention to the common rites of worship among Najranite Jewry, such as fasting on the Day of Ashura, circumcision, Postponement and prayer. Finally, the study evaluates aspects of relationships between Najranite Jewry and other communities, particularly the Jewish communities of Syria, Hejaz and Yemen who brought the greatest influence of Judaism to Najran.

Economic Reforms of Early Islam
Benedikt Koehler, Earhart Foundation Grantee

Islamic economics often are thought to stymie economic dynamism, because the Koran imposes on Muslims a prohibition against taking interest in financial transactions as well as a range of measures against usury in any other business context. I contest this view. I reviewed the regulatory framework introduced by Muhammad and his early successors in my book Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism (Lexington Books, 2014), and show early Islam introduced a framework for an economy promoting trade, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and private property. Early Islamic economic reforms overturned regulatory strictures holding back trade and investment in Arabia and in indeed the wider Middle East. As such, early Islam in the economic sphere constituted a force for economic growth. The Koran couples a prohibition of usury with an endorsement of trade when it is licit. Usury prohibitions in Islam overlap with those of Judaism and Christianity; Islamic trade regulations, on the other hand, constitute a material advance towards freeing up markets. Specific examples include Muhammad’s establishment in Medina that was tax exempt; Muhammad’s deregulation of prices (he said, “prices are in the hand of God”); and legal frameworks for investment companies (such as those in Malik ibn Anas’ Muwatta). Pro-market innovations included the issuance of Islamic gold coinage (in the late 7th century) and establishment of trade outposts in major Islamic trade centres for merchants from Europe who enjoyed fiscal and legal privileges. Early Islam liberated the economies of the Middle East from strictures holding back markets and growth.

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