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Where a Muslim mob had killed over 4000 Jews on December 30, 1066

The Spanish city of Granada, which forms the backdrop of the popular Korean drama ‘Memories of Alhambra’ has seen a bloody, violent history, with many conflicts over the centuries between religious groups. On 30 December 1066, the city witnessed a horrible massacre targeted against the Jewish community carried out by the city’s ruling Muslims.

The Muslim rule in Spain and the Jewish massacre

The city of Granada, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains at the confluence of 4 rivers, has been the major urban settlement and capital of the Andalusian region of Spain for over a thousand years. Starting in 711 AD, the Muslim Umayyad conquest of the Iberian peninsula. A small Jewish population has been living in the area since ancient times.

In the 11th century, Granada became the hotspot of a political conflict between two groups of Muslims, the North African Arabs and Berber communities. The Zirids, a Berber group who were the supporters of the Caliph of Cordoba settled in the area and were granted control of the province of Elvira. After the Caliphate collapsed in 1009, the Zirid leader established an independent kingdom for himself, calling it ‘Taifa of Granada’. The city, with a mixed population of Muslims, Christians and Jews, gradually grew to be the main urban settlement in the area.

In 1020, Samuel ha-Nagid, a highly educated Jewish leader who had fled Cordoba after the caliphate collapsed, was appointed as the chief secretary of Muslim king Habbus ibn Maksan. Samuel ha-Nagid (Ismail ibn Naghrela in Arabic), was given many responsibilities, including tax collection and even control over the army under the next king Baddis. While Samuel was in power, the Jewish population in Granada enjoyed religious freedom and were not looked at as second-class citizens (dhimmis, non-Muslims living under Muslim rule) as per the norm in typical Muslim caliphates. Samuel had such power that the Muslim king was looked at as a mere figurehead.

After Samuel ha Nagid’s death in 1056, his son Joseph ha-Nagid (Joseph ibn Naghrela in Arabic) succeeded him as the vizier and rabbi, getting the same proximity to the Muslim king Baddis.

Joseph was lynched by a Muslim mob over allegations of betrayal

As Joseph’s influence over king Baddis grew, resentment against him started stirring among the majority of Berber Muslims in Granada. Joseph was described as arrogant and disrespectful towards all faiths. Joseph was accused of sending letters to the Muslim ruler of neighbouring Taifa of Almeira, rivals of Granada. As per Arabic accounts, Joseph had made a deal, to open the gates of the city to the enemies in exchange for being installed as the new ruler himself. However, the plan did not succeed. The ruler of the Taifa of Almeira dropped the plans at the last moment and the news leaked that Joseph had planned to kill the king and support the enemies.

On December 30, 1066, an angry mob consisting of the majority Berber Muslims of the city stormed the royal palace and grabbed Joseph. He was tortured and lynched to death, and his body was hanged from a cross. The mob, however, did not stop there. They proceeded to round up all Jewish families in the city, about 1000 of them and started a brutal massacre. Contemporary Jewish accounts write that over 4000 Jewish people were brutally killed by the Muslims on that single day.

There is documented evidence of the prominent Muslims in Granada spewing venom against Joseph and the Jewish community in general, trying to convince the people that the Jewish people do not deserve the high status that was granted to them in Granada. A poem written by Abu Ishaq, documented by historian Bernard Lewis depicts how the Jews are ‘inferior’ to the Muslims and should be killed.

Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, a breach of faith will be to let them carry on. They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators? how can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent? Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right.

The first major act of violence targeted against the Jewish community in Europe

The 1066 massacre at Granada is often cited as the first major act of violence in Europe that was targeted against the entire Jewish community.

As per Jewish accounts, Joseph’s wife had managed to flee the city with her son. She was granted refuge in another city. However, her son died at a young age.

The surviving Jews fled the area after the massacre, selling their properties. Though some of them did return eventually, they never got the social status they once enjoyed under Samuel ha-Nagid.

The Muslim rule in Granada continued till 1492, when, after months of siege by a Catholic army under Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the Muslim ruler of Granada finally gave up and surrendered the castle. January 2, 1492, marked the finale of the Catholic Reconquista against Islamic rule in parts of Spain. It is still celebrated by the Christian community and mourned in the Muslim world. What followed in the city was another story of violence, when Isabella’s loyal Catholic hardliners ordered the Muslim population to either convert, flee or die.

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