On Sunday evening last His Honour the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles (Abdullah Quilliam Effendi) delivered a lecture at the Liverpool Mosque, his subject being ‘The Jews Under Christian Rule.’ Brother J. Bokhari Jeffery presided, and there was a large attendance.
The Sheikh in the course of his lecture said:- During the Muslim occupation of Spain the Jew shared every advantage with the Mussulman, but when the Christian arms had become victorious and the Moors had retired across the Straits of Gibraltar, the Jew found he had changed masters, and certainly not to his advantage. To avoid persecution many Jews nominally professed Christianity, albeit they remained Jews at heart, and in secret clung to their ancient faith. To search out and punish these pseudo-Christians that most dreadful engine of torture and oppression, the Inquisition, was devised. The horrors of that dreadful tribunal are almost beyond human language to portray, and no human fancy could imagine more terrible persecution and instruments of torture than those devised and used by the Christian monks under Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor.
At first the situation of the Jews who had not apostatised was preferable to that of those who had professed Christianity, but the flame of fanaticism, diligently fanned by the priests, suddenly burst into a furious blaze, and in the year 1492 a decree was passed that all Jews must leave Spain. Queen Isabella was completely under priestly influence, and readily assented to the scheme, but Ferdinand, her husband, through motive of policy rather than humanity, long hesitated to put the decree in force. When at last, the dread edict had gone forth, Arbanel, a Jew of the highest position and worth, a man regarded almost as a second Daniel for his authority among his own race, and the respect he had gained from the oppressors of his nation, managed, like Esther of old, to penetrate into the presence of the sovereigns, and cast himself at their feet before the royal throne. With all the eloquence he could command, he implored that his people might not be driven forth from the land they had so long occupied, and offered a bribe of 300,000 ducats, that the decree might be recalled. Ferdinand appeared to be relenting, when suddenly into the royal presence strode the gloomy form of Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor, clothed in his monkish robe, and wearing a crucifix. Giving a contemptuous glance at the Jew, and a haughty look at the abashed rulers, he held aloft the crucifix, with its figure of Christ attached thereto. ‘Judas Iscariot,’ he said, in tones of biting sarcasm, ‘sold his master for 30 pieces of silver, but the price has gone up, and I see you are ready to sell him for 300,000. Here he is; take him and sell him.’ The appeal to religious bigotry was successful, the Jew’s offer was refused, and the stern edict against the children of Israel remained.
The story of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is one of the most touching episodes in the history of a race. The Hebrews, under Muslim rule, had come to love Spain as a second Canaan, and even after enduring years of persecution under their Christian rulers, they still loved its soil and were loath to leave it. They visited the graves where the corpses of their ancestors were mouldering in the dust, and with tears and lamentations bade them a long farewell. Sometimes they removed the tombstones, and carried them with them in their wanderings, so that the hand of the Gentile should not put them to a base use after their departure.
Along every highway which led to the coast proceeded a melancholy procession of Jewish people, with downcast eyes and heavy hearts, bearing with them such portion of their worldly wealth as they were able to carry away. Bands of Christian robbers lurked along the roads to attack them and deprive them of such gold or other valuables as they possessed, and many who had been among the richest in the land reached the seaports little better than penniless wanderers. No Christian nation would receive them, and alone among the nations of the world the Ottoman Turk welcomed them and gave them shelter and protection.
In Portugal also the Jews reaped their full measure of woe. Not only was the order given for the expulsion of the Jews, but, to add to their bitterness, their children were taken from them to be baptised and brought up as Christians, until at last the Hebrew mothers in despair cast their babes into rivers and wells, and then slew themselves.
The stories of massacres of the Jews in both Spain and Portugal seem almost incredible, but are, alas, too true. The Israelite historian Graetz, in his great work of eleven volumes, ‘Geschichte des Judenthums,’ thus portrays the sufferings of his race: ‘Spain was full of the corruption of dungeons and the crackling pyres of innocent Jews. A lamentation went through the beautiful land which might pierce bone and marrow; but the sovereigns held back the arm of the pitiful.’
‘Let the Christian, if he dare, attempt to justify such conduct,’ exclaimed the Sheikh in his peroration. ‘The garments of the Christian are red with the blood of the martyred Jew, but, praise be to God, the robes of the Muslim are spotless as the new fallen snow in this particular.’