Mark R. Cohen

Mark R. Cohen (born March 11, 1943) is an American scholar of Jewish history in the Muslim world.

Cohen is Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor Emeritus of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.[1] He is a leading scholar of the history of Jews in the Middle Ages under Islam.[2][3] His research relies greatly on documents from the Cairo Geniza.[2] From 1985 until his retirement in 2013 Cohen also led the Geniza Lab at Princeton University, which aims to make the Geniza corpus available and searchable online (as of 2013, the database contained 4,320 documents).[4] The project is headquartered at the S.D. Goitein Geniza Research Lab, where many of Goitein's personal books and notes are stored. In 2014 Cohen was a visiting professor at New York University Abu Dhabi.[5]

Cohen won the National Jewish Book Award for his book Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt in 1981[6] and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996.[7]

Cohen earned his undergraduate degree at Brandeis University, his master's degree at Columbia University, and his doctorate at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Mark R. Cohen
BornMarch 11, 1943 (age 75)
Alma materBrandeis University
Princeton University
Columbia University
OccupationScholar, professor, author

Selected publications

  • Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt: The Origins of the Office of Head of the Jews, ca. 1065-1126 (1981)
  • The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi (1987)
  • Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (1994)
  • Poverty and Charity in the Jewish community of Medieval Egypt (2005)
  • The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Documents from the Cairo Geniza (2005)


  1. ^ Mark R. Cohen's Princeton University Faculty Page
  2. ^ a b "Cohen is one of the most important scholars of his generation in the study of the history of Jews in the Islamic world." Jews, Christians and Muslims in Medieval and Early Modern Times: A Festschrift in Honor of Mark R. Cohen. Brill. 2014. p. 1.
  3. ^ Gilbert, Martin (2010). In Ishmael's House. Yale University Press. p. 23.
  4. ^ About the Geniza Lab
  5. ^ What I Learned Teaching Arabs About Judaism in Abu Dhabi by Mark R. Cohen. The Forward, 2015.
  6. ^ NJBA Winners
  7. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

External links


A dhimmī (Arabic: ذمي‎ ḏimmī, IPA: [ˈðɪmmiː], collectively أهل الذمة ahl ul-ḏimmah/dhimmah "the people of the dhimma") is a historical term referring to non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection. The word literally means "protected person", referring to the state's obligation under sharia to protect the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or obligatory alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain privileges and freedoms reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.Under sharia, the dhimmi communities were usually governed by their own laws in place of some of the laws applicable to the Muslim community. For example, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have its own Halakhic courts, and the Ottoman millet system allowed its various dhimmi communities to rule themselves under separate legal courts. These courts did not cover cases that involved religious groups outside of their own community, or capital offences. Dhimmi communities were also allowed to engage in certain practices that were usually forbidden for the Muslim community, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork.Historically, dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. This status later also came to be applied to Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.Moderate Muslims generally reject the dhimma system as inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies. There is a range of opinions among 20th century and contemporary theologians about whether the notion of dhimma is appropriate for modern times, and, if so, what form it should take in an Islamic state.


Dhimmitude is a neologism borrowed from the French language and popularized as a polemical term by the Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye'or in the 1980s and 1990s. It was formed from dhimmi by analogy with servitude in order to draw an implicit comparison.Bat Ye’or defines it as a permanent status of subjection without protection in which Jews and Christians have allegedly been held under Islamic rule since the eighth century, and that forces them to accept discriminations or "face forced conversion, slavery or death". The term gained traction among Serbian ultra-nationalists during the Balkan wars in the 1990s and is popular among self-proclaimed counter-jihadi authors. Scholars have dismissed it as polemical.

Early Muslim conquests

The early Muslim conquests (Arabic: الفتوحات الإسلامية‎, al-Futūḥāt al-Islāmiyya) also referred to as the Arab conquests and early Islamic conquests began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion.

The resulting empire stretched from the borders of China and the Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe (Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula to the Pyrenees). Edward Gibbon writes in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

Under the last of the Umayyads, the Arabian empire extended two hundred days journey from east to west, from the confines of Tartary and India to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean ... We should vainly seek the indissoluble union and easy obedience that pervaded the government of Augustus and the Antonines; but the progress of Islam diffused over this ample space a general resemblance of manners and opinions. The language and laws of the Quran were studied with equal devotion at Samarcand and Seville: the Moor and the Indian embraced as countrymen and brothers in the pilgrimage of Mecca; and the Arabian language was adopted as the popular idiom in all the provinces to the westward of the Tigris.

The Muslim conquests brought about the collapse of the Sassanid Empire and a great territorial loss for the Byzantine Empire. The reasons for the Muslim success are hard to reconstruct in hindsight, primarily because only fragmentary sources from the period have survived. Fred McGraw Donner suggests that formation of a state in the Arabian peninsula and ideological (i.e. religious) coherence and mobilization was a primary reason why the Muslim armies in the space of a hundred years were able to establish the largest pre-modern empire until that time. The estimates for the size of the Islamic Caliphate suggest it was more than thirteen million square kilometers (five million square miles).

Most historians agree as well that the Sassanid Persian and Byzantine Roman empires were militarily and economically exhausted from decades of fighting one another.It has been suggested that some Jews and Christians in the Sassanid Empire and Jews and Monophysites in Syria were dissatisfied and welcomed the Muslim forces, largely because of religious conflict in both empires. It has also been suggested that later Syriac Christians reinterpreted the events of the conquest to serve a political or religious interest. At other times, such as in the Battle of Firaz, Arab Christians allied themselves with the Persians and Byzantines against the invaders. In the case of Byzantine Egypt, Palestine and Syria, these lands had been reclaimed from the Persians only a few years before.

Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain

The golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, which coincided with the Middle Ages in Europe, is a period of Muslim rule in much of the Iberian Peninsula during which, intermittently, Jews were generally accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life flourished.

The nature and length of this "Golden Age" has been debated, as there were at least three periods during which non-Muslims were oppressed. A few scholars give the start of the Golden Age as 711–718, the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Others date it from 912, during the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III. The end of the age is variously given as 1031, when the Caliphate of Cordoba ended; 1066, the date of the Granada massacre; 1090, when the Almoravids invaded; or the mid-12th century, when the Almohads invaded.

Goldziher Prize

The Goldziher Prize in Jewish-Muslim Relations is awarded biennially by the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations, Merrimack College. According to the Center's website, winners receive a prize of $25,000.00 award "for work that contributes significantly to reverence, understanding and collaboration in common moral purposes between Jews and Muslims." The award is named after Ignac Goldziher.


Jizya or jizyah (Arabic: جزية‎ jizya IPA: [d͡ʒɪzjæ]) is a per capita yearly tax historically levied on non-Muslim subjects, called the dhimma, permanently residing in Muslim lands governed by Islamic law. Muslim jurists required adult, free, sane males among the dhimma community to pay the jizya, while exempting women, children, elders, handicapped, the ill, the insane, monks, hermits, slaves, and musta'mins—non-Muslim foreigners who only temporarily reside in Muslim lands. Dhimmis who chose to join military service were also exempted from payment, as were those who could not afford to pay.The Quran and hadiths mention jizya without specifying its rate or amount. However, scholars largely agree that early Muslim rulers adapted existing systems of taxation and tribute that were established under previous rulers of the conquered lands, such as those of the Byzantine and Sasanian empires.The application of jizya varied in the course of Islamic history. Together with kharāj, a term that was sometimes used interchangeably with jizya, taxes levied on non-Muslim subjects were among the main sources of revenues collected by some Islamic polities, such as the Ottoman Empire. Jizya rate was usually a fixed annual amount depending on the financial capability of the payer. Sources comparing taxes levied on Muslims and jizya differ as to their relative burden depending on time, place, specific taxes under consideration, and other factors.Historically, the jizya tax has been understood in Islam as a fee for protection provided by the Muslim ruler to non-Muslims, for the exemption from military service for non-Muslims, for the permission to practice a non-Muslim faith with some communal autonomy in a Muslim state, and as material proof of the non-Muslims' submission to the Muslim state and its laws. Jizya has also been understood by some as a ritual humiliation of the non-Muslims in a Muslim state for not converting to Islam, while others argue that if it were meant to be a punishment for the dhimmis' unbelief then monks and the clergy wouldn't have been exempted.The term appears in the Quran referring to a tax or tribute from People of the Book specifically Jews and Christians.

Followers of other religions like Zoroastrians and Hindus too were later integrated into the category of dhimmis and required to pay jizya. In the Indian Subcontinent the practice was eradicated by the 18th century. It almost vanished during the 20th century with disappearance of Islamic states and spread of religious tolerance. The tax is no longer imposed by nation states in the Islamic world, although there are reported cases of organizations such as the Pakistani Taliban and ISIS attempting to revive the practice.Some modern Islamic scholars have argued that jizya should be paid by non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state, offering different rationales. For example, Sayyid Qutb saw it as punishment for "polytheism", while Abdul Rahman Doi viewed it as a counterpart of the zakat tax paid by Muslims. According to Khaled Abou El Fadl, moderate Muslims reject the dhimma system, which encompasses jizya, as inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies.

Leon of Modena

Leon Modena or Yehudah Aryeh Mi-modena (1571–1648) was a Jewish scholar born in Venice in a family whose ancestors migrated to Italy after an expulsion of Jews from Spain.

List of Guggenheim Fellowships awarded in 1996

List of Guggenheim Fellowships awarded in 1996

Mark (name)

Mark is a common male given name and is derived from old Latin "Mart-kos", which means "consecrated to the god Mars", and also may mean "God of war" or "to be warlike". Marcus was one of the three most common Roman given names.

Mark Cohen

Mark Cohen may refer to:

Mark Cohen (photographer) (born 1943), American street photographer

Mark Cohen (Rent), fictional character

Mark Cohen (cricketer) (born 1961), former Irish cricketer

Mark Cohen (comedian), American comedian

Mark Cohen (journalist) (1849–1928), New Zealand journalist, newspaper editor, educationalist and social reformer

Mark Cohen (American footballer) (born 1970), British-American football player

Mark B. Cohen (born 1949), Philadelphia judge and Pennsylvania State Representative

Mark Howard Cohen (born 1955), Georgia attorney and United States District Judge nominee

Mark J. Cohen (1942–1999), American realtor, and collector of comic books and comic art, and cartoonists' agent and comic art dealer

Mark Cohen (surgeon), Canadian laser eye surgeon

Mark Nathan Cohen, American anthropologist

Mark R. Cohen (born 1943), American professor of Near Eastern Studies

Mark S. Cohen (born 1956), American neuroscientist

Mark A. Cohen, former chairman and CEO of Sears Canada

Menahem ben Ammiel

Menahem ben Ammiel, or ben Amiel, is a character in apocalyptic Jewish texts, the future Messiah ben David of the Sefer Zerubbabel. He fights with Armilus, the Jewish apocalyptic counterpart of the Christian Book of Revelation's Antichrist.He was born during the reign of king David. In some copies of the text he is born on the day the first temple is destroyed. A wind carried him to the city of Nineveh mighty Rome where he remains waiting for the eschaton. He can be found at the “house of filth” near the market where he is imprisoned. He is presented as having a despicable, broken down image and to be in pain. His appearance is an illusion.Some have suggested that Amiel is a cipher for Hezekiah and that he is the same as Menahem ben HezekiahPirke De-Rabbi Eliezer like the Sefer Zerubbabel refers to Menahem ben Ammiel. He is referred to as the son of Joseph. In others editions the name Menahem son of Ammiel son of Joseph is omitted and the text simple refers to the son of David. According to the Zohar and the Sefer Zerubbabel, Menahem is the Messiah ben David

Muhammad's views on Jews

The Islamic prophet Muhammad's views on Jews were informed through the contact he had with Jewish tribes living in and around Medina. His views on Jews include his theological teaching of them as People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab), his description of them as earlier receivers of Abrahamic revelation; and the failed political alliances between the Muslim and Jewish communities.

After his migration (hijra) to Medina from his home-town of Mecca, he established an agreement known as the Constitution of Medina between the major Medinan factions, including the Jewish tribes of Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir, and Banu Qurayza that secured equal rights for both Jews and Muslims as long as Jews remained politically supportive. Muhammad later fought battles with these tribes on the basis of supposed violations of the constitution.

Pact of Umar

The Pact of Umar (also known as the Covenant of Umar, Treaty of Umar or Laws of Umar; Arabic: شروط عمر‎ or عهد عمر or عقد عمر), is an apocryphal treaty between the Muslims and the Christians of either Syria, Mesopotamia, or Jerusalem that later gained a canonical status in Islamic jurisprudence. It specifies rights and restrictions for non-Muslims (dhimmis) living under Islamic rule.

There are several versions of the pact, differing both in structure and stipulations. While the pact is traditionally attributed to the second Rashidun Caliph Umar ibn Khattab, other jurists and orientalists have doubted this attribution with the treaty being attributed to 9th century Mujtahids (Islamic scholars) or the Umayyad Caliph Umar II. This treaty should not be confused with Umar's Assurance of safety to the people of Aelia (known as al-ʿUhda al-ʿUmariyya, Arabic: العهدة العمرية‎).

In general, the pact contains a list of rights and restrictions on non-Muslims (dhimmis). By abiding to them, non-Muslims are granted security of their persons, their families, and their possessions. Other rights and stipulations may also apply. According to Ibn Taymiyya, one of the jurists who accepted the authenticity of the pact, the dhimmis have the right "to free themselves from the Covenant of 'Umar and claim equal status with the Muslims if they enlisted in the army of the state and fought alongside the Muslims in battle."

Persecution of Jews

Persecution of Jewish people has been a major part of Jewish history, prompting shifting waves of refugees throughout the diaspora communities.

Petra M. Sijpesteijn

Petra Marieke Sijpesteijn (born 2 February 1971, Naarden) is professor of Arabic at Leiden University. She was the founding president of the International Society for Arabic Papyrology.

Quirinus Kuhlmann

Quirinus Kuhlmann (February 25, 1651 – October 4, 1689) was a German Baroque poet and mystic. Kuhlmann insisted upon the importance of the events of his life as confirmation of his divine mission.Known for his travels throughout Europe, Kuhlmann spent the last years of his life in Russia, where he was executed because he was considered theologically and politically dangerous.

Sasson Somekh

Sasson Somekh (Hebrew: ששון סומך‬; born 1933) is an Israeli academic, writer and translator. He is professor emeritus of Modern Arab Literature at Tel Aviv University.

Shelomo Dov Goitein

Shelomo Dov Goitein (April 3, 1900 – February 6, 1985) was a German-Jewish ethnographer, historian and Arabist known for his research on Jewish life in the Islamic Middle Ages, and particularly on the Cairo Geniza.

White slavery

White slaves, white slave trade, and white slave traffic refer to the chattel slavery of White Europeans by non-Europeans (such as North Africans and the Muslim world), as well as by Europeans themselves, such as the Viking thralls or European Galley slaves. From Antiquity, European slaves were common during the reign of Ancient Rome and were prominent during the Ottoman Empire into the early modern period. In Feudalism, there were various forms of status below the Freeman that is known as Serfdom (such as the bordar, villein, vagabond and slave) which could be bought and sold as property and were subject to labor and branding by their owners or demense. Under Muslim rule, the Arab slave trades that included Caucasian captives were often fueled by raids into European territories or were taken as children in the form of a blood tax from the families of citizens of conquered territories to serve the empire for a variety of functions. In the mid-19th century, the term 'white slavery' was used to describe the Christian slaves that were sold into the Barbary slave trade.

Modern use of the term can also include sexual slavery, forced prostitution and human trafficking.

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