Asmaa’s father Marwan, was one of those powerful Jewish tribal chiefs who took the Prophet of Islam under his protection. Mohammed’s gratitude for Marwan’s help and protection, however, turned to blind hatred when Marwan refused to acknowledge Mohammed’s creed, Islam, as superior to Judaism and rejected his overtures for conversion. Fired by passion for revenge, the Prophet of Islam called for jihad against the Jews of Arabia, with Marwan amongst the first targets. One campaign after another, waged with cunning by Mohammed and hordes of fanatical followers, devastated the Arabian Jewish tribes.
According to Islamic tradition, Mohammed was so enraged by Asmaa’s defiance that he was determined to have her assassinated. The details of Asmaa’s death have been preserved in Islamic legend and teachings. According to the legend, the Prophet had appealed to his followers: “Is there no one,” he challenged, “to defend my honor and take revenge on the daughter of Marwan?”
One of Mohammed’s faithful followers named Omar volunteered for the holy task of silencing the intrepid Jewish woman. One night, while the young Jewish mother was nursing her infant, Omar sneaked into Asmaa’s tent and murdered both her and the infant in her bed.
After his bloody deed, panic gripped Omar and he pleaded with Mohammed for protection against Asmaa’s avengers. Mohammed’s answer as recorded in Islamic lore was: “Do not fear, no ram shall ever raise its horns for this she-goat.”
The Prophet was right. The death of their poetess and daughter of their former leader was the last straw; Arabian Jewry was too demoralized by Islamic terror to mete out a just retribution.
The most formidable challenger of Islam was a Berber Jewish woman, Aures Damia, known as the Kahena. She was the priestess of a powerful North African tribe that had converted to Judaism. In 687 she commanded the joint forces of several armies against the advancing Muslim troops of Hassan ibn al Nu’man al Ghassani. The Kahena’s armies uprooted the invaders, and united the entire Maghreb under her rule, a feat never before and never since accomplished, neither by Rome, the Vandals and Byzantium before her, nor by the Turks and the Spaniards after her.
As queen of the Maghreb, Aures Damia reigned in peace and prosperity until 702. In that year, the Muslims renewed their onslaught in overwhelming numbers. Fighting valiantly, the Kahena was ultimately struck down by the Muslim sword, and the North African front collapsed.
While in the West the 18th and 19th centuries experienced the Enlightenment, a period of time in which European Jews went from the oppression of the Middle Ages to the relative freedom of the Modern Era, Jews of the Islamic Empire continued to experience religious intolerance. The progressive attainment of civil rights and economic privileges for the Jews in Western Europe was paralleled by severe economic oppression and religious persecution for the Jews in Arab lands.
As Islamic armies overran large segments of the Ottoman Empire, solid blocks of uncompromising tyranny replaced brief periods of relative tolerance. Gone were the towering Jewish personalities celebrated for their contributions to the world of scholarship, finance and diplomacy from the 13th to 17th centuries. Gone were the famous centers of learning, banking houses and cultural institutions of the Middle East and Asia Minor which had emerged as historical landmarks attesting to the Jewish genius. Muslim tyranny and Jewish compliance is unabated until today. Will Modern Israel make a difference?
Will a modern Kahena rise and unite our tribes to, once and for all, defeat Islamic terror?Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson
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