Most of the world’s Jewish population lived in Islamic lands in the Middle Ages. As dhimmi, ‘protected people’, Jews and Christians in Egypt were free to practise their religion provided they recognised the absolute rule of Islam, paid the jizya – a severe poll-tax – and did not seek converts from among the Muslim population.
From the end of the 10th century, Egypt was incorporated into the Shi’ite Fatimid Caliphate. The large Jewish and Christian population was generally treated fairly by the Fatimids, and Jews were even admitted into senior government positions. But the second-class status given to the dhimmi under Islamic law meant that restrictions and oppression could be employed, and the Genizah records outbreaks of harsh discriminatory actions and even violence against the Jews.