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MUSLIM-JEWISH DIALOGUE. Relations between Jews and Muslims have been extensive and often cooperative throughout history, whereas Jewish-Muslim dialogue has not yet achieved a respected status. The creation of the state of Israel and the displacement of millions of Palestinians since 1948 have precluded the launching of a successful Jewish-Muslim dialogue.

Although the parameters of dialogue from an Islamic perspective as stipulated by the Qur’an may seem ambiguous, they are the product of the context of revelation when the Muslim community was establishing itself. The pronouncements regarding Jews are framed in the Qur’an in the context of the establishment of the Muslim community in Medina, where several Jewish tribes resided, and they furnish a sufficient basis of theological dialogue between Muslims and Jews. One can deduce theological commonalities between Jews and Muslims (and, of course, Christians) on the basis of the following key Qur’anic terms: ahl al-kitab (people of the book); umm al-kitab (the mother of all books, al-lawh al-mahfuz (the preserved tablet). From this perspective, the Qur’an is just one link in a long chain of revelations given to earlier people, including but not confined to Jews and Christians. In certain surahs, the Qur’an speaks of the Jews as a community of faith. Politically speaking, however, the Qur’an documents an increasingly negative relationship between Jews and Muslims in Medina. Fazlur Rahman argues:

Jews, like Christians, had been recognized as a community, possessing a revealed document and called “People of the Book”. They were asked to live by the Torah. As such, they had religious and cultural autonomy. Yet, the Qur’an continued to invite them to Islam. . . . Thus, at the religious level, the relationship is somewhat ambiguous, although there is no doubt that Jewish religious and cultural autonomy was respected. (“Islam’s Attitude Toward Judaism,” The Muslim World 72.1 [January 1982]: 5.)

The relationship between Jews and Muslims has evolved over time and taken different shapes. There is an almost unanimous Arab and Muslim opinion that Jews fared better under Islam than they did under Christian Europe. Jewish scholarly opinion is divided on the matter, but, on the whole, it indicates that MuslimJewish coexistence was possible in most instances. Bernard Lewis, for example, concludes in a recent article, “There is in medieval and even modern Christianity a vast literature of polemics, written by Christian theologians, to persuade Jews of the truth of the Christian dispensation. The theologians of Islam felt no such need. There are few Muslim polemics against Judaism, and most of them are efforts at self-justification by recent converts from that religion” (“Muslims, Christians, and Jews: The Dream of Coexistence,” The New York Review of Books 39.6 [26 March 1992]: 48). A different view stipulates that Jewish-Muslim dialogue was impossible because of the “darker side of Jewish life under Islam, which redefined the erstwhile conception of Islamic `toleration’ as having been more problematic than could before have been imagined.” (Ronald L. Nettler, Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist’s View of the jews, New York, 1987, p. ix). According to this view, Muslims have developed a sophisticated and rich doctrine of hatred toward Jews since the foundation of the Islamic state during the Prophet’s time in Medina in 622, and this “emotional hatred” is best represented by the ideology and activities of Islamic revivalists.

In the few Jewish-Muslim dialogue meetings taking place in Europe and the United States, one is struck by the similarities in themes often raised by Jewish and Muslim scholars and thinkers. These include the emergence of the modern West as a world power with the spread of colonialism and westernization; the emergence of Zionism as a national movement for the liberation of Jews in Europe; the Holocaust and its aftermath; the creation of the state of Israel; and the displacement of the Palestinian people.

Jewish scholars usually focus on the Holocaust as one of the major events still affecting Jewish relations, with other groups: “For contemporary Jews, the overwhelming experience of suffering is the Jewish Holocaust, the death of six million Jews and the attempted annihilation of our entire people. Interpretation of the event is omnipresent, though insights are diverse and often controversial” (Marc H. Ellis, Toward a jewish Theology of Liberation, Maryknoll, 1988, p. 11).

Muslims and Jews maintain fundamental, and perhaps unbridgeable, differences over the meaning of Israel. To most Jewish theologians and thinkers, especially those affected by the Holocaust, the creation of Israel has been a divine sign that God is on the side of a victimized people. To the majority of Arab and Muslim thinkers, those same Jewish theologians are not sensitive to the plight of the displaced Palestinians, who are usually treated as the nonexistent other. The 1967 Israeli victory and the annexation of Jerusalem were seen by some Jewish theologians as a symbol of “the presence of God and the continuation of the [Jewish] people” (Marc H. Ellis, Beyond Innocence and Redemption: Confronting the Holocaust and Israeli Power, New York, 1990, p. 16), whereas it was seen by Arabs and Muslims as a great tragedy, and by some as God’s testing of Muslim faith or punishment for veering away from the true faith.

Perhaps Isma’il R. al-Faruqi’s ideas, as expounded in his Islam and the Problem of Israel, best summarize the modern Islamist position toward dialogue with Jews and Judaism. Al-Faruqi contends that Islam and Judaism are theologically compatible in that they both affirm the divine principle of din al fitrah or religio naturalis and are united by the principle of revelation and the same religious tradition of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac. Islam, in the opinion of al-Faruqi, not only recognized Judaism as a religion de jure-which no other religion or political system did before the Enlightenment-but it further demanded the observance of the Torah and gave rabbinic courts in Muslim lands the executive power to manage the internal religious and cultural affairs of the Jewish community there. Al-Faruqi presents the following theses in summarizing of the positions of modernday Islamists. First, the Jewish question, as it was termed in Europe before the Holocaust, is an exclusively European, Christian problem, and as such, it must be understood against the religious, social, and historical background of Medieval and modern Europe. Second, in the same vein, Zionism was created in Europe as the result of the unique circumstances the Jewish people there faced in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Third, Israel is a unique and aggressive form of Western colonialism in Muslim lands. Finally, the danger posed by the existence of a settler-colonial state like Israel is enormous: far from endangering Palestinian society alone, Israel poses a real threat to the security and safety of Arabs and Muslims at large. AlFaruqi writes: “The problem of Israel confronting the Muslim world today has neither precedent nor parallel in Islamic history. The Muslim world has tended to regard it as another instance of modern colonialism, or at best, as a repetition of the Crusades. The difference is not that Israel is neither one of these; but that it is both and more, much more” (Islam and the Problem of Israel, London, 1990, p. I).

Jewish-Muslim dialogue, as an academic discourse, has been confined in the main to a handful of scholars and thinkers from both sides. The stumbling block continues to be the clashing interpretations given to the meaning of the state of Israel and the Palestinian question. Another difficulty associated with Jewish-Muslim dialogue lies in the different nature of the two communities. Applied to the American scene, what that means is that for Jewish-Muslim dialogue to succeed, Muslim and Jewish institutions, and not merely a handful of individuals, should assume a leading role. Although “American Islam” is in the process of growth and expansion, it is doubtful that American Muslims, who are such a diverse and dynamic group, have caught up with the high level of economic progress and political organization American Jews have achieved over the past several decades. Therefore, at least theoretically speaking, there are many issues that need to be discussed by both sides in a spirit of critical dialogue.

[See also Judaism and Islam; Muslim-Christian Dialogue.]


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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/muslim-jewish-dialogue/

  • writerPosted On: October 1, 2014
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