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Project Aladdin  a UNESCO multi-faceted cultural initiative d intolerance, while promoting intercultural dialogue, particularly among Muslims and Jews

The historical interaction of Judaism and Islam started in the seventh century with the origin and spread of Islam in the Arabian peninsula. Judaism and Islam share a common origin in the Middle East through Abraham, and there are many shared aspects between the two religions in their fundamental religious outlook, structure, jurisprudence and practice.

At the heart of the two faiths is a monotheistic vision which resists any compromise on the idea of the transcendence and unity of God who is envisaged as just and merciful and who has revealed a way of life in accordance with these values for the benefit of human society.

Islam and Judaism do not have clergy who by virtue of sacrament are separate from the rest of the community.  Religious authority is essentially a function of individual mastery of the religious sources to be able to guide the community in accordance with their teachings.

Muslims regard Jews and Christians as "People of the Book". In the Dar al-Islam - the territories ruled by Muslims - they always enjoyed more protection than heathens. For centuries across the Muslim world, Jews and Christians were subject to the rules of the dhimma statutes: in exchange for payment of extra taxes, they were granted limited rights.

There are different opinions among scholars regarding the character and origin of the Jewish communities that the Prophet Mohammed encountered in Arabia.  Clearly, they shared enough of the message of the Prophet Mohammed for the latter to assume that the Jews of Medina would eagerly rally around him.  Their failure to do so led to the ensuing discord, arguments and hostility between them.

The restrictive conditions which ensured the Jews' inferior status were codified in the Pact of Umar. But despite their dhimmi status, the Jews were free to practice their religion and were better off under the Muslim rule than under the Byzantine Christians.

Beginning with rabbis like Saadya Gaon in Iraq, and continuing especially in Muslim Spain, Jewish thinkers followed in Muslim footsteps and applied the same kind of loving study and exploration to the Hebrew language that Muslim scholars were doing to Arabic, the language of the Quran. They developed the study of Hebrew grammar, which was something new in Jewish thinking.  Over time, they worked out the understanding of Hebrew grammar that is in use today.

During this period, some of the greatest works of Jewish philosophy, grammar, law, philology, and lexicography were written, in parallel with great advances in these fields in the Islamic world.  Jewish poetry in Hebrew found a renaissance during this period as well, and its meters, styles, and contents parallel those of its Muslim Arabic counterpart.  In Spain, Jewish civilization flourished along with the flowering of the Islamic and secular sciences and culture throughout the region, known in Arabic as al-Andalus.

The relatively open society of al-Andalus was reversed and then ended by the coming of North African armies to help defend against the Spanish Christians, who were pushing the Muslims southward from their strongholds in the north. Jews were highly restricted under the Islamist Berber regimes and eventually began moving northward to newly conquered Christian areas where, for the time being, they were treated better.

The reversal of Jewish good fortune in Spain was mirrored in other parts of the Islamic world, where by the thirteenth century the open and humanistic qualities of Islamic society began to give way to a more feudalistic mentality of rigidity and control.  Many Jewish communities were forced into ghettos and in places Jewish and Christian communities were destroyed.  As the Islamic world declined, so too did the Jewish communities within it, and Jewish intellectual, cultural, and religious creativity generally tended to shift toward the Jewish communities of Europe. But as a rule, the Jewish communities that remained in the Muslim world were generally protected in keeping with the Pact of Umar and as long as they accepted their second class status, lived peacefully and cooperatively with their Muslim neighbors.

Nowhere was this more true than in the Ottoman Empire. When in 1492 the king of Spain, Ferdinand, issued an edict to expel from Spain all remaining Jews who did not convert to Christianity, the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II offered refuge to the Jews. For centuries, Jews lived in relative calm under Ottoman rulers, and an increasing number of European Jews sought refuge in their territories.  According to Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled".

The newly-arrived Jews made important contributions to scientific and technical progress of the Ottoman Empire. One of the most significant innovations that Jews brought to the Ottoman Empire was the printing press. In 1493, only one year after their expulsion from Spain, David & Samuel ibn Nahmias established the first Hebrew printing press in Istanbul. Jewish literature flourished in the relatively tolerant atmosphere of Ottoman Empire.

Living conditions for Jews in several Muslim countries began to deteriorate in the nineteenth century with the decline of Ottoman power and the rise of nationalist fervor and religious radicalism as a reaction to the growing influence of European colonial powers. Anti-Semitic stereotypes first appeared in the Muslim world during this period.

In the twentieth century, the collapse of imperial rule and the rise of modern nationalism led to the clash between the Jewish aspiration for self determination in what the Jews regarded as their ancestral homeland and the struggle for national self-determination on the part of the regional and local Arab populations.  This territorial conflict has degenerated in recent times to increasingly assume the character of a religious conflict.

While not seeking to go into the causes and effects, rights and wrongs of the political conflict in the Middle East, the increasing religious characterization of a territorial struggle has come from various quarters, presenting the conflict as a clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and Western society. Extremists portrayed the others as devoid of moral character and without religious legitimacy, with Israel and the Jews portrayed as a hostile "bridgehead" into the Arab world in particular and the Muslim world in general.

The truth, however, is that what we are witnessing is not a clash of civilizations as much as a clash within civilizations.  It is a clash between those elements of a religious culture whose sense of historic injury and humiliation leads to alienation and conflict within their own societies as well as to those outside their religious culture; and those who seek to constructively engage other societies as part of world culture and a positive interaction with modernity.

This "clash within civilizations" means that enlightened voices on both sides of the divide have a responsibility to work together not only to be greater than the sum of their different parts but also to provide the essential alternative testimony - i.e. that of interreligious and intercultural cooperation and mutual respect.  In particular, Muslim and Jewish leaders have a duty to their communities and faith traditions to counteract the destructive exploitation of their religious civilizations and to draw their inspiration from those past examples of the glory of cooperation and collaboration among the children of Abraham - Muslims, Christians and Jews - for the benefit of all.

THE JEWISH-MUSLIM CONNECTION: TRADITIONAL WAYS OF LIFE     
Middle East Forum  Daniel Pipes, Autumn1981

 JUDAISM, ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY    

Of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity appear far more closely linked to each other than either is to Islam. As the term "Judeo-Christian tradition" implies, these two faiths share deep bonds and a long history; in contrast, Islam seems alien.

There are many reasons for this. Theologically, the Old Testament is central to Judaism, while Islam ignores the Bible in favor of the Qur'an. Demographically, the once-flourishing Jewish communities in Muslim countries have been decimated, and it is easy to forget that most Jews once lived among Muslims; for the last 500 years most Jews have lived in the Christian world. Culturally, Christians and Jews live at the vanguard of human experience, whereas Muslims had a harder time with twentieth-century life.

Notwithstanding these points, Judaism and Christianity differ profoundly in religious terms; the real resemblance is between Judaism and Islam.

THE LAW    

Most basically, Judaism and Islam emphasize correct action and Christianity stresses correct faith. Pious Jews and Muslims are more concerned with fulfilling God's commandments; their Christians counterparts concentrate on attitude and feeling.

Judaism has been foremost a religion of laws since Mosaic times. The emphasis has been to live in accordance with the precepts which God handed down. Jesus himself accepted and maintained these Jewish laws, but before long his followers wholly eliminated them from Christianity. Led by St. Paul, early Christians argued that the coming of Jesus meant that the laws had lost their validity. Jesus changed man's relationship to God by substituting faith and love for righteous action. Religious obedience became internalized; it mattered less what one did than how one felt. Despite many modifications, this approach to God remains the distinctive Christian message.

Though it came six centuries after Christianity, Islam followed the Jewish approach to God by stressing works over faith. The Jewish and Muslim religious laws (known as the Halakha and the Shari'a, respectively) differ in many details, but they share much in outlook. Both are vast codes which touch on such diverse matters as family relations, social behavior, personal habits, and political attitudes. From cradle to grave, morning to night, few acts of an observant Jew or Muslim escape the demands of the law. But "law" is not an entirely apt term to describe the Halakha and Shari'a, for they contain many precepts outside the jurisdiction of law as understood in the West - how to wash, what to eat, where to pray. The codes contain provisions for every imaginable circumstance, including the most unlikely: who inherits what when a child dies leaving as survivors only his eight great-grandparents is a matter of some interest in the Shari'a.

For Jews, living in accordance with the Halakha is the primary means of reaffirming God's covenant with Abraham. For Muslims, fulfilling the Shari'a permits them to live as Muhammad and his companions did. For both, the letter of the law counts as much as its spirit.

Whereas theology presents the great intellectual challenge to Christians, Jews and Muslims have always been most preoccupied with the religious code of laws. Scholars of both communities have devoted enormous attention to elaborating a complete system of precepts out of the books of divine inspiration (the Bible, Qur'an), their oral commentaries (Talmud, Hadith), juridical treatises, and legal handbooks.

Development of the Halakha and Shari'a followed similar patterns. Both were drawn up by pious men without formal school or government influence. In some cases, terms of analysis are so similar in the two codes, the direct influence of Jewish jurisprudence on the Islamic seems likely - although ultimately both derived much from common sources of Middle East thought and Greek logic. Indeed, both were elaborated primarily in Iraq; and compilation of the Talmud drew to a close in the 6th century, while collections of the Hadith began not long thereafter, making direct influence plausible. Competing schools (or rites) also existed in other regions (Palestine in the Jewish case, Arabia and Egypt in the Muslim case).

Novel situations were dealt with by ad hoc decisions of leading religious authorities (responsa, fatwas). In theory, the laws remained flexible; in fact, the major rules became fixed over time and scholars concerned themselves with only minor, often trivial, matters. Yet, for Jews and Muslims, learning about even the driest legal matters is considered a form of worship; students of the divine law are thus men of religion.

And indeed, men of religion in the two traditions, rabbis and ulema (the Muslim equivalent of rabbis, often but mistakenly translated as "clerics" in English) do share much. Neither have liturgical functions but both are wise in law. While the individual believer can pray to God directly without them, he needs them for assistance in properly carrying out God's commandments. Rabbis and ulema elaborate and interpret the law: Do two drops of milk in a pot of meat make it unkosher? How far must a traveller go to be excused from the fast of Ramadan?

Their expertise in the laws led to other roles. They acted as judges, educators and community leaders, and intermediaries between the common people and the governmental authorities. Their sons often inherited these positions. Partly as a result of this diversity, the place of worship, the synagogue or mosque, served as law court, place of study, community center, and hospice.

WAYS OF LIFE  

Parallel law codes led to many similarities in the way of life of traditional Jewish and Muslim communities. A sampling of similarities follows.

Synagogue and mosque services are both informal, with a great deal of coming and going; the absence of a priest in charge means that each person can pray on his own, adding an element of chaos to the proceedings. Women need not go to services; those who choose to are relegated to a separate section where they are less visible to men. References to God, to blessings and curses, and to ritual life permeate conversations among Jews and Muslims. But whereas Muslims invoke the Lord every few sentences, pious Jews never mention His name. In both religions, ritual purity requires ablutions after sexual relations, excretion, sleep, or eating. Before prayers, Jews pour water over their hands, while Muslims splash it over other parts of the body too.

Simple dietary regulations have vast social ramifications. Jews and Muslims are required to maintain stringent codes about eating meat and other foods. In order to supply themselves with proper food, they must band together and live in organized communities. Dietary laws have especially important consequences wherever Jews or Muslims are in a minority, setting them apart from the majority community.

Traditional educational systems bear striking resemblances. At about the age of five the sons of observant Jews and Muslims begin to memorize their holy book in primary school (beit sefer, kuttab), spending long hours six days a week repeating sounds in a strange language (not all the boys speak Hebrew or Arabic at home). Traditional Jews and Muslims consider memorization the soundest approach to learning; only by incorporating a text by heart can it be fully understood. To assist in this process, students sway back and forth, establishing a mnemonic rhythm. The classroom buzzes as students recite different assignments, each at his own pace, the teacher watching attentively for laziness or mistakes. And well he might, for a primary school instructor often lives off payments brought by students to class - fathers frequently test their sons at home and recompense the instructor according to their means and their satisfaction.

Some girls attend primary school, but they study at a much more relaxed pace and few go beyond the primary level.

After primary school, some boys go on to a higher school (yeshiva, madrasa) to learn the meaning of the holy book they have already in good part memorized. As the boys grow older, the emphasis of their study turns to the pervasive intellectual concern of Jews and Muslims: the divine law. Both peoples having subordinated other subjects - the humanities and sciences, for instance - over the centuries, concentration was focused on even on the most minor details of legal doctrine. In the process, much attention was shifted away from the Bible and Qur'an in favor of commentaries, glosses and superglosses. A regular course of study ends at about age twenty, when the student is acknowledged as learned.

Certain other likenesses have existed for many years, and still do. Rich-poor and male-female relations are cases in point. Both traditions view charity more as a way for the benefactor to gain favor in God's eyes than as a way for the supplicant to survive (although Jews think more about the social service of giving). Beggars in both societies know the function they serve and, as a result, they demonstrate a most remarkable insolence. Obligations to make donations are socially enforced, so the affluent have virtually no choice but to give, and often.

Traditional Jewish and Muslim laws also operate on the assumption that indiscriminate mingling of the sexes will destroy the social order. To avoid this, both communities structure daily life so that men and women are effectively separated from one another. Work, amusement, travel, even family relations are rigorously regulated. The Halakha requires men not to gaze at women; Muslims restrict contact between by isolating women from male spaces through the veil and harem. Males and females each inhabit their own sharply defined societies; the two sexes rarely deal with each other freely and familiarly, especially in Muslim society.

These sex regulations are more consistently enforced by the rich and the city-dwellers; the poor cannot afford them. Thus the impression exists that Judaism and Islam are preeminently middle-class, urban religions. For both, the city merchant came to epitomize the pious believer - an irony, for the Halakha and Shari'a both stringently prohibit usury, forcing merchants to contrive legal fictions in order to charge interest. As long as the letter of the law is fulfilled, the Jew or Muslim has acted correctly; here especially, it is the deed, not the intention which prevails.

Merchants took advantage of religious bonds to build up extensive commercial contacts. Before the age of rapid communications, a widely dispersed people enjoyed great advantages in trade; they could trust each other across wide distances and maintain long-term contacts. The Geniza, medieval Jewish writings preserved in Cairo, testify to a far-flung web of Jewish traders reaching from Spain to India. Muslim networks reached yet farther, from West Africa to China.

COPING WITH MODERN LIFE   

Traditional Jewish and Muslim ways of life have not fared well in recent times. Relatively few Jews still live in strict accordance with the Halakha. And while many Muslims do still observe the Shari'a, these are generally the believers least affected by modern life; in the cities especially, observance steadily decreases. As the rules fall into disuse, Jews and Muslims are increasingly stressing faith over action. By doing so, they forsake their own heritages in favor of the Christian approach to God.

Until the eighteenth century, Jews lived among Europeans without giving way to Christian influences. They did this by living in shelters and ghettos, maintaining the law, and usually turning their backs on anyone who entered mainstream Christian society (even if he, like Spinoza, remained a Jew). But since the late eighteenth century, Jewish isolation has diminished. Due to the Enlightenment, Christian influence receded from many aspects of life and a new, secularist culture developed. For the first time Jews were accepted into European society and culture. As Christianity's hold weakened, Jews entered society. They found themselves face to face with the dazzling changes taking place around them and many eagerly joined in the new intellectual, commercial and social pursuits.

The Halakha proved an obstacle to participation, however, and modern Jews increasingly abandoned it. As the Halakha lost its central place in Jewish life, much of Jewish tradition disappeared. By now, most Jews have become, effectively, Christianized, concerned more with attitude and intention toward God than with divine law.

Today's Jews have adopted wide range of attitudes towards maintenance of the law: some keep it as of old, others observe major portions such as kosher laws and sex restrictions, or small parts - prohibition of pork and fasting on Yom Kippur; still others totally ignore it. Anything goes; indeed, some Jews even developed a pride in this diversity of religious practices. This tolerance would have been utterly unthinkable a few generations ago, when not to keep the law was not to be a Jew. Though it remains a hot political issue in Israel, the battle over Halakha is over.

Muslims too face the temptations and challenges of Western culture, especially as the Europeans established virtual hegemony over the Muslim lands during the nineteenth century. Stunned by the success of these Christians, Muslims accepted many of their customs and along with religiously neutral borrowings such as military technology and sanitation, they also, willy-nilly, took up Christian notions of faith. Not a few Muslims today excuse their consumption of alcohol on the grounds that this is irrelevant to their deep faith in God.

Even so, the battle over the Shari'a still rages. Many Muslim leaders believe it possible to apply the law as of old, and respond with horror to suggestions that Muslims can transgress the Shari'a without fear of retribution on the Day of Resurrection. Events in Iran dramatize this problem. Modernized Iranians who long flouted the laws of Islam now must observe them or face punishment by a government whose first priority is to reapply the Shari'a.

While most Jews cheerfully accept modern life, Muslims contest every concession to it. As a result, Judaism today appears in many ways more akin to Christianity than to Islam; and in many ways it is. Yet this is new. For many centuries, adherence to divine law made Judaism and Islam kindred spirits. Conceivably they could be so one day again; but that will happen only when Muslims too abandon the law.

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