Recalling an era of Jewish-Muslim accord

Recalling an era of Jewish-Muslim accord

In the pre-modern Islamic world, respectful dialogue and debate between Christians, Muslims, and Jewish scholars were not uncommon.

That period of cooperation in the 13th-15th centuries in pre-Inquisition Spain and in the eastern regions, including Persia and Iraq, was marked by running dialogues on religious traditions and philosophy.

On Sunday, March 13, Muslim scholar Dr. Bilal Ibrahim will speak at Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson about that ancient spirit of cooperation. 

“Muslims, Jews, and Christians actually spoke of theological issues in ways that were collaborative and in the spirit of communication and not in the context of a debate or conflict, but rather one of inquiry,” said Ibrahim, an assistant professor of history at Brooklyn College.

A specialist on the Islamic world, Ibrahim grew up in Toronto and attended McGill University in Montreal, majoring in Islamic studies. Before joining Brooklyn College in 2015, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley.

Much of Ibrahim’s research has focused on the cross-pollination of philosophy, theology, and science in the early Islamic world. 

In a phone interview with NJJN, Ibrahim said it would not have been unusual for scholars from all three religions to weigh in on the use of reason in Christian scripture, or proof of God in the theological infrastructure of all three faiths. 

“They would look at each other’s proofs and argue for or against them,” he said. He cited the work of Jewish physician and philosopher Ibn Kammuna, who lived in 13th-century Baghdad.

“He raised a puzzle regarding the oneness of God that set off a century of debate between Muslims and Jews about whether we can know one God or not,” said Ibrahim.

Ibrahim said a number of rabbis wrote commentaries that both critiqued and offered positive thoughts on Islamic legal theory.

This fostered an atmosphere in which Jews and Muslims could come together “in instances of conflict focusing on a tradition that would allow them to discuss things openly. It was a widespread kind of phenomenon,” said Ibrahim.

Even today, he said, because Muslims generally are newer to North American traditions and society, he believes they have much to learn from the more established Jewish community. 

And while focusing on this long-ago period of history might seem a bit arcane, Ibrahim said it has much to teach modern adherents of these faiths.

“I don’t see it as irrelevant, but rather as a means to foster discourse in our communities,” said Ibrahim. “The only way to converse with each other is to understand the other’s perspective.”

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