Jewish-Muslim Relations Past and Present

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Jews and Muslims Exploring Each Others Sacred Texts

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Naomi Seidman, left, explains the layout of a Torah page to a Muslim-Jewish text study class in Berkeley while co-instructor Hatem Bazian looks on, Feb. 2, 2010. (A.H.  Sellars)This is a new graduate level course that is also open to the general public at Berkeley, California. It is about religious literacy which means being informed about the faith of the other and correcting misunderstandings that are often based on media bias. This is excellent as a form of dialogue and follows in the footsteps of scriptural reasoning groups I know of in the UK. The Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations Relations at the University of Cambridge does similar work with its e-learning programme on the Muslim-Jewish encounter and its support of scriptural reasoning.

As the article says, this is an innovative programme at Berkeley that looks set to spread to other institutions if funding can be found. It certainly deserves funding as this is a means by which participants come to know one another without the usual pressure of politics and the understandably emotional reaction to the other that can happen when Jews and Muslims speak about Israel and Palestine. Instead, this method of dialogue constitutes a sharing of rich spiritual texts that can be appreciated without any agenda to claim superiority of the one over the other. As the article notes:

Instructors in both courses say that bringing together adherents of both faiths in text-centered dialogue defuses some of the tensions that typically crop up in interfaith groups by focusing attention in a third direction: the page of a book.

“The experience of reading a Torah story we know as it appears in the Koran, seeing where it overlaps and differs, is very moving,” Firestone says. “It elicits questions. Your dialogue partner becomes the representative of a deeply fascinating religious tradition” rather than someone you’re trying to persuade of the rightness of your cause.

To read the full article click here

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