Two leading scholars of Islam and Judaism addressed a large audience in Campbell Hall on Sunday afternoon to discuss the various tensions and similarities between Jews and Muslims.
Rabbi A. James Rudin, the senior inter-religious adviser of the American Jewish Committee, and Dr. Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and a professor at American University, were speakers at the discussion, titled “Judaism and Islam: A Conversation.” The UCSB Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Foundation Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies sponsored the event. The audience, consisting of about 700 students and Santa Barbara residents, listened to Rudin and Ahmed present their individual analyses of the nature and future of Jewish-Islamic relations. After they finished, the speakers held a short question and answer session moderated by the Rev. Anne S. Howard of the Trinity Episcopal Church.
Ahmed said one of the reasons Jews and Muslims must set aside their differences is their common lineage. Judaism and Islam are two of three Abrahamic religions in the world, the other being Christianity. Jews are descended from Abraham through his son Isaac, just as Muslims owe their lineage to Abraham’s other son Ishmael, Ahmed said.
“To me, Isaac and Ishmael are both sons of Abraham,” Ahmed said. “If I love Abraham, I love both sons of Abraham.”
Besides their familial ties, Judaism and Islam share many beliefs and customs, Ahmed said. Both religions believe in an omnipotent God, the Ten Commandments, prophets of Hebrew Scriptures and a responsibility to be moral individuals, he said. Ahmed also said Jews and Muslims have many similarities, but their differences have polarized the two religions to a point where neither understands the other.
Rudin said Jews and Muslims have had many instances of cooperation and peaceful co-habitation throughout history.
“There were shadows and there was sunlight,” Rudin said.
Jews and Muslims, for instance, lived in relative peace together in Spain from the year 711 until 1492, when the Spanish monarchy began expelling both religions, Rudin said.
As part of the question and answer section, Ahmed and Rudin responded to a query about Islamic terrorists and suicide bombers. Ahmed said the actions of suicide bombings are inconsistent with the teachings of Islam because both murder and suicide are condemned actions. According to a Jewish saying, taking another’s life affects more than one could ever know, Ahmed said.
“If you take the life of one individual, you take the entire universe,” Ahmed said.
One way to stop the violence in the Middle East is through the cooperation of the majority, Ahmed said.
“Dialogue is absolutely essential,” he said. “It isn’t a question of having a dialogue with [the terrorists]. It’s a question of bringing the mainstream community with you.”
Rudin said dialogue between Jews and Muslims has increased dramatically since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Though there have been some advances in these discussions, Jews and Muslims are far from a solution to the violence between them.
“We’re playing the very highest of stakes,” Rudin said. “History will not be kind to us if we fail.”
One of the hindrances to a peaceful solution for Jews and Muslims is continued stereotyping and racism, Rudin said. Racist images of Jews from Nazi Germany have been exported to the Middle East, he said. The images have reinforced pre-existing anti-Semitic feelings, Rudin said.
“If you don’t like something that’s alien or foreign, it’s a Jew,” Rudin said.
Ahmed said racism is counterproductive to making peace between the two religions.
“No Muslim that’s a practicing Muslim can be anti-Semitic,” Ahmed said.
After answering three questions, the discussion was adjourned, though Rudin and Ahmed remained on stage to sign books. UCSB professor of religious studies Richard Hecht said that, though it was a successful event, a lengthier discussion was needed to address all the issues surrounding Jewish-Islamic relations.
“We only can have one hour and 45 minutes [in Campbell Hall],” Hecht said. “Obviously, an hour and 45 minutes is not sufficient to get done what needs to be done.”
Several students from Hecht’s Religious Studies 130 class on Judaism attended the lecture for class credit. Second-year religious studies major Deborah Jin said she was impressed with the speakers.
“I really like that they weren’t attacking each other,” Jin said. “It’s refreshing. There’s [usually] a lot of hostility [between Jews and Muslims].”