Summary: Ch. 12 Jewish – Muslim Relations: Middle East

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From the Crescent and the Couch: Crosscurrents Between Islam & Psychoanalysis,

edited by Salman Akhtar

In this chapter, Montville quotes the 1988 Hamas Covenant: “The injustice of next-of-kin is harder to bear than the smite of the Indian sword.” The ‘kin’ component leads to a review of the intimate historical relationship between Jews and Muslims. Starting with Muhammad’s time in Mecca and Medina from the late 6th to early 7th century, and Muslim Spain, 711 C.E. through 10th century –there is a lot to learn from the rich shared history. However, this creative period in Muslim – Jewish relations came to a brutal end with the Spanish reconquista in 1492.

Zionism, a Jewish national movement would arise from the despair experienced under European Christendom.  The quest for a Jewish state that would make all Jews safe was forged in the crucible of enduring Christian hatred of Jews collectively and for all time for their alleged responsibility in the crucifixion of Christ. The establishment of Israel would profoundly affect the tradition of close Jewish – Muslim relations dating back to the time of Prophet Muhammad.

It is important to remember this early history correctly, because of the widespread belief that Islam has been an enemy from the beginning. The prophet did criticize Jews for failing to live up to their religion, as did the Biblical prophets and Jesus. In response to political exigencies of the time, later Muslim chroniclers put anti-Jewish words into the mouth of the Prophet that are completely inconsistent with his belief that the Jews, Christian, and Muslims were all part of a monotheistic family. Although each faith comprised its own distinct religious community, together they formed one united Ummah.

Turning to Jews and Muslims today, Montville says Zionism was produced by a history of pogroms, mass murder, and misery in Christian Europe. This history has nothing to do with the life of Jews under Muslim rule. Arabs and Muslims must learn this history if they are to get a conceptual grip on the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians and other Arabs in the 21st century. “Christendom is the father of Zionism, and Christendom owes an enormous moral debt to Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and the Palestinian people, to the Arab and Muslim world.” The holocaust was not a freak Nazi phenomenon.  It was the consequence of nearly two millennia of persecution and killing of the Jews in Europe by Christians — revenge for those who allegedly killed Jesus.

Where does this history lead us? Montville suggests the ‘conscious realization on both sides that they share a good deal of common ground in the religious ordering of their lives in the past, and that much of their cultural achievement springs from the same spiritual roots. To become aware of one’s roots is the first step for believer and agnostic alike, on both sides, toward forging a new link for the future on a basis more solid and stable than political expediency and material aspirations.