Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jewish Arabs and Arabia

Jewish Arabs and a New Middle East

I noticed in various texts and articles that Jews from the Middle East, who often originated from Spain/Al-Andalus, were referred to by scholars not only as Sephardim but as Arab Jews, says Marc Gopin.

WASHINGTON - In 1998, Prince Hassan of Jordan appeared on video at the University of Notre Dame, marking one of the first academic conferences in the field of religion and conflict resolution. As he spoke via teleconference, he quoted at length and with great love from the writings of Moses Maimonides—the world-famous medieval Jewish philosopher who had been a chief conduit between Arab neo-Aristotelian philosophy and the Christian world.

It was already a thrilling moment for me – the conference was the first that I attended as an academic speaker – but Maimonides was part and parcel of my sequestered religious childhood. I went to school for 13 years as a child at a place called Maimonides School, and prayed there on Sundays and Saturdays. For Prince Hassan, a major figure of the Arab world, to be embracing Maimonides felt like an extraordinary inter-cultural and inter-religious gesture. I was so moved that I had to say something to the plenary meeting.

Then I got a shock.
When I shared my feelings of gratitude publicly, someone from the audience of scholars responded quite forcefully, "But he is our Maimonides, one of the great Arab philosophers of history." I think that if I were brought up with more Jewish wounds than I had ('Jewishness' could be defined by how many and how deep your wounds are), I might have taken offense. But I did not, and was instead stunned, intrigued, and amused at the playful re-orientation of identities afoot in the room.
That was one of those life-changing moments for me. In that instant I realized the truth of Gandhi's words when he claimed that, the more fluid and multiple our identities, the easier peace and coexistence can flourish at a very profound level. I noticed later in various texts and articles that Jews from the Middle East, who often originated from Spain/Al-Andalus, were referred to by scholars not only as Sephardim but as Arab Jews.

One decade later, Prince Turki, Saudi Arabia's current National Security Adviser and former Ambassador to America, said it was time for Israel to respond to the Arab League's 2002 offer to integrate into the Middle East. After fully withdrawing to the 1967 borders, after realizing a just two-state solution with the Palestinians—then, he added crucially, Israelis could become Arab Jews of the Middle East.

This went unnoticed by most of the enlightened press, presumably because Al Qaeda was not mentioned and no blood of Arabs or Jews was spilled. But at a deeper level, blood was very involved: this former head of intelligence – from a country from which so much of the extremism of the Middle East had emerged – was now utterly redefining identity, family, tribe and clan in terms of ethical relationships, in terms of peace and justice.

In the pages of The Forward, a centrist Jewish journal, some people reacted to Prince Turki's offer as insulting. They assumed that it was an offer from the majority group of the Middle East for a minority to attain some subsumed and subjugated status. But after working with Prince Turki for years at the World Economic Forum, I saw that he embraced the interfaith moment as a moment of absolute equality. He was suggesting, from within the most conservative religious environment in the Middle East, that "Arab" was an ethical term of belonging and community, not a racial or tribal term. It would be like the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Israel saying that if Palestinians can live in peace with us then they will be our Jewish brothers. I have never heard anyone, no matter how progressive, say this.

Prince Turki went to the heart of the matter, to the question of how the definition of identity can drive us away from hatred, fear, and war, toward the peaceful embrace of the other, or, alternatively, how much identity can stand in the way of all rational negotiation. He has placed a challenge before every Jew and Arab as to who they really are, and who they will be in the future of the Middle East.

Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C. He can be reached at

This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at GCNews.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Email to:

Voice of Moderate Muslims

Voice of Moderate Muslims
Voice of Moderate Muslims

Moderate Islam Speaker

Moderate Islam Speaker
Moderate Islam Speaker

quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.