- Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims, and: Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews
Khalid Durán and Reuven Firestone have produced an important milestone in Jewish-Muslim relations. The two volumes of Children of Abraham serve a dire need: books designed to foster better Muslim-Jewish understanding, through knowledgeable, authoritative, and instructive works instructing each about the other. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) should be congratulated for its sponsorship of these volumes. (I shall refer to Durán as sole author for the sake of convenience; Durán acknowledges his debt to Abdelwahab Hechiche for his preparatory work, considering him a coauthor.) Although both authors are scholars, these books are written for a very specific context, and need to be seen not within the context of their contributions to our understanding of each religious tradition or their utility as college textbooks, but within the framework of interreligious dialogue and discourse.
This project strives for a goal which, unfortunately, has only proven to be more elusive since these volumes appeared. Over two decades ago, the late Ismail Raji al-Faruqi lamented the sorry state of Muslim-Jewish dialogue. Al-Faruqi praised the progress made by Jewish-Christian dialogue, but characterized Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue as nearly non-existent. Since his time (and his most untimely death), there has been a steady growth in Muslim-Jewish interaction. In North America, this was only partially the result of political events concerning the Middle East in the 1990s, especially the Oslo process. At least two additional factors are important in the North American sphere: the phenomenal growth of the Muslim population here, and the increasing emphasis on multiculturalism. The former has led to an increasing supply of articulate spokespersons for Islam in positions in which they are likely to be involved in interfaith dialogue, the latter to the replacement of the notion of a shared “Judaeo-Christian” tradition by “Abrahamic Faiths,” or other nomenclature, referring to three traditions: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. An important result is the rise in Jewish-Muslim interactions, both in their frequency and in the assumption that they are necessary. The changed situation is illustrated by the strength of this phenomenon after the beginning of what is sometimes called the Second Intifada in September 2000, and after the bombings of September 2001. Although the new realities meant that many such [End Page 131] dialogues were highly ideological and had little in the way of actual interchange of ideas, the fact that they continued at all is still highly significant. Nevertheless, while they may have demonstrated their persistence, the jury is still out regarding whether, overall, the achievements, quality, and content of such interactions warrant any revision of Al-Faruqi’s assessment of the paucity of results of Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
Khalid Durán is one of the leading proponents of interreligious dialogue within the Muslim community. He has been involved in serious “trialogue” since 1985, and has met frequently with Muslim, Christians, and Jews in a variety of frameworks. Durán is probably best known for his approach to Islamic issues (his approach, evident from his volume, will be illustrated below), and for his work in Islamic-Christian relations. Reuven Firestone is firmly planted in the Jewish mainstream: he has Rabbinic ordination and teaches at HUC-JIR; but Islamic history and lore has been the focus of his scholarship. He has written important studies, inter alia, on stories of Abraham in Judaism and Islam (in particular the account of the sacrifice of Abraham’s son), and on Holy War in early Islam, and has previously written materials on Islam for the AJC.
Though the task set before both authors was similar, the communities are different, the questions and issues are different, and it is not surprising that the results are...