04 June 2009

Children of Abraham

Apropos of President Obama's speech in Cairo this morning, I just finished reading my former professor, Dr. Reuven Firestone's book, An Introduction to Islam for Jews. (You may remember the article his wife, Rabbi Ruth Sohn, wrote for Reform Judaism magazine about his sabbatical in Cairo.) I recommended the book to my Tuesday morning class soon after I received it, but now I had a chance to read it and can fill in a few more details.

In 2003, Dr. Firestone participated with a noted Islamic scholar, Khalid Duran on the Ktav series, Children of Abraham, which created two books - An Introduction to Islam for Jews by Khalid and An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims by Firestone. The idea was that members of each community would reach across to explain their community to the other - the Jewish Rabbi for the Muslim community; the Muslim scholar for the Jews. I read Duran's book, for our class on the Koran and found it interesting, but a little dense. It also lost a bit in translation - that is from Islam to Judaism and vice versa. This new book (picture above) takes the opposite tack (a Jew explains Islam for Jews) and along the way fills an interesting gap - somewhere between Jewish Lights' How to Be a Perfect Stranger (a basic guide for someone wishing to visit the house of worship or religious ceremony of another faith - I highly recommend it) and an academic tome on Islamic history or the theology of Islam or a political science treatise on the Middle East.

Dr. Firestone's conceit is to humanize Muslims through Jewish language and concepts - giving a basic outline of the history and development of Islam and its current practices and practioners, while comparing commonalities - for example, the pillar of Islam known as zakat - the mandated giving of charity and the Jewish custom of tzedakah. In truth, he may be in danger of being called an apologist by those who are not ready to hear that there are extremists and extreme texts both in Judaism and the Tanach and in Islam and the Koran. But, as a non-Muslim, he also runs the danger of his explanations being disputed and dismissed (as he was for his lecture in Cairo in 2007 - for more see my sermon on the subject) by the community on the other side. Balancing on this tightrope, Dr. Firestone is carried through by his passion to convey the love that he has for Islam, for Islamic culture and history, and for the friends that he has made throughout the Islamic world. For those who know little about Islam and would like a basic history as well as background, the book is an easy read. For those who know a little bit, perhaps have looked at the Koran in translation, it is also a useful summation of different areas. If you do read it, please let me know what you think.

No comments:

Post a Comment