Fast Facts: A few things you didn’t know about Jewish-Muslim relations

A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations -- Edited by Abdelwahab Meddeb & Benjamin StoraThis is the first encyclopedic guide to the history of relations between Jews and Muslims around the world from the birth of Islam to today. Richly illustrated and beautifully produced, the book features more than 150 authoritative and accessible articles by an international team of leading experts in history, politics, literature, anthropology, and philosophy. Organized thematically and chronologically, this indispensable reference provides critical facts and balanced context for greater historical understanding and a more informed dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

Part I covers the medieval period; Part II, the early modern period through the nineteenth century, in the Ottoman Empire, Africa, Asia, and Europe; Part III, the twentieth century, including the exile of Jews from the Muslim world, Jews and Muslims in Israel, and Jewish-Muslim politics; and Part IV, intersections between Jewish and Muslim origins, philosophy, scholarship, art, ritual, and beliefs. The main articles address major topics such as the Jews of Arabia at the origin of Islam; special profiles cover important individuals and places; and excerpts from primary sources provide contemporary views on historical events.

Contributors include Mark R. Cohen, Alain Dieckhoff, Michael Laskier, Vera Moreen, Gordon D. Newby, Marina Rustow, Daniel Schroeter, Kirsten Schulze, Mark Tessler, John Tolan, Gilles Veinstein, and many more.


This work, comprised of articles, portraits and spotlights on particular subjects (“Nota Bene”), and excerpts from primary sources (“Counterpoint”), emphasizes a global approach to Jewish-Muslim relations throughout history. It also reveals some facts that might surprise readers. Here are a few examples.

  • In some religious texts written in Arabic from the Jews of Andalusia, God is called “Allah,” and the terms “imam” and “minbar” are used to designate the leader and the pulpit, respectively; one even finds “Qur’an” for “Torah,” even though the latter exists in classical Arabic in the form “tawrat.”


  • Located in Hamadan in the north of Iran, the tomb of Esther (a biblical Jewish heroine who saved her people from a genocide in Persia) is a place of Jewish pilgrimage, but also a holy site for Christians and Muslims. In 2009, it was added to the list of national treasures of the Islamic Republic.


  • In the early centuries of Islam, the development of Arabic was, paradoxically, a major factor in the renaissance of written Hebrew. In order to conform to the purest possible version of classical Quranic Arabic, Muslim scribes had to develop grammar, syntax, and a lexicon. The Jews adopted these disciplines to apply to their study of Hebrew and of biblical texts, and thus invented true Hebrew linguistics.


  •  The idea of “Semitism,” which first appeared at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the field of comparative grammar, was mistakenly brought into the religious and cultural spheres, and then revived in an anti-scientific manner by racial theories in the name of nationalism and colonialism. Today the idea is contested, even within the linguistic context in which it has always resided.


  • The legendary motifs of the origins of Judaism—notably, the power of Solomon over the rebel genies—inspired the Thousand and One Nights, along with other Persian, Indian, and Arab stories.


  • It was under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent that the Jews were allowed to develop the space in front of the Western Wall (the remains of the Second Temple that the West calls the Wailing Wall), which gradually became a major site of devotion.


  • In 1942, the Sultan of Morocco, Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef (the future King Mohammed V), received delegations of Jews who came to tell him of their grievances in the face of anti-Semitic laws imposed by the Vichy authorities. The Sultan reaffirmed the right of all of his subjects to sovereign protection, and thereafter invited notable Jews to all of the official ceremonies and to the Feast of the Throne. A “Square of Mohammed V” exists in the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel.


  • In scientific institutions and journals in the Islamic Republic of Iran, works of contemporary Jewish intellectuals are regularly recognized in Iranian studies, Islamic studies, and even in the history of the Qur’an and hadith. These works are translated and studied, and some win official awards.


  • In Israel, where civil marriage and divorce do not exist, Muslim religious tribunals, under some circumstances, are authorized to address questions of family law, and to apply sharia within certain constraints. This situation represents a legacy of the Ottoman millet system, which was formerly applied in Palestine. For their part, Israeli civil tribunals are sometimes called upon, for certain specific matrimonial questions, to apply the laws of sharia.


  • While the Holocaust took place mainly in Christian territories, more than seventy Muslims have been counted as “Righteous Among the Nations.” The Yad Vashem Institute awarded this title, notably, to a Turkish diplomat, to Tatars in the former Soviet Union, and especially to Bosnians and Albanians. For the latter, saving the Jews was based on a traditional code of honor, Besa, which literally signifies “to keep the promise.”