New book examines Muslims, Jews — and their common ground

Posted on May 27, 2011

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Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions and Complexities

Emma Silvers, Jweekly.com

Last summer, as the debate over the Islamic community center near ground zero reached a fever pitch, longtime friends and former classmates Reza Aslan and Aaron Hahn Tapper were watching, fascinated.

“There were some Jewish organizations coming down on the rights of Muslims to build that center, and then some other Jewish organizations were coming out in favor of it — and criticizing those other organizations — and it just seemed like such a perfect example of how complex that relationship really is,” said Aslan, an internationally acclaimed religious scholar, writer and professor at U.C. Irvine. “That was a moment where we thought, ‘It’s time for this kind of book.’ ”

“Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions and Complexities,” a collection of essays by preeminent religious leaders, thinkers and innovators — eight of them Muslim, eight Jewish — is the result of a longstanding friendship between Aslan and Tapper.

As Ph.D. candidates in the religious studies department at U.C. Santa Barbara, the two were part of an informal group that turned out to be fundamental to their education.

“Every fourth Friday, a group of Muslim grad students and Jewish grad students would get together, break bread and just talk in a very real and sometimes confrontational way about the issues that divided us in the United States, and the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had infiltrated America in the post 9/11 world,” explained Aslan, who was born in Iran and grew up in the Bay Area. “So this issue of the commonalities and contention between America’s Muslim and Jewish communities is something we’ve been dealing with for a very long time.”

Following graduation, Tapper channeled those experiences into Abraham’s Vision, an 18-year-old organization that encourages Jewish and Muslim high school and college students to explore their identities through hands-on workshops, trips and political education.

Still, said Tapper — now a religious studies professor at University of San Francisco, in addition to the co-executive director of Abraham’s Vision — the collection seemed necessary. [Please click here to read the whole book review.]

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