What Muslims Can Learn from Moses Mendelssohn

Feb. 21 2017

While some have argued that Islam needs a Martin Luther-like figure to reform the religion, the Muslim theologian Mustafa Akyol argues that his coreligionists could gain more from someone like Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the German Jewish philosopher who was among the founders of the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Akyol writes:

[There are numerous] similarities between [Mendelssohn’s] arguments and the arguments of contemporary Muslim reformists. Mendelssohn offered a new interpretation of Judaism where Jews could be true to their faith while being full members of Gentile society. He argued against religious coercion among Jews, with the argument that only under freedom can genuine religiosity flourish. These are the exact same issues that Muslim liberals are dealing with today.

It is notable that Mendelssohn was criticized in his time both by more conservative Jews, who found him too liberal, and by Gentile skeptics, who found him too Jewish. One of the latter, a Christian writer named August Friedrich Cranz, judged Mendelssohn’s reformism a hopeless effort. For Cranz, Judaism was a religion of “armed ecclesiastical law,” and Jews would never be able to accept freedom of religion unless they “directly contradict” the faith of their forefathers. He sounds like [those] today who . . . think there can be no real Muslim liberals except the ones who really cease to be Muslims.

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Read more at Forward

More about: Haskalah, History & Ideas, Islam, Judaism, Moderate Islam, Moses Mendelssohn

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem