The Rabbis Who Saw Sanctity in Islam

March 24, 2023 | Yaakov Nagen
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In a daring passage in his code of Jewish law, Moses Maimonides (1138–1204) asserted that both Islam and Christianity are part of a divine plan to bring faith in the One God to the Gentile world. Despite his personal experience with Muslim persecution of Jews, Maimonides appreciated Islam especially for its “unblemished” commitment to monotheism. Yaakov Nagen examines these and other rabbinic observations on the close theological connection between the children of Jacob and the children of Ishmael:

[T]he Muslim story itself is built on the biblical story. The character who is mentioned most frequently in the Quran is Moses (more than 100 times, in contrast to Mohammad who is mentioned only four times), and the Jewish people are mentioned dozens of times. Islam, like Christianity, became a vessel for spreading the biblical story throughout the world.

In contrast to Christianity, our relationship with Islam also has an ethnic aspect, because Jews and Arabs see each other as descendants of Abraham. Indeed, our similarity, both theologically and ethnically, has led to Islam often being treated differently from other non-Jewish faiths in rabbinic sources.

Rabbi Jacob Emden (1698-1776) took another step. Following Maimonides, he saw the hand of God in the spread of Christianity and Islam: “The two families that God chose to subdue many nations, to bring them under the yoke of the beliefs and positions that are necessary for settling the world and improving the national collective.” . . . In his eyes, Islam, like Christianity, contains truth, and these religions are fitting for the nations of the world.

A more far-reaching approach is that of the sages who saw Islam—and particularly the Quran—not only as a product of divine providence but also of divine revelation.

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