Teaching the importance of Islamic sources in the works of great Jewish thinkers can create an awareness of the possibilities of encounter. This educational process would be an internal Jewish endeavor and could carry important implications. First and foremost, if Jews are taught about the prior integration of the two faiths then there would be greater clarity that the political war between Arabs and Jews is not a faith war. It could promote an understanding that Islam and Judaism can coexist.
The Catholic Church moved from teaching contempt to recognizing Judaism as a living faith. We cannot preclude giving any group in Islam that wants dialogue the chance to change and slowly learn tolerance and respect, especially since it serves their own needs for entering a global economy. We recognize that certain Islamic countries currently have a lack of religious freedom, fund hateful literature, have negative views of Judaism, and fail to recognize the State of Israel.
But we cannot compare their worst comments to our best. Both sides have saints and both sides have advocates of hatred. We must, however, remember heroic figures, such as Sister Rose Thering, who confronted her own church with the anti-Semitism that was being taught in its textbooks and helped bring about an interfaith revolution.
In the interim, we need to give those that seek encounter our support. We must not look to the past and use that to dissuade us from working with our counterparts now and in the future. One must first transcend the past and look to the future, then one must transcend polemical arguments on both sides, and then give precedence to common points. But we can look to the past to see how long it took most Western countries to achieve the liberties of the modern world, and know that it will also take many Muslim countries time to achieve this openness.
Such starting points will allow for a positive future Jewish theology of Islam.
Excerpted by permission from “Judaism and World Religions”