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Book Review: Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions and Complexities

2011 June 6

Last month, Palgrave Macmillan published a new book entitled Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions and Complexities.  The volume was co-edited by Reza Aslan and Aaron J. Hahn Tapper. Aslan is an acclaimed writer and professor at U.C. Irvine as well as the founder of Aslan Media, a nonprofit which focuses on discussing issues facing the Middle East and its diaspora. Tapper is a religious studies professor at the University of San Francisco and the co-executive director of Abraham’s Vision, an interfaith peacebuilding organization. The two met as Ph.D candidates in the religious studies department at U.C . Santa Barbara, where they  were both part of a group of Jewish and Muslim grad students who would get together once a month to break bread together and discuss issues that concerned both communities in the US, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Participating in these discussions convinced them of the need for more scholarship examining the similarities and differences between the Jewish-American and Muslim-American communities.

The book is divided into four thematic parts, with each containing four essays from members of both communities. The essays range from academic case studies to the more personal, such as a series of correspondence between a Muslim and a Jewish scholar about incorporating feminism into their religions.

A common theme that emerges throughout the volume is that both religious communities have much more in common than many might realize. According to Aslan, both communities are fairly equal in number, share similar historical experiences of being demonized, and are living in a diverse nation that is nonetheless founded on Protestant ideals. He believes that these experiences should serve to bring the two groups together, yet often they seem to tear them apart.

The book both highlights commonalities and challenges pre-conceived notions. It also consciously ends on a positive note, an essay by Rabbi Michael Lerner called “American Jews & American Muslims of Love”.  Tapper believes that positive stories about Muslim-Jewish relations serve as an important counterpoint to stories of hatred and violence, and that we ignore them at our peril.

Tapper and Aslan’s book plays an important role in increasing interfaith understanding.  It is only through sustained dialogue and knowledge of others’ perspectives that misperceptions and prejudices can be countered.

Have you read the book? Offer your perspectives.

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