Muslims and Jews in America

Jews and Muslims make up less than 3% of the total population of the United States. Yet, despite their relatively small numbers, the members of these two minority groups often find themselves the focus of a disproportionate amount of media attention, particularly when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beyond such international issues, American Jews and American Muslims find themselves struggling with similar inter-communal concerns when it comes to matters like education (for example tensions between student populations of Jews and Muslims on university campuses), politics (such as the swearing in of the first Muslim Congressman in the House of Representatives, Keith Ellison, or the omnipresent emails and robo-calls linking President Obama to the Muslim community that emerged during the 2008 Presidential election), or even pop culture (think of such recent Hollywood productions asKingdom in Heaven, Munich, Paradise Now, and Traitor, to name but a few). In all of these matters, American Jews and American Muslims have consistently engaged each other in conversation – whether directly or indirectly; constructive or not – in ways that have usually eluded their co-religionists throughout the rest of the world. This has partly to do with America’s ethos as a “melting pot” of different religions, ethnicities, and cultures. But it also has to do with the innovative ways in which Judaism and Islam have absorbed, and been radically altered, by the so-called “American experience.”

This book is an exploration of contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations in the United States and the distinct and often creative ways in which these two communities interact with one another in the American context. Each essay discusses a different episode from the recent twentieth and current twenty-first century American milieu that links these two groups together. Some deal with case examples of local inter-communal interaction, such as “dialogue groups,” which can help us better understand national trends of similar activities in other parts of the country. Others focus on national trends themselves, thus giving us greater insights into individual incidents.


“What has transpired in the last fifteen years vis-a -vis Jewish-Muslim relations among American actors has been groundbreaking and naturally wrought with significant tension and missteps, but also growth, as evidenced by the two speeches included in the volume by Dr. Ingrid Mattson and Rabbi Eric Yoffie. The collection of essays speaks to how far both communities have come within America and how far the communities need to advance. It is critical that the discourse on such a topic reflect the realities happening in American neighborhoods today. Because not a single book published – as far as I know – on Jewish-Muslim relations focuses on such tensions in American cities and how these tensions are perceived by their respective communities through the prism of nightly news or the sermons delivered on Friday or Saturday, this book will be breaking new ground, both for academics and activists.” – al-Husein N. Madhany, Advisor to and Senior Fellow, Homeland Security Policy Institute, George Washington University

“The sophistication and acuity of the penetrating essays in this volume usher in a new era of maturity in Jewish-Muslim dialogue in America. While focusing on our common interests, the articles confront head-on the seemingly intractable differences that divide us. Muslims and Jews in America offers hope for the future of these two major American religions.” – Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary, and author of Sage Tales

“This is a terrific book – helpful and hopeful and healing – written by Muslims and Jews who care about each other and care about America. They show that they have more in common with each other than what divides them, and their positive and realistic approach to interfaith relations should be a model for peace in the Middle East.” – Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

‘Feldman suggests that Jews and Muslims share the experience of being religious minorities in America; Asian and Tapper’s Muslims and Jews in America echoes this point, exploring parallels and points of divergence.’ – Tablet


Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of Middle Eastern Studies, is a fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy and Middle East Analyst for CBS News. He is also a featured blogger for Anderson Cooper 360. Aslan has graduated from Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He serves on the board of directors for the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues, Abraham’s Vision, a conflict transformation organization, and PEN USA. Aslan’s first book is the New York Times Bestselling, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into thirteen languages, short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award in the UK, and nominated for a PEN USA award for research Non-Fiction. His second book, How to Win a Cosmic War, was published and released by Random House in April 2009, followed by an edited anthology, Words Without Borders: Contemporary Literature from the Muslim World, scheduled to published by Norton in 2010. Aslan is co-founder and creative director of BoomGen Studios, a hub for creative content from and about the Middle East, as well as the Editorial Executive of, an on-line community for Muslim youth. Born in Iran, he now lives in Los Angeles where he is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at University of California, Riverside.

Dr. Aaron J. Hahn Tapper is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of Abraham’s Vision, a conflict transformation organization founded in 2003 and based in San Francisco that works within and between the Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, and Palestinian communities. Currently an Assistant Professor in the Theology and Religious Studies Department of the University of San Francisco, holding the Swig Chair of Judaic Studies, he is the founding Director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, the first academic program in the country formally linking these two fields. Hahn Tapper also co-founded and co-runs the Center for Transformative Education. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Hahn Tapper previously lived in the Middle East for five years—four years in Jerusalem and one year in Cairo—and traveled extensively in Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and Syria. He received a BA from Johns Hopkins University, majoring in Psychology, a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School, focusing on World Religions, and a PhD in Comparative Religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his doctoral dissertation, “From Gaza to the Golan: Religious Nonviolence, Power, and the Politics of Interpretation,” explored the relationship between the socio-political context of Israel and Palestine, religious law, and power. He studied previously at Bir Zeit University while serving as a Harvard University Frederick Sheldon Fellow, and served as a Legal Intern with the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has also been a Fulbright-Hays scholar and a Wexner Graduate Fellow. Hahn Tapper has been involved in Jewish education for two decades, shifting his focus towards Jewish-Arab, Jewish-Muslim, and Israeli-Palestinian education ten years ago.

Table of Contents

Preface–Congressman Keith Ellison * Introduction–Reza Aslan * Part I. Case Examples: Lessons Learned? * You Can’t Handle the Truth… or Maybe You Can–Rabbi Brad Hirschfield * Who Put Hate in my Sunday Paper: Uncovering the Israeli-Republican-Evangelical Networks behind the “Obsession” DVD–Omid Safi * Children of Abraham in Dialogue–Rabbi Amy Eilberg * The Khalil Gibran International Academy—Lessons Learned?–Debbie Almontaser * Part II. Identity Formation: Muslims, Jews, and the American Experience * Evolving from Muslims in America to American Muslims: A Shared Trajectory with the American Jewish Community–Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf * The War of Words: Jews, Muslims, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on American University Campuses–Aaron J. Hahn Tapper * Muslims, Jews, and Religious Visibility on American College Campuses–Taymiya Zaman * J Street and Current Directions in American Muslim-Jewish Dialogue–Hannah Ellenson and Rabbi David Ellenson * Part III. Challenges and Opportunities in Reaching Across the Divide * Introduction to Speeches by Rabbi Eric Yoffie and Dr. Ingrid Mattson–Sayyid Syeed * Inaugural Address at the 44th Convention of the Islamic Society of North America–Rabbi Eric Yoffie * Address at the 69th Conference of the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism–Ingrid Mattson * Integration or Separation: The Relationship between Iranian Jewish and Iranian Muslim Communities in Los Angeles–Saba Soomekh * Challenges and Opportunities for Muslim-Jewish Peacemaking in America–Salam Al-Marayati * Part IV. Toward the Future: New Models in Jewish-Muslim Relations * Beyond Sarah and Hagar: Jewish and Muslim Reflections on Feminist Theology–Aysha Hidayatullah and Judith Plaskow * Status Quo vs. Solution: A Middle East Playbook–Eboo Patel * Sacred Text Study as Dialogue between Muslims and Jews–Reuven Firestone and Hebbah Farrag * American Jews and American Muslims of Love–Rabbi Michael Lerner * Afterword–Peter A. Geffen


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