Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity

Cover of Shalom/Salaam
A Book by Tom Block, 2010

Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity is a groundbreaking study introducing to the popular reader, the story of respectful and loving interfaith relations between Sufis (Islamic mystics) and Jewish spiritual thinkers for nearly one thousand years.  From the inception of Islam, to the Golden Age (8th-12th centuries) Jewish-Sufis of Arabia, North Africa and Spain, through the Kabbalists in Spain and the Holy Land, and then into 18th century European Hasidism, Islamic and Jewish ideas commingled to influence both paths, as well as strongly influencing the Jewish mystical system.

This story is important to understanding contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations. As Egyptian Ambassador Sallama Shaker notes: "Block's narrative is an eye-opener for peace activists and politicians who are in search for genuine peace built on mutual respect – This is a 'must read book'." Rabbi Abi Ingber, Founding Director for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, concurs, saying: “His theories of interrelationships and mystical cross-fertilization wake up our historical senses and unabashedly challenge our contemporary assumptions.”

Many medieval Jews interacted with and were influenced by the Sufi way. Moses Maimonides, considered the pre-eminent Jewish medieval thinker, Solomon ibn Gabirol, whose "piyyut" are still sung during the Sabbath liturgy the world over, Judah Halevi, whose work, according to the chief Rabbi of Palestine in the early 20th century, contains that which is most precious about the Jewish soul and hundreds of other seminal Jewish thinkers often read Sufi treatises in Arabic, wrote Islamic-inspired mystical odes and sometimes even based their interpretations of Jewish tradition on Sufi thought and practice.

Some Jewish thinkers went so far as to quote Islamic thinkers directly. Fragments of Sufi tracts are woven through medieval Jewish writings, from those of Moses Maimonides' son Abraham, to Judah Halevi's "Sefer ha-Kuzari." Some Jewish thinkers, such as the 11th century Bahya ibn Pakuda, went so far as to rework the Jewish spiritual path in light of Sufi influence. His "Guide to the Duties of the Heart," which is still read by Jewish practitioners to this day, is essentially a Sufi mystical treatise, translated into Hebrew. Medieval Jewish libraries were sprinkled with Sufi and Islamic tracts, often translated into Hebrew, and some leaders, such as David Maimonides (15th century), went so far as to mention Muslims by name, with paeans to their virtuosity and wisdom.

This study demonstrates the deep and abiding respect that Jewish religious figures often had for Muslim thinkers. It also explores how Islamic influence reverberates within Judaism to this day. This book not only provides readers with a new perspective on Jewish spirituality, but also adds a vital study to the extant literature on Muslim-Jewish relations. It could change how contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations are considered, solidifying an appreciation for how deeply are these two religious paths interconnected.

More than just a historical work, this book provides a fresh perspective on the social, religious and political issues that have complicated Jewish-Muslim relations since the founding of Israel. Popularizing this little-known tale of mutual respect and spiritual love can activate a narrative of peace – so unusual in these difficult times in the Middle East –between these children of Abraham.

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