(RNS) — Muslim founders of a museum in the Persian Gulf state of the United Arab Emirates welcome a small group from the flagship Jewish Orthodox University of the United States in April 2021 around Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance day. The head of the school will deliver a keynote address at the Arab nation’s first Holocaust commemoration, before a group of Jewish scholars are invited to watch a letter from Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism letter. Visitors noticed that there was a mezuzah on the gatepost of the museum.
“When I told this story to my parents,” said Rabbi Stuart Halpern, “they said, ‘Is the Messiah behind you? Who could have imagined that we’d live to see a day like this?'”
The unexpected welcome culminated in a historic conference, which will be held at the same “Crossroads of Civilizations” museum in Dubai on Wednesday (May 3). Yeshiva University in New York and the Mohamed bin Zayed University for the Humanities in Abu Dhabi will participate in the inaugural “Interactive Philosophy, Shared Friendship” conference on the interplay of Islam and Judaism, with a focus on medieval scholar and physician Moses Maimonides.
“Given the complex historical relationship between Judaism and Islam, it is significant to have such joint action over a thousand and a half years or so, to say the least,” said Halpern, senior advisor to the provost and vice provost. Ye Shi Director of the Strauss Center at the University of Va.
Halpern coordinated the meeting with Ahmed Almansoori, a businessman, former government official and founder of the museum that hosts the only permanent Holocaust exhibit in an Arab country.
Five students from Yeshiva Stern College for Women – selected for their academic achievements in religion, philosophy and politics – will join three faculty members and two academics from YU and a student from bin Zayed University About twelve students. The first day of the academic session will end with a Kosher dinner. The next day, the YU contingent will make a quick trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, to visit the recently opened Abrahamic Family House, which houses a mosque, church and synagogue, and to participate in Israel’s Independence Day celebrations at the Israeli embassy.
“The fact that these partnerships are happening and involving the Israeli embassy is noteworthy because that would not have been possible 10 years ago. There is no relationship between governments,” said U.S. Institute of Peace visiting expert, former State Department Middle East and South/Central Asia Knox Thames, special adviser on religious minorities.
Efforts to bridge the Jewish-Muslim divide through scholarship are just the latest example of interfaith scaffolding emerging in the UAE. According to Thames, the 2020 Trump administration formalized the peace process with the Abraham Accords, which started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab states.
“This really opens the floodgates and engagement between Israel and the UAE,” Thames said, citing the addition of direct flights between the two countries; American Jewish Committee Center Abu Dhabiestablished in 2021; and a new Regional Coexistence Center The UAE and the Anti-Defamation League announced in March.
The Abrahamic Family House, the first government-funded synagogue in the area since the 1930s, opened in February, alongside an influx of kosher restaurants serving the growing Jewish population.
“This is a continuation of the UAE finding innovative ways to engage with the global Jewish community, whether through engaging directly with communities in Israel or the United States and Europe,” Thames said. “They blazed a path that the rest of the Arab world is starting to follow.”
The UAE’s efforts to accommodate Jewish groups from around the globe come at an auspicious time for YU, which is Expand academic scope its graduate school. While Halpern said there aren’t currently any plans to establish a YU satellite campus there, the school is open to exploring possibilities for future collaborations such as sharing library resources, visiting faculty and students, or possibly bringing the YU Museum’s current Maimonides Exhibition brought to UAE.
As Halpern points out, Maimonides may be seen as an odd figure upon whom Muslim-Jewish friendship was built: the legendary scholar “was forced to flee Muslim persecution many times in his life,” he says. explain. But Maimonides owed a debt to the Islamic thinkers of his day, and he often cited them in his writings. Recognizing this, conference topics will include “The Role and Influence of Islamic Civilization on Jewish Philosophy, Using Maimonides as an Example” by Haider Hussain of MBZUH, and “Maimonides and the Sultan’s Palace” by Dean of the YU Graduate School. Fables” by Daniel Ringhold.
Halpern added that rising political leaders in the UAE have shown a desire for Jewish scholarship, which he said YU is well-qualified to fulfill.
“This is a new page in history that we are turning, and we are excited to be not only a part of the book, but hopefully one of the page-turners,” Halpern said.