AL.com: by Greg Garrison —
David J. Wasserstein, a professor of Jewish History at Vanderbilt University, will lecture on “How Islam Saved the Jews” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
The free, public lecture will take place at UAB’s Volker Hall, Lecture Room A, 1670 University Blvd. The event is co-sponsored by the UAB Department of History and the Birmingham Islamic Society.
“It’s a chance for Jews and Muslims who are now often at odds politically to reflect on our glorious historical past and for a moment forget about our political differences, and work on future peace,” said Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society.
Wasserstein will discuss how the spread of Islam after Muslims conquered Mecca in 630 A.D. led to a thriving Muslim culture that also allowed a thriving Jewish subculture, until about 1300 A.D.
“Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond,” Wasserstein wrote in The Jewish Chronicle. “Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.”
If not for the Muslim conquests, Jewish culture might have died out, Wasserstein believes.
“The political unity brought by the new Islamic world-empire did not last, but it created a vast Islamic world civilization, similar to the older Christian civilization that it replaced,” Wasserstein wrote in The Jewish Chronicle. “Within this huge area, Jews lived and enjoyed broadly similar status and rights everywhere. They could move around, maintain contacts, and develop their identity as Jews. A great new expansion of trade from the ninth century onwards brought the Spanish Jews – like the Muslims – into touch with the Jews and the Muslims even of India.”
Wasserstein has written several books, including “The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings, Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086” and “The Caliphate in the West; An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula” and he co-authored “The Legend of the Septuagint, From Classical Antiquity to Today.”
Wasserstein received his Ph.D from Oxford University in 1982. His research interests include medieval Islamic history, medieval Jewish studies, Islam in Spain, Islamic numismatics and minorities in the Islamic world. With a background in classical studies, he is also interested in the classical tradition in Islam, and in particular in the ways in which Judaism, Islam and the classical world intersect culturally, linguistically, and politically.