‘How Islam saved the Jews’: lectures at SOAS

Professor David J Wasserstein of Vanderbilt university

I bring you notice of a series of lectures starting on Monday 14 May 2012, (17:30-19:00h at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London – Khalili lecture theatre): The opening lecture is titled:” How Islam Saved the Jews”. Professor David J Wasserstein, a professor at Vanderbilt university in Nashville, Tenessee, will give this lecture and two seminars over the course of the week.

“In the early seventh century C.E. Judaism was in crisis, says the blurb. ” In the Mediterranean basin it was battered by legal, social, and religious pressure, weak in numbers and culturally almost non-existent. It was also largely cut off from the Jewry of the Persian Empire, in Babylon, present-day Iraq. The future seemed clear: extinction in the West, decline to obscurity in the East. Salvation came from Arabia. Islam conquered the entire Persian Empire and most of the Mediterranean world. Uniting virtually all the world’s Jews in a single state, it gave them legal and religious respectability, economic and social freedoms, and linguistic and cultural conditions that made possible a major renaissance of Judaism and the Jews. The significance of Islam for Jewry has been interpreted very variously since the middle ages and is a source of controversy to this day. ”

When told of the lecture series, Dr Andrew Bostom reacted as follows:

“This is the sheerest idiocy. Just look at historical Palestine where the devastating Islamic conquests effectively wiped Judaism–and Christianity– out, other than vestigial remnant communities of brutally subjugated dhimmis.

“Moreover, look at the basic demography of Jews over this 600 year period from the mid 13th through the mid 19th centuries. In the md 13th 90% of the world’s Jews lived in Islamdom, and 10% in Christendom; by the mid 19th century those numbers were reversed due to ..what..”Islamic salvation?”

I am no Islamic scholar, but Professor Wasserstein’s views seem to be at considerable variance with those experts who say that Jews experienced periods where they flourished under Islam, but nonetheless identify periods of great persecution, forced conversion from Judaism and Christianity to Islam, and above all, the imposition of the dhimmi status of forced humiliation and oppression of non-Muslims. Jews were wiped out from the Arabian peninsula. Christians were wiped out from North Africa. It would seem at times more accurate to say that Judaism survived despite, not because, of Islam.

The Wasserstein lectures are presumably another effort ( previous conferences here and here) to show the points of connection between Judaism and Islam. Unless they also show the points of division, however, these lectures might be little better than propaganda to make Islam look good.

But let’s not prejudge the issue. If any readers are planning to attend the lectures, please let me know your impressions.

Jordan lectures now online

Sasson Somekh’s lecture at Vanderbilt university and the resulting scandal


  • if you actually read an article by wasserstein (http://www.thejc.com/print/68082) you will see that the main argument is that islam saved judaism from the context of constantinian christianity/empire. it's not so much about glossing over injustices jews faced under ottoman rule, for example.

  • Re.Jews expelled from Spain and welcomed into Turkey, I once heard Bernard Lewis say that the Jews only thrived for one generation or two. They soon outlived their usefulness as intermediaries and translators.
    While the Ottoman empire was more tolerant than, say, the Persian empire, it took a lot of greasing of palms for the Jews to keep the Ottomans sweet.

  • Anonymous,
    I'm talking about myself, bataween! I'm no Islamic scholar, but Dr Bostom is.

  • "I am no Islamic scholar, but Professor Wasserstein's views…"

    If he is not an Islamic scholar, what is this Bostom talking about?

    Prof. Wasserstein is talking about dates and facts — is there any serious challenge to the facts he is mentioning?
    Isn'it a fact that the Jews expelled from Spanish dominions in 1492 thrived for centuries in the Ottoman Empire?

    Poor things who built a career on cheap Islam-bashing should realize that they are an embarassment, really.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.