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Revisiting Muslim-Jewish intellectual and cultural exchanges: Maimonides

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At the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest’s branch in Arlington, a Tarrant County Jewish community leader spoke about 12th century Jewish tradition under the shade of Islam. The lecture was titled: “Moses Maimonides: the Greatest Jewish Scholar of the Islamic World and His Legacy of Peace and Mutual Respect.”

Robert A. Simon, Vice President for Community Relations of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, was the guest speaker addressing a crowd of intellectuals and members in interfaith organizations last Friday.

Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish philosopher and physician who was born in Cordoba under the tolerant Muslim Berber Empire of Almoravids. However, after a zealot regime took over Cordoba under the Almohads, Maimonides fled religious persecution to Fez in Morocco. During the rest of his life, he lived in Fez, Egypt, and Jerusalem. Besides practicing medicine, he wrote several books on Jewish law, like his commentary on the Mishnah, which included his famous thirteen articles of faith.

Maimonides was famous for his moderation, whether practicing medicine or explaining scripture and law. He was influenced by Muslim philosophers like Avicenna and Alfarabi; the latter’s influence is evident in Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed,” which he wrote in Arabic. Maimonides was also influenced by Aristotle’s reason especially when he rejected reading and interpreting the Torah literally. Among Christian scholars who were influenced by Maimonides was Thomas Aquinas.

After Simon’s talk, a member of the Muslim community, Dr. Basheer Ahmad of the MCC, interjected to add a wealth of information about a contemporary of Maimonides who was Muslim. Averroes was also born in Cordoba in the 12th century and was also famous by his emphasis on reasoning and rational thinking. Dr. Ahmad highlighted the role of the Muslim Spanish city of Cordoba as being a beacon of tolerance and intellectualism in all of Europe, while the rest of Europe was in the Dark Ages. It is said that Maimonides was also influenced by Averroes’ philosophy when he wrote on Jewish law.

In this environment of cultural and intellectual exchange, the attendees at the Dialogue Institute event enjoyed a well rounded presentation about interfaith exchange and its lifelong effects. This event was part of several other events hosted by the Dialogue Institute in Arlington, which promotes mutual understanding, respect and cooperation among people of all faiths and cultures.

The Dialogue Institute of the Southwest is headquartered in Houston, Texas, and has branches in Dallas, Arlington, as well as in states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. The institute is a non-profit organization serving since 2002. The institute’s activities and programs include Abrahamic traditions panels, interfaith dinners, cultural exchange trips to Turkey, and art contest for the youth.

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