Panel Discussion: “Modern Muslim and Jewish Thinkers Who Have Inspired Us”
February 9, 2022 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
On February 9, 2022, at 7:00 p.m., the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society (JIDS) and Rumi Forumbrought in four scholars to talk about Muslim and Jewish thinkers who left their mark on the modern world. We heard presentations about two modern Jewish thinkers: Rami Shapiro, who has brought a passion for various eastern faiths into his study of Judaism, and Menachem Mendel Schneerson (aka the Lubavitcher Rebbe), whose ideas sparked the rapidly growing Chabad Movement within Judaism. We will also hear presentations about two modern Muslim thinkers: Said Nursi, whose commentary of the Qur’an inspired a renewed way of engaging with the modern age; and Muhammad Iqbal, who had a remarkable impact on the intellectual and cultural reconstruction of Islam in South Asia and beyond.
As a collaborating partner of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington (IFCMW), the event took place during the 3rd Annual World Interfaith Harmony Week in the DMV. Dan Spiro, who’s the president of JIDS, moderated the dialogue between these scholars to lead to an enriching conversation between the participants.
Dr. Marcia Hermansen talked about Muhammad Iqbal, who was known as the “intellectual father of Pakistan” due to his contribution to the reconstruction of Islam in South Asia. Iqbal was deeply intrigued by contemporary Western thought and reached his audience through poetry in Urdu and Persian while also delivering critical analyses in English. Herb Levy discussed Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who had a multilingual approach to Judaism and taught a Judaism that was free from chosenness, xenophobia, and ethnonationalism. He saw religions as languages, asserting that no language is true or false, and believed writing is nature’s way of showing us how sloppy our thinking is. Like Iqbal, he also used poetry to speak to his audience. Dr. Zeki Saritoprak brought up Said Nursi, whose writings were inspirations for modern sciences and technologies. Nursi emphasized the importance of knowledge and dialogue, preached non-violence, and portrayed the prominence of shared values. Rabbi Lee Weissman talked about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was often referred to as the “leader of the generation.” His view was inclusive of the entirety of Jewish people, and he took mystical philosophy and turned it into an activist movement.
All of these thinkers brought changes and inspirations to many people, emphasizing the importance of knowledge, writing, and shared understanding. They depicted the beauty of faith within oneself and how it flourishes within a community.
These presentations were given, respectively, by four scholars: Herb Levy, Rabbi Lee Weissman, Dr. Zeki Saritoprak, and Dr. Marcia Hermansen.
Herb Levy was raised in an Orthodox home in Baltimore, completing the high school department of the (then) Baltimore Hebrew College, in addition to public high school. Through his college years, he became disconnected from the Judaism that he was raised on but began to reconstruct Judaism to address the social change commitment he made in his life. He spent over 40 years working in affordable housing as his contribution to Tikkun Olam. He’s been active in Kol Ami Reconstructionist of Arlington VA since its birth in December 2000.
Rabbi Lee Weissman has been a Jewish educator in California for over 25 years. For over 10 years, Lee has been an interfaith activist both online and in person. His Facebook forum “Abraham’s Tent” offers a place for Muslims and Jews to communicate on religious issues. His Twitter account @JihadiJew has a wide interfaith following. Lee’s personal passion is Chassidic philosophy, particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Lee currently attends Magen David Sephardic Congregation.
Dr. Zeki Saritoprak is the Bediuzzaman Said Nursi Chair in Islamic Studies and a Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. He holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Theology from the University of Marmara in Turkey. His dissertation which examines the personification of evil in the Islamic tradition was published in 1992. Professor Saritoprak is the author of over thirty academic articles and encyclopedia entries on topics in Islam. His most recent books are “Islam’s Jesus” (University Press of Florida, 2014) and “Islamic Spirituality: Theology and Practice for the Modern World” (Bloomsbury, 2017).
Dr. Marcia Hermansen is Director of the Islamic World Studies Program and Professor in the Theology Department at Loyola University Chicago where she teaches courses in Islamic Studies and the academic study of religion. She received her Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago and her numerous authored and co-edited books include Religious Diversity at School: Educating for New Pluralistic Contexts (2021), Varieties of American Sufism (2020), Islam, Religions, and Pluralism in Europe (2016), Islam and Citizenship Education (2015), and Muslima Theology: The Voices of Muslim Women Theologians (2013), as well as translations of works of Shah Wali Allah of Delhi.