Centre for Continuing Education

The Star and the Crescent Course: The Long Relationship of Judaism and Islam

Jewish culture. Learn about Jewish culture with us.

In partnership with the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
Course materials developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning - a project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For specific enquiries regarding the program, please contact Hinda Young on 0432 567 917.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

We are pleased to offer this course concurrent with a new exhibit “Jews From Islamic Lands” at the Sydney Jewish Museum. The exhibit will commence on 1 July 2020. The facilitator of this course, Professor Suzanne Rutland, was a consultant in the creation of the exhibit which traces the lives of Jews living in the Middle East, Asia Minor, North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula from ancient times. It tells a tapestry of stories from across these regions, of flourishing, tolerance, expulsion and displacement, as well as how these Jews have continued to celebrate their vibrant cultures in new places across the world.


The aim of this course is to make you knowledgeable about the complex relationship between Judaism and Islam.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the commonalities and difference between Jewish and Muslim sacred texts
  • describe the sweep of history of the 1000-year relationship between Judaism and Islam
  • critically evaluate claims of inherent conflict between Judaism and Islam.


Week 1 – Jewish and Muslim readings of the Tanakh

We begin the course by taking a close look at the term “Abrahamic religions.” Is it a valid term, and it is useful in studying the relationship between Judaism and Islam? As a first step toward answering these questions, we compare the ways Jews and Muslims have understood and interpreted the stories and ideas of the Tanakh, and how generations of Muslim and Jewish scholars used these stories and ideas as a foundation on which to construct a larger system of beliefs, practices, and symbols. To this end, we will pay special attention to three biblical stories: The Binding of Isaac in the Book of Genesis, the image of David, the concepts of Holiness and Chosenness, and conclude by asking whether or not at the Biblical notion of holy war (Milhemet Mitzvah) was a precursor to the Muslim notion of Jihad.

Week 2 – Cousin or adversary: Images of Jews in the Qu’Ran and the Hadith

In this session, we explore the varied and at times contradictory portrayal of Jews in foundational Muslim texts, the Qu’ran and the Hadith. We begin with depictions of the original encounters between Jews and Mohammed. We then examine how this initially contentious relationship morphed into a Muslim world with considerable theological and political space for Jews and other non-Muslims – epitomised by the concept of the Dhimmi and codified in the Pact of Umar. We conclude by comparing the attitude of early Muslim texts and thinkers toward Jews and Christians.

Week 3 – Ishmael is not Edom: Islam in the mind of the Rabbis

In this session, we study the image of Islam in Rabbinic literature. We begin with the Rabbinic opinions on the status of Islam as monotheistic – and, hence, non-pagan – faith, and the comparative status of Islam and Christianity in the rabbinic imagination. We then look at the ways that the rabbis regarded the much improved status of Jews under Islamic rule in comparison with the harsh conditions of Byzantine and Sassanid Persian rule. We conclude by noting the “Arabization” of rabbinic culture and learning, particularly in the realm of poetry and philosophy, and the way that the Kalam and the Muslim rediscovery of Greek philosophy paved the way for the Jewish rediscovery Aristotle and Plato.

Week 4 – Convivencia: A reappraisal

In this session, we examine one of the most celebrated and debated episodes in the relationship between Judaism and Islam: the encounter between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), commonly referred to as “Convivencia,” or coexistence. We begin by setting the stage, that is, by noting how the Muslim conquest of Spain in 711 CE set in motion a reprieve for Jews from the harsh rule of fundamentalist Christian Visigoths. We then introduce the notion of “Convivencia” – the peaceful coexistence of Jews, Muslims, and Christians on the Iberian Peninsula – that, for many nineteenth and twentieth century Jewish historians, came to epitomize the remarkable cultural exchange between these three religions; and consider whether or not this was a “golden age” for Jews in Muslim Spain.

Next, we turn to the emergence of the Jewish courtiers of Muslim Spain, notably Hasdai Ibn Shaprut and Samuel ibn Nagrela, and their prominent dual position as royal advisor and leader of the Jews. We conclude by looking at the decline of Jewish life in Muslim Spain that resulted from the conquest of Spain by fundamentalist Muslims from North Africa, and how the attitude of Jews who experienced this decline such as Maimonides and Yehuda Halevi was impacted by this changing political and social climate.

Week 5 – Kabbalists and Sufis: A common mystical heritage?

In this session, we explore the impact of Muslim mysticism – Sufism – on Jewish philosophers and Kabbalists. In general, mystical thinkers often move beyond the conventional boundaries and categories that divide ordinary adherents of different religions one from the other; hence, the world of mystical speculation provided a common ground for Kabbalists and Sufi mystics. The impact of Sufi thought was evident in the philosophical reflections of Jewish scholars who chose to embrace those teachings.

Week 6 – Under Suleiman and the Ottomans

In this session, we examine the last of three moments in which Jews found refuge in Islam from the vicissitudes of life under Christendom: The Ottoman Empire. We begin by exploring the beginnings of Jewish life under Ottoman rule, and how the combination of three factors – the expansion of the empire geographically, its increasing ethnic and religious diversity, and the influence of a pragmatic Hanafi version of Islamic jurisprudence – engendered a stable beneficial relationship between Jews and the Ottoman Dynasty and between Jews and their Muslim neighbours. Along these lines, we contrast the relatively favourable condition of Jews under Ottoman rule with the more difficult circumstances under Iranian rule. We conclude this session with the Ottoman conquest of South-eastern Europe, and how it spared Jews in Ottoman controlled Hungary and Transylvania from the worst parts of the Protestant Reformation and the Wars of Religion.

*Week 7 – On the periphery of Islam – Morocco and Persia

In contrast to the stability and order imposed across much of the Muslim world by the Pax Ottomanica during the 16th and 17th centuries, the situation – in general and specifically for Jews – fluctuated according to more immediate and more local circumstances. In this lesson, we consider the ebb and flow of Jewish life in Morocco and Persia, two relatively tumultuous regions located far from the Istanbul and the heart of the Ottoman Empire.

*The eight-week course being held online (originally Sydney Jewish Museum) does not cover content from week 7.

*Week 8 – Colonial rule and the allures of being European in an Islamic world

In this session, we begin to explore the deterioration of the relationship between Jews and Muslims that coincided with and was furthered by the decline of the Ottoman Empire. We begin by noting that, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, Jewish and Muslims family had often lived side by side for a very long time – for centuries in many cases – and had forged a sense of familiarity and even kinship. Jews and their Muslim neighbours spoke the same language, dressed the food and recreation, embraced similar notions of gender and patriarchy, and evinced a similar socially and politically conservative outlook. We then note how this sense of familiarity was eroded by the influx of Europeans and European culture during the eighteenth and nineteenth century – consuls, missionaries, merchants, soldiers – who brought with them a new possibility for Jews and Muslims alike: embracing European culture. For Jews, this tendency was inadvertently accelerated after 1860 by the newly created Alliance Israélite Universelle, a philanthropic and cultural organization bent on Europeanising less fortunate Jews primarily in the Ottoman Empire. As more and more Jews in Muslim lands embraced this new culture, they became increasingly estranged from their un-acculturated Muslim neighbours.

*The eight-week course being held online (originally at Sydney Jewish Museum) will combine content from week’s 8 & 9 into one session.

*Week 9 – Nationalisms in conflict

This session turns to the origins of the conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. We begin by exploring the image of Islam and Muslims in the Zionist imagination, focusing in Reshid Bey in Theodore Herzl’s Altneuland, and in the ominously prophetic essays of Ahad Ha’am and Yizchak Epstein. We then turn to the beginnings of anti-Zionist polemics and agitation among Pan-Arab Nationalists before and after World War One, and how, especially after the issuing of the Balfour Declaration and the growth of the Yishuv in the 1920s, Zionism was increasingly regarded among Arab intellectuals as a manifestation of European Imperialism. We conclude by noting how, by the 1940s, the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel was challenged by the Muslim claim to the same territory.

Week 10 – Jews and Muslims in the non-Muslim world

This last lesson considers those situations where Jews and Muslims were minorities living in a Christian state and society. In these situations, the relationship between Jews and Muslims was the relationship of co-minorities, each manoeuvering for a better relationship with a Christian state and for acceptance within a Christian society. Because they were multiple sovereign Muslim states and, prior to 1948, to Jewish sovereign state, more often than not, Jews were a minority in various countries before Muslims. Thus, the treatment of Jews, good and bad, became a template for the subsequent treatment of Muslims. We begin in Christian Spain with the identity and struggle of Crypto-Jews (aka “Marranos”) and Crypto-Muslims (aka “Moriscos”); then move to nineteenth and twentieth century states that had sizable Jewish and Muslim populations: nineteenth century Russia and twentieth century France, and the United States.

Intended audience

Suitable for anyone interested in studying the relationship between Judaism and Islam and is willing to approach the material with an open mind.


No prior knowledge is required, however you would benefit from having some basic knowledge of both Judaism and Islam.

Delivery style

This course centers around text study and discussion between participants and the facilitator. Face-to-face and online classes are available:

  • Online (previously offered at Sydney Jewish Museum): this eight-week course does not include content from week 7, and week’s 8 and 9 will be combined into one session.
  • Face-to-face at Southern Sydney Synagogue: this ten-week course follows the weekly outline above.


A course booklet is available in two formats:

  1. Complimentary online booklet (PDF) accessible via an online portal.
  2. Printed booklet (additional fee of $24) available for purchase here. Your booklet will be available to collect at the first or second class, depending on the date of purchase.

Recommended reading

Bernard Cooperman and Zvi Zohar, eds., Jews and Muslims in the Islamic World (Bethesda, MD: University Press of Maryland, 2013)

Rueben Firestone, An Introduction to Islam for Jews (Philadelphia: JPS, 2008)

Elisha Russ Fishbane, Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists of Medieval Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2015)

Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984)

Avigdor Levy, ed., The Jews of the Ottoman Empire (Princeton, NJ: Darwin)

Diana Lobel, A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue (Philadelphia, PA: Upenn Press, 2007)

Maud Mandel, Muslims and Jews in France (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014)

Houman Sarshar, Esther’s Children (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 2002)

Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 1979)


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

The Star and the Crescent Course: The Long Relationship of Judaism and Islam

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