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Islam and Judaism in the Writings of German-Speaking Jewish Orientalists (1833–1955)

Our Fellow Walid Abd El Gawad and His Research

From November 2016 to October 2018, the Islamic studies scholar Walid Abd El Gawad was resident at the Jewish Museum Berlin as the first W. Michael Blumenthal Fellow. He was receiving support for his post-doctoral research project “‘To Know One Religion Is to Know None’: Reflections on Islam and Judaism in the Writings of German-Speaking Jewish Orientalists (1833–1955).” His work is lending insights into the largely overlooked history of Jewish-Islamic relations in the modern age, placing today’s Jewish and Islamic studies in a new light as well as re-contextualizing contemporary encounters between Jews and Muslims inside and outside Israel.

Fertile Exchange between Judaism and Islam

In today’s Europe, media representations of the relationship between Judaism and Islam are dominated by polarizing images of a supposedly intractable conflict. Those who seek to disprove the apparently eternal enmity between adherents of the two traditions usually point to positive examples of peaceful coexistence from the idealized Islamic Middle Ages. Yet the relationship between Islam and Judaism began in the very early days of Islam, continued during the Middle Ages, and extended well into modern times.

In the history of German-speaking Oriental studies during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we find several Jewish Orientalists, based in the Wissenschaft des Judentums (scholarship of Judaism) movement, who worked on Islam and produced innovative knowledge about both Islam and Judaism. Within Europe, this research tradition was brutally interrupted by the disaster of the Holocaust, while the twentieth century’s violent conflicts in Palestine/Israel saw it marginalized as “idealistic” and “naïve.”

Jewish Orientalists of the Modern Age: Horovitz, Weil, and Goitein

Walid Abd El Gawad’s research focuses on the work of three Orientalists from this nearly forgotten scholarly tradition: Josef Horovitz (1874–1931), Gotthold Weil (1882–1960), and Shlomo Dov Goitein (1890–1985). Horovitz, Weil, and Goitein were connected not only as students and teachers, but also by a common approach to their research, one that emphasized the exploration of links between Judaism and Islam. Despite nuanced differences, the three scholars shared the notion of a kinship between Jewish and Arab culture.

Abd El Gawad’s research asks these questions: What exactly were these Orientalist scholars’ reflections on the relationship between Judaism and Islam, and between Jews and Arabs? And where should their views be located within the wider tradition of Oriental studies described above? How did they contribute to the transformation in the scholarly tradition in Israel?

Portrait of Walid Abdelgawad

Walid Abd El Gawad; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Walid Abd El Gawad

Walid Abd El Gawad comes from Cairo, where he studied Islamic theology and Islamic studies at Al-Azhar University. He went on to complete his Magister degree in Islamic studies, Arab studies, and Middle Eastern Philology in Leipzig. For his doctoral dissertation, he expanded his focus to include the Jewish conceptual history within Islamic studies and their intersections with nineteenth- and twentieth-century Islamic conceptual history. He wrote his dissertation at the Simon Dubnow and Oriental Institutes in Leipzig on how the Egyptian reformist scholar Amin al-Khuli (1895–1966) responded to ideas from German-Jewish Orientalists.

Complete CV (in German)

As of July 2017

Download (PDF / 37.52 KB)

Bibliography (in German)

As of July 2017

Download (PDF / 30.29 KB)


Walid Abd El Gawad
W. Michael Blumenthal Fellow
T +49 (0)30 259 93 526

The W. Michael Blumenthal Fellowship is sponsored by the Berthold Leibinger Foundation.

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