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Jewish Journal

Rabbi’s existence causes uproar in Egypt

by Brad A. Greenberg

July 20, 2007 | 5:21 pm

Reuven Firestone is one of the most respected voices on Islam and its relationship to Judaism. But a recent trip to Ain Shams University in Cairo, at which he delivered a paper on “Problematic of the Chosen in Monotheistic Religions,” ended badly when participating Egyptian professors learned he was a rabbi.

Mohamed El-Hawwari, head of the university’s Centre for the Study of Contemporary Civilisations, stood up for his ‘round-the-world colleague.

Interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly, El-Hawwari stressed that Firestone, while entitled to call himself a “rabbi”, does not work in the religious field. “He is an American academic professor and it was in this capacity that he was invited to deliver his lecture.”

In a statement issued once the row had become public, El-Hawwari described Firestone as a professor of Jewish history at Hebro Union College, California, and the author of many books on both Jewish and Islamic history.

“I have known the guy for more than 20 years. He has never attacked Islam, which he respects and appreciates,” said El-Hawwari. “His lecture was based on texts derived from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Talmud.

“When I invited Firestone to offer his lecture I did not expect him to utter the two testimonies of Islam and announce that he had become a Muslim. It’s natural for him to adopt religious concepts different from our own,” said El-Hawwari, commenting on Firestone’s reference to Isaac.

  “Our main problem is that we still cannot accept the other. Whoever differs with us becomes our enemy,” El-Hawwari continued.

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