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In first, Saudi professor publishes article in Israeli journal

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The academic paper was published among increasing calls in Saudi Arabia and the Arab League to use the inter-religious understandings for cooperation with Jews and Israel to achieve peace

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In what’s being deemed a first, a senior Saudi professor has published an article in an Israeli academic journal, and in Hebrew no less, it was announced on Monday.

According to Tel Aviv University (TAU), Prof. Mohammed Ibrahim Alghbban, head of NELC and Hebrew Studies at the Department of Modern Languages and Translation, at King Saud University in Riyadh, published his first Hebrew article in the academic journal Kesher

The journal is published by the Shalom Rosenfeld Institute for Research of Jewish Media and Communication at TAU.

As the opening paper of the Kesher, Alghbban’s topic is quite an usual for an academic journal. 

However, “it was published among increasing calls in Saudi Arabia and the Arab League to use the inter-religious understandings for cooperation with Jews and Israel to achieve peace,” TAU explained.

In the paper, Alghbban claims that the prophet Muhammad had good relations with Jews and only clashed with them on political grounds, not on religious ones. 

The article is entitled “Contribution to Prophet Muhammad’s Image Improvement in the Eyes of the Israeli Public: Muhammad’s Alliances and Mail Exchanges with Jews from the Arabian Peninsula.”

Kesher’s editor, Prof. Gideon Kouts met Alghbban during academic Hebrew Studies conferences and during his visit to Riyadh in 2015. 

Alghbban heads up the Near East Languages and Civilization program together with Hebrew Studies at King Saud University, and incorporates contemporary Israeli literature in the curriculum. 

Alghbban explained that he had decided to write the article in Hebrew “in order to improve the image of the Prophet Muhammad in the eyes of the Israeli public. 

“Erroneous,” Alghbban said, “assumptions about the origins of Islam, proposed by Oriental Studies researchers in the previous century – some of which were written in Hebrew – led to a distorted understanding of manuscripts, wrong methodology, and negative influences on Hebrew speaking Middle Eastern Studies researchers.” 

In the intro to the article, Alghbban stressed that “accusing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad of hate speech and racism against Jewish tribes in Hejaz is erroneous. 

“Muhammad,” he explained, “treated all social groups in Al Madinah and in other places under his control equally, regardless of race and religion. The misrepresentations in the research are due to the fact that his letters were never translated into Hebrew.” 

Alghbban believes that the Jewish public’s misunderstanding of Prophet Muhammad’s thoughts is rooted in faulty or biased translations into Hebrew, or even lack thereof, of Prophet Muhammad’s letters to the Jewish tribes from the Arabian Peninsula and the written alliances he had with them.

To right this wrong, Alghbban stressed, he translated them into Hebrew in his article.

For Prof. Raanan Rein, head of Shalom Rosenfeld Institute, this article is crucially important because by making this unprecedented choice and publishing his article in an Israeli academic journal, Alghbban is bringing the two nations closer. 

“I hope that this academic cooperation is another step towards economic and political cooperation,” Rein added.

King Saud University offers an undergraduate Hebrew Studies program. The program is taught only to male students. The course program includes the works of Israeli writers such as Yosef Haim Brenner, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, and Etgar Keret. 

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