A senior Saudi Arabian researcher has had an article published in an Israeli journal, in a development Tel Aviv University on Monday called “unprecedented.”
Prof. Mohammed Ibrahim Alghbban, head of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Hebrew Studies at the Department of Modern Languages and Translation at King Saud University in Riyadh, wrote an essay about the Prophet Muhammad’s good relations with Jews, in which he said Islam’s founder did not clash with Jews on religious grounds, but rather only on politics.
The Hebrew-language article was titled “A Contribution to the Improvement of the Prophet Muhammad’s Image in the Eyes of the Israeli Public: Muhammad’s Alliances and Mail Exchanges with Jews from the Arabian Peninsula.” It was published in Kesher, a journal from the Shalom Rosenfeld Institute for Research of Jewish Media and Communication at Tel Aviv University.
According to the university, the article came about after the journal’s editor, Prof. Gideon Kouts, met Alghbban at a number of academic conferences and on a visit to Saudi Arabia in 2015.
In a preface to the article, Alghbban said he wished to correct past misrepresentations of the prophet, saying the letters had never been translated into Hebrew before.
“Erroneous 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,” Alghbban wrote.
“Accusing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad of hate speech and racism against Jewish tribes in Hejaz is erroneous. Muhammad treated equally all social groups in Al Madinah and in other places under his control, regardless of race and religion. The misrepresentations in the research are due to the fact that his letters were never translated into Hebrew.”
The article was “mainly important” for Alghbban’s choice to publish the article in an Israeli journal, the press release said
“I hope that this academic cooperation is another step towards economic and political cooperation,” said Prof. Raanan Rein, head of Shalom Rosenfeld Institute.
Like most Arab countries, Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but clandestine relations have increased in recent years between Jerusalem and Riyadh, focused mainly on security issues, especially given their mutual enmity to Iran.
Israel has peace deals with only two Arab countries — Jordan and Egypt, with its control of Palestinian territory long serving as a factor preventing similar accords with the rest of the Arab world.
Israel has, however, been seeking to build ties with Gulf nations in recent years.
In January, Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri signed an order permitting Israelis to go to Saudi Arabia to participate in business meetings or to search for investments provided that they have an invitation from an official body and have taken care of the necessary paperwork to enter the country.
It also formally allows Muslim citizens of Israel to travel to the Saudi city of Mecca to perform the hajj or umrah religious pilgrimage, the ministry said in a statement. Israeli pilgrims usually travel for the hajj on temporary Jordanian papers.
Until now, Israeli law banned citizens from traveling to many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, without express permission from the interior minister, and increasingly common visits by Israeli businessmen were generally held secretly.
Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan for annexation of parts of the West Bank would represent a “dangerous escalation” that threatens the chances of resuming the peace process.