"The Sacred and the Secular" is the title of professor Yousef Meri's inaugural speech. He is beginning his term as 17th Allianz guest professor at LMU. The peaceful coexistence of Jews, Christians and Muslims is also a part of history, according to Meri. At times, followers of different religions even used the same religious sites in order to live their faith.
Based on a large number of autobiographical writings from Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, Meri explained the changes in history which developed very differently for religions, depending on whether governments were mainly secular or religious. From time to time regimes issued laws that required followers of different religions to respect each other. "Times when peaceful coexistence was not possible were marked by nationalist currents," according to his thesis.
Fewer reports on peaceful times
Meri stressed the importance of studying the historical context, including the medieval and early-modern background of interfaith and inter-communal relations, to understanding the roots of the present-day conflicts in the Middle East. Focusing on Jerusalem and Palestine, Cairo and Baghdad he demonstrated: "Autobiographical literature produced by Arab Jews (i.e. Jews of a Middle Eastern Background), Christians and Muslims in the modern era can be employed with certain qualifications in order to better understand the complexity of the social and political dimensions of inter-communal relations."
As well as the numerous periods of armed conflict, he demonstrated that there were also many phases of peaceful coexistence: "There are more reports on the periods of conflict than there are on the times of peaceful coexistence." Meri ended with the regret that today's drifting apart of the Middle East is unparalleled in history. Sadly there is no panacea, but we will keep up dialogs. Meri's inaugural evening may have made a small contribution to this, in front of an audience of just under 200 people.
"When the Allianz guest professorship for Jewish and Islamic studies was launched in 2003, it was not yet foreseeable what an important role it would play within university life," reports Ludwigs Maximilian Universität, Munich, on its website. A decade later, it's difficult to image the absence of this institution for students of Jewish and Islamic history and culture at LMU in Munich.