Although the current Islamic-Jewish relations have been weakened severely over the tension between Israel and Arab countries, one cannot deny that Judaism has more than a millennium of relatively peaceful symbiosis history with Islam. The situation of the Jews living under Islam in the Middle Ages was quite comfortable on the whole, and there was a good deal of cultural openness and exchange between Jews and Muslims ever since their early encounter, especially within intellectual circles. Arabic was their shared language and served as a medium of wide-ranging cultural influences in many areas. In this period, Jewish culture reached one of its peaks, and it was cultivated in the frame of a common Jewish-Muslim culture. Jews were deeply influenced not only by some aspects of Islamic civilization, such as rationalistic theology and scriptural exegesis, but also by Islam as a religion in its widest sense.
Among the most representative scholars of the classical period of medieval Judeo-Arabic culture, the 9th century Rabbi Saadia Gaon should be considered as a pioneer who initiated and decisively influenced almost every field. He was a revolutionary philosopher, whose work Book of Beliefs and Opinions represents the first systematic attempt to integrate Jewish theology with the form of philosophical principles, and shows a strong influence of Islamic kalam. He translated the Hebrew Bible into Judeo-Arabic, adding commentaries and exegesis, which bear the stamp of the Mutazilites. In the fields of linguistics and literature, Saadia Gaon is regarded as the earliest known Hebrew grammarian and an important poet in the history of contacts between Hebrew and Arabic poetry. His literary works also contain evidence of the lexical, technical and stylistic impact of Arabic on Hebrew. As a religious leader, Saadia Gaon critically applied his knowledge of Islamic-Arabic resource to the Jewish culture to preserve the Jewish tradition in a time of transformation. His thoughts passed on to later generations and significantly influenced the later course of Jewish civilization.
In this article we are going to take Saadia Gaon’s works as an example to find out how Islam influenced Medieval Judaism and what was the Jewish intellectuals’ attitude towards Islam in that era.