Jewish Muslim Relations

From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain. He is doing a series on Jewish-Muslim relations and sent these two pieces about prayer and pilgrimage in the two related religions.

Jewish Muslim Relations – Shared Rituals – Prayer

 “Prayer is God’s backstage pass into a personal audience with Him”.    Tony Evans

 Judaism and Islam has a complex relationship over the centuries. On the one hand, there is mutual acceptance of basic tenet of monotheism and soundness of divinely inspired ethical standards to guide a believer’s life by both religions. On the other hand, Judaism’s critique of Islam as not an authentic divine message and Islam’s assertion that original message of Judaism was authentic but was later distorted or corrupted by the Rabbis therefore it is superseded by Islam. 

Continue reading Jewish Muslim Relations

Sacred Texts and Jewish-Muslim Relations

From Dr Hamid Hussain

This is part of a series of my work on Jewish-Muslim relations encompassing a wide canvas of similarities in scripture, rituals, Arabic & Hebrew language, mysticism, literature, coexistence in historical context and conflict in recent times. It has been a fascinating journey tracing the sibling rivalry of Isac and Ishmael.


Jewish Muslim Relations – Sacred Texts – The Torah and the Quran

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

                                               Anne Lamott

The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Quran are two sacred texts considered revelation from God by Judaism and Islam respectively.  Both sacred texts are considered foundational stones of faith.  Tanakh is acronym for Torah (five books of Moses called Khumash in Hebrew), Navi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). The Torah is called sefer (book) and the Quran um al kitab (mother of books).  Both texts share several commonalities in terms of themes, narratives, and ethical teachings and are at the same time quite different.  One can pick any side depending on what one is trying to convey.  In the inter-faith interactions, participants stress commonalities sometimes exaggerating the similarities or trying to find common ground where none exists. On the other hand, polemics with aim of denouncing the other side can give a long list of differences between two texts. Continue reading Sacred Texts and Jewish-Muslim Relations

Israel’s Missile Defense

From Dr Hamid Hussain.

19 November 2023

Conversations about Israeli missile defense, its role in bigger picture of conflict & US assistance in this field resulted in this summary for those interested in the subject.


 Protective Umbrella – Israel’s Missile Defense System

Hamid Hussain

“The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.”
Thomas Crum

Israel has a multi-layered missile defense system to counter rockets, artillery, missiles, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Israel‘s national missile defense program is called Homa (Hebrew for Fortress Wall). Homa is a layered, active defense system. The bottom layer is Iron Dome that intercepts short-range surface-to-surface rockets, middle layer is David’s Sling that intercepts short to medium and medium to long range surface-to-surface missiles and upper layer is Arrow-2 (upper-atmospheric) that intercepts medium to long range missiles and Arrow-3 (exo-atmospheric) that intercepts long-range missiles.  Israel also has 4-6 Patriot batteries (known in Israel by Hebrew name Yahalom meaning diamond), Israel’s Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), established in 1991 is responsible for the development, management and improvement of Israel’s active defense systems including radars, command and control systems, network connectivity, launchers, and interceptors.

Peace treaties with neighboring Egypt and Jordan improved Israel’s defense. Initial threat perception consisted of medium and long-range missiles from hostile states especially Iraq, Iran, and Syria. In 1998, the first Arrow-2 system was transferred to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to counter this threat. In 2000s, use of small range rockets by Hezbollah and Hamas created a new challenge as long-range Arrow-2 system was not effective against these small projectiles. After the 2006, Israel-Hezbollah war, research, and development to counter this new challenge resulted in development of Iron Dome system with intercept range of 2.5 to 43 miles. Iron Dome became operational in March 2011 and within few days intercepted a Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Iron Dome system has three components. The Multi Mission Radar (MMR) detects the rocket’s routes and sends the information to the command-and-control center that analyzes the trajectory of rockets and their estimated landing area. If the landing area of the rocket is uninhabited, no action is taken. If the landing area is a military structure or civilian inhabited area, then command and control unit send the order to launcher to fire interceptor missile that explodes close to the rocket to disintegrate it and avoid damage from large debris. Currently, Israel has ten Iron Dome batteries deployed throughout the country, and each battery is designed to defend a sixty square mile populated area. Each battery has three to four launchers loaded with up to 20 Tamir interceptors per launcher for a total of 60-80 interceptors per battery. Each Iron Dome battery costs about $100 million and the cost of each Tamir interceptor missile is $40’000. Continue reading Israel’s Missile Defense

The Day After (the Gaza war).. From Dr Hamid Hussain

This piece is based on my presentation to a private group looking beyond the kinetic operations of current Middle East crisis.

The Day After

Hamid Hussain

“As a rule, there are no military solutions to political problems. Solutions are always combined. The use of military force is both part of policy and a pursuance of policy.”  

Major General Yoav Har-Evan; Head of Israel Defense Forces Operations Directorate

On 07 October 2023, Hamas launched a devastating attack on Israeli towns close to Gaza border killing over fourteen hundred Israeli soldiers and civilians including women and children.  Israelis were shocked at the stunning intelligence and military failure as well as the unprecedented carnage.  It was a forgone conclusion that Israel will react with the unprecedented vengeance. Hamas was surprised by poor response of Israeli security forces and went on a killing spree and even brought back over two hundred Israelis as hostages. This unexpected success may prove to be the end of Hamas as an organized political and military entity. Jury is still out on whether this incident will jump start a moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process or prove to be a fatal blow to two state solution.

Israel unleashed its fire power without any restraints and after two weeks of bombing, Gaza looks like a post-apocalyptic zombie land.  Of the nine thousand dead, half are children and that is a new blood-soaked record for the Middel East that is used to carnage. Israel started ground operation from the north while at the same time cutting off Gaza into half by surrounding Gaza City.  The first step is to gain control of the above ground battlefield and then think about what to do with the underground battlefield.  It looks that their goal is to finish Hamas fighters in northern half and blowing up underground tunnels before launching similar exercise in the south with the goal of completing high velocity kinetic operations in six to eight weeks. There is no intention of going in the tunnels to fight Hamas fighters as it entails high casualties. For Hamas fighters there are only two options.  One is to drop weapon and mingle in the civilian population and live to fight another day or fight to death with no quarter given or asked. Presence of Israeli hostages in the tunnels poses another challenge as using smoke, chemicals, or water to flood the tunnels means certain death of hostages along with Hamas fighters.

The free pass given to Israel by United States and European Union (EU) has an expiration date as large-scale civilian carnage cannot be ignored. Large scale protests in United States and European cities are putting pressure on the governments to allow humanitarian pauses if not a ceasefire.  This also unleashed anti-Jewish sentiments and violent acts against Jews all over the world. Modern conflict is not limited only to the battlefield but beamed in real time to the living rooms of a global audience and public opinion becomes an extension of the conflict. Israel cannot ignore public relations disaster despite a united nation at home and support from US and western governments.

Gaza is a densely populated area where 2.3 million Gazans live in a territory that is about thirty miles long and ten miles wide.  Out of 1.1 million Gazans living north of Gaza City, 800’000 have moved to south after incursion of Israeli troops.  Israel will allow several hours windows for civilian evacuation route along the main north-south Gaza highway from north to south and then reverse it when operations start in south. However, the small geographic size and very high population density puts limits to such exercise, and more than a half million Gazans will be in the middle of the inferno at any given time.  Israel will also allow intermittent humanitarian convoys into Gaza from Egypt and coordinate with Jordan for even airdrop of humanitarian supplies.  These measures are essential for public relations. Civilian casualties have probably peaked in the first phase, and it is estimated that it will be markedly reduced in the second phase. However, large scale damage is already done with a new generation of Palestinians filled with anger and hatred that will unleash the next round.

Kinetic operations are the easy part and will be completed in few weeks with less than few dozen dozen fatal Israeli casualties. In view of unprecedented carnage of Israel citizens, society is willing to absorb military casualties as high as about a thousand. War is a business of uncertainty and unexpected events not even initiated by the adversary can change the course. In 1997, midair collision of two Israeli transport helicopters killed 73 soldiers. This national trauma generated a groundswell of anti-war sentiment in Israeli society that resulted in Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

Heavy work will be required when kinetic operations are completed as there is no clear path ahead. In view of un-precedented Israeli carnage, Israel entered the conflict without serious debate about exit strategy.  Kinetic operations had to be initiated quickly mainly to restore morale of Israeli public.  All other considerations took the back seat. Continue reading The Day After (the Gaza war).. From Dr Hamid Hussain

Iran and Hezbollah; Likely Options (from Dr Hamid Hussain)

a few days old, but looks like his assessment was correct:

09 November 2023

Previous piece about the day after of current crisis generated many questions and one question was asked about potential widening of theatre especially Iran/Hezbollah role.

My response below;

I short and medium term, Hezbollah, Iran, Israel & USA have no interest in expanding the conflict. Operationally, Israel can not conduct a northern front large scale operation at this stage. Major factor is that Israel has used large stocks of Tamir missiles of Iron Dome interceptors and major threat from Hezbollah is its expanded rockets arsenal. To give an example of cost ratio, average cost of long-range rocket used by Hamas and Hezbollah is $300-400 while each Tamir interceptor missile of Iron Dome costs $40’000. Of 500’000 mobilized troops, 60% on Southern front in Gaza and 40% in West Bank and Israeli cities with large Arab population to keep lid on restive Palestinians. Expanded northern front will require mobilization of additional reserves putting more strain on already stretched economy. In addition, over 200’000 Israelis are displaced from southern and northern border areas. All this points to Israel’s preference to focus on south and keep all other fronts quiet. This does not mean that Israel’s hands are completely tied. Hamas rocket threats are markedly reduced by ground operation in Gaza, ten Israeli Iron Dome batteries with two batteries from US currently in transit although whole inventory of Tamir interceptor missiles in US inventory have reached Israel that can tackle Hezbollah rocket threat although interception rate may not be over 98% in view of heavy barrage. (US army has no role for Iron Dome as it cannot be integrated into American anti-missile system. They never requested it but Congress as a favor to Israel approved $373 and told Pentagon to buy it. Pentagon complied but parked it at Joint Air Force Base in Washington as it had no use of the system ). Air Force though not a perfect instrument to tackle rocket threat can be used to keep heads of Hezbollah down in Lebanon. In my view, northern front will remain quiet unless a major unintentional mishap occurs on either side.

US armada is a signal only for Iran/Hezbollah (you don’t need a nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier for action against Hamas fighters in a tunnel) and Hezbollah and Iran have no wish to commit suicide. Small rockets from Lebanon to keep area warm but no action to start a fire. Iran is very happy with this situation and ayatollahs are savoring the return on their investment.

US and Iran in back room negotiations to keep things limited to Hamas. Iran promising to keep Hezbollah and other proxies in Iraq and Yemen on a tight leash and promise of getting some hostages especially with US and European passports get released in return for US not doing anything about the $ 6 billion in escrow account in Qatar that was put there recently after last round of prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Washington.

I’m working on a piece about role of regional players. It is all Byzantine deals and nothing about peace or morality. I’m aware of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan quietly supporting the effort to completely demolish the spoiler Hamas this time ( they expected the same in 2006 that Israel will demolish Hezbollah). Their only condition is to keep casualties low and allow pauses for humanitarian efforts (Jordan airdrop, UAE planning a field hospital in Gaza) so that their angry streets don’t cause domestic problems.

Iran’s general strategy is to keep small fires in the ring around Israel so that it cannot concentrate efforts to directly threaten Iran especially attack on nuclear facilities.  Hamas is one piece of the puzzle and other two are Hezbollah and some activity on Syrian front where Israeli air force busy in interdicting weapon shipments and attack storage facilities in Syria.

Tehran was already diversifying the portfolio by increasing support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza and some towns of West Bank (PIJ head Ziad Nakhle is parked in Damascus). Hamas has served their purpose to keep Israel busy enough so that they do not fully concentrate on a major action against Tehran. October 7 crossed a certain threshold as far as Israel is concerned. In long term, it depends how Israeli strategic community comes out of this crisis. It is a game changer and much bigger than Yom Kippur trauma of 1973. In October 1973, Israeli strategic calculation changed to making peace with Egypt. October 2023 may do the same to make peace with Palestinians but I don’t have hope for that outcome. More likely strategic decision will be that Iran is the root cause of Israel pain and historian may record this conflict as first Israeli-Iranian war. The project will be to bring down the very regime of ayatollahs and Iranian response will be to shift to West Bank and possibly Arab citizens of Israel to start the fire in Israel’s backyard that is ripe for such efforts. Israel’s efforts will mirror image that of Iran and concentrated in Iraqi Kurdistan and Azerbaijan that already serve as major bases for Israeli operations against Iran.

“History tells us that it gets worse before it gets better”.        Iraqi Shia seminary student



The Israeli Defense Forces (by Dr Hamid Hussain)

Dr Hamid Hussain, a well known and well respected military historian happened to be working on a piece about the IDF when Oct 7 happened. Here is his updated piece.

23 October 2023

Last few months, I have been working on different facets of Israeli & Palestinian societies.  I had just completed a piece about transformation of IDF but 07 October events necessitated addition of this seismic event; the aftershocks of which will be felt for a while. Despite horrific violence, unfortunately for students of history and conflict, it is just continuation of human activity since killing of Abel by Cain. Nothing is inevitable in history.  It is our actions that shape the history.

In times of extreme pain on each side and anger, frustration and outright hatred of partisans and onlookers is not conducive for a meaningful conversation.  That will probably occur later. It is a sterile review of military dimension devoid of any emotional or moral judgements.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war”.  Plato


Change Before You Have to – Transformation of Israeli Defense Forces

Hamid Hussain

“History doesn’t stop. By the time we build capabilities from our vision against terror armies, we will be facing a new challenge because the enemy adapts.”

Israeli army Brigadier General Eran Ortal, February 2023

Continue reading The Israeli Defense Forces (by Dr Hamid Hussain)

The Tribes of Israel

From Dr Hamid Hussain

16 September 2023

I’m doing a series of risk analysis reports about Israeli state and society in the context of Abraham Accord. My own view is that people to people interactions at various forums will create the firm foundation for a long-term sustained effort for social and economic normalcy in the region despite differences.

This is second of the series of about half a dozen reports.


New Tribes of Israel

Hamid Hussain

“Our future does not depend on what the gentiles will say but on what the Jews will do.”           David ben Gurion; Israel’s founding father.

Israel is a diverse society and individual identities include religion, ethnicity, ideological and political views. Despite this diversity, Israel born amid existential security threat emerged as a strong country built on a firm democratic foundation.  State accommodated different perspectives and allowed autonomy in personal and religious spheres.  Crisis of governance and starkly contrasting positions not only on political but also many public policy questions, including marriage, divorce, religious conversion, military conscription, and gender segregation is polarizing Israeli society. Continue reading The Tribes of Israel

Abrahamic Mysticism

from Dr Hamid Hussain

29 July 2023

This piece is about a whole different genre that may come as surprise to many as my work has been mainly on military history and current conflicts.  I have never written about it, as it was a personal journey.  Although for over a decade I have been engaged in conversations about the subject with a wide variety of individuals when I stumbled upon it while studying Judaism. I was more focused on the history of the Jews and religio-legal (halachic) traditions and works but introduction to Jewish spiritual traditions (kabbalah) opened another door. This is an introduction to the subject. A bit long therefore for only interested in the subject.



Shared Heritage – Jewish, Christian and Islamic Mysticism

Hamid Hussain

“Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.”
                                                                        Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

Every religion has two aspects; one deals with outward rituals and legal codes while the other with mystical aspect of contemplation and self-improvement. Mysticism tries to bridge the gap of understanding between an eternal divine entity and a finite universe and mortal human. The influence of mysticism within monotheistic religions has been a complex and multifaceted phenomenon throughout history. Each monotheistic religion – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – has its own distinct mystical traditions, but there have been instances of mutual influence among them. All three religions share the foundation of extensive list of prophets and their life stories described in Hebrew and Christian Bibles and Quran. Greek metaphysical ideas deeply influenced mystical trends of all three religions.

“Only through Kabbalah will we forever eliminate war, destruction, and man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.”                                                Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570-1643)

The earliest Jewish mystic was a second century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai “Rashbi.” His teachings are considered the main source of 13th century seminal mystical work called the Zohar (Radiance), which is one of the foundational works of Kabbalah. There is lot of controversy about the authorship of Zohar, and some consider it as the work of multiple medieval authors. Essenes were a small group of Jewish mystics who lived a communal life of poverty and ascetism in the holy land during Second Temple period (200 BCE – 100 CE). In Talmudic period, esoteric interpretations such as Ma’aseh Bereshit (works of creation) and Ma’aseh Merkabah (works of the divine throne) were restricted to only select students and widespread teaching of mystical tracts was discouraged.

Jewish Mysticism particularly the Kabbalah (Hebrew word meaning reception) emerged in the Middle Ages and focuses on the mystical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). Kabbalistic teachings explore the nature of God, creation, and the soul’s journey towards union with the divine. Key concepts include the sefirot (divine emanations), mystical symbolism, meditation techniques, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Kabbalah draws its legitimacy from the sacred scripture of Torah (written) and Talmud (oral) traditions by offering esoteric explanations.

In western Ashkenazi Jewry, Juda Lowe ben Bezalel (1525-1609) of Prague, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746) of Italy, Elijah (1720-1797) of Lithuania, Yisrael ben Eliezer “Baal Shem Tov” (1698-1760) of Ukraine, Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810) of Poland were pioneers of Hasidism. Their teachings emphasized the pursuit of joyous prayer, and personal connection with God.

Kabbalah thrived among eastern Jewry under Muslim rule. Sephardim (Iberian Peninsula) and Mizrahim (Middle East, North Africa, and Caucus) produced many great Kabbalists. Bahya ibn Paquda (1050-1120), Moshe ben Shem-Tov (1240-1305) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (1240-1291) in Spain and Abraham ben Moses Maimonides (1186-1237) in Egypt wrote great Kabbalist tracts. Among Mizrahim, Shalom Sharabi (1720-1777) of Yemen, Chaim Yosef David Azulai “Chida” (1724-1806) of Jerusalem and Ben Ishi Chai (1832-1909) of Baghdad continued the chain of mystics through centuries.

Rise of anti-Jewish sentiments in Middle Ages Christendom that culminated in expulsion of Jews from Iberian Peninsula in fifteenth century caused a national trauma. This gave rise to longing for arrival of long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Trials and tribulations of Jews stimulated an unprecedented vigorous legal, mystic and liturgic activity centered in Safed in northern Galilee region of Israel.

Sixteenth century was the golden period of Kabbalah and many great Jewish mystics made Safed their home. Many Sephardic Jews expelled from Iberian Peninsula made Safed their home. Isaac Luria “the Ari” (1534-1572) developed a profound mystical system known as Lurianic Kabbalah, which had a significant impact on subsequent Kabbalistic thought. His teachings focused on the process of Tikkun (rectification) and the mystical understanding of the creation of the universe. Rabbi Moses Cordovero “Ramak” (1522-1577) was a prominent figure in the development of Kabbalah and is known for his work “Pardes Rimonim” (Orchard of Pomegranates), which presents a comprehensive system of Kabbalistic teachings. He is credited for popularizing Kabbalah for the general audience. Rabbi Yousef Karo (1488-1575) in his mystical tract Maggid Meisharim (Preacher of Righteousness) recorded that a heavenly mentor guided his religious work. This angelic being also spurred him to acts of righteousness and asceticism. Safed of sixteenth century was also a center of Muslim mysticism where followers of great Sufi Ibn Arabi were residing. A great Sufi sage Ahmad al-Asadi (1537–1601) established his zawiya (Sufi lodge) in Safed.

Jewish mysticism has had a profound impact on Christian mysticism. During the Middle Ages, Jewish Kabbalistic ideas spread to Christian Europe, influencing mystical thought in movements such as Christian Cabala. Christian Cabalists interpreted these themes according to Christian theology.

During the medieval period, Islamic scholars were heavily influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy and Sufism. Jewish mystics, particularly in Spain and the Middle East, were exposed to these ideas and incorporated them into their own mystical frameworks. Concepts such as emanation (azilah in Hebrew and fayd in Arabic), the ascent of the soul (ma’alah in Hebrew and qaws al su’ud in Arabic), and the notion of divine love (ahavah in Hebrew and ishq in Arabic) found their way into Jewish mystical thought. Jewish mystics, especially in Spain, were influenced by Islamic philosophy, particularly the works of Islamic mystic philosophers like Shaikh Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (1165-1240). These philosophers explored metaphysical concepts, the nature of God, and the relationship between God and creation, which had an impact on Jewish mystical theology.

Jewish mysticism evolved over time into various trends. This reflects different periods of Jewish history as well as intellectual and cultural influences of the era. Merkabah and Lurianic Kabbalah is theosophical in nature giving Jewish religious practice a mystic metaphysical meaning. Meditative and Ecstatic Kabbalah is inward looking and geared toward subjective experiences. Hekhalot (palaces) relates to vision of spiritual ascents into heavenly palaces and Markabah (chariot) tracts referring to how soul ascends to heavens.

“Seek by reading and you will find by meditating.

Cry in prayer and the door will be opened in contemplation.”

                                                  John of the Cross (1542-1591)

Christian mysticism encompasses a wide range of mystical traditions within Christianity. It emphasizes the direct experience of God and the union of the individual soul with the divine. Christian mystics seek spiritual transformation through contemplative prayer, meditation, and the pursuit of divine love. Major themes include the mystical journey, union with God, and the pursuit of inner transformation.

The Desert Fathers were early Christian monks and hermits who sought solitude and spiritual contemplation in the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine during the 3rd and 4th centuries. They played a significant role in shaping the development of Christian asceticism, influencing the monastic movement, and leaving a lasting impact on Christian spirituality.

Christian mysticism has been influenced by various sources, including Jewish mysticism, Greek metaphysical philosophy, and Islamic mysticism after eighth century. The works of Christian mystics like Pseudo-Dionysius (5th & 6th Century) show Neoplatonic and Gnostic influences. Additionally, Christian mystics such as Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and John of the Cross (1542-1591) drew upon Jewish mystical concepts, including the divine longing for union and the significance of the spiritual path. Concepts like the sefirot (divine emanations) and mystical interpretations of the Hebrew Bible influenced Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) and Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522).

During the early centuries of Islamic expansion, encounters between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa facilitated the exchange of ideas and practices. Christian ascetics and mystics had an opportunity to interact with their Muslim counterparts, leading to a mutual influence in terms of ascetic practices, spiritual disciplines, and mystical insights.

Eastern Christendom in the Middle East drew heavily on Islamic mysticism as it came in direct contact with the Muslim world. Western Christendom encountered Islamic mysticism through translation of works of mystics of Muslim Spain.

“Dear Friend, Your Heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust which has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets.”
Abd Al-Qadir Jilani (1077-1166)

Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, originated in the early centuries of Islam. Sufis seek to attain a direct and personal experience of God’s presence. They emphasize spiritual purification, inner awakening, and the development of a deep connection with God through practices such as dhikr (remembrance of God meditation), and asceticism. Key themes in Sufism include the concept of tawhid (the unity of God), the love and longing for God, and the path of spiritual realization usually under the guidance of a spiritual teacher (shaykh).

Sufism developed its unique contemplative practices and spiritual language. However, it is not isolated from the influence of other monotheistic traditions. Kabbalistic ideas reached the Muslim world through Jewish and Christian interactions, contributing to the development of Islamic mysticism. During the Islamic Golden Age, Sufi thinkers interacted with Jewish and Christian mystics, exchanging ideas and practices. The concept of divine love found in Sufi poetry, such as the works of Jalal Uddin Rumi (1207-1273), shares similarities with Christian mystical expressions.

Muslims encountered Christian monasticism exemplified by ‘desert fathers’ in the middle east. Early Muslim ascetics drew inspiration from the examples of Christian monks and hermits who practiced rigorous asceticism in the desert. The simplicity of their lifestyle, devotion to prayer, and pursuit of spiritual purity resonated with early Muslim ascetics.

Stories and teachings of Christian mystical figures, such as St. Anthony of Egypt (251-356) and St. Simeon Stylites of Syria (390-459), gained widespread fame and influenced the development of Islamic asceticism. Early ascetics in Islam, embraced a lifestyle of simplicity, self-denial, and contentment with minimal material possessions, mirroring the Christian ascetic ideal.

Muslim Sufi traditions spread with conquest of large swaths of lands. Sufi sages dotted Muslim lands of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Muslim Spain, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, and India. Mystic traditions developed in Sunni, Shia, and Ismaili denominations.

“I will soothe you and heal you,
I will bring you roses.
I too have been covered with thorns.”

Rumi (1207-1273)

Despite their distinct traditions, monotheistic mysticisms often explore common themes, such as the yearning for direct experience of the divine, the concept of divine love, and the idea of transcending the self to unite with the divine. These shared themes influenced the contemplative practices, poetic expressions, and philosophical outlooks of mystics across different monotheistic traditions.

Islamic hermeneutical approaches, such as allegorical interpretation and mystical exegesis of the Quran, influenced Jewish mystical interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. Kabbalistic scholars applied symbolic and allegorical readings to biblical texts, seeking mystical and hidden meanings in the sacred scriptures.

One example is understanding of sacred scripture in four diverse ways in Jewish and Muslim traditions. Hebrew Peshat (simple) and Arabic Zahir (clear) or Muhkam (lucid) is direct literal meaning of the text. Hebrew Remez (hint) and Arabic mutashabihat (unspecific) is allegorical meaning. Hebrew Darash (seek) and Arabic maja’az or isti’iara (figurative) is metaphorical explanation of sacred text and Hebrew Sod (secret) and Arabic Tawi’il (to return referring to returning to the hidden meaning) is inner esoteric meaning.

Another example is Hebrew and Arabic classification of souls. Jewish classification of the types of souls includes Nefesh; the animalistic part such as greed and lust that guides toward sinful life. Ruach contains moral virtues and helps to distinguish between good and evil while a higher spiritual plane of Neshamah takes him closer to God. Muslim concept explained in Quran is similar with nafs amm’arah is same as Nefesh that commands a person to do sin, nafs laww’wamah is Ruach that can recognize sin and makes him feel guilty while nafs mutma’innah is Neshamah that makes a person serene and content as he comes close to God.

In Hasidim, the concept of zaddik (pious and righteous man) who sometimes becomes a charismatic leader is same as Sufi concept of zahid (pious and righteous man). Jewish practice of Hitbonenut (being alone) bears similarities to Christian asceticism of desert fathers who sought solitude in deserts and contemplative Hesychasm (quiet) movement and Muslim concept of khalwa (solitude). These practices emphasize detachment from possessions and a focus on spiritual matters. Shem HaMephorash (explicit name) refers to recitation of seventy-two letter name of God in Jewish mystical practice that is like Christian exercise of repeating Christ name with inhalation and acknowledging one’s sin with exhalation and Muslim concept of zhikr (repetition of God’s names).

In 18th and 19th century rise of reason to explain theology resulted in erosion of esoteric and mystical trends of all three religions. Mysticism was viewed as something irrational and backward in the age of reason and modernization. Religious texts were re-interpreted through rational sciences of the time. It was hard for a rational practicing Jew, Christian or Muslim to explain miracles and nature of divine in the age of science. In the 20th century, industrial scale carnage of First and Second World Wars, rise and fall of Communism and unchained capitalism focused on unlimited consumption resulted in social and environmental degradation. This rekindled interest in age old questions of divine existence, purpose of human existence beyond physical realm and search for peace at individual and collective level. Man’s quest about his own existence brought back mysticism in the cultural discourse of all three religions. Its off shoot was ‘new age spiritualism’ that distanced itself from tradition by using secular motifs and even ‘McDonaldization’ of spirituality.

All three mystical traditions share common values, but each express it in its own theological framework with unique symbols and cultural expressions. However, the basic struggle is to explore the mysteries of existence and deepen spiritual connection with the divine. In a globalized world and democratization of access to information, this exchange will increase with time for those interested to embark on this journey.

“We must close our eyes and invoke a new manner of seeing, a wakefulness that is the birthright of us all, though few put it to use.”
Plotinus (204-270)

Acknowledgement: Author thanks a number of ordinary folks belonging to diverse faiths and ethnicities (Arab, Iranian, Central Asian, Kurd, Jew, Christian, Greek, Armenian, Israeli & Palestinian) during his travels to Saudi Arabia and Israel who shared their hopes and dreams in many conversations on the streets of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.

 Hamid Hussain

19 July 2023

Book Review: Grand Delusion; the Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Book Review

Steven Simon.  Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East (New York: Penguin Press), 2023.

“Grand Delusion” by Steven Simon provides a timely analysis of the dynamics that shaped American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era in the Middle East.

The major theme of “Grand Delusion” revolves around the notion that American policymakers suffered from a persistent delusion that military force alone can bring about sustainable change and security in the complex web of Middle Eastern conflicts.

In the last five decades, American involvement in the region revolved around many areas considered vital for American national security interests.  In the early phase, containment of Soviet Union was major area of concern.  The U.S. sought to prevent the spread of communism and Soviet influence in the region, leading to increased military and economic aid to countries perceived as strategically important allies, such as Turkey and Iran. Continue reading Book Review: Grand Delusion; the Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East

Book Review: Four Battlegrounds by Paul Scharre (AI Defense Applications)


From Dr Hamid Hussain

Recently did a book review of an excellent book about AI use in defense realm.


 Book Review –   “Four Battlegrounds” by Paul Scharre

 “Four Battlegrounds” by Paul Scharre is a fascinating account of emerging technologies especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) in military affairs and modern warfare. New technologies from the invention of gun powder, artillery, automobile, airplane, tank, and submarine have propelled revolution in military affairs throughout human history. The first computer-based model was used by the Russian military known as the Unified Command and Control System (UCS). It was developed during the late 1960s and became operational in the Soviet Armed Forces in the mid-1970s. It integrated various data sources, such as radar, satellite imagery, and communications, to provide comprehensive real-time information about the tactical and operational situation to military commanders. Since then, computer technology has penetrated every aspect of military activity.

 Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving and changing the military culture and has the potential of revolutionizing various aspects of warfare. AI assists in analyzing vast amounts of data collected by military sensors, satellites, and intelligence sources. By utilizing machine learning algorithms, AI can identify patterns, detect trends, and extract actionable intelligence from large data sets, supporting decision-making processes in a shorter time span. AI enables the development of autonomous systems operating on land, air, and sea, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and autonomous submarines. These systems can perform surveillance, reconnaissance, and even combat missions without human intervention, reducing risks to personnel.


AI is also employed in the development of what is called ‘intelligent weapons systems’. AI algorithms help improve targeting accuracy, optimize trajectories, and enhance overall effectiveness. This information can then be used to make better-informed decisions, AI algorithms can also be used to monitor and analyze data from military equipment, enabling predictive maintenance. By predicting failures and recommending maintenance actions, AI helps increase equipment reliability, reduce downtime, and enhance operational readiness.

 AI has a crucial role in military cybersecurity to detect and respond to cyber threats. AI systems can analyze large amounts of data, identify patterns, and detect anomalies that can prevent and mitigate cyber-attacks. AI’s role in training is developing sophisticated simulation tools for military training purposes. AI-based training systems can be used to simulate realistic combat scenarios, allowing soldiers to hone their skills in a safe and controlled environment. This technology can also be used in medical evaluation and ordnance disposal saving human lives.

 In addition to many limitations of technology in human conflict, use of AI in the military also raises ethical and legal considerations, such as ensuring appropriate human oversight and control, minimizing risk of collateral damage, and addressing potential biases in decision-making algorithms. The major challenge is the need for ethical guidelines and regulations to govern the development and use of AI in military contexts as different cultures have different perspectives.

 The book gives use of emerging technologies in four battlegrounds of the future: land, sea, air, and cyberspace. Scharre expertly navigates through each domain, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of how traditional and unconventional warfare are being reshaped by advancements in technology. Scharre uses case studies to explain these technologies that are shaping the battlefield and changing the dynamics of conflict.

 Scharre is well qualified to discuss the subject in depth in view of his own career in the military, defense policy and technology sector. He is familiar with the terrain of all three areas as he a former U.S. Army Ranger who have served tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, served as policy advisor in Pentagon and familiar with the culture of technology companies at the forefront of groundbreaking work on defense application of AI.

 Schare is not a disciple of ‘tech mania’ and presents a balanced view providing an insightful analysis of opportunities presented by emerging technologies while at the same time highlighting the limitations as well as potential dangers. He also addresses the moral dilemmas faced by policymakers, military leaders, and soldiers on the ground. He examines the challenges of adhering to international laws and conventions while leveraging cutting-edge capabilities and the potential for unintended consequences in an interconnected world.

 There will be fierce competition between United States and China to develop and implement the game-changing technology of AI in military domain and the winner will dominate the future. We hope that humans don’t repeat the history that in their quest for domination focus only on destructive creativity ignoring constructive creativity. Humans invented weapons for industrial scale carnage of First World War managing to kill about 18 million humans of all races, religions, and ethnicities in four long years. 1918, God reminded them what he can do by sending influenza pandemic that killed 21 million people globally in four short months. He has sent a signal in 2022 in the form of COVID-19 that should encourage reflection by all powers obsessed with global domination only through coercive means.

 Paul Scharre. Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (New York: W. W. Norton), 2023


Hamid Hussain

20 May 2023

Brown Pundits