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June 22: A Founder of Islamic Studies in Europe

June 22, 2014
300px-Ignác_GoldziherIgnác Goldziher, considered to be a founder of Islamic Studies in Europe, was born in Hungary on this date in 1850. Goldziher was educated at several universities before undertaking an eight-month journey through Syria, Palestine and Egypt, where he became the first European to attend lectures at Al-Azhar Theological University in Cairo and formed influential friendships with Muslim scholars and political figures. In 1890, he published Mohammedan Studies, an analysis of Islamic law that identified pre-Islamic influences as well as the influence of doctrinal controversies that arose within the first two centuries after the Prophet’s death. Goldziher was denied a tenured academic post until 1905, at which point he became the first Jewish full-time professor at Budapest University. He was a devout Jew throughout his life (his first essay, about prayer, was published before he reached the age of bar mitsve), and he earned his living as secretary to the Hungarian Jewish community (a post that seriously limited his scholarly activity) — yet he wrote in his journal about “enter[ing] into the spirit of Islam to such an extent that ultimately I became inwardly convinced that I myself was a Muslim, and judiciously discovered that this was the only religion which, even in its doctrinal and official formulation, can satisfy philosophic minds. My ideal was to elevate Judaism to a similar rational level.” “The afterlife of Goldziher’s scholarly oeuvre is quite exceptional in the history of scholarship. His writings were the starting point for ḥadīth-interpretation even half a century after his death” in 1921. —Robert Simon, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe