In the aftermath of 9/11, Director Jacob Bender, an American Jew who has spent over three decades promoting interfaith dialog, wasn’t able to accept what many people believed; that religion inevitably resulted in hatred and violence. Doubting that a clash of civilization between the West and the Muslim world was the main culprit, Bender embarked on a journey seeking to discover how Jews, Christians, and Muslims once lived harmoniously in Andalusia’s Cordoba, a Spanish Muslim Medieval city known as an oasis for religious tolerance.
“Out of Cordoba: Averroes and Maimonides in their Time and Ours” tells the story of a peace activist, Bender, tracking the footsteps of two Medieval Andalusian philosophers and thinkers, Averroes- a Muslim- and Maimonides- a Jew- in Spain, Morocco, Paris, Venice, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. Throughout his journey, Bender met like-minded others who believed that people could and should aspire to coexist like their ancestors did in Cordoba. This documentary by Jacob Bender and MLK productions of Malaga, Spain has been screened over the weekend in Dallas by the Institute of Medieval and Post-Medieval Studies at Funasia. The film that took 10 years to produce has won 10 awards and has been screened over 100 times.
The film argues that both Averroes and Maimonides courageously attempted “to balance the often competing demands of reason and revelation, faith and science.” Averroes was born into a distinguished family of Muslim scholars in 1126 in Cordoba and died in Morocco in 1198. Known as Ibn Rushd in Arabic, he was influential in integrating Islamic traditions with ancient Greek philosophy, especially that of Aristotle whose works Averroes wrote summaries and commentaries on. These commentaries were later translated into Latin by Michael Scott and Herman the German in the 13th century and passed on to the Western world intellectuals in Paris, Sicily, and Toledo.
Maimonides was born in Cordoba in 1135 and was a rabbi, a philosopher and a physician in Morocco and Egypt where he died in 1204. He also was knowledgeable about Aristotle whose thoughts Maimonides was able to adapt to the Biblical faith. The discovery of the Cairo Geniza (depository of sacred Hebrew books) revealed several works of Maimonides, the Rambam, including commentaries on the Torah and personal letters. While both philosophers faced some resistance from their faith communities as they tried to balance reason and revelation, their legacy became influential.
Today, Maimonides is memorialized in Jerusalem where his grave is believed to be and in other places where medical schools bear his name. Averroes is remembered through statues in Cordoba and Venice where Venetians dealt with Arab Muslim officials who visited Venice to trade and to allow Venetians a permission from the Sultan to do business in the Muslim world. He is also featured in several art pieces like “The Three Philosophers,” a painting by Venetian Renaissance painter Giorgione.
The working of the three Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) communities in translation marked the peak of interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance. “Convivencia” is the Andalusian word that means living together reflecting coexistence. Film director Jacob Bender beautifully braids the legacy of the peaceful and fruitful Muslim-Judeo/Christian encounter through meeting Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Cordoba, Morocco, Egypt, and Paris, Venice and Jerusalem who courageously follow the footsteps of the two geniuses in fighting religious extremism and in promoting peace.
Arik Asherman, Director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem tours the city and country tirelessly building amicable partnerships with Muslims and resisting human rights offenses. Andre Azoulay, an Arab Jew who is advisor to King Muhammad VI of Morocco, is interviewed in the film; he stated: “To speak of a clash of civilizations or a clash of religions or of an inevitability to the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims is a fraud. There is no clash of civilizations. There is a clash of ignorances.” “In history, there have been moments of religious dialog, and today we have to honor these moments. We should recall them so as to say that the denial of the Other is not predestined,” said Professor Abdelwahab Meddeb, Sorbonne University in Paris.
The two thinkers and the contemporary activists are symbols of diplomacy. They affirm that “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Without peacemakers, mediators, arbitrators, and dialog partners our world has no chance of going forward into a post-modern civilization that celebrates diversity and pluralism. These are society’s transformers and true heroes.