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New York is known worldwide as a melting pot, a meeting place for grounds and cultures, the majority of whom represent the world's three great monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Native New Yorker F.E. Peters might not be able to say how these "sibling" religions will be able to get along, better than they currently do, but the history all of comparative religion can certainly offer insight into why three branches of a single family are so different and so often at odds.
Raised Roman Catholic, Peters entered the seminary at age 18 and spent nine years as a Jesuit. But he soon realized that his calling was in the classroom, not the priesthood. Returning to school, Peters earned his doctorate in Islamic studies at Princeton. He arrived to teach at New York University in 1961 and he is still there, as a professor of Middle Eastern studies, history and religion.
Peters is an expert in comparative religion, studying Judaism, Christianity and Islam throughout his long career. His two-volume set The Monotheists: Jew's, Christians and Muslims in Conflict and Competition (Princeton, Nov.) looks at the history of the three religions and how they relate to each other. "When you get down to Jews, Christians and Muslims, you're talking about living issues, sibling issues," says Peters. "They care about each other in very real ways. They fight over real estate, They certainly fight about ideologies."
Peters argues that an obstacle to positive relations between Muslims and their Jewish and Christian brethren is that Islam has not experienced the secularizing influences of Western culture as Judaism and Christianity have during their longer times in America "Judaism and Christianity have been sort of tamed by the secular state," Peters says, adding that the secularization of the bye faiths was an extremely painful process for them both. "Islam hasn't grown up in those circumstances."
Part of the reason for tiffs, he says, is that he historical foundation of Islam, the life of the prophet Muhammad, is connected with church-state unity. Muhammad was a general and political leader in Medina as well as the leader of the religious community.
Peters, who has studied the classical texts of the three faiths extensively and written about the history of Mecca, says that the "cross purposes" …