From the 1830s to the 1930s Jewish scholars came to dominate Islamic studies in Europe, particularly Germany, Hungary, and France, concentrating primarily on the Qur'an and the life of Muhammad but also painting a broad canvas describing the nature of Islam as a religion. They presented Islam as derived from Judaism, and under whose aegis, especially in medieval Muslim Spain, Jews enjoyed not only religious tolerance but cultural and economic flourishing. The image of Islam was of a rational religion that maintained Judaism's monotheism, rejection of anthropomorphism, and ethical law. Precisely those aspects of Judaism that these Jewish scholars despised—mysticism, pietism, apocalypticism—they also ignored in their representations of Islam. The identification with Islam was part of a larger project of modern Jewish thinkers to “purify” Judaism of religious excess—pietism, mysticism, exoticism, eroticism—and identifying Judaism with Islam became a tool to de-Orientalize Judaism.

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