Jewish congregations don't routinely devote a Sabbath to studying Islam.
But come sundown Friday, the Glen Rock Jewish Center will begin an unusual and possibly pioneering two-day program aimed at understanding Islamic history and beliefs.
And despite longstanding tensions between Jews and Muslims over the Middle East, the scholar delivering the program said the threat of radical Islam won't be the focus of his lecture.
"My goal is to provide a sympathetic portrayal of Islam with a modicum of background and historical knowledge," said David Freidenreich, a visiting assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "Jews and Muslims had warm relations in the past, and I don't see why they can't have warm relations in the future."
The program, "Encountering Islam, an Introduction for American Jews," will begin Friday night and continue through Saturday with lectures by Freidenreich, a showing of the movie "A Son's Sacrifice" and a question-and-answer session.
Freidenreich, who is also a rabbi in the Conservative movement and has a master's degree in religion from Columbia University, said he wants to dispel what he said is the stereotype that Islam is inherently violent, misogynistic and anti-Semitic. He said the Jewish community's understanding of Islam is incomplete because it's shaped primarily by the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"Part of the problem in Jewish-Muslim relations is that they are framed as surrounding a single issue: the Mideast," said Freidenreich, 30. "One of my goals is to show that Islam is multifaceted, and that Muslims in this country have a wide range of interest and concerns, and that it's helpful for everyone involved to see all the angles."