Islam and Christianity on the Edge: Talking Points in Christian-Muslim Relations into the 21st Century

John Azumah and Peter Riddell

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Summary

The relationship between Christianity and Islam is complex. This collection of essays by scholars and human rights activists engages with some of the most pressing issues in Christian-Muslim relations, addressing matters of theology, the encounter between civilisations and inter-religious affairs. Some of the most controversial and sensitive questions are considered, ranging from sacred text to the politics of multiculturalism. These are key questions for the 21st century, a period when Christianity and Islam are destined to interact more closely than ever before in human history.

The Editors

Dr John Azumah is Professor of World Christianity and Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, USA. John has a PhD in Islamics from the University of Birmingham, UK and has served as the Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at the London School of Theology. He has taught in Africa and India and is author of The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa: A Quest for Inter-Religious Dialogue (Oneworld, Oxford, 2001); My Neighbour’s Faith: Islam Explained for Christians (Zondervan, London, 2008) and several academic articles on missions, Islam and Christian-Muslim relations. 

Professor Peter Riddell is Vice-Principal (Academic) and Dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at the Melbourne School of Theology. He was previously Professor of Islamic Studies and foundation Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Muslim-Christian Relations at the London School of Theology. He has also held academic posts at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Australian National University. His books include Islam and the Malay-Indonesian World (Hurst, 2001), Islam in Context (Baker Academic, 2003) and Christians and Muslims (IVP, 2004).

Reviews for Islam and Christianity on the Edge

Click here to download Adam’s extensive review in pdf format (83 KB).

To read this review by Rebecca Morris, follow this link (pdf file).

Rebecca Morris is a Religious and Values Education teacher and MTh student at St Mark’s National Theological Centre.

This book is a timely contribution to the ongoing encounter between Christianity and Islam. John Azumah and Peter Riddell, editors of and contributors to this volume, are both well known for their balanced approach to discussion about Islam. The chapters from the different authors will help to forward conversation among Christians about ways of engaging with Islam, through the range of perspectives included.

The book deals with some controversial issues, and many of the chapters promise to be significant contributions to future directions of discussion. John Azumah brings a unique perspective to debate on the Insider movement in mission. The challenges of comparing the sources of scriptures for both faiths are discussed. And the subject of Holy War is examined in the theological and historical contexts of both faiths, and in for its different understandings among Muslims.

The title places Christianity and Islam in conversation: the middle part of the book focuses more on Islam and the Western world. It includes issues of epistemology and varying positions on human rights and gender.  Hard questions are asked about stereotyping the ‘other,’ from both Western and Muslim perspectives. And the place of Muslim populations with the west, in Australia and Europe, is viewed historically and ideologically.

The third section returns to the interaction between faiths, beginning with a noteworthy analysis of different Muslim and Christian positions and how they engage one another. A look at the place of Christianity in Turkey is partnered by a look within Europe on how Christianity and Islam interact with one another and in public space.  Islamic sources are the source for a discussion of how Islam deals with those who want to leave it: and for an understanding of the call to a ‘common word’ (Qur’an 3:64) issued by Muslims to Christians. And the book concludes with a call to Christians to let their interaction with Islam and Muslims be guided by the Jesus Way.

Given how many areas of current debate are covered, that of gender is a surprising omission. All the contributors to this book are Christian, and the editors note in their introduction that it will contribute to discussion among Christians about Islam.  They have taken care to introduce a range of viewpoints, not all in agreement with one another.  This variety, and the fact that all the issues discussed are also the subject of lively debate within the Muslim community, will ensure its relevance to a wide range of readership.

Moyra Dale is an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Melbourne School of Theology.

Everyone seems to know the old adage: ‘Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it’ (Edmund Burke, (1729-1797)). I dare say it is also true that those who have no knowledge of what they are getting into are bound to make a mess of it! Indeed, unpreparedness will spoil the very best of intentions.

Every Christian who is passionate about engaging with Islam intellectually and/or with Muslims personally can probably recall an early experience when they, compelled by love, concern and passion for the glory of God, launched into dialogue only to be cut down and thoroughly humiliated. Some are so wounded by their experience they retreat or even retire. Others, awakened to the realisation of how fierce this spiritual battle is, get busy arming themselves in preparation for the next opportunity.

There are books on Islam and books on apologetics but nothing quite like Islam and Christianity on the Edge, which unpacks the hottest topics in Muslim-Christian relations. Eminently readable, the papers collected in this volume will help any person who desires positive engagement with Islam and/or Muslims to equip themselves for the task.

This book, however, does much more than that. For not only does it lay a fertile foundation of knowledge, it also feeds sapling debates while planting fresh seeds of inquiry. One of the most wonderful features of these papers is that they are non-arrogant. Respecting the complexity of their subject-matter, the writers present views that are expansive as distinct from definitive. Views are presented with conviction but without pressure – leaving us with ‘talking points’ as distinct from doctrine. Readers will not agree with every position: indeed one expressed view almost made me faint! A talking point indeed!

As a religious liberty analyst who spends her days immersed in the horrors of religious repression and persecution, I was greatly encouraged by the diversity of Islamic thought presented. I was also shocked to discover (courtesy Thorneycroft) the differences between the English and Arabic translations of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (Cairo 1981). It left me wondering: ‘Who is responsible for the meaning being lost in translation? Is this Western folly or Islamic deception? How widespread is this?’ Derek Tidball’s call to Western Christians, to ‘let go of Christendom’ and realise that ‘a new day has dawned’, excited me no end, for I share his view: ‘It is not a day to despair. Rather it is a day of new opportunity.’

I am profoundly grateful to John Azumah and Peter Riddell for giving us this book. For through it many will be able to equip themselves to make the best of the opportunities God affords them.

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of ‘Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today’ (Deror Books, Dec 2012)
Blogs: Religious Liberty Monitoring
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin
Web: www.elizabethkendal.com

Talking Points!  Although only the subtitle, it is very appropriate for this book.  In each of the three sections each of the articles remind the reader of the complexity of the challenges faced when Christianity and Islam intersect at their edges inviting a response.  I go for a book of essays especially when I want gain an overview of a subject or discover key issues relating to a topic.   This is one such book.  Not surprisingly, some of the articles attracted my interest more than others and invited me to read further.  Others have left me with questions that I want to explore; still others have given a form to my scattered uncoordinated thoughts expressing them more clearly than I have had the opportunity to do.  Others took me to into areas that haven’t been a major focus of mine but because they were short they gained my attention and that profitably.  Indeed, it was a book that has me thinking, has challenged some of ideas and has invited me to consider other points of view.

Because most of the articles had their origin as occasional papers to be presented to an audience who has at least a basic understanding of Islam, many of the articles assume (and rightly so) a basic understanding of Islam.  In today’s world where the average, everyday Christian is being faced with Islam in some form, many of the articles need to be presented in a form that would achieve a wider circulation, enabling those Christians to relate to the Muslims at their particular edge.

Ruth Nicholls worked in a Muslim country for a number of years. In her doctorate she explored ways of fostering the spiritual growth of Muslim seekers.

Rita and Steven (names changed) are Christians who were born in Malaysia which is 59% Muslim. Both were brilliant students. They accepted as normal that:

  • At secondary level Muslim students were redirected to elite schools
  • At college level Muslim students received better tutorial assistance
  • While all students sat the same university entrance exams non-Muslims were required to achieve higher grades to gain admission
  • After graduation government scholarships were provided only for Muslim students who wanted to study overseas
  • Only from overseas institutions would non-Muslim students learn of their actual exam results beyond the pass/fail information made available back home. Non-Muslim students could not be seen to outperform Muslim students
  • Only non-Muslim government employees were required to resign thus sacrificing seniority and continuing salary benefits, if they wanted to continue with post graduate studies
  • Upon completion of all studies, if government employment was granted, only Muslim staff could expect subsequent promotion.

Discrimination was not confined to the educational process. It was also applied across the entire spectrum of life for Malaysian non-Muslims.

Only years later, secure in their overseas careers, did Rita and Steven understand why they had been treated as second class citizens in their homeland. They had been subject to the common practice of Islamic Dhimmitude.

For those who have not lived as non-Muslims within a Muslim society it’s difficult to understand Muslim mindsets, practices and worldview. For those who have experienced the prevalent realities of Muslim societies, should their voices sound a note different from the prevailing politically correct tone, they are dismissed as being Islamophobic or evennsilenced with the threat of prosecution in some jurisdictions. Other well informed views are not that easily dismissed.

In the volume, Islam and Christianity on the Edge the 14 authors, each qualified at the highest level in their areas of expertise, provide 17 well researched viewpoints. The uninitiated may be as surprised as were Rita and Steven. The lively exchange of ideas within this single volume is a tour of discovery which challenges assumptions, answers questions for the curious and demonstrates the complexity of issues under examination. It encourages, not so much a search for simple answers, but rather provokes interaction with others in the all important contest of ideas and dogmas.

In the process, the reader who perseveres discovers a treasure trove of archived articles and books by others.

To understand Islam is not a casual pastime for the fainthearted. Even less so is the prospect for meaningful engagement in dialogue with Muslims.

This book will certainly help all of us to continue that endeavour and reduce surprises along the way.

Dr Stuart Robinson, Founding Pastor Crossway, Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Theology.

To read this review by Stuart Robinson in Melbourne School of Theology’s Spring 2013 edition of Ambassador magazine, click here (downloadable pdf file).

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