CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS: Pressures and potential in a post-9/11 world

by
02 November 2006

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THE rise of interfaith relations over 30 years has depended on letting different religious voices "hear others as you would wish to be heard yourself" . This could be a variation of the Golden Rule devised for the interfaith-relations movement. 

Peter Riddell has spent many years in encounter with Muslims, and he feels passionately that Christians should work hard to overcome stereotypical images of Islam, and find ways of co-operating for the good of inclusive society. To this end, he surveys diverse Muslim approaches to British society, analysing various postures according to separatist or participatory tendencies.

He also tackles Muslim responses to 9/11, globalisation, relations with Christians, and a host of wide-ranging social and political issues.  His tone is one of realism - valuing what is impressive about Islam, but not minimising the negativity of its anti-Western ideological wings - and that tone is good to have. 

The theology underpinning Riddell's Christian engagement with Islam is, broadly speaking, inclusivist: Christians have things to learn from Islam because of God's universal blessing, but the necessity for faith in Jesus Christ as God's act of redemption leads to absolutism, however attenuated, in the Christian cause. How this squares with respect for Islam and the fruits of interfaith relations is not fully examined.

Riddell is happier responding to Muslims as people than he is with Islam as a system of cumulative tradition. But dialogue does have consequences in the theology of religions, and Riddell's biblical theology does not allow him to take the sovereign freedom of God with the total seriousness that alternative readings of the biblical literature give permission for.

This shows in his failure to analyse pluralist positions with any degree of attentiveness.  He compounds the failure by citing Clinton Bennett, who is said to be an Anglican scholar with pluralist tendencies, though he is actually a Baptist.

Riddell's call for greater encounter and exchange between Christians and Muslims is commendable in terms of building social cohesion.  But, at the theological level, can the hard-won trust needed for shouldering the burden of this task be sustained if the Christians hold the final trump card in Jesus? Is the value of respect at the heart of the interfaith-relations industry sufficient?
The Revd Alan Race is Rector of St Andrew's, Aylestone, Leicester.

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