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When the twain do meet . . .

28 July 2009

Philip Lewis considers the fruits of some interfaith discussions

Building a Better Bridge: Muslims, Christians and the common good
Michael Ipgrave

Georgetown University Press £14.75 (978-1-58901-221-9)

THIS book comprises lectures and talks delivered at the fourth, annual Christian-Muslim seminar con­vened by the Archbishop of Canter­bury. This was held in Sarajevo in May 2005. The book is organised around three themes: Believers and Citizens, Seeking the Common Good, and Caring Together for the World We Share.

As with the three earlier volumes in the series — The Road Ahead: A Christian-Muslim dialogue (2002); Scriptures in Dialogue: Christians and Muslims studying the Bible and the Qur’an together (2004); and Bearing the Word: Prophecy in bib­lical and Qur’anic perspective (2005) — it has been excellently edited by the Archdeacon of South­wark. He also introduces each theme, co-writes a compelling chap­ter on Britain with the late Shaikh Dr Zaki Badawi, and provides an insightful conclusion.

Each section opens with a tour d’horizon by a scholar from each tradition. This is followed by studies that consider the issues in four loca­tions: Bosnia, West Africa, Malaysia, and Britain. As with the earlier sem­in­­ars, the presentations are marked by candour and civility. Generally, there is little point-scoring or polemic.

Unsurprisingly, Bosnia has most material devoted to it, with contri­bu­tions from Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox thinkers. For scholars and students unfamiliar with some of these locations and themes, the art-i­cles on Christian-Muslim rela­tions in West Africa and Malaysia will pro­vide accessible entry points to the issues and contemporary debates.

Four other chapters will also prove especially useful: Maleiha Malik’s “In Broken Images: Faith in the public sphere”, John Langan’s “The Common Good: Catholicism, pluralism, and secular society”, and two fine pieces on the environ­mental crisis, one by Ellen Davis, the other by Aref Nayed. The latter argues that the relative paucity of Islamic reflection on the environ­ment “demonstrates something of a crisis in contemporary Muslim theology”. Thus, he aims to provide a prolegomenon for such a theolo­gical reflection.

My main regret is that, unlike some of the earlier volumes, the dis­cussions that followed the presenta­tion of papers were not included. Also, the attempt to combine thematic with regional studies meant some uneven coverage, as well as touching on issues that re­quire greater elaboration. For ex­ample, the Serbian contribution spoke of the Orthodox ideal of ruler and bishop embodying “symphonic accord”. It would have been helpful to have had more history and con­text for such a view — probably un­familiar to many western Christians.

Dr Lewis is Interfaith Adviser to the Bishop of Bradford and Lecturer in Peace Studies at Bradford University.

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