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