Fear & Friendship: Anglicans engaging with
Frances Ward and Sarah Coakley,
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code CT374 - free
postage on UK online orders during August)
THIS excellent collection of essays was written by Christians
and Muslims in a variety of pastoral and parochial interfaith
contexts, and provides a good "how-to" guide for clergy and other
Christians work-ing in multifaith situations. If you read nothing
else, Philip Lewis's highly knowledgeable essay is an indispensable
introduction to different aspects of Islam in Great Britain.
One rich strand of this book is suggested ways of engaging with
Muslims in an Anglican parish context. On the community level,
Edmund Newey and Richard Sudworth discuss a church-based community
centre for children and families which employs Muslim staff.
Turning to scripture, Catriona Laing describes Scriptural
Reasoning, a forum in which participants share ideas from Bible and
Qur'an on themes such as "family" or "hospitality".
And where scripture or dogma may cause tension, Frances Ward
turns to a performance of Shakespeare's Much Ado About
Nothing - among her Muslim friends, the play triggers debates
about honour and shame in the context of marriage and family
In all this, a few themes keep emerging. One is the issue of
Christian uniqueness: Rowan Williams in the Afterword writes about
how the Church can "sustain the claim to universal pertinence in
[an interfaith] setting without plun- ging into straightforward
One solution is Christian hospitality. Ian Wallis uses the
paradox of host and guest at the eucharist to suggest that a
disused Sheffield church be converted for interfaith prayer. Sister
Judith, an enclosed nun, invites Muslim friends to join her in
silent prayer, and finds Qur'anic verses to complement her own
concept of God.
Another recurring theme is that of offence. Rachel Mann defends
the freedom of speech (and art) when confronted with Muslim
opposition to nude art in Liverpool. Indeed, contributors
repeatedly express awkwardness in discussing certain things with
Muslim friends, whether social (treatment of women; political
authoritarianism) or religious (biblical hermeneutics). But they
are bold enough to work towards true friendships, which include the
freedom to disagree. In return, openness is also visible in the two
Muslim contributions, in which the problems of Islamophobia and
radicalisation are presented with moving anxiety and
The title is somewhat misleading: if I may make the distinction,
the book is essentially about Anglicans engaging with Muslims
individually, not with Islam as a religion. It would, therefore,
have been good to have other angles on interfaith work; for
example, how the church can work with the white underprivileged who
see Islam as a political and cultural threat.
Apart from this minor quibble, however, this is a consistently
thought-provoking book, and one thoroughly recommended for those
working in interfaith parochial contexts.
The Revd Isabella Image is Assistant Curate at All Saints
and St Peter, Luton.