*** DEBUG END ***

Sharpen up your faith with Islam

21 June 2013

FEW would doubt that the most important theological encounter for Christians today is with Islam. Prominent Anglicans have long been ahead of the game in this. The former missionary Sir Norman Anderson lectured in Islamic Law at Cambridge and at SOAS. Bishop Kenneth Cragg introduced Islam to a Christian readership in The Call of the Minaret (1956).

Today, the Cambridge Interfaith Programme runs courses and promotes research into Islam and other religions. The aim of such encounters is not theological agreement, but a respectful entering into a faith that is related historically to our own. Yet little of this percolates through to the average congregation. This is a shame, because the one thing a real encounter with a passionate believer from another faith should produce is a deeper understanding of one's own faith.

My first such meeting was when a young Muslim in a café in Mombasa presented me with a green-bound copy of the Qur'an in Swahili, and asked me whether I had ever felt that there was something missing from my life. His upfront approach reminded me of Evangelical Christianity.

As I reflected on our meeting, I realised that, for Christians, there is no option other than to recognise that the God proclaimed in the Qur'an is the one we call the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not talking about "other gods". Nor are we into a clash of civilisations. Thank God that British far-right campaigners realise that the contemporary Church offers zero support for a nationalist Christian agenda.

Christianity and Islam have been closely interlinked for centuries. We owe to Islamic translators our knowledge of Aristotle and the tradition of natural theology which Thomas Aquinas bequeathed to the West. What baffles me is why so few contemporary Christians are interested in theology. Why do eyes glaze over at the mention of the Trinity, and why are we faintly embarrassed by the Creed?

A deepening encounter with Islam could sharpen our understanding of our faith, at a time when it is in danger of dissolving into well-meaning moralism, tinged with sentimentality. Visits to Egypt over the years have taught me the spiritual potency of lay theology. I have debated fifth-century Christology with a Coptic Christian taxi-driver, whose grasp of what was at stake was superior to that of the ordinands I used to teach. This is because it really mattered - just as the content of their faith mattered to the driver's Muslim counterparts.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for Oxford diocese.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)