I was teaching, after
recovering from a breakdown I had in the middle of my Physics Ph.D.
I had a choice between going into the Civil Service - safe and
well-paid for the foreseeable future - or going back to write up my
physics research for an M.Phil. - not an easy thing to do after
leaving it for three years.
For no particular reason, I leapt into my ancient Morris
Minor one Sunday morning, and drove from Shropshire, where
I was teaching, to my home church, St Helen's, Bishopsgate.
Jonathan Fletcher was preaching on the letter to the Church at
Pergamom, where "Satan's throne is". What was it at Pergamom that
indicated the locus of Satan's throne? His answer was: "The
That did it: I knew God was calling me into the
forefront of the spiritual battle, which was the battle for
people's minds. He would bless me if I chose the security of the
Civil Service, but I would please him more by getting back into the
library and writing up my thesis.
The change from physics to theology? I don't
see this as a change, but as a progression. As John Polkinghorne
wrote somewhere: the difference between physics and theology is
that physics is easy, and theology is difficult. Otherwise, they
are part of a single endeavour for seeking truth.
It was just part of a long-term call from God to serve
Muslims in the gospel. That first took me to teach physics
in Muslim contexts; then to help an inner-city church in its
outreach to its Asian neighbours; then into teaching in Christian
Newcastle diocese took a pastoral interest in my
future, and thought I should get a theological
qualification. As I already had an M.Phil., the wonderful
supervisor I found in Durham suggested I went straight for a Ph.D.
The thesis was on reading Genesis 1-11 in the context of my
ministry among Muslims in Newcastle.
Studying Islam has made me appreciate more the human
dimension of the Bible, and see that this human dimension
is an intrinsic part of the way that God reveals not only his will
(as in most Islamic thinking) but also himself. The form of the
revelation, both in Christ and in scripture, is as important as the
Muslim cultures are often closer to the cultures of
biblical times than are Western Christian cultures. It is
transformative to read the biblical material on women when relating
at depth with Muslim families.
The Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies, in
Oxford, is an independent Christian centre for research on
the interfaces between Christianity and Islam.
This includes Christians studying Islam,
Muslims studying Christianity, and multi-disciplinary work, such as
the history of Muslim-Christian relations and dialogue,
intertextual readings comparing the Bible and the Qur'an,
sociological study of Christian and Muslim attitudes to each other,
studies of Islamic legal views of Christianity, Christian
theologies of Islam, conversion between the two faiths,
We have regular research seminars, and a
Friday-afternoon "Tea and Conversation", when people can chat
around a theme and/or questions they bring with them.
The other week, as an example, I had tea with a
distressed student; taught for a morning on the relationship
between the Qur'an and the Bible, at Wycliffe Hall; attended a
seminar on the teaching of Islam in UK theological colleges at our
Centre; marked some essays on the meaning of jihad; gave
email advice to two people who want to do doctorates; had a meeting
with my "Reading the Bible in the Context of Islam" research team;
gave tutorials to students working on topics ranging from the five
pillars of Islam to the treatment of religious themes in recent
films. . .
We don't offer courses in our own right. Most
people who come to our seminars and study groups are studying in
Oxford or elsewhere. We also have people come to do "guided
reading" with us - anything from three days to six months. And we
have people who are attached to us for a year or more to do some
I have been employed by Crosslinks, an Anglican
mission agency, since 1992, and they second me to work at the
Centre. I also teach at Wycliffe Hall. It's one of my passions that
the next generation of Christian leaders will do all their theology
and ministry with Islam in mind.
I'm named after my father's mother, who died in
Auschwitz. That really fuels a lot of my passion for
resisting the labelling of people of other faiths as "the other",
and the way I respond to communal violence and ethnic cleansing. It
also makes me appreciate deeply all the biblical stuff that
reflects agonies over loss of land and violence, and drives me
again and again to the Cross as the only thing that makes sense of
And it helps me to counter Western Christian
individualism. I often tell my students: "You think you
know Ida - but if you don't also know me as a Glaser, you don't
know me at all. For most Muslims, if you don't know something of
their family history and community, you don't understand them. It's
also true of you."
I lost my parents in a car accident when I was
15, and my home changed immediately. My father's sister
came straight over from Czechoslovakia, and took over the
household. That makes me acutely aware of the struggles of
immigrants, and the losses that so many people experience. The
Muslim-Christian interface is littered with loss: young Muslim
women who leave their families and countries to marry someone in
the UK; or converts who are dismissed from their families; or
people who have lost family and property as a result of violence.
All the academics in the world won't help if we can't help people
to deal with the resulting grief, terror, and rage.
Probably my most important decision was, aged
16, to say yes, in advance, to anything and everything that God
would ask me for the rest of my life.
Functioning as an academic with a fairly recent head
injury is like running in the Olympics with only one leg.
And there is no "para-academia". Every lecture I give, and every
piece I write, is, for me, a miracle. I have to depend on God. I
can do only half of what I did before, but, probably, at least half
what I did before didn't really matter in eternal terms. So my
prayer is that God will show me the half that really matters.
I'm only a very small part of God's world. It's
not what I do that matters, but what he is doing.
I'd like to be remembered for being like Jesus in some
I like holidays somewhere beautiful and quiet,
where my husband, David, and I can walk and we don't need a car.
Neither of us drives. The Isle of Wight is a favourite.
Favourite books: Pascal's Pensées,
Simone Weil's Waiting for God, Michael Polanyi's
Personal Knowledge, Karl Popper's Conjections and
Refutations, and Reijer Hooykaas's Religion and the Rise
of Modern Science. Before that, the Evangelicals who were
popular among students: John Stott, Michael Green, Francis
Schaeffer, Os Guinness.
Muslim writers? Mahmoud Ayoub, especially
Redemptive Suffering in Islam, which looks at parallels
between Christian views of the sufferings of Christ and Shi'ite
views of the sufferings of Hussain; the Deobandi text Bahishti
Zewar by A. A. Thanvi, which is what Pakistani women are
likely to have been taught; and my colleague Shabbir Akhtar's
The Qur'an and the Secular Mind.
My husband is away working a lot, and I love to
hear his voice on the phone. And I love silence, especially since
my head injury. I don't listen much to music these days, because it
tires the head rapidly. But Handel's Messiah and Bach's
Mass in B Minor. Hymns are important parts of my mental furniture:
"My song is love unknown" is special.
I love Genesis 6.6: the pain in the heart of
God makes the world bearable. Things like the story of the Levite
and his concubine in Judges are appalling, but it's good to have
that recognition of how a woman can be so badly treated when people
live "each according to what is right in his own eyes". The last
thing that made me angry was the wicked exploitation of a
I'm happiest teaching the Bible and looking at my
garden; hearing that I've planted seeds that have changed
a life, especially if they have brought them to Christ; sharing
someone's deep pain; being somewhere beautiful with my hus-
I pray for people I know, especially those in
pain; for the glory of Christ through our work; and for my family.
And I pray: "Lord, I don't know what to do: please help
I'd choose to be locked in a church with President
Assad. It might do him good to have to be somewhere quiet
and look at the image of Jesus on the cross. I'd just sit and pray
for him and the people of Syria.
Dr Glaser was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.