Abraham's Children: Liberty and tolerance in an age
of religious conflict
Kelly James Clark, editor
Yale University Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
(Use code CT719)
THIS is an important, disturbing, and inspiring book.
The contributors to Abraham's Children are minority
voices in their communities, who yearn for their religion to
promote peace and tolerance rather than enflame "the hatred buried
inside us for so long". Their pleas are firmly based on the
authentic teaching of their scriptures and tradition, which is
often obscured by extremists and the media. For example, Abdolkarim
Soroush, a leading Iranian philosopher, insists that tolerance and
public accountability - "the pillars of democracy" - are also key
teachings of Islam.
The book is disturbing because it highlights so many examples of
prejudice and abuse of human rights, often taught to children at an
early age. Leah Shakdiel condemns the Israeli school syllabus's
springtime concentration on "victimhood". It makes children "slaves
of memory", and blinds them to "to the ethical and spiritual
reality of what we do to others".
The textbook for young Israeli children Living Together in
Israel scarcely mentions Palestinians, Jewish-Ethiopians,
Bedouin, and Druze, who also live in the Land, even if they coexist
in daily life. In Afghanistan, the Taliban denied girls any
schooling, although, in 1996, 70 per cent of teachers in Kabul were
women. In Turkey, children are taught about the "vicious historical
agendas of missionaries".
Christians, too, may oppress minorities. Miroslav Volf says that
his grandfather, a Baptist minister, and his father, a Pentecostal
one, both had an easier time under the Communists than under Roman
Catholic or Eastern Orthodox domination. The horrific accounts of
honour killing and female genital mutilation, now condemned by
leaders of all religions, sadly show that the practice has been
widespread in many communities.
Even when religions campaign for religious freedom and human
rights, as Ziya Meral points out, they usually do so for members of
their own religion. This is why the book is inspiring. Several
contributors, despite the dangers, have challenged their own
communities and defended the human rights of those who belong to
another faith community. "I struggle from within the soul of my
people," says Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who defended a Palestinian boy
who was used as a human shield. In his nightmares, the lad
remembered that "a tall Jewish man in a kippah came to my rescue
and told me not to be afraid." President Carter refused to choose
between realism and idealism. "Moral principles", he insisted as
President, "were the best foundation for the exertion of American
power and influence."
"God has no enemies," Abdurrahman Wahid says. He provides
equally for those who believe in him and those who do not. Calvin
said much the same. Even those whose views we reject bear the image
of God and are beloved by God. Indeed, the closer we come to God by
whatever path, as Rumi said, we no longer think of ourselves as
"Christian, nor Jew, nor Magian, nor Muslim", but as one child of
God's global family.
The Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke is the President of the World
Congress of Faiths.