Why Can't They Get Along? A conversation between a
Muslim, a Jew and a Christian
Dawoud El-Alami, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, and George D.
Lion £9.99 (978-0-7459-5605-3)
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT656
IS "GETTING ALONG" all that we can expect from the dialogue
between religions, as is implied by this book's title? If so, it
would be a reductionist account of dialogue - sufficient, perhaps,
for a government department promoting community cohesion, but
inadequate for believing people. Given Jewish, Christian, and
Muslim affirmation of the presence of God in the whole of life,
committed dialogue assumes that we might learn something of that
presence from one another.
This book is designed as a conversation, and it fulfils this aim
very well: the exchanges come across genuinely as though between
three friends. They are not afraid to disagree, though it is
generally genial disagreement. Apart from the observation that all
three share a basic sense of Abrahamic ethical monotheism, how that
sense is expressed in terms of beliefs, practices, and social
impact varies widely. Occasionally the impression is given that the
main agreement between the authors (all religious-studies teachers
located in Aca- demia) is that the conversation itself is worth
There are 17 chapters arranged in four sections, under the
titles Teachings, Religious Practice, Ethics and Lifestyle, and
Societal Issues; and the authors respond to one another in as
lively a way as print permits. The whole represents a first-level
entry into Abrahamic comparative religion, and will help generate
informed grass-roots interfaith encounters.
But there's a question: is comparative religion the same as
dialogue? I noticed some interesting features as the conversation
developed. One was a tension between the conversationalists
speaking first for themselves and then feeling obliged to reiterate
tradition. The most creative moments were when they made clear
their own positions on a topic.
A second feature concerned the extent to which critical thought
was allowed to make its impact on the discussion. On the whole,
this was limited.
Religious-studies teachers tend to be suspicious of interfaith
dialogue, fearing it might involve an illegitimate mixing up of
religions. Theologians, on the other hand, are meant to face the
implications of critical thought on developing tradition, and this
leaves them being challenged by the impact of interfaith dialogue
as such. This Abrahamic conversation hovers between the two
methodologies. But it is good to see religious studies making
forays into the dialogical world.
The Revd Dr Alan Race is Rector of St Margaret's, Lee, in