Encountering Islam: Christian-Muslim relations in the public square
SCM Press £25
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“AFTER centuries of mutual animosity and stereotyping, Christian engagement with Islam”, Richard Sudworth suggests, “is arguably the most pressing task for the church in its relations with Islam and Muslims today.”
But how is the Church to engage with Islam in 21st-century Britain? In this book, Sudworth, a theologian and Anglican priest working in Sparkbrook, a majority-Muslim area of Birmingham, tries to provide answers to this question.
The book is divided into two sections: Part One (which includes chapters 1-4) covers the context and historical background of engagement by the Church as a whole with Islam, while Part Two (chapters 5-8) describes Anglican encounters with Islam.
Elizabeth DraysonOff the tourist track: a bronze monument erected in 1997 to Boabdil, the last Muslim King of Granada, in Spain, on the site, now surrounded by modern flats, where, in 1492, he was forced to hand the keys of the city to the Christian King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and go into exile. From The Moore’s Last Stand: How seven centuries of Muslim rule in Spain came to an end by Elizabeth Drayson, a Cambridge don, who provides a highly readable account with 27 colour plates (Profile Books, £17.99 (£16.20); 978-1-78125-686-2)Drawing on the teaching of numerous Christian writers, ancient and modern, Sudworth begins, in chapter one, with a brief historical survey of how Christians have viewed Muslims through the ages. Then, in chapters two and three, he considers “Catholic encounters with Islam” (particularly the pronouncements of Vatican II) and the experiences of Protestant and Orthodox Christians with Muslims.
Bringing things up to date, chapter four examines the “Contemporary issues in Christian-Muslim encounter”, such as religious freedom, the persecution of Christians in majority-Christian lands, and the problematic status of Israel.
With deep theological understanding, Sudworth, in chapters five and six, discusses the encounters of Anglicanism with Islam before and after 1988, the year of the Lambeth Conference and its key text “Jews, Christians and Muslims: The way of dialogue”.
Informative and incisive, in chapter seven, Sudworth considers the thoughts of two Anglican worthies: Bishop Kenneth Cragg and the former Archbishop Rowan Williams on interfaith dialogue.
Giving examples of his own encounters with Muslims in Birmingham, in chapter eight, and in his “Final Thoughts”, Sudworth discusses different theologies of engagement for what he terms “the public square”.
Each chapter concludes with “Anecdotes from the Field”, in which the author raises pertinent (often controversial) questions: “do we worship the same God” as Muslims? and can we “see Christ in the other” in Muslim worship?
In presenting “a political theology (of coexistence) responsive to Islam”, Sudworth emphasises “the need to recognise the ‘sacramental’, at least some degree of natural law”, which “gives space for finding Christ as well as proclaiming Christ”.
An important aspect of this “sacramental” theology of “inter-religious encounter”, in Sudworth’s opinion, is “the need for both evangelism and dialogue”, a theology that “accommodates the missionary impulses within Islam and Christianity”.
But, as well as this, he emphasises the need for an “encounter” with Islam which confidently presents the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation, teaching that has given rise to much debate between Christians and Muslims.
In the light of the persecution and marginalisation of Christians in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Sudworth states: “For Christians, issues of religious freedom among Muslims and fair treatment as minorities are very present challenges to Islam.”
For this reason, he continues, there is “a particular need for Christians supporting and encouraging fellow Christians struggling as communities under Islamic rule”.
Full of practical suggestions and theological insights, as Sudworth himself states, “this book should be read as a theological resource.”
Although focusing on Anglican engagement with Islam, this book is essential reading for Christians of any denomination who have an interest in Muslim-Christian dialogue.
Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a specialist in Islamic Studies presently working in Iraq.