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Thoughtful dialogues

27 January 2017

Simon Ross Valentine considers Christian-Muslim conferences and their fruits

The Community of Believers: Christian and Muslim perspectives
Lucinda Mosher and David Marshall
Georgetown University Press £19
Church Times Bookshop £17.10


Sin, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation: Christian and Muslim perspectives
Lucinda Mosher and David Marshall
Georgetown University Press £19
Church Times Bookshop £17.10


IN A world troubled by conflict and strife (conflict, sadly, often carried out in the name of religion), there is a real need for cooperative, positive dialogue between people of different faiths.

One of the most significant inter­faith projects taking place between Muslims and Christians is the Build­ing Bridges Seminar, an initiative started by Rowan Williams, Arch­bishop of Canter­bury, in 2002, in which leading Islamic and Christian scholars meet once a year to discuss different issues of faith. Since 2013, this group has been supervised by Georgetown University, Washing­ton, DC.

The Community of Believers contains the proceedings, discus­sions, and lectures of the Twelfth Building Bridges Seminar, held at Doha, Qatar, in 2013.

This book, which follows the schedule of the meetings, begins with a discussion by Gavin D’Costa of the Church as community, the mystical body of Christ, and its work of proclamation. The nature and meaning of the Ummah (Muslim community) and its historical development are then considered by Abdullah Saeed. As in all sections of the book, relevant biblical and Qur’anic passages are referred to.

With similar theological insight, in Part 2, Lucy Gardner and Feras Hamza consider the issues of unity and disunity in both faith com­munities.

The third Part of the book con­tains an essay by Ahmet Alibašicc in which he uses the Arab Spring as a case study of “accom­moda­tionism, conservatism, reform­ism, and militant extremism . . . as Muslim strategies in addressing the pressures of modernity”. This is followed by a discussion of the significance of the Roman Catholic Church “and its possible responses to a post-Christendom and also post-Christian world”.

The book concludes with “Reflec­tion” in which Lucinda Mosher provides an essay sum­maris­ing the content of the partic­ipants’ dis­cussions.

Sin, Forgiveness, and Recon­ciliation reports the proceedings of the Thirteenth Building Bridges Seminar, which met near Washing­ton, DC, in April 2014.

The book begins with an essay by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, who, although recognising the different ways in which both faiths view the origin of sin (Christianity teaches “original sin” while Islam emphas­ises the cleanliness of the newborn child), reminds us that both Islam and Christianity “extol the merciful and gracious nature of God”. Jonathan Brown, in discussing sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Islam, acknow­ledges that “human beings’ forgiveness of each other” is “a reflection of God’s mercy”.

Parts 2, 3, and 4 contain essays by Susan Eastman, Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Philip Sheldrake, and other theologians on the sinfulness of humanity, and the grace of God.

Ayman Shabana, for example, presents a lucid account of the Qur’anic story of Adam, and states that, although differences in detail exist between the Bible and the Qur’an, “the story of Adam (in both traditions) teaches that the struggle against sin is part of the eternal battle” that humans wage “against Iblis [devil] and his followers”.

This book offers, as well as detailed theology and exegesis, much encouragement and spiritual insight. Asma Afsaruddin, referring to al-Anfal (Qur’an chapter 8), uplifts us with the comment that “true love for God translates into love for one’s fellow [human] beings.”

Thoughtful, if not challenging, these two books are essential reading for anyone interested in interfaith dialogue.


Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a freelance writer and lecturer on Islam who has been living in Iraq.

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