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Judged: The value of being understood, by Ziyad Marar

21 September 2018

Martin Warner looks at a life lived across cultural boundaries

ZIYAD MARAR writes engagingly from the experience of life at an interface. His father is Jordanian; his mother’s family lived in Croydon, south London. At the age of ten, the family moves from Beirut to Purley, near Croydon. He has a Muslim name, Ziyad, and a Christian name, Paul. When he moves to England and goes to school, he becomes Paul, for the time being.

These biographical details set the scene for an engaging and accessible review of how we make judgements in a pluralist culture, where our conventions can inhibit the ability to understand each other.

Marar illustrates the point beautifully with an account of his new life in an English primary school. He should have got full marks for a maths test, except that he had answered one question correctly, but was marked down because he used an Arabic numeral that looked like a 7 instead of a 6. When he pointed this out, he was accused of trying to cheat.

This survey of how we navigate life through the interfaces of difference draws on a wide range of cultural references. It narrates the experience of heading a successful business (Marar is President of Global Publishing at Sage Publications), and it draws from the work of academic philosophers such as Bernard Williams, and popular thinkers such as C. S. Lewis.

Marar’s style is accessible, because he offers us sound-bites that stimulate self-reflection. In a section on relationships, he notes that humility comes “not from thinking less about yourself, but from thinking of yourself less”.

For the Christian reader, this book offers much to reflect on in how we judge and are judged by others. It challenges us to recognise the seriousness and energy of those who shape a morality that references the world in many ways, but who may not require reference to the existence of God for its justification.

The chapter headings are interesting in this respect. They deal with social expectations and the significance of reputation, and conclude with “Unreliable judges”, “Breaking free”, and “The last judgement”.

It is in these three terms that I find an interface with Christian faith most interesting. The Judaeo-Christian tradition challenges us to think carefully about the reliability and the justice of our judgement. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a fundamental charter of the purposes of God in setting us free, and it is to that God of mercy and truth that we believe we are ultimately accountable.

This book made me think that Christian faith is not simply misunderstood: it is largely unknown, even by some of its adherents.

Dr Martin Warner is the Bishop of Chichester.

Judged: The value of being understood
Ziyad Marar
Bloomsbury £20
Church Times Bookshop £18

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