“KNOW yourself,” the Greek philosopher Socrates declared. In the same vein, Navid Kermani, an Iranian Shia Muslim living in Cologne, Germany, encourages us, amid our busy, hectic lives, to take stock, and examine ourselves spiritually and ethically.
Clearly using as a template the well-known philosophy book Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder, Kermani presents his ideas in the form of a dialogue between himself and his 12-year-old daughter.
Using allegories and deeply personal anecdotes (including references to his recently deceased father), the author discusses questions on life and death: issues, as he says, that we all face and yet often hide from.
Kermani emphasises how science and religion are not as irreconcilable as we often think, reminding us that most scientists — Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus — as well as physicists today believe in God. It was their belief in a God of order, he insists, that helped them to see the order in creation.
Kermani, defending the apparent inability of religion to provide scientific answers to life’s mysteries, states how, in contrast to religion, “science cannot explain the love that draws two people together to conceive a child.”
The author, believing that different religions are not mutually exclusive, but complementary, judiciously presents the teaching of not only Islam, but also Christianity, Judaism, and other religions. He emphasises how knowledge of all faiths is needed to create a complete and accurate picture of life.
To illustrate this point, he tells the story of a rabbi called to solve a dispute between two men. The rabbi listens to both and tells both men that they are right. But the rabbi’s wife yells out “But they both can’t be right.” After some thought, the rabbi replied to his wife “You’re right, too.”
A keynote of encouragement throughout the book is the claim that “God is not just something you believe in; God is something you see if you look closely.”
This is a book for personal study, reflection, and meditation, as the author invites us “to come one step closer” to God.
Dr Simon Ross Valentine, a Methodist local preacher, is a writer on Islam.
Everyone, Wherever You Are, Come One Step Closer: Questions about God
Polity Press £20
Church Times Bookshop £18