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Themes and Resources in Christian-Muslim Relations

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 , the relationship between Islam and the West has been constantly in the news. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq , and further terrorist attacks in Bali , Madrid , Istanbul , Moscow and London have preoccupied political commentators, researchers and theologians. Other less momentous events, such as the recent controversy about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, have ensured that Islam has remained front page news.

In this context it is timely that Anvil has devoted the present issue to the topic of Christian-Muslim Relations. We have been fortunate in assembling four leading Christian scholars of Islam to contribute articles to this issue. Three provide Anglican perspectives, while a fourth adds important Catholic perceptions to the discussion.

Our f our contributors do a magnificent job in covering wide-ranging themes of crucial importance to Christian-Muslim Relations. It would help at this early juncture briefly to draw out seven key themes from these articles, and provide some further useful reading resources.

The first theme stressed by the contributors relates to the importance for Christians of learning about Islam . David Marshall begins by engaging with both the Qur'an and writings by contemporary Muslim scholars. John Azumah opens a series of important windows into Islamic Law, a much discussed topic in the context of rising radical Islam. Ida Glaser stresses the importance of studying Islam in order to gain the wisdom needed in effective Christian-Muslim engagement. Anthony O'Mahony provides an excellent overview of the Shi'a, the principal minority of Islam which has been so prominent in world events since the Iranian revolution of 1979.

The second theme touched upon relates to the experience of the different faces of Christianity in engaging with Islam . In this Anthony O'Mahony's contribution is particularly valuable, as he draws on his own specialisation to provide insights into Catholic Christianity, Eastern and Russian Orthodoxy, and Christianity in the Middle East as they relate to Christian-Muslim relations. Further valuable reading resources on this theme are the following:

•  Anthony O'Mahony (ed.), Eastern Christianity: Studies in Modern History, Religion and Politics , Melisende, London 2004.

•  Anthony O'Mahony (ed.), Christianity in the Middle East : Studies in Modern History, Theology & Politics, Melisende, London 2006.

A further key theme covered by our writers, related to the first, is the importance of considering how Muslims view Christianity and Christians . David Marshall's eloquent exposition on this theme is of the highest quality. He considers both classical Qur'anic perspectives on Christianity and contemporary perspectives on Christianity, exploring both positive and negative views, and engaging with a range of sensitive questions in the process. Further reading resources are the following:

•  Hugh Goddard, Muslim Perceptions of Christianity , Grey Seal Books, London 1996.

•  Lloyd Ridgeon (ed.), Islamic Interpretations of Christianity , Curzon, London 2000.

After surveying aspects of both Islam and various faces of Christianity, we are well positioned to consider a fourth theme addressed by our contributors; namely, shared aspects of Christianity and Islam. Anthony O'Mahony makes a helpful contibution here, considering similar aspects of Shi'a Islam and Catholic Christianity, and the person of Jesus in both faiths. Reading resources on the latter topic are vast, and include the following:

•  Muhammad 'Ata' ur-Rahim and Ahmad Thompson, Jesus, Prophet of Islam , MWH, London 1977.

•  Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur'an , Sheldon Press, London 1965.

•  Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus , Harvard University Press, London 2001.

Knowledge for knowledge's sake is of little use on its own, however. What is needed is a set of tools to make use of such knowledge, and this introduces a further theme addressed by our contributors. John Azumah follows his discussion of aspects of Islamic Shari'a Law with a listing of a number of concerns with that law as expressed by evangelicals. This is a welcome discussion, as it treads where many dare not go, namely, the area of sensitivity and friction between the two faiths.

Ida Glaser's contribution to this fifth theme of responding to Islam is different but also valuable. She advocates that Christians should begin the engagement with Muslims by studying where Muslims are, not where we think they should be. She advocates beginning with the common ground, first studying Islamic perspectives, then Biblical wisdom. Good examples of this approach are provided in the following resources:

•  Michael Ipgrave (ed.), The Road Ahead: A Christian- Muslim Dialogue , Church House Publishing, London 2002.

•  Michael Ipgrave (ed.), Scriptures in Dialogue: Christians and Muslims studying the Bible and the Qur'an together , Church House Publishing, London 2004.

•  Michael Ipgrave (ed.), Bearing the Word: Prophecy in Biblical and Qur'anic Perspective , Church House Publishing, London 2005.

Such theoretical frameworks for engagement need living contexts to become meaningful. Actual Christian-Muslim dialogue provides such a context, and is a further theme emerging from the articles. Anthony O'Mahony presents ingredients for dialogue in his article on Catholic-Shi'a relations, and my review of the 2003 Catholic-Shi'a dialogue meeting at Ampleforth Abbey presented in the book reviews section provides further practical insights into how dialogue can be carried out. Good resources on this theme include the following:

•  Kate Zebiri, Muslims and Christians Face to Face , One World, Oxford 1997.

•  Peter G. Riddell, Christians and Muslims: Pressures and potential in a post-9/11 world , Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester 2004.

•  Basil Cousins, 'Russian Orthodoxy: Contemporary Challenges in Society, Interreligious Encounters & Mission' in Anthony O'Mahony & Michael Kirwan (eds), World Christianity: Politics, Theology and Dialogues , Melisende, London 2004, pp 308-346.

A final significant theme emerging, though only briefly, from our articles is based on the notion that understanding Muslim perspectives does not necessarily mean uncritical acceptance of these perspectives. Ida Glaser comments importantly that 'friends of Muslims we may be, but that does not mean that our study of Islam and of Muslim history and society has to be uncritical'.

That final theme highlights a number of other issues which are not covered by our contributors but which need attention in any serious consideration of Christian-Muslim relations in the modern world.

A first theme which we could add to the above list is Islamic treatment of religious minorities . There is overwhelming evidence that in many locations in the Muslim world, Christian and other religious minorities suffer from varying degrees of discrimination, and sometimes active persecution by Muslim authorities. Though the present articles say little on this, there are a number of good resources available which engage with this situation, including the following.

•  Wide-ranging publications, reports and online communications by Christian advocacy agencies, such as the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (www.worldevangelical.org/commissions/rlc.htm), Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), Middle East Concern, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (http://www.csw.org.uk).

•  Yohanan Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition , Cambridge University Press, 2003

•  Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilisations Collide , Lancaster : Gazelle Book Services, 2002

Another key theme which could be added to those raised by our contributors relates to Islamic movement in the West . Immigration of Muslims to Western countries has been substantial over the last 30 years, and is well represented by the following statistics for growth of the Muslim community in Britain , drawn from published estimates and official census figures: 1















While there has also been substantial immigration to the West of other religious minority groups, such as Hindus and Sikhs to Britain , the Muslim case is unique, as surveys of Muslim minorities regularly show stark ideological differences between them and majority societies on a range of key issues. Consider the following summary table of polls conducted among British Muslims between November 2001 and February 2006:



Nov. 2001 2

Nov. 2001 3

Jun. 2002 4

Dec. 2002 5

March. 2004 6

Nov. 2004 7

Jul 2005 8

Dec. 2005 9

Feb 2006 10

Oppose US/UK military action in Afghanistan










War on Terror is really against Islam










9/11 attacks justified










Further terrorist attacks on USA justified










Support al-Qaeda attacks on Western targets










Terrorist attacks on UK justified










Trust news from Middle Eastern media channels more than BBC










Sympathise to some degree with motives (though not necessarily methods) of 7/7 suicide bombers in London










Muslims should not inform on people who are involved or connected with terrorist activities










Muslims bear not much/no responsibility to prevent crimes such as 7/7 and to bring to justice those who commit them











Nov. 2001

Nov. 2001

Jun. 2002

Dec. 2002

March. 2004

Nov. 2004

Jul 2005

Dec. 2005

Feb 2006

Western society is decadent and immoral, and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end by violent means if necessary










The Muslim community has already integrated too much into British society










Support criminal prosecution against those who criticize or insult Islam










Support violence against those who are deemed by religious leaders to have insulted them










Support use of Sharia courts in Britain to resolve civil cases within Muslim community










Support introduction of Sharia Law to certain areas of Britain










Consider jail sentence of Abu Hamza as unfair










Regard British Jews as legitimate targets "as part of ongoing struggle for justice in the Middle East "










Reject Israel 's right to exist










Suicide bombings are justified in Israel











While poll results must always be treated with caution, they do provide important insights into general trends and attitudes, especially when multiple polls over a period of time are taken into account. I will draw two observations from the above data, though many more call for consideration.

First, while a majority of British Muslims do not support terrorist actions, such as the suicide attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, a minority do. The size of this minority is sufficiently large to be of great concern to government and the broader British community. Support for the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks averages 8% across the polls examined above. This is equal to approximately 160,000 British Muslims.

Second, of equal concern is the evidence of a vast chasm between most British Muslims and the society around them. A clear majority shun the BBC in favour of Middle Eastern media outlets. An equally clear majority refute repeated British government statements that the War on Terror is not directed against Islam per se . Over half would like to see some aspect of Sharia law implemented in Britain . A majority support criminal prosecution against those who criticise or insult Islam. This relates to the recent Danish cartoon controversy, where British Muslim views were clearly out of step with majority society opinion (as had been the case with the Salman Rushdie controversy in 1989). This situation reflects similar Muslim and majority community dysfunction throughout Europe .

Good resources to read further on issues relating to Islam in Britain are the following:

•  The Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, Islam In Britain : the British Muslim community in February 2005, Isaac Publishing, 2005

•  Khurram Murad, Islamic Movement in the West: Reflections on some issues , The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, no date.

•  Anthony McRoy, Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain , The Social Affairs Unit, London 2005.

A further theme which relates to the topic of Christian-Muslim relations is the increasing polarisation between groups of Christian Islamicists concerning methods of responding to Islam and Muslims. At one level there is an increasing divide between the robust approach of former Muslim converts to Christianity and Christians from Islamic countries on one side, versus the much more eirenic approach of many Western Christian specialists on Islam. At another level, Western Christian specialists on Islam are themselves increasingly polarised between robust and irenic approaches to Islam. This is alluded to by Ida Glaser, but her article and the others do not give a detailed insight into this increasing division among Christian Islamicists. At best these differences can be viewed as a healthy feature of the rich tapestry of Christianity. At worst, they can be seen as weakening Christianity in the face of the increasing challenge from Islam in the West. Troubling manifestations of this polarisation include attempts to freeze opponents out of meetings and interfaith activities, as well as efforts by some to prevent the publication of books which take an alternative approach to Christian-Muslim relations.

Many additional themes could be offered here, but space does not allow for further extended discussion. I will conclude with a final additional theme; namely the root causes of the Islamist terror which the world has witnessed increasingly in the 21 st century. This theme illustrates to some extent the polarisation referred to above. Some commentators, both Muslim and Western, insist that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central cause of Islamist terrorism in the early 21 st century, with aspects of US foreign policy playing a key role as well. Some other commentators, mostly non-Muslim (with the exception of brave Muslim figures such as Irshad Manji), insist that the root cause of such violence lies in the very sacred texts of Islam, and point out that similar phenomena of Islamist violence occurred in previous centuries, long before either Israel or the USA existed. Such commentators link radical Islamism with periods of Islamic weakness in terms of world power, and argue that the theology of Islam assumes that the faith is dominant or will strive to dominate.

Reading materials which engage with this debate include the following:

•  Peter G. Riddell & Peter Cotterell, Islam in Conflict: Past, Present, and Future , Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester 2003.

•  Colin Chapman, 'Islamic Terrorism': Is there a Christian Response? , Grove booklets, 2005.

Prof. Peter G. Riddell

London School of Theology

Guest Editor

Andrew Goddard writes:

For those interested in exploring issues relating to Islam further, this summer there are two opportunities for study in Oxford which involve two of the authors in this issue.

The Revd Dr David Marshall is leading an introductory course for Christians on 'Understanding Islam' at St Stephen's House from 6th to 9th September. This includes Christian and Muslim speakers and visits to local institutions. Teaching covers such areas as Islam and society, the Qur'an, Muslim belief and practice, Islam in Britain and Christian-Muslim relations. It is intended for those who wish to learn more about Islam and reflect on it as Christians. For more information please contact the College Secretary - 01865 247874 or [email protected]

Dr Ida Glaser is speaking on 'Opening up the Bible in an Islamic Context' at a Wycliffe Hall Study Day on 'Christian Responses to Islam' on Saturday 8th July at St Aldate's Church, Oxford . Colin Chapman is the other main speaker ('Islamic Terrorism') and seminar leaders include Tim Green ('The Challenge of Islam in the 21st Century'). For further information please contact Mark Tindall - 01865 284876 or [email protected]

1 Peter G. Riddell, Christians and Muslims: Pressures and potential in a post-9/11 world , Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester 2004, pp 33-34.

2 Approximately 1000 respondents. "Q-Poll: readers survey", Q News , no. 337 (November 2001), 9

3 500 respondents. "UK Muslims 'against Afghan war'", BBC News Online, Wednesday 14 November 2001 . Cf http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2001/today-muslims-poll-nov-2001.htm, accessed 22 February 2006

4 500 respondents, ICM poll for The Guardian . http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2002/guardian-muslims-poll-june-2002.htm, accessed 22 February 2006

5 500 respondents, ICM poll for the BBC. http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2002/bbc-today-muslims-dec-02.htm, accessed 22 February 2006

6 500 respondents, ICM poll for The Guardian . http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2004/guardian-muslims-march-2004.asp, accessed 22 February 2006

7 501 respondents, ICM poll for The Guardian . http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2004/Guardian%20Muslims%20Poll%20Nov%2004/Guardian%20Muslims%20Nov04.asp, accessed 22 February 2006

8 526 respondents, YouGov poll for The Telegraph . Anthony King, "One in four Muslims sympathises with motives of terrorists", The Telegraph , 23 July 2005

9 500 respondents, Populus poll for The Times . "Poll shows voters believe press is right not to publish cartoons", The Times , 7 February 2006

10 500 respondents, ICM poll for The Sunday Telegraph . http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/reviews/2006/Sunday%20Telegraph%20-%20Mulims%20Feb/Sunday%20Telegraph%20Muslims%20feb06.asp, accessed 22 February 2006