Friday, January 16, 2004


Post 9/11 there has been an unprecedented growth in interest in Islam among educated Westerners. But those sections of the church whose narrative is driven by fear and suspicion are growing in strength, too. Appalling (and woefully factually-deficient) books are emerging -- David Pawson's 'The Challenge of Islam to Christians', for example, has been selling in extraordinary numbers. Even mainstream religious publishers have put out titles perpetrating hugely simplistic theses on an unsuspecting public.

How refreshing then, to see a constructive and critical piece in the mainstream media from Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester: a Christian leader of orthodox and conservative temperament whose personal and episcopal background in Pakistan enhances the authority of his words. On the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, he says:

"The usual Muslim term for God, Allah, is pre-Islamic and related to both Jewish and Christian terms widely in use at the time. It is true that the Prophet Mohammed gave it a particular significance in his preaching of monotheism, but the term is still the ordinary word for God used by many Arab Christians.

"There is also social, as well as etymological, significance. In most parts of the Muslim world, language about God is common currency, used in greeting and thanking people, in praying for their welfare and so on. If Christians and Muslims were not referring to the same supreme being, daily conversation, let alone theological dialogue, would become impossible.

"[The Qur'an] claims continuity with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and with the revelation given to the Hebrew prophets and to Jesus. If dialogue is even to begin, this claim must be taken at face value; the dialogue itself will reveal the extent of similarities and differences."

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