August 3rd 2013

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why the Labor Party really fears Abbott

EDITORIAL: Rudd's new border policy: will it work?

INDUSTRY: A solution to the motor manufacturing crisis

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Christians singled out for discrimination: report

SOCIETY: Assessing the destructive impact of divorce

THE PRICE OF FREEDOM: Strategy for a cultural counter-revolution

CHINA: Persecution of Falun Gong is genocide

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: China's intransigence blocks Taiwan's civil aviation bid

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Teenage girl shot by Taliban a role model for Muslim youth

OPINION: Obama drags US politics down to Third World's level

LIFE ISSUES: Slow but steady rollback of US abortion industry


CINEMA: The thinking Christian's horror film

BOOK REVIEW: Tour of discovery by 14 scholars

BOOK REVIEW: Legendary female outlaw Jessie Hickman

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Tour of discovery by 14 scholars

News Weekly, August 3, 2013

Talking Points in Christian-Muslim Relations Into the 21st Century

Edited by John Azumah and Peter Riddell

(Melbourne: Acorn Press)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780987132949
RRP: AUD$34.95


Reviewed by Bill James


I know three Muslims.

The man is of Indian/South African background, plays soccer with a group of Iranian Christians, dislikes his Arab co-religionists, and has expressed to me his horror at Islamist atrocities.

One of the women comes from Turkey, and wears workgear of fluoro vest, jeans and boots, while the other is from Jordan, and in hot weather wears shorts and a t-shirt. Neither woman wears any sort of head-covering, and both are happy to talk to me, a male.

At the other extreme, there are Muslims who are fanatically intolerant and bitterly misogynist, and who are prepared to kill themselves and as many innocent victims as it takes to establish a global caliphate administering Sharia law, under which all non-Muslims will be either executed or live in humiliating dhimmitude.

There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and a book such as this on Christian-Muslim relations is forced to take into account the huge variety of sub-groups, outlooks and practices which they represent.

It contains 17 papers written by Christian academics under the auspices of the London School of Theology (LTS)’s Centre for Islamic Studies (CIS) and Muslim-Christian Relations.

There are three sections: 1) Theological Foundations; 2) The Encounter between Islam and the West; and 3) The Church and Islam.

The first section, “Theological Foundations”, begins with an examination of the so-called “insider movement”, an attempt to enable Muslim converts to Christianity to retain as much of their culture as possible.

Like all exercises in radical contextualisation, it raises the question of what is, and is not, non-negotiable in the Christian faith, and is reminiscent of past missiological furores such as the famous Rites Controversy which was sparked by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci in 16th-century China.

Another contribution to this first section responds to Muslim claims that the Qur’an has been “perfectly preserved”, in contrast to the text of the New Testament, which they assert has been radically corrupted.

The writer demonstrates that the challenge of reconstructing the original text of the Christian scripture is negligible compared with the insoluble difficulty of recovering the original text — or texts — of the Qur’an, given the purges which it has undergone over its history.

“Theological Foundations” also discusses Christian and Muslim attitudes toward war, including the different meanings of the term jihad, the development of Muhammed’s sanction of non-defensive, expansionist aggression, and the condemnation of indiscriminate terrorism by both the Qur’an and Tradition.

Part Two, on the encounter between Islam and the West, begins with two incompatibilities.

The first article compares Western with Islamic concepts of knowledge and truth, pitting the principles of logical coherence, evidence, open criticism, tentativeness and pluralism, against an ideological mode which, like Marxism, is closed, dogmatic and monolithic.

It is co-authored by the well-known human rights advocate, Baroness Caroline Cox.

The second lists the ways in which sophistical semantics have been used in attempts to disguise the fundamental incongruence between Islamic Sharia law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In fact, Muslims have even resorted to compiling a rival Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.

Clunky neologisms such as Islamophobia and homophobia are tendentious and unhelpful.

The article on Islamophobia is sympathetic to the concept, but inadvertently provides an insight into the mentality of those who brandish the term as a weapon, and the following paper on Westophobia sheds light on a far more genuine problem (even if its name is just as linguistically infelicitous!).

This section of the book also contains an informative potted history and coverage of Islam in this country, written by Australian expert, Dr Bernie Power. Its only problem is that it is slightly out-of-date, quoting, for example, the 2006, rather than 2011, census.

The third and final section begins with a survey of Christian-Muslim dialogue by Dr Peter Riddell, in which he analyses the interactions between different types of Muslim (Muslim modernisers, Muslim traditionalists and Radical Islamists) and different types of Christian (World Council of Churches, World Evangelical Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church).

Another piece on Islam in Turkey is very pertinent in view of the current unrest in that country.

Then there is a detailed linguistic and theological analysis of the 2007 Muslim “call” to Christians, A Common Word Between Us and You, based on an alleged common element in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an: “love of the One God and love of the neighbour”.

It caused some controversy at the time, particularly when a number of Christian luminaries such as the late John Stott responded positively to it, and the discussion of it is significantly subtitled Potential Ambiguities Of An Interfaith Appeal.

The paper on “Conversion and Apostasy” shows that what most of us think of as the simple consensus of Islam, i.e., that converts from Islam must die, is in fact a complex and sometimes contested outcome of four factors.

These are: i) the Qur’an; ii) the principle of abrogation (i.e., that a later Sura takes precedence over an earlier one); iii) Hadiths, or Traditions; and iv) Sharia law.

(This is, of course, scant consolation to those who are actually under threat from Islamists with an unambivalent and textually unsubtle commitment to the validity of the principle of death to apostates!).

“Naïvety and Hostility” is the title of the last article, and it sums up the Scylla and Charybdis between which we need to steer.

There is no use pretending there are no aspects of Islam which are unacceptably incompatible with liberal democracy and religious freedom. They must be faced, recognised, named and openly opposed.

On the other hand, we must beware of demonising Muslims in toto, and try to treat its ordinary representatives — such as my three acquaintances — with decency and respect.

This book is a useful tool in developing a realistic understanding of Islam — and, what’s more, you will be supporting an Australian publisher by buying it!


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