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7458 Muslims and Modernity: An
introduction to the issues and debates By
Continuum £18.99 (0-8264-5482-8)
Church Times Bookshop £17.10
Islam in Britain: The British Muslim community in February 2005
The Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity £5.99
Kissing Cousins? Christians and Muslims face to face
Monarch Books £10.99
Church Times Bookshop
SINCE the attacks of September 2001 in the United States, a vast outpouring
of new publications on Islam has reflected interest in that faith in the West.
These three works show the diverse approaches to Islam among Christian scholars
The works concerned have quite different aims and formats. Bennett’s
functions as a textbook for undergraduate students, as is reflected in the
discussion questions at various points. The ISIC volume is a research report,
designed to raise awareness among both Church and government about the issues in
focus. Bill Musk’s book, in contrast, is a personal reflection by an established
Christian scholar in Islam who seeks to discover "parallels . . . about how the
two faiths have actually found expression on earth". In doing so, he conducts a
vast survey of Islamic history and theology with a parallel examination of these
features of Christianity.
These different aims result in different writing styles. Bennett adopts a
high scholarly style, while the ISIC report is more mid-scholarly, aiming to be
accessible to an educated but non-specialist audience. Musk’s style is more
popular, with frequent first-person reference, and aims to be accessible to
non-specialist readers in the Churches.
Interestingly, Bennett aims to be a "virtual insider", allowing Muslim voices
to speak for themselves without intermediate interpreter. The ISIC work takes an
outsider’s perspective, looking into Islam and analysing what it sees in diverse
Muslim statements and actions. Musk sits between the two, observing Islam as an
outsider, but responding as an insider Christian in his discussion of themes
within both faiths.
All three works demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the Islamic faith, and
all recognise considerable diversity in the way Muslims relate to their sacred
texts and the world around them. All three include discussion of the British
context, though in the books by Bennett and Musk it is a passing discussion. The
ISIC book is primarily an analysis of the British scene.
For criticism of Islam and Muslims, the ISIC volume stands apart. Presenting
evidence of plans by some Muslims to take Britain for Islam through Islamic
outreach and penetration of public institutions, it quotes Muslim writings; and
it presents statistics to show increasing Islamic influence. It also discusses
the phenomenon of Westophobia, or vitriolic anti-Western statements in Muslim
Musk and Bennett are much more eirenic in their engagement with Islam. Musk
says that "for most Muslims in Britain, da’wa [outreach] was never their
motivation for coming to this country." Bennett acknowledges planning for
takeover by some Muslim groups, but sees them as on the fringe of the broader
Musk and Bennett both include criticism of the West. In discussing the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Musk presents Muslim perspectives of Western,
especially American, one-sidedness, but he does not test the validity of such
views. Bennett, in line with his stated aims, presents a Muslim-insider view
that puts primary responsibility for Christian-Muslim problems on the West.
Another area where the three works diverge is in their impact on the reader.
A sense of alarm is likely to arise from reading the ISIC volume, whereas
Bennett’s volume will probably induce a sense that problems in the
Christian-Muslim relationship are not insurmountable, and that we can move ahead
with measured confidence. This might be true of the Musk volume also.
It is imperative that Christians and Muslims find ways of living together in
friendship and peace. All three books would probably agree with that. What is
the best way of preparing them for this hard work?
Some would argue that books such as the ISIC report should be hidden away,
because of the bad news they bring. But this is the ostrich view. The ISIC
report should be widely read, as it demands response from government and Church.
But we must read not only that report. More reassuring works, such as those
by Bennett and Musk, provide tools with which to respond to issues raised by
Dr Peter G. Riddell is Professor and Director of the Centre for Islamic
Studies and Muslim-Christian Relations at the London School of Theology.
Islam in Britain is available from the publishers at The Old Rectory, River
Street, Pewsey, Wiltshire SN9 5DB, for £5.99 plus 95p p. & p.
To place an order for the books with CT bookshop prices indicated,