ook Review: Boase, Roger (ed.) 2005. Islam and Global Dialogue: Religious Pluralism and the Quest for Peace.

werner [at] forschungsinstitut.net.


This work, to which 20 authors contributed, is about exploring how Islam as a religious movement has engaged in interfaith dialogue. Roger Boase, was a professor at the University of Fez / Morocco before moving to the University of London. His comments suggest that he himself is a Muslim (post 17; see below). He has collected a motley assortment of authors on the subject of “Islam and religious pluralism”. In doing so, the main part of the work, contributions 4-11 (pp. 77-190), is devoted to Islam and its relationship to the West, in light of Huntington’s Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order (1996). The second main section, contributions 12-19 (pp. 191-273), deals with Jewish, Christian, and Islamic responses to religious differences. In conclusion-as well as implicitly over the entire work-is the appeal to see religious pluralism as an opportunity and as an expression of human and divine multicolor and to condemn religious strife.

In Part 1 of the collection, John Bowden, editor of SCM Press, directs the reader to the historical origins of religious pluralism within the Enlightenment (Contribution 1; pp. 13-20). Diana L. Eck, Indian studies Harvard University, helpfully defines exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism as the three core philosophical currents of religious expression (paper 2; pp. 21-50). The Christian evangelical world is represented in the spectrum from extremely exclusivist, sometimes also called fundamentalist (e.g., p. 13), as expressed, for example, in the Frankfurt Declaration, to less exclusivist groups that understand themselves as expressions of religious plurality (e.g., United Church of Canada, p. 23). Such spectrums are reflected in all religions, e.g. Islamic Jihad in Islam or Gush Emunim in the Jewish faith. Similarly, this spectrum is also found in inclusive and pluralistic spaces. The image of the West (Part 2) in Islam is examined from a wide variety of perspectives. William Dalrymple, historian and writer, introduces the world of Christian saints and Islamic Sufis (paper 5; pp. 91-101). In doing so, he reveals commonalities in the long coexistence of the two religions. He concludes that the longer one studies Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the more it becomes clear how much it is the foundation of fundamental Islamic content (p. 96). Especially in Eastern Anatolia (Levant) and the Middle East, this Christian-Islamic syncretism, in his opinion, is deeply rooted. Akbar S. Ahmed, Islamic studies at the American University Washington, is known worldwide for his commitment to public dialogue between Islam and other religions (contribution 6; 103-118). His contribution, as elsewhere, assumes that Muslims are hostile to the West because Islam’s achievements are not respected there (pp. 106-107). This blaming of the West is often used and underscores the rift between the Islamic world and the pluralistic Christian West. Antony T. Sullivan, an instructor in the Department of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan, is one of the few to address the tense political situation between the Islamic world and the West, especially the United States (paper 9; pp. 139-158). He tries to understand the West from an Asian perspective (China and India) and to anchor the Arab world as a component within it (p. 139). Further, he introduces the reader to the ecumenical jihad of Roman Catholic scholars (Peter Kreeft, Russell Kirk). The term jihad, which is misunderstood by many Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and the resulting activities are seen as the cause of the West’s negative attitude towards Islam (p. 147).

In the second main section (part three), the Christian-Jewish-Muslim trialogue comes into the conversation as a trilateral dialogue. Tony Bayfield, Director of Reformed Synagogues in the United Kingdom (UK), points out that September 11, 2001, was an attack on all religious thinking (paper 12; pp. 191-202; p. 191). In 5 charges, he describes the dilemma: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are closely related to him but represent the worst functioning kinship or family imaginable (p. 194). None of these three monotheistic scriptural religions abide by the challenges of their own scriptures to strive for peace (p. 195). He indicts Judaism for its absolute theology of election and uniqueness (Indictment 3) and the shaping of all three religions toward fundamentalism (Indictment 4; p. 195). Last, he refers to the exploitation of the Third World by Christianity and the post-Christian West (p. 198). Bayfield’s argument is symptomatic of the approach to religious pluralism as presented in these articles. Murad Wilfried Hofmann, a German diplomat and author in Algeria and Morocco who converted to Islam, defends Islam’s “reserved” position with regard to religious dialogue (article 16; 235-246). In his opinion, America has learned little since September 11, and “Israel” has been forgotten in the whole debate (p. 235). Fanatical evangelical circles would actively fight Islam, with Germany proving to be outstanding. Yet in Islamic states, he observed, religious problems are not an issue at the local level (p. 237). The dhimmi status (non-Muslims in Islamic states) would result in only three restrictions: exclusion from military service, a special tax that was not necessarily higher than the normal tax zakat, and the impossibility of becoming the highest head of state (!; p. 242). Tolerance, ecumenism, and the striving for peace in all religions can only succeed if everyone remains in his is his concluding thesis (p. 244).

The third statement on interreligious dialogue comes from editor Roger Boase, who sees ecumenical Islam as a response to religious pluralism (paper 17; pp. 247-266). He delineates three basic attitudes with regard to religious pluralism.

Those who reject it completely (e.g., those who see themselves as instruments of God),
those who see religious diversity as a blessing and strive toward world peace (e.g., Küng), and finally
those who reject religion in any form (pp. 247-248).
Boase, too, begins with September 11, 2001, and describes the West’s military response in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as the worst mistake (p. 248). The true dichotomy is not found between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between extremist-exclusivist and inclusive-pluralist groups (p. 249). In his search for common ground, he comes across ecumenical Islam. The Prophet Muhammad himself was involved in the interreligious debate of his environment, as the Koran shows. Seven principles can be derived from it:

There should be no pressure regarding faith (Surah 2:256),
do not insult anyone of a different faith (Surah 6:108),
do not get involved with those who insult your faith (Surah 5:57-58),
speak with tact and courtesy to those of other faiths (Surah 15:88),
seek dialogue with those who argue critically (Surah 3:65),
refrain from speculating about matters of faith (Surah 40:4), and lastly
compete in your own life of faith with those of other faiths in order to motivate them (Surah 5:48; pp. 252-254).
So much for Boase’s interpretation of the Qur’an. The Jewish-Islamic dialogue at the time of the Prophet Muhammad was intense and should be resumed today in the Islamic sphere, as well as outside with regard to Islam as a religious dialogue (p. 262).

This work is in reference to the current tension between the world religions a pointer to the fact that it is up to each individual to engage theologically with other religions in the way and not to consider them fundamentally radical. Such an expression is present in every religion and should lead to charity or peace intention if one follows the revelations. Since human reality often looks different due to economic or political tensions (poverty, persecution, displacement), the anxious question remains at the end whether such appeals can be implemented or move people to rethink.