The Challenge of Islam: Encounters in Interfaith Dialogue
by Douglas Pratt
Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate Publishing, 2005. 266 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by John Marks
Educational Research Trust, London
Middle East Quarterly
Pratt has worked "in the field of Christian-Muslim encounter over the past decade" during which he has forged links with the International Islamic University of Malaysia; the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Birmingham, England; Al-Azhar University in Cairo; and the Egyptian Ministry of Waqfs—institutions which are not known for their willingness to engage in open discussion of key political issues in the course of interfaith dialogue.
Pratt runs through the origins of Islam (the Prophet, the Qur'an, the Sunna, and Shari‘a) and describes Islamic communities. He then outlines both Christian-Muslim and Jewish-Muslim relations from the seventh century to the present, ending with an account of Islamic ideology in the twentieth century. His work contains useful information but does not adequately cover key concepts that need to be treated honestly if dialogue is to lead to reconciliation. For example, jihad is described primarily as striving for the good life, even though its primary meaning through the centuries has been military conquest. Abrogation of Qur'anic texts is mentioned but it is not made clear that the often-quoted suras (chapters) of peace are cancelled out or abrogated by the later revelations in the suras of war. And Pratt makes no mention of taqiya (dissimulation), which can justify deception in time of war or conflict.
He does, however, give a good—and hence disturbing—account of the rise of anti-Semitism in modern Islam, and he does introduce the reader to Wahhabism and to some modern advocates of Islamism—Abu A‘la Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb—but not others, for example, Hasan al-Banna and Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
The section actually focusing on dialogue with Islam forms less than a quarter of the book. It deals with da'wa (propaganda) and with dialogue, superficially suggesting that negative perceptions of Islam may be overcome by reminding ourselves that "Islam, in a word, is a religion of peace: that is its aim and goal." Pratt also discusses what he calls "some thorny theological topics," such as regarding the God of the Bible and the Qu'ran as in some sense comparable because of their common Abrahamic roots—a position with which many Christians and Jews might not agree. Overall The Challenge of Islam disappoints, given the increasing need for a knowledgeable and critical analysis of the aims of Islamist groups and the responses of other Muslims to them.
Related Topics: Islam | Summer 2006 MEQ
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