Arthur Jeffery Centre Publications (CSIOF)

The Arthur Jeffery Centre annually produces two publications containing articles, reviews and commentary on issues concerning Christian-Muslim relations and interactions with those of other faiths. Contact the Arthur Jeffery Centre for past copies of these publications.

The Arthur Jeffery Centre Faculty also write articles and scholarly papers for publication in books, journals, Christian magazines, and other external media publications.

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Previous Articles and Book Reviews


In a critical moment in the important documentary ‘Islam – the Untold Story’ recently shown on Channel 4 in the UK, historian Dr Tom Holland asks a pointed question of Seyyed Hossain Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University.

“Can some-one like myself who is not a Muslim and who does not believe that God spoke to Muhammad ever hope to fathom the truth of the origins of Islam?”

Nasr responds with a decisive, unequivocal ‘No”. Yet a Saudi-funded English translation of the Qur’an, being distributed free around the world, contains a ten page appendix attacking standard Christian doctrines. As Islam and Christianity move into closer proximity due to globalization and widespread Muslim immigration to the West, the eyes of their followers inevitably turn on each other with greater intensity. But does anyone have the right to subject the belief system of others to intense and even critical scrutiny? There have been a variety of responses to this question.

a) Negative responses from non-Muslims

Some Westerners would immediately give a negative response, claiming that such a venture is fraught with danger from the start. They are wary of interacting with writings of other cultures and traditions at this level.

“By the very act of engaging in cross-cultural research, the Western scholar has automatically imposed his own values into his transaction with his subjects, and if he wishes to go through with the exercise, they must accept the element of ethnocentrism that is inherent in this.”

Any religious system can be approached from either an emic or etic perspective. Emic is an ‘insider’ stance. It presupposes that the community to be addressed has a worldview which they believe to be consistent and real. An emic approach takes this seriously, seeking to ascertain the nodes and linkages which hold this worldview together.

One Catholic priest sees any assessment by a non-Muslim as doomed to failure. Outlining his objective of describing Islam in terms acceptable to Muslims, Renard comments: “Obviously no outsider can portray an insider’s truth in an altogether unbiased fashion.” Edward Said, a Palestinian Christian, suggested that most Western study of the East is at best patronising, and at worst, a form of imperialism. He refers to it as ‘Orientalism’, a myopic academic approach which stereotypes Easterners and Eastern cultures, treating them as objects of study. He claims: “The Orientalism of the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action.” Even more dismissive was his comment that “every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was … a racist, an imperialist and almost totally ethnocentric”.

It is a moot point whether any person, insider or not, can be totally objective. Einstein perceptively noted:

“Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.”

Every individual carries some predispositions based on his or her worldview, culture, upbringing and personal experience. At the very least, it may involve familiarity with and acceptance of the thought-forms and practices of another culture, whereby they are presented in a neutral manner, as ‘normal’. At worst, people hold biases and prejudices against certain ideas or types of behaviour. Such negative assumptions will result in a distorted perception and representation of the other culture.

b) Negative responses from Muslims

There is also resistance from within the Islamic community towards analysis by outsiders, as we saw in the exchange between Holland and Nasr above. From its earliest days Islam did not always welcome independent enquiry and evaluation of its sacred texts. Mohammad forbade his followers from carrying copies of the Qur’an into hostile countries (al-Bukhari 4:233).The early “Covenant of ‘Umar” barred the subjugated Jewish and Christian populations from teaching the Qur’ān to their children.

“The suspicion that teaching the Qur’ān to those who have not accepted Islam will prove destructive is at least one of the subtexts of such statements.”

A Muslim writer proposed that “a non-Muslim cannot and should not approach a text that means so much to so many people. To do so will surely misrepresent it and will be unacceptable to non-Muslims.” A.L. Tibawi postulates that only those who are believers themselves have the right to critique a book of faith. Anyone else should, due to their bias, leave it alone. The test of ‘insider’ acceptance is applied by al-Faruqi:

“No statement about a religion is valid unless it can be acknowledged by that religion’s believers.”

Parvez Manzoor suspects some scholars of being anti-religious and anti-Islamic. The question of the objectivity of non-Muslims is negatively answered by one commentator:

“The questions as to whether a disbeliever (kafir) is qualified to be recipient and carrier of hadith is answered in the affirmative provided that he is a Muslim when he transmits the hadith to others. A kafir is thus qualified to receive hadith but not to transmit it. To accept hadith transmitted by a disbeliever would mean that Muslims are bound by his report that consequently becomes a part of their religion, which is unacceptable.”

Former Muslims, such as Salman Rushdie, Ibn Warraq, Taslima Nasrin and Ayaan Hirshi Ali would have all been considered ‘insiders’ to Islam at some stage, but they now hold a negative view of Islam. This raises the question: At what point does an insider become an outsider? When Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the founder of modern Turkey, referred to Islam as “the symbol of obscurantism .. a purified corpse which poisons our lives … the enemy of civilisation and science”, was he speaking as an insider or an outsider? More recently, Pakistan’s then President Pervaz Musharraf announced to his fellow Muslims:

“Today we are the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unhealthy, the most un-enlightened, the most deprived, and the weakest of all the human race.”

Did he simply speak the truth based on social and economic indicators, or had he moved beyond the pale of Islam?
On the other hand, some non-Muslims such as Karen Armstrong and John Esposito, write positively of Muhammad and Islam. Will they always be considered ‘outsiders’?

For some Muslims, a positive attitude towards Islam is not sufficient. One notes that

“As a Muslim, I am naturally sensitive to attempts by others to define what I or my community believes. Few Jews or Christians would delegate to others the definition of themselves or their private and collective devotion.”

Ghorab is more forthright: “Muslims may not learn Islam from non-Muslims. How should believers receive Islam from those who not only disbelieve in Islam but are hostile to it?” He cites the Qur’anic warnings against the Jews and Christians (Q.2:109, 120). One commentator questions the motives of any scholar who reads the Qur’ān and does not submit to Islam.

“[O]nly the writings of a practicing Muslim are worthy of our attention…[Orientalists] must see Muhammad as a deluded madman or a liar bearing false claims of prophethood … If they did not set out to prove Muhammad’s dishonesty or the Qur’ān’s fallacy, what would hinder them from accepting Islam?”

Of course, the claim by some that only fellow-Muslims can interpret Islam would be more convincing if there existed and all Muslims agreed with each other on a single interpretation of Islam. Zebiri points out that “the assumption that the adherents of a given tradition are uniquely qualified to understand and interpret it is problematic in view of the diversity within each tradition.” Islam itself is not univocal. There are clear differences in interpretation of the Qur’an between Sunnis and Shias, let alone the even greater divergences with groups like the mystic Sufis and unorthodox Ahmadiyya.

c) A positive response from non-Muslims

The pessimistic view towards the study of other traditions has not always held sway. Abraham Geiger in Judaism and Islam (1833) put forward the thesis that:

“Religion in its various manifestations is a product of historical and social forces ..[it is] the result of an initial religious revelation which is subject to human development. As such a sympathetic approach to Islam was called for, one that did not raise the issue of its truth value, one that did not conceive of Muhammad as an ‘imposter’ or false prophet, but rather one that saw the Prophet within the context of his time.”

Some propose the goal in assessing another faith system should be grateful acceptance by those who subscribe to that system. Wilfred Cantwell Smith believed “that the aim of an outside scholar writing about Islam is to elicit Muslim approval.”

This view, it could be argued, could only arise in the culturally-sensitive, politically-correct post-modern West. However, Christian writers have sometimes practiced self-censorship when writing about Islam, or when editing the writings of other Christians about Islam. Sir William Muir in his 1887 translation of the ninth century AD ‘The Apology of Al-Kindi’ included the following comment in a footnote: “There are several passages which must be omitted here. Page 98, last eight lines; the reason assigned for circumcision is both childish and indelicate. Page 100; first five lines may be true, but the mode of expression is gross and offensive. Page 102, lower half (and by consequence first seven lines of page 103), relating to Hagar, and a practice current among the Arabs ("Life of Mahomet," 1st edition, vol. ii. p. 108 note), is at once silly and grossly improper. It is strange that a man of refinement should have admitted such a passage into his book.”

W. Montgomery Watt appeared to be ahead of his time in the way he modified Bell’s writings: “With the greatly increased contacts between Muslims and Christians during the last quarter of a century, it has become imperative for a Christian scholar not to offend Muslim readers gratuitously, but as far as possible to present his arguments in a form acceptable to them. Courtesy and an eirenic outlook certainly now demand that we should not speak of the Qur’an as the product of Muhammad’s conscious mind; but I hold that the same demand is also made by sound scholarship. I have therefore altered or eliminated all expressions which implied that Muhammad was the author of the Qur’an, including those which spoke of his ‘sources’ or of the ‘influences’ on him.”

In other civilizations and at different times, it has been allowed and expected that scholars could study and critically evaluate belief systems different from their own, and that their assessments should be taken seriously. Ironically, the current ‘political-correctness’ in the West has sometimes become a straitjacket that may inhibit rather than encourage open and free enquiry.

After criticizing the style of the Qur’an, Rodinson feels the need to apologise for any possible offence that he may have caused, while still maintaining his stance.

“May any Muslims who happen to read these lines forgive my plain speaking. For them the Koran is the book of Allah and I respect their faith. But I do not share it and I do not wish to fall back, as many orientalists have done, on equivocal phrases to disguise my meaning. This may perhaps be of assistance in remaining on good terms with individuals and governments professing Islam; but I have no wish to deceive anyone. Muslims have every right not to read the book or to acquaint themselves with the ideas of a non-Muslim, but if they do so, they must expect to find things put forward there which are blasphemous to them. It is evident that I do not believe that the Koran is the book of Allah. If I did I should be a Muslim. But the Koran is there, and since I, like many other non-Muslims, have interested myself in the study of it, I am naturally bound to express my views.”

The ‘insider’ perspective is not the only legitimate one, for an emic attitude might suffer from tunnel-vision, finding itself unable or unwilling to consider valid insights from those outside their community. It is true that an undiscerning etic (outsider) approach may not recognize the needs, strengths and contributions of the focus culture, and simply impose its own agenda on the situation. Consequently it could be seen as irrelevant. However an outsider may have the advantage of seeing the culture with new eyes, and discerning ‘the wood from the trees’. This is something that those wrapped up in their own culture may not be able to clearly see due to ‘the log which is in their own eyes’ (Mt.7:3). Margoliouth comments:

“[A]n outsider who is free from bias is less likely than an adherent to misrepresent the doctrines contained in the sacred book or books of a community. He is immune from the temptation to harmonise inconsistencies and explain away what might shock or offend. And these are temptations to which an adherent, who is apt to be an apologist, frequently succumbs”

Albert Hourani, who was much admired by Said, sounded a similar warning regarding Orientalism: “I think all this talk after Edward’s book also has a certain danger. There is a certain counter-attack of Muslims, who say nobody understands Islam except themselves.”

Another Arab writer looks at a broader perspective. Fouad Accad developed a comprehensive exposition of the Gospel by using the Qur’an. He notes: “When some of the Muslims object, saying: ‘But what authority do you have from the Muslim leaders permitting you to make such interpretation of our Book?’ I answer: ‘Was it valid for the early Christians to apply Old Testament Messianic prophecies to Jesus of Nazareth, as we see in the New Testament, without first receiving permission from Jewish leaders?’ Understanding and personal application of such material is a common heritage of all humanity.”

d) Positive encouragements from within Islam

There is some support from the Qur’an to interact with it. Rather than being a book to be read by the elect only, the Qur’an invites non-believers to investigate its claims. The Qur’an was born in a polemical climate, and it assumes an audience of unbelievers. They are an important backdrop to the text, for 332 verses begin with the command ‘qul’ “Say:” (e.g. Q.114:1) indicating that Allah was coaching Muhammad in how to respond to the questions and comments of non-Muslims. The pagans are called upon to bring their own Book (Q.28:49; 37:157), or to at least produce a Sura like the Qur’an (Q.2:23; 10:38), or ten suras (Q.11:13). This is presented as a feat beyond all humans and jinn (17:88). Readers are challenged to find contradictions in its text (Q.4:82). The Qur’an presents itself as a book grounded in truth (Q. 32:3; 35:31; 69:51). Birt insightfully comments: “One need not be a believer to have cognition of historical values.”
It would be strange if others would not be allowed to comment on Islam since the Qur’ān mentions Christians and Jews, sometimes in positive (e.g. Q.5:82; 57:27) but often in negative ways (Q.3:110; 98:6). The ideas and worldview of Meccan animism are held up to ridicule (c.f. Q.21:51-68 – Abraham’s attack on idols), much as the Old Testament prophets did with idolatry (e.g.Isa.44:9-20). Those who do not believe in Islam are slated as enemies deserving attack, and subject to tribute payment and degradation (e.g. Q.9:29).

Islam takes a supercessionist view towards the previous scriptures. Jesus is radically re-interpreted to become a Muslim prophet. Words are put into the mouth of Christ, foretelling the coming of a certain Ahmad (Q.61:6), claimed in the Hadith to be another name for Muhammad (al-Bukahri 6:419). Muhammad, in a dream, sees Jesus performing the t{awāf (circumabulation) around the Ka’ba (al-Bukhari 4:649, 650; 7:521). During his ascent to heaven, Muhammad meets Jesus and John the Baptist in the second heaven (al-Bukhari 4:429, 640; 5:227), a lower position than many of the other prophets. On his return, it is declared that Jesus will break the cross and kill the pig (al-Bukhari 3:425, 656; 4:657). When believers come to Jesus on the day of resurrection, seeking his intercession, he counsels them: “I am not fit for this undertaking, go to Muhammad the Slave of Allah whose past and future sins were forgiven by Allah.” (al-Bukhari 6:3; 8:570; 9:532.3 c.f. 6:236; 9:601). Muslim writers go further, finding prophecies relating to Muhammad and Islam in many places in the Bible.
Seeking a middle course, Arkoun calls for “a protocol of interpretation that is free from both the dogmatic orthodox framework and the procedural disciplines of modern scientism which is, it must be admitted, no less constraining”. Al-Faruqi is one among Muslims who “believe it is both possible and desirable to exercise ‘epoche’, or the ‘putting in brackets’ of one’s own beliefs, when studying another’s faith.” Many Muslims do, of course, comment on and criticise Christianity, and they should be surprised when Christian scholars reciprocate.


This study raised the question whether anyone can authoritatively comment on the teachings of another religion. Its denial, if applied in every situation, could spell the end of all independent scholarship: only co-religionists could comment on their own tradition. The Qur’ān’s comments on Judaism and Christianity would likewise be rendered invalid. The result is a complete reductio ad absurdum.
While it is true that only the adherents of a particular religion should be allowed to define that religion, and determine its beliefs and practices, it does not follow that they alone should be allowed to comment on and assess it. Religions, like all communal organizations, should be open for evaluation by all. Closing down public comment on any institution is an indication of totalitarianism which seeks to limit the free and open discourse of a particular belief system.

By Dr. Andy Bannister (RZIM Canada)

Introduction: Dying to Make a Difference

Dr. John Joseph was the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad in Pakistan and a prominent human rights activist. On 6 May 1998, he travelled from his home to the city of Sahiwal to address a prayer meeting being held for victims of blasphemy cases. In Pakistan, the notorious 295-C law makes insulting Muhammad or the Qur’an a crime punishable by death. The law is often used to falsely accuse religious minorities, especially Christians, and Dr. Joseph was concerned about one Christian in particular, Ayub Masih. Arrested in 1996 for allegedly violating the blasphemy laws, Ayub Masih had been held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, denied medical care, and frequently abused. In April 1998, he had been formally found guilty and had been sentenced to death. After addressing the prayer meeting, Dr. Joseph made his way to the courthouse to the spot where, during the trial, somebody had shot at Ayub Masih and tried to assassinate him. At about 9:30pm, Dr. Joseph took a pistol and took his own life. In a letter to a local newspaper, published after his death, he had written: “dedicated persons do not count the cost of the sacrifices they have to make”.

Bishop John Joseph wanted to draw attention to the dire situation facing Pakistan’s two million Christians. Everything else had been tried, but the international community seemed deaf to their plight. Frustrated, he concluded that only something so dramatic as his taking his own life would effect any change.

Sadly, it seems that his hope was misplaced. Although the international community is now more aware than ever of religious persecution, the situation is still bleak. It is presently estimated that some 200 million Christians in 60 countries live under daily threat of persecution. Between 2008 and 2009, 176,000 were killed. Some estimate that if nothing is done, then by 2025, an average of 210,000 Christians will be being killed each year. Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief wrote:

[Discrimination] based on religion or belief preventing individuals from fully enjoying all their human rights still occurs worldwide on a daily basis.

Launching its 2011 annual report on religious freedom worldwide, the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, concluded that 75% of all religious persecution in the world is currently directed at Christian minorities. At the launch, Archbishop Warda of Erbil in Iraq spoke about the difficulties in his country:

We wonder if we will survive as a people in our own country … The past is terrifying, the present is not promising.

More than half the Christians in Iraq have fled. A community once numbering over a million is now down to about 150,000.

Where is Persecution Happening?

All of this is deeply troubling. But why is this happening? Can we identify any patterns to religious persecution across the globe, any causes or trends that might help us formulate a response? The answer to that question is yes. But let’s begin by taking a step back and asking where precisely it is that religious persecution is happening. Whilst persecution is a global phenomena, there are patterns that we can track.

Brian Grim and Roger Finke, two sociologists who have produced some of the most recent analyses of religious persecution, have used a number of studies to answer this very question: where is persecution happening. Their figures look like this:

Muslim Majority Other Majority (Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish) No Religion with More than 50% Christian Majority World Average
>200 abused or displaced 62% 85% 33% 28% 43%

If we look at even higher rates of persecution, the differences are also striking:

Persecution of more than one thousand persons is present in 45 percent of Muslim-majority countries and 60 percent of the “Other Majority” religion countries, compared to 11 percent of Christian-majority countries and 8 percent of countries where no single religion holds a majority.

These figures are consistently backed up by other studies. For example, the 2011 Open Doors “World Watch List” listed 51 countries of concern: 65% were Muslim-majority countries. Of the top ten human rights offenders, seven were Muslim-majority and two were communist atheistic states.
What could be the cause of these kind of figures? One common denominator, whether the country in which the persecution is occurring is Muslim or atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, or no-majority-religion — is religious regulation. There is a direct correlation between attempts by a state to control, regulate or restrict religious activity and religious persecution. Restriction on or regulation of religion is a surprisingly common phenomena. According to the Pew Forum:

[N]early 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities.

There are two ways that a state can attempt to control religious activity or restrict religious freedom within its borders. First, a government can use the full force of the state, for example by passing laws, arresting or harassing worshippers or religious leaders. So, for example, in China, the communist government regularly marks the start of Lent by bulldozing churches and rounding up Christians to remind them of the consequences of daring to be a religious believer in the officially atheistic People’s Republic.

As well as using the apparatus of the state, a government can also encourage or allow social pressure build up to make it hard for the members of a minority religious community to practice their faith. On 4 January last year, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was getting into his car at a market when one of his own bodyguards opened fire and shot him 26 times. Why? The bodyguard was angry that Mr. Taseer was opposed to Pakistan’s blasphemy law and had appealed for the pardon of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Muhammad.

Those two stories illustrate the way that social pressures and government pressures on religious minorities work together and cause persecution. If the Pakistan government had the courage to remove the 295-C blasphemy law, this would remove much of the fuel from the fire that popular Islamist movements are trying to light.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sharia?

This connection between social restrictions, government restrictions and violent religious persecution begins to help explain the extremely high rate of religious persecution in Muslim-majority countries. Built into Islam is a ready-made system of religious law, Sharia. Because a whole codified body of religious law is readily available, governments in Muslim-majority countries face an ever present temptation to draw upon or incorporate aspects of Sharia into their legal systems.

Those that have resisted the temptation a growing popular pressure to do so. A 2006 Gallup survey of ten Muslim-majority countries found that 79% wanted Sharia in some form. Indeed, 66% of Egyptians and 60% of Pakistanis said they wanted Sharia as the only source of legislation. Even an astonishing 40% of British Muslims said they wanted Sharia.

Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws

Sharia law is a problem because many of its stipulations have tremendous implications for religious minorities. Perhaps the two biggest issues are apostasy and blasphemy. All four main schools of Sharia treat apostasy and blasphemy as very serious offences, often punishable by death. That presents a huge problem for freedom of religious belief.

In 1998, Lina Joy, a Malay Muslim woman, declared she wished to become a Christian. However, in Malaysia, your identity card carries your religion. Bravely she applied to have it changed from “Muslim” to “Christian”. The government refused and said she would need an “Apostasy Certificate” from a Sharia Court. The government lawyer said:

If you are born Muslim, you stay Muslim, at least until a Sharia court decides otherwise, which is never.

There was a further problem too. If Lina Joy did go to a Sharia court, she would run the risk of criminal punishment as an apostate — for which the penalty could be death. Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Understanding said:

If Islam were to grant permission for Muslims to change religion at will, it would imply it has no dignity, no self-esteem. And people may then question its completeness, truthfulness and perfection.

Lina Joy was disowned by her family and lost her job. She was unable to marry her boyfriend, a Catholic, since under Sharia law, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim. She and her fiancé were forced into hiding after Muslim extremists threatened to kill them.

In December 2010, the Pew Forum conducted a survey to ascertain what Muslims around the world thought about Sharia-based laws, such as apostasy. In Egypt, 84% approved of the death sentence for apostasy. In Pakistan it was 76%, Jordan 86% and even in Indonesia it was 30%.
Things are as difficult for religious minorities when we turn from apostasy to blasphemy. We have already seen how Pakistan has woven this into its criminal code with the 295-C Blasphemy Law, which is often used to target religious minorities. In June 2009, Asia Bibi, an agricultural worker in a rural village in Pakistan drank some water from her village well. Local Muslims complained, saying Christians were “unclean” and so the water was now polluted. An argument ensued. A few days later, villagers claimed that during the argument, Asia Bibi had insulted Muhammad. A mob turned up at her home, beating her and family, before the police rescued her then promptly charged her with blasphemy. She spent a year in prison before, in November 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging.

History and Theology Collide

In their study of contemporary religious persecution, Brian Grim and Roger Finke note that a major problem in tackling these issues is that religion is often ignored in studies of social unrest, subsumed under “ethnicity” or “culture”. Many academics, journalists and politicians have bought into what, for simplicity’s sake, one might label the “Marxist view of religion”. Rather than take religion seriously, everything is explained in social or economic terms. The problem is that if you do that, you will fail to misrepresent the seriousness of religious persecution today, and fail to understand its prevalence in Muslim-majority countries and its connection with Sharia.

The Way Forward

Religious rights don’t exist in a vacuum but are connected to other fundamental human rights. The right to freedom of belief is connected to the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of worship is connected to the right to freedom of assembly. Where religious rights are being suppressed, you can be sure that other fundamental human rights are too. Freedom of religion and religious persecution are litmus tests for other human rights abuses.

What can be done? Most importantly, the problem needs to be brought into the open. There are signs this is beginning to happen. Canada is just about to launch it’s new Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Whilst a leader article in The Economist recently bravely opined that:

There is a specific problem with Islam. Islamic law (though not the Koran) has often mandated death for people leaving the faith ... [M]ore Muslim leaders need to accept that changing creed is a legal right. On that one point, the West should not back down. Otherwise believers, whether Christian or not, remain in peril.

Jesus said: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest their deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). We need to expose and talk about the issue of religious persecution. The victims demand it. Their blood cries out.

Book Review 5REUVEN FIRESTONE. Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. xi +195pp. pb.

M. J. AKBAR. Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity, London: Routledge, 2002. xx + 272pp. hb.

Jihad and Shade of Swords are written by a Jew and a Muslim respectively. Firestone, is a Jewish professor in medieval Judaism and Islam. Akbar, is a prominent Muslim media guru who has had previous experience in national government. On a literary level dissimilarity might be expected; an American scholar and an Asian journalist are likely to express their subject differently not least in their choice of genre. However, their truly divergent treatments of the Islamic concept of jihad reflect a wider disparity governed primarily by their methodology and purpose. Whilst Firestone seeks to present a critical, dispassionate study in his analysis of primary sources, Akbar, by contrast, employs an apologetic, polemical tone to commentate on Islam’s engagement with ‘holy war’ and global history.

In Jihad, Firestone critically examines the origins and early development of jihad. In so doing he questions its actual origins and challenges the notion that the Islamic concept of divinely sanctioned war evolved in a ‘consistent and linear manner’. He consistently uses the primary sources of pre-Islamic poetry, the Qur’an and Oral tradition (which are committed to writing in the form of hadith (tradition) and sira (biography)), to construct a context in which to examine his theme and reconstruct accepted Islamic thought.

Unlike Akbar who pins the origins of jihad to the battle of Badr after the emigration (hijra) to Medina, Firestone finds the origins of jihad in the ‘mundane’ war of the pre-Islamic tribal system. After a short but important chapter explaining the semantic roots of the word jihad which need not imply a warring or religious usage, Firestone describes the inter-tribal raiding patterns of pre-Islamic society as an expression of functional, economic and social war. Using pre-Islamic poetry, he shows that these warrings were neither religious nor ideological. The advent of Muhammad’s ideological monotheism, however, saw jihad ‘Islamised’ and warring become a ‘fight in the path of God’.

Firestone’s analysis of relevant Qur’anic passages leads him to suggest a new reading which casts doubt on the accepted ‘evolutionary theory’ of jihad. Based on his understanding that commentaries (tafsir) from the first five Islamic centuries which cite occasions of revelation (asbab al-nuzul) and abrogations (naskh) are often contradictory and unreliable, he concludes that the traditional schema of smooth transition from non-confrontation to defensive fighting to unconditional war may be a retrospective one.

Whilst maintaining that the Qur’an is an important primary source he does suggest that the established doctrine of jihad may well reflect the ‘policy of the empire under which the theory evolved’ (p.51). Thus, Firestone interprets the jihadi verses in such a way as to indicate a less than seamless transition. Certain Medinan verses, for example, which talk of the ‘People of the Book’, still advocate a non-militant approach (Q2: 109; 5:13, 29:46, 42:15). Significant (although suppressed) resistance to warring tendencies in both Meccan and Medinan communities are not completely erased from the Qur’anic script (Q: 2:216, 3:156) and dissonant voices are heard through the verses which address tensions related to various pre-Islamic sacred customs (e.g. the Sacred Months; Q2:194, 9:36).

Despite these voices being hushed in the Qur’an and in the hadith when oral tradition was committed to written canonical collections they can still be heard with careful exegetical study.
Firestone consequently constructs a picture of communities in transition particularly in the early Medinan period leading up to the battle of Badr. This is further explained through his analysis of biographical sira which shows the shifting allegiance and loyalty from tribal kinship group to religious community. Relying largely on Ibn Hisham’s ninth century recension of Muhammad bin Ishaq’s earlier work, Firestone paints a picture of seventh century Islam as a ‘supertribe’ increasingly commanding loyalty for a predominantly ideological rather than filial cause. Such an unprecedented shift was bound to cause difficulty and dissent is to be found in the sira despite the gloss of editorship.

Firestone’s reconstruction, nevertheless, is reliant on traditional chronology at times (which he admits p.132), and his reconstruction does still retain a sense of the linear. The line may not be straight and true but it still moves inexorably forward. Thus he does not present the radical challenge to the evolution of combat and aggression in early Islam first hoped for. This said, he does suggest that the Qur’an, hadith and sira provide us with a residue of information which suggests reality and outcomes could have been different.

In Shade of Swords, Akbar has a far wider scope covering global jihad from the seventh century to the present day. The early Meccan-Medinan period covered by Firestone is for Akbar the inspiration for the development of the concept of jihad when, against all odds, Muhammad led his army to victory. Badr signifies the essence of holy war; heroism against tyranny, victory against the infidel, martyrdom in battle, defence of faith, hope when all seems lost. Then it ‘was the Quraysh….now it is the Christian West’ (p.3). Such military triumphs akin to Badr are then celebrated by Akbar as he catalogues the history of jihad. From the fall of Constantinople (allegedly foretold by Mohammad in Bukhari’s hadith), to the military prowess of Saladin in the Crusades, Akbar is quick to attribute success to the ‘spirit of Badr’ and apparent but temporary failure to lessons learnt from the Battle of Uhud. All defeat is temporary; ‘it is only a setback in the holy war’ (p.213).

The historical detail and political insight of this book is commendable. Akbar’s knowledge of Indian Hindu-Muslim history and the partitioning of Pakistan are enlightening. His views on the need for democracy form a fitting prelude to what has now been termed the ‘Arab-Spring’. The book is punctuated with anecdotes and longer narrative which often have a didactic edge. In addition, Akbar’s punchy style spares the reader from wading through treacle despite the historical mileage covered. However, some concerns, tensions and omissions may be identified.

Firstly, Akbar appears to adopt a polarised understanding of the concept of jihad. Given that he acknowledges, like Firestone, that jihad exists in other forms (indeed the internal struggle Jihad al Akbar is the greater form), it is unfortunate that he is not willing to consider the possibility that the external struggle, Jihad al-Asghar, might have a non-confrontational face. Indeed passive jihad for Akbar is something of an oxymoron. He derides those Muslims who ‘will convert jihad into a holy bath rather than a holy war’ (p.xv). His dismisses Gandhi’s non-violent jihad as contrary to the Muslim mind-set (p.175) and his apparent unwillingness to consider more conciliatory Sufi views on jihad only serves to bear out this point. Thus, the reader’s final impression is that jihad has been presented from a somewhat narrow perspective.

Secondly, Akbar, unlike Firestone, lacks the critical analysis of the term jihad which is required. Yes, he does attempt an exegetical commentary of Sura 2 but despite this, further justification for his usage is in order. Largely absent in his analysis of jihad is consideration of asbab al-nuzul and naskh which are central to Firestone’s reading. He does cite Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s commentary and an anecdote from Sahih al-Bukhari but there is no comparison of views or critical analysis of the text. Little mention is made of hadith and tafsir which Firestone often refers to in extensive endnotes. Rather Akbar offers us a cursory interpretation of the Qur’an which takes the ‘evolutionary theory’ at a non-critical face value. In so doing he declares his presuppositional position of understanding Islam to favour war as permissible in self-defence.

This self-positioning enables him to distance himself from terrorism and radical Islamism but his outworking of ‘self-defence’ lacks perspicuity. On the one hand he advocates fighting to maintain the right of the Muslim to live by Sharia law and defend the honour of Islam. Yet, on the other, he does not differentiate between defensive and offensive jihad in his justification of the establishment of the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam). How this ‘self-defence’ explains the expansion of Islam into non-Muslim territories and how this justifies jihad against the West is never properly clarified.

In addition, it would also have been helpful for Akbar to consider the place of intra-Muslim jihad. Consideration of sectarian jihad which continues to threaten the political stability of Islamic nations and revivalist jihad which rails against the nominalism and secularism infiltrating Muslim communities, would have given further breadth to a subject which as Akbar’s sub-title suggests is unfortunately restricted to the conflict with Christianity.

I suspect that with the West still living under the shadow of 9/11 and 7/7, The Shade of Swords will only serve to perpetuate a turbulent past into a turbulent future. I also suspect that those who read it will not read Firestone’s book at all.

Andrew Buttress
Director of Spectrum Contemporary Christian Studies, UK
Postgraduate student London School of Theology

Book Review 6CON COUGHLIN. Khomeini’s Ghost. London Pan Books, 2009 ISBN 978-0-230-71455-7

Khomeini’s Ghost, on the one hand, is an eloquent expression of concerns, fears and all that is, according to the Western mind, wrong with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but on the other, it is a powerful explanation of what may be, according to the Iranian mind, their legitimate right as a logical consequence of the struggles and sacrifices leading to and following Khomeini’s Revolution of February 1979. Even today his legacy endures without any loss of power and its effects continue to be felt in the Middle East, America and indeed around the world.

Historically, Persia has always been a significant player on the world stage. She defeated the great Babylonian empire, served as a gateway to India for the British, and became crucial to the world’s power balance after Russia’s Bolshevik revolution of 1917. However, under the Shah even though by the 1960s Tehran had become more equal to Washington as America’s dependence on Iran’s oil increased, her unique identity as a religious civilization and as a government in touch with her people’s values and aspirations had begun to wane.

Coughlin exposes how Khomeini first took on the cancer-ridden Shah (“a servant of the dollar” who in 1971 spent an estimated $100 million commemorating the capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 BC), then the crumbling Iranian bureaucracy, followed by an opportunistic grab for media attention with the hostage taking of American embassy personnel. When the student activists demanded the exiled Shah in exchange, America found itself in a very difficult situation. After 444 days of a terrifying ordeal, fifty-two Americans did return home safely, but only after “The Great Satan” had been humiliated. The Carter administration’s indecisiveness had played favourably for Khomeini, and his epoch-making revolution had once again put Iran on the centre stage of world politics. Of course, the nature of this centrality is a matter of perspective. Internationally, it led Iran to acquire immense importance and made her a state to reckon with among the community of nations.

Khomeini’s story of mythical proportions begins with an orphan boy with an unusual name, Ruhollah, “the soul of God”, who became the reviver of religious government in the contemporary world. He was steeped in Islamic scholarship and as a master orator gave some lasting slogans to the world. Throughout the book, the masterly narrator, Coughlin, very cleverly keeps Khomeini’s charismatic personality and his radical Islamic ideology at the centre of a very fast-moving account which follows sixty-three year old Khomeini’s exile from Iran to Najaff, the “Den of Snakes”, in Iraq to France and back to Iran. His charismatic personality led some in Iran to identify themselves as “Khomeini Muslims”, while others equated his flight from Paris to Tehran with the Prophet Muhammad’s “flight” from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD.

Khomeini took on Iraq, led by the Sunni Baathist dictator Sadaam Hussein (who had grabbed power in 1968), but failed to win the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. After missing crucial opportunities when he could have called for a ceasefire while in a victorious position, Khomeini effectively conceded defeat to Iraq by accepting UN security resolution 598. Khomeini personally gave instructions for the acquisition of nuclear weapons for future warfare. (The reference to his letter on p. 242 mistakenly reads, “Iraq”, instead of Iran.)

Victory or defeat: his people were unafraid to die, so powerful was his radical interpretation of their holy book. Young men and children willingly became cannon fodder when he introduced human wave attacks against Iraq. These attacks, launched by the Basij, an army of volunteers of 10-16 year-old boys and old unemployed men in their eighties who were deployed to clear the way for the real combatants to follow and fight, posed real challenges for Saddam’s war machine.
The complex moves of power play of Iran’s agents and agencies, both in the attention grabbing world news headlines as well as the blood chilling manoeuvres in the dark world of espionage, stemming from the aftermath of Khomeini’s revolution is a continual theme throughout the book.

Other than America, Khomeini consistently denounced the existence of a Zionist state and his successor Khamenei called it “The cancerous tumour”. Little surprise then, that Ahmadinejad, threatens to wipe it off the face of the earth. Ahmadinejad consistently reassures UN delegates that Iran does not have a (nuclear) weapon programme, and while in America stated that there are no homosexuals in Iran.

According to Coughlin, Tehran’s involvement in Islamic terrorism has been well-established, both in Iran and around the globe, through the activities of Revolutionary Guards, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The authors of 9/11 commission report concluded a strong evidence of Iran’s involvement in helping the attackers prior to the atrocity. And after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Americans and the British had to contend with the Iranian back militias in Iraq.

Shah’s anti-clerical drive, openly secular agenda, the role of SAVAK, his all-pervasive intelligence service infiltrating all aspects of Iran’s society, combined with his close ties with America alienated a large segment of society from him. Khomeini decried the SAVAK but in time the Revolutionary Guards, started as a motley collection of Islamic fanatics brought together to defend the 1979 revolution, would become just as all pervasive taking his ideology to Iraq, Lebanon and other parts of the Islamic world.

Iran’s relentless campaign of intimidation against the state of Israel by supporting Hamas, the radical Palestinian Islamic group, is well documented by the author. It is also claimed that when Hamas came to power, Iran became its main financial backer and that in 2008 80% of Hizbollah’s funding came from Iran. There were also clear indications that Iran was somehow involved in the Lockerbie bombings, but was let off lightly due to a dearth of concrete evidence. When President Bush made overt gestures of some sort of reconciliation towards Iran in 1989, Khomeini’s response to the West appeared in the form of a fatwa on Salman Rushdie, the Indian born-Muslim writer of the infamous Satanic Verses. Theologically the book also offers interesting insights into the Shiaiism versus Suniism, the two major sects of Islam.

Khomeini had a vision, shared by others like Mohammed al-Sadr, of creating a universal Islamic state. He published his views in a slim volume, Velayat-e Fiqah, the “regency of the theologian”. This, his radical philosophy of applying strict interpretation of Sharia law, later became known as Islamic fundamentalism.

Khomeini’s Ghost reads like a historical novel and a political analysis at the same time. It is a fast moving narrative spanning nearly six decades of Iran’s eventful history and is a testament to Coughlin’s long term interest and therefore deep insights into her political psyche.

For those wanting to understand the psychological basis of Iran’s unwillingness to give up its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons this book is an excellent read, a masterly narrative packed with facts, and richly studded with fluent cross references. It offers insights into her current role on the world stage of power play.

Khomeini, undoubtedly one of the most influential ideologues of the twentieth century, dreamed of an Iran with nuclear capabilities. His philosophy and strategy matters in the current world of politics and Iran’s actions resulting from his legacy keep making headlines for many newspaper editorials around the world. Khomeini has gone but his ghost refuses to do so.

Dr Akhtar Injeeli
UK-based independent scholar research the interaction between Islam and the West

By Brent Neely
Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary Israel

What do we expect from a divinely-inspired book? To qualify as “revelation” must it answer all our questions? Must its language itself be somehow miraculous, almost super-human? Should it unveil the mysteries of modern science or be replete with uncannily accurate predictions? Must it inspire reverence from more people than any other book does? Who is to adjudicate these things?

In the contrast between the claims of Christian and Muslim faith there is probably no more fundamental arena of conflict than that of the “scriptures.” In some sense all contested issues (from the Trinity to the crucifixion to the political nature of religion) lead back to the texts that are marshalled to support one’s contentions. In the encounter between Christian and Muslim books, the polemical comparison between Bible and Qur’an is at times reduced to a contest over whose book is “best,” truly “inerrant,” or bears the surest marks of “inspiration.”

Comparing Bible and Qur’an: The questions to ask
The “battle of the books” can easily become a frustrating exchange. Is brass-knuckle debate over the accuracy or flaws of either book the only option for us as believers? Might there be another angle for comparing the Christian and Muslim scriptures with their related but largely incommensurable messages?
The misdirection of much debate is partly due to the failure to consider prior questions like: What is divine inspiration and what would it look like in a book anyhow? What about genre issues? What is the structure of faith; the character and purpose of God; the predicament of humanity; the nature of salvation? Having very different views of God, humanity, and history, the two religions naturally have rather different expectations when it comes to the shape of en-scriptured revelation. There is, of course, an element of circularity to all this: our expectations are shaped by the books we already accept as inspired. Nonetheless, I want to argue for the value of approaches to the comparison of Bible and Qur’an that focus elsewhere than on questions of accuracy/error, miracles of language, and so on. In the rest of the essay we will hone in on the contrasting notions of Salvation History evidenced in the Bible and the Qur’an.

Bible and Qur’an: Their retrospective views
An examination of the salvation-historical perspectives of these books involves some sense of the books’ relation to prior “books,” perhaps that of the Qur’an to the Bible (or tawrat, injil, etc.) or that of the New Testament to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). We must note in passing that the Qur’an alleges some sort of distortion or corruption (tahrif) of the former Scriptures. However, for present purposes, it is crucial to understand that here we are examining the Qur’an’s own idealized view of the history of revelation; we are interested in its own conception of its relation to, say, the supposed “original” Torah or Gospel. Dealing with the charge that the current Bible has been “corrupted” is for another occasion.

The Christian Story
A critical problem in relating Muslim scripture to the Bible is precisely this matter of the glaringly different conceptions of salvation history. There is a major divide between what the Christian and Muslim books tell us that God has always been up to in our world. The biblical pattern might be outlined thusly: Creation  Fall  Covenant/Election  Exodus  Kingdom  Exile  Messianic Promise  Messianic Redemption  Final Conflict/Judgment  New Creation. The Biblical sweep can be refracted through different prisms, such as God’s sovereign reign, the unfolding of divine glory, the story of redemption, and so on. The principal point is that on a Christian view, the Bible is a story, a God-centered drama of the universe in which humanity participates and experiences both his judgment and salvation.
For the Christian the Bible is a single, over-arching story with a beginning, middle, and end. God’s promise to restore a radically sin-marred humanity is channelled through a man and nation (Abraham/Israel), but the chosen people too stand under judgment and in need of redemption. The story comes to a climax in an “end-time” intervention. According to prophetic promise, God himself acts in sacrificial love. God is unveiled in the shocking reversal of the death and resurrection of the messianic Son, Jesus of Nazareth. This establishes the restoration of the “overt” reign of God on his earth, the unseating of evil, the redemption of sinners, the start of a new creation—all to be confirmed and completed at the Second Coming.

For our purposes, three points about the Bible story need underlining:
1. The Grand Narrative of the Bible is progressive and developmental. Each stage strains forward to the next and is self-consciously incomplete, awaiting the looming climax. The stages of the story are not interchangeable and random in sequence. Abraham had to be called out, Israel had to emerge and be ransomed, Israel had to stumble in her vocation, etc., and all in that order. This necessary sequencing and a promise-fulfilment relationship is vital to the link between the Old and New Testaments, which have been likened to a seed (OT) which comes to full flower (NT).

2. The eschatological fulfilment represented by Jesus is the climactic, long-promised, yet surprising, fulfilment of ancient designs—designs built in to the beginning of the story. The Messiah comes as the realization of a prophetic promise. The new heavens and new earth are a resplendent, unprecedented reality, but they are still in continuity with what came before. The New Jerusalem of Revelation answers to the Eden of Genesis. God’s good purposes for a world gone awry in the beginning are finally realized. A typological fulfilment pattern is a dominant hermeneutic in the New Testament’s use of the Old.

3. In accomplishing the redemption and restoration of his world, Jesus comes in a long line of preceding leaders, messengers, and prophets, but he is far more than any of these. As “Son” and “Immanuel” he is not simply “the best in category”; he is alone in his category.

The Muslim Story
In one sense, it is not possible to discuss the Qur’anic view of (holy) history without reference to the Bible because of the conscious, direct, or allusive reference in the Qur’an to the prior revelations and prophets. At least nominally, a large number of “biblical” characters are taken as divinely-sent messengers. Examples include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jonah, Jesus, and others. Now, the Bible clearly is not a simple tale, written by a single author at one sitting; it must be read carefully across time and genres as a meta-story. Having said that, the Qur’an’s structure is even less a seamless narrative by comparison. It is neither chronological nor principally designed as a story. However, one can detect an implied structure of reality behind its exhortations, commands, and allusive tales. There is an implied story, a salvation history.

The gist is that, from the start, the only overwhelmingly sovereign Creator-God calls all humanity to submission, obedience, and recognition of his unvarying oneness. From the failing of Adam and Eve onwards, humanity’s problem has been one of straying, weakness, and temptation towards idolatry—our deficiency being a failure to take “guidance,” our need for divine law. Humankind is prone to thanklessness and forgetfulness towards God. So, God repeatedly, throughout history, sends revelation as a “reminder” (e.g., Q 6 .68-72; 10.71). Humanity’s “salvation” does not consist in a restoration from radical sinfulness to intimacy with a personal God—his essence remains inscrutable in any case. It lies rather with submission to his revealed will and with a turning from all idolatry, all “association” of anything else with him.

According to the Qur’an, through the long trail of history, God’s dealings with recalcitrant humanity have entailed warnings, punishments, and beckoning back to the “straight path” through a series of prophets, “biblical” and otherwise. God’s gracious guidance orders humanity’s relationship to God and minutely structures society. The divine summons is proclaimed in the Qur’an against a backdrop of the approaching final judgment. At the last cataclysm, all will be raised from death to horrific torment in the Fire or limitless pleasures in Paradise. So, between creation and judgment we have an impressive succession of messengers culminating in the dispensation of Muhammad, the greatest, the final prophet. His scope is universal, and he is also “eschatological,” at least in the sense that he brings the final (imminent?) warning of the coming Day. No new prophet is to emerge after him.


UK MuslimBy Richard McCallum

I interviewed 18 of the two dozen or so Evangelicals who are writing and speaking about Islam in the British context and who believe that the Muslim presence is posing urgent questions to the church, which must be equipped to respond to the challenge. I also collected magazine and newspaper articles, trawled the internet and listened to almost 50 conference talks.

Philosopher Jürgen Habermas describes the groups of bourgeois merchants who met in the C18th coffee shops of London to discuss matters of mutual concern as a ‘public sphere’ which was shaping ‘public opinion’. Gerard Hauser and others have built on Habermas’ idea and proposed that the public sphere is made up of many ‘micro public spheres’ linked together as a lattice. I developed this concept and suggested that the above Evangelicals have been drawn together around the issue of Islam in Britain and through their discourse form a ‘religious micro public sphere’.

What I found was that there is an increasing degree of polarization within this sphere between those Evangelicals who take a confrontational approach to Islam and those who adopt a more conciliatory approach. The diagram on page 4 illustrates the polar extremes of these positions.

Some clearly focus more on the threat that Islam as a religious system poses to Britain and the church; others focus more on the need to understand Muslims as people and offer them ‘risky hospitality’.

Amongst both groups I found some to be more dogmatic than others and generally the middle ground is occupied by those who are more pragmatic.

Those who are theologically ‘conservative’ and those who see Islam as a monolith tended to be more negative about Muslims. Those who describe themselves as ‘open Evangelicals’ and those who see Islam as being diverse were more sympathetic.

Those who had spent time living in the Muslim world (especially Arab countries) and those who had ongoing friendships with Muslims tended to be more irenic than those who had not lived in the Muslim world or had no Muslim friends. However, many of the more irenic interviewees regretted that they now have little time to maintain their friendships with Muslims outside of formal meetings.

Controversial topics dealt with – and disagreed upon – by these authors and speakers included:

What is Islam and who are the ‘true Muslims’?
What was the source of Islam?
Is Allah the God of the Bible?
Is Islam inherently violent?
Is there an Islamic agenda for global political domination?
The problems of multiculturalism in Britain.
The perceived ‘Islamization’ of British public life in the spheres of politics, law, finance and culture.

The Common Word initiative (published in October 2007 – the month I started my research) also provided a rich vein of data. Responses accentuated the pre-existing tensions and served to heighten the polarization. In particular it highlighted a sharp controversy over the interpretation of the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya (dissimulation) and how widespread its practice may be. Some felt the Common Word to be one such example; others vehemently protested this.

By and large conciliatory authors tended to draw on the work of a previous generation of theologians including Cragg, Newbigin and the reformation theologians. Confrontationalists invariably went straight to the Islamic texts themselves with no reference to Christian theological thought.

There was general agreement that Christians and Muslims should engage in a robust dialogue that should include tackling difficult questions and socio-political issues. There was disagreement, however, over whether this debate should be polemical in nature.

Some of these national figures have sporadic access to the national media, particularly the broadsheet newspapers, and others are occasionally consulted by public bodies. However, in general they find it hard to make their voice heard. Some have started their own websites or blogs and ones utilizes YouTube video. Getting a public hearing is a challenge.

It also became clear that this Evangelical public sphere could not be isolated from the wider public sphere and indeed from the ‘Muslim public sphere’. Frequently comments made by Evangelicals are picked up by both Muslims and journalists – especially through the medium of the internet. Intra community discussions are no longer private and contributors must reckon that their views will be overheard by the public at large.

Finally, there was evidence of an unfortunate proximity between certain confrontational positions and some more extreme right wing political views extending from UKIP to the BNP and its proxy the Christian Council of Britain. Identities are blurred by the national media and extremists occasionally quote Evangelical authors.

I then interviewed leaders in 14 large churches in London from across the Evangelical spectrum including conservative, open, charismatic, Pentecostal and different ethnic backgrounds. Their combined congregations represent some 7.5% of Evangelicals in Inner London and more than 1.5% of the total in England.

Of the 14 leaders interviewed most were not overly concerned about Islam and did not consider equipping their church members to relate to Muslims to be a high priority. They certainly did not share the urgency exhibited in the national debate.

I was surprised at how little influence the national ‘experts’ seemed to have in the London churches included in the study. Their books are not widely read by church leaders and most of them have never been invited to speak in London.

Amongst the national ‘experts on Islam’ only the names of Patrick Sookhdeo, Colin Chapman, Martin Goldsmith, Michael Nazir-Ali, Jay Smith and Amy Orr-Ewing were known to more than 50% of the church leaders. Only five of the national ‘experts’ had ever been invited to speak at one of the churches and leaders rarely recommended books on Islam to their congregation with the most popular being Chapman’s Cross & Crescent, which had been recommended by 5 of them.

Three of the churches run an occasional seminar or training course on Islam and three others include it as an element of existing training courses. None of the churches utilize existing course material such as the Cross & Crescent Study Guide (CMS) or Reflecting on Islam (Faith to Faith).

Some sociologists assume that the only way a religious community can remain strong is to retreat from society and engagement with other ‘out-groups’. Others see the only option as a religious ‘crusade’ against other points of view. Christian Smith, however, an American sociologist, believes that Evangelicals can remain strong when they adopt an ‘engaged orthodoxy’, that is when they confidently interact with other groups in society and yet do not compromise their core beliefs. The challenge for the Evangelical church in Britain is to boldly engage with Muslims without retreating quietly on the one hand or confronting aggressively on the other.

In this spirit a ‘third way’ dialogue which focuses not so much on theology as on ‘Muslims and Christians living in society’ has been proposed by Barnabas Fund . I recently took part in such an event, the Building Hope Conference, organized by the Reconciliation Program at Yale, at which ‘progressive conservative’, ‘mid-career’ Christian, Jewish and Muslim academics and leaders met together and discussed tough issues such as religiously motivated violence, apostasy, religious freedom, Israel-Palestine and evangelism. This experience again confirmed to me that a robust but fair engagement holds out the best hope for both social harmony and the advance of God’s kingdom in Britain.

Richard McCallum
August 2011


McCallum, Richard (2011) ‘Micro Public Spheres and the Sociology of Religion’, Journal for Contemporary Religion, 26/2: 173-187. I can send you a copy if you are interested.
2 Based on types developed in Bennett, Clinton (2008) Understanding Christian-Muslim Relations: Past and Present (London: Continuum)
3 Marty, Martin (2005) When Faiths Collide (Oxford: Blackwell)
4 (see particularly the conclusion)
5 See my report ‘A Rabbi, A Priest, and An Imam…’ at
The spectra of Evangelical responses to Islam

By Dr. Peter Riddell Money

Islamic financial operations have witnessed a huge and rapid expansion around the world, including the West, in recent years. Described by one commentator as “a cottage industry restricted to a handful of Arab countries only 30 years ago”, the Islamic finance industry currently holds assets worth around $1000 billion, registering growth of some 30% in 2009 and 2010, and witnessing the launch of 20 new Islamic banks across the world in 2009.

There are several key factors supporting this growth. First, the huge windfall of revenue due to increase in oil prices from the 1970s onwards provided ample funds for developing this sector. The combined revenue from oil sales of the six member nations of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council increased tenfold during the first decade of the twenty-first century. The second factor stimulating this boom was the 2008 international financial crisis which threatened a meltdown of the world economy. In this climate, the availability of ready cash in large amounts from Islamic sources has proven to be a lure that many in the West cannot resist.

Furthermore, some Muslims have seen this as providing a historic opportunity to expand the Islamic faith. In the words of prominent Islamist scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi: "The Western system has collapsed and we [Muslims] have a complete economic philosophy as well as spiritual strength… All riches are ours... the Islamic nation has all or nearly all the oil and we have an economic philosophy that no one else has… [Muslims should] profit from the crisis to bring about the triumph of the (Islamic) nation, which holds the spiritual and material resources for victory."

Principles and Methods

The over-riding consideration driving Islamic finance is that financial operations should be consistent with the dictates of Islamic Sharia Law. This legal framework is considered by most Muslim scholars to be from Allah, and therefore not subject to human critique or reproach. Sharia Law encompasses financial matters but goes far beyond them, also covering matters of the family, civil law, codes of punishment which can be quite draconian, and a host of other areas which address the minutiae of people’s lives.

Reconciling the dictates of Sharia Law with the detail of international and domestic finances is no easy matter. There are several principles that underpin Islamic finance. First, interest (riba) on loans is banned; this inevitably means that Islamic economic operations tend to establish a kind of financial apartheid, given how fundamental the concept of loan interest is to western economics. Second, speculation (gharar) is also banned, and transactions must be based on an underlying existing asset or service; “if you are going to trade in an asset you have to own it first”.

Third, Islamic finance presents itself as placing special emphasis on seemingly ethical investments. Islamic financial institutions, be they banks, insurance agencies or other Shariah-compliant bodies, avoid all links with institutions dealing in weapons, gambling, pornography, pork or alcohol. Nevertheless, such an approach is equally possible with non-Islamic financial operations and, indeed, there are many Christian financial institutions that prioritize ethical considerations in their operations.

Fourth, Islamic finance commonly operates on a risk-sharing model, whereby a financier will contribute cash and a borrower will contribute expertise in what is portrayed as a partner venture. But David Clark points out the flaw in this seemingly appealing concept: “Upon borrower default the financier will have the right to demand its interest in the Musharaka [joint venture] (or the assets forming the interest in the Musharaka) be purchased by the borrower at the price of the outstanding debt...”

Finally, Islamic finance disapproves of companies that depend too heavily on borrowing, with a threshold seen as 33% of a firm’s stockmarket value. Again, this is normal practice for many member organisations of the vast non-Islamic financial sector as well.

In order to ensure that Shariah-based financial organisations are compliant with the above principles, Islamic scholars are engaged by companies to monitor and advise on appropriate policies and procedures. This highly specialised field is being driven by a finite number of scholars who wield enormous power and influence. One particular survey of this scholarly community concluded that “[t]he top six scholars hold 31.7 percent of all surveyed board positions in research by Funds@Work.”

Islamic Finance on the March

Although there are presently no global Islamic banks to rival HSBC, Lloyds TSB and such mammoth institutions, this situation is likely to change in the not-too-distant future. Dubai Bank, set up in 2002 before converting to an Islamic bank five years later, set its sights on becoming a major global Islamic lender through acquisitions, though the Dubai economic crisis of 2009 has slowed down such plans.

The rapid emergence of Shariah-banking windows in western financial institutions is noteworthy. The giant HSBC now offers Shariah-compliant services through its Amanah unit. At the end of August 2008 the Swedish Avanza Bank offered its customers a new Islamic investment option, Selector World Shariah Value, a global fund of some 110 companies. In Britain, high street banks are also responding, offering a small range of Shariah-compliant products, including bank accounts, and drawing in Muslim scholars to advise on developing new services. These trends are encouraged by governments; for example, in March 2008 the British Chancellor of the Exchequer announced measures to promote Islamic finance, reflecting the fact that at that time Britain was already the 10th largest holder of Shariah-compliant assets, leading other Western nations.

Furthermore, Britain’s first Islamic bank, the Birmingham-headquartered Islamic Bank of Britain, reported significant growth in non-Muslim customers since the onset of turbulence on financial markets in 2008, with Islamic banks claiming to be insulated from the credit crisis, though events in subsequent years cast significant doubts on this claim.

Problems with Islamic Finance

The appeal of Islamic financial institutions and their ways to both Western governments and individuals may well be a poisoned chalice. There are three main areas of difficulty that Western policy makers need consider.

First is the level of debate within the Muslim community worldwide. Shariah finance encounters vigorous opposition from some Muslims due to debate about details of interpretation. In some cases, Islamic scholars understand the term riba to mean usury rather than simple interest on a loan. These scholars are more at ease with the concept of interest as understood in the Western capitalist context. On the other hand, those scholars who reject all interest tend to be from the more militant, Islamist end of the Islamic spectrum, the very kinds of Muslims that Western governments should not be encouraging.

Further on the question of debate among Muslim scholars, even those who are closely involved with the sector can at times disagree about the forms that Sharia financing should take. An example of this was the ruling by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy in April 2009 that criticised the widely used Tawarruq instrument, suggesting that it too closely resembled conventional loans. This debate highlighted the fact that the instruments of Islamic finance can sometimes be simply replicating non-Islamic financial policies and procedures but dressing them up in an Islamic guise.

The second main area of difficulty in Islamic financing is the myth that this sector is insulated from world economic downturns. In fact, since the world financial crisis took hold in late 2008, there have been some very significant crises within the Islamic finance sector as well. Chief among these was the Dubai debt collapse in 2009 associated with a $3.5 billion bond deal involving Nakheel, the United Arab Emirates’ property developer. Uncertainty over payments to bond-holders of the world’s biggest sukuk, or Islamic bond, caused the march of Islamic finance to falter for a time. The Financial Times reports that the Islamic finance industry “has been hit by the economic downturn, which caused several high-profile Islamic investment banks to default and restructure their operations and debt.”

The third area of difficulty is perhaps the most concerning. Sharia finance is potentially a vehicle for the spread of Sharia Law in its many other manifestations. In the words of Allyson Rowan Taylor of, “The dictates about Shariah Law are not just the simple things about the ethical investments interest-free. It also is the same Shariah Law that we saw during 9/11. It’s the same Shariah Law that allows beheadings … that goes against all the rights that we adhere to and love in the West.”

Even more compellingly, Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy, issues a shrill warning:

we should be especially wary of the purported silver-lining to the current Wall Street crisis: the infusion of vast quantities of petro-dollars, primarily from OPEC's Saudi Arabia and other Islamist nations in the Persian Gulf. It is bad enough that these putative rescuers of our subprime-fueled liquidity debacle are buying up engines of our capital markets for pennies on the dollar. Worse yet, they are, in the process, putting themselves in a position to promote Shariah-Compliant Finance and the seditious theo-political agenda it serves.

Lest one think that such concerns are merely the statements of Islamophobes, it is worth taking note of Muslim voices opposed to Sharia, such as the group of activists who gather under the name of Muslims Against Sharia. Their website does not mince its words: “Sharia Law must be abolished, because it is incompatible with norms of modern society.”

These statements state overtly what is rarely mentioned by those promoting Islamic finance; namely, that this sector is merely the tip of the Sharia Law iceberg.


[1] Kevin Brown, “Wider appeal battles with signs of inefficiency”, The Future of Islamic Finance (Financial Times Special Report), December 8, 2009,

[2] David Oakley, “Dubai debacle overshadows growth”, The Future of Islamic Finance (Financial Times Special Report), December 8, 2009,


[4] “Replace capitalism with Islamic financial system: cleric”, Qatar Morning Post, 12 October 2008,

[5] Saleh Ibrahim, “Islamic regulations can help economies in crisis”, Al Huda No 34 (May-July 2009),

[6] David Clark, “The Islamic Finance myth”,

[7] Accessed: 7.10.08

[8] “Factbox: How to take a bank Islamic”, Reuters, April 25, 2010




[12] For example, see (Accessed: 04.10.08)

[13] HM Treasury, Budget Report 2008 (London: The Stationary Office, 2008) 46. Available at (Accessed: 04.10.08)


[15] Patrick Sookhdeo, Understanding Islamic Finance, MacLean VA: Isaac Publishing, 2008, 17ff.

[16] Robin Wigglesworth, “Tawarruq loans split scholars”, The Future of Islamic Finance (Financial Times Special Report), December 8, 2009,

[17] Robin Wigglesworth, “Islamic banks caught between two worlds”, The Financial Times, 30 April 2010

[18] Interview with Allyson Rowan Taylor on, August 26, 2008,

[19] “Into the Fire”, September 15, 2008,

[20] Accessed: 7.10.08


HadithBy Dr. Bernie Power

The hadith are a collection of documents regarding the life and sayings of the prophet Muhammad and his companions. They were collated between 150 to 250 years after Muhammad’s death based on oral reports by companions of the Prophet and linked by oral chains of transmission.
Not all hadith reports are equally accepted. Some, such as those in the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim, are considered authentic or saheeh, having passed the highest and most rigorous standards of assessment. Others are considered weak or da’eef and therefore questioned. Still others are considered fabricated or forged i.e. mawduu’ and therefore rejected.

You may have heard of the alleged saying of Muhammad, while returning from battle: “I am going from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” When asked “What is the greater jihad?” He is reported to have replied: “The battle against one’s soul or oneself.”

Melbourne social scientist Waleed Aly states:

“This famous ‘greater jihad’ report is of highly questionable historical authenticity. It does not occur in any of the most authoritative collections of narrations of the Prophet, and probably surfaced for the first time among ascetic movements just before al-Ghazzālī’s time.”

AlGhazzali died in 1111 AD, around 500 years after Muhammad lived. We are not concerned here with such spurious accounts of disputed dependability.

There are six collections generally accepted by Sunni Muslims, and my paper will draw only on the collection by al-Bukhari. Surprisingly Muslims do not respond to these saheeh hadiths in the same way. Most Muslims accept them. Others will question those whose content they do not accept. Others reject all hadith. We will look at these groups in turn.

1. Most Muslims accept all Saheeh hadith

The Hadith are important for Islam since they provide a means for understanding the Qur’an. Melbourne’s Abdullah Saeed notes that “[t]hese anecdotes are important in understanding what the Qur’an says on many issues. A good example of this is how to perform the five daily prayers. The Qur’an commands Muslims to perform daily prayers but does not give any details as to how, when, and in what form these prayers should be performed. The Prophet Muhammad explained the prayers in detail and showed Muslims how to perform them. These are reported in Hadith, and Muslims rely on such Hadith to understand how to perform the prayers.” Other key topics such as circumcision and the shahada are not mentioned in the Qur’an but are found only in the Hadith.
Some scholars would see them as indispensable. Fazlur Rahman says: " If the Hadith as a whole is cast away, the basis for the historicity of the Qur'an is removed at one stroke." The South African Council of Muslim Theologians assert that

“[t]he Holy Qur’an without the Hadith or Sunna of the Prophet remains unintelligible in certain instances and in view of that, the Holy Qur’an has, in several verses, ordered Muslims to follow the Prophet in all his deeds and sayings. Therefore, if one believes in the Holy Qur’an, there is no other alternative but to uphold the Hadith of the Prophet.”

The majority of Muslims world-wide would accept the Hadith as authoritative and normative descriptors of the life of Muhammad and therefore of their own faith.

2. Some Muslims question some Saheeh hadith

Chiragh Ali (1844-1895) may have been the earliest modern Muslim hadith-doubter, for he “anticipated Goldziher in his skepticism concerning the authenticity of even the classical collections.” In 1885, this Indian scholar referred to the traditions as

“the inventions of a playful fantasy …not deserving of confidence … very few of which are genuine reports … a chaotic sea. Truth and error, fact and fable mingled together in an indistinguishable confusion. … I am seldom inclined to quote traditions having little or no belief in their genuineness, as generally they are unauthentic, unsupported, and one-sided.”

His cynicism was shared by Mahmoud Abu Rayyah (1889–1970) who “adduced many arguments from different sources to undermine the position of Hadith literature. The result of his research was a book which … tore the Hadith literature to pieces.” He concluded that “the entire Tradition literature should be submitted anew to an extensive examination as to its textual reliability.” Equally unconvinced was Rashid Rida (1865–1935) who believed that

“Many hadiths of sound isnad should be submitted to criticism of their contents… he rejected hadiths if they appeared to him to be rationally or theologically objectionable, or if they conflicted with broad principles of the Shari‘ah.”

There were a range of reasons why these scholars questioned or rejected certain Saheeh Hadith. Some were scientific grounds. French scientist and Muslim convert Maurice Bucaille confesses that some of the Hadith contradict scientific understandings. “The difference is in fact quite staggering between the accuracy of the data contained in the Quran, when compared with modern scientific knowledge, and the highly questionable character of the statements in the hadiths on subjects whose tenor is essentially scientific.” While admitting the limited nature of early medicine, he states: “It does not seem – a priori – to be a very good idea, however, to suggest that people drink camel’s urine.” This is a reference to some unusual prophetic advice: “Some people of ‘Ukl or ‘Uraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine).” This regimen was attested by others.

Contagion through physical contact was not understood. An unconventional medical treatment is Muhammad’s advice about insect contamination: “If a fly falls in the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (antidote for it) i.e. the treatment for that disease.” When a dead mouse was found in some ghee (butter-fat), the advice was reversed. Muhammad told the cook: “Throw away the mouse and the portion of butter-fat around it, and eat the rest.” Other rulings break the most basic principles of hygiene. Although a range of infections, such as gastro-enteritis, Hepatitis A, glandular fever, herpes, respiratory infections, and parasites such as giardia, can be conveyed by saliva, Muhammad is reported as telling his followers: “When you eat, do not wipe your hand till you have licked it, or had it licked by somebody else." The Prophet himself engaged in the practice of tahnik with new-born children. “He asked for a date, chewed it, and put his saliva in the mouth of the child. So the first thing to enter its stomach was the saliva of Allah's Apostle.” Muslims with scientific knowledge have found these hadiths difficult to endorse.

Muslim feminist scholars have been concerned about hadiths which have an anti-women tone. These would include sayings of Muhammad such as: “I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women” (alBukhari .4:464; also 1:28; 2:541; 7:124, 125, 126; 8:456, 554, 555) and “After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women.” (alBukhari 7:33). It began with the first woman, for he said: “but for Eve, wives would never betray their husbands.” His statements about the origin of women have been considered condescending by some scholars. One report has the prophet saying:

“[A] woman is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion, so, if you should try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked. So treat women nicely.” (alBukhari 4:548; 7:114). In another version of this, he added some advice to men: “So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness."

(alBukhari 7:113) Feminist scholars such as Afro-American Amina Waduud, the Moroccan Fatima Mernissi and Pakistan’s Riffat Hassan have been scandalised by such pronouncements, encouraging others to reject what they see as patriarchalist and misogynist statements.

The Pakistani scholar Ghulam Ahmed Parwez (1903-1986) formed a group called the Bazm-e-Tolu-e-Islam (or Resurgence of Islam Party) in 1938. He taught that “The life and character of the Prophet (P) represents the pinnacle of human dignity, decency, and greatness. His exemplary life is the best role model for humanity. There is no doubt about that part of the Prophet’s life which is preserved in the Quran. However, in regard to the part which is outside the Quran, if there are historical narrations which contradict the Quran, or if they go against the high moral character of the Prophet (P), then these narrations are to be questioned and should not be attributed to the Prophet (P). The same applies to the lives of his companions (R).” Some actions and sayings attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith have been considered as beneath his dignity and so have been rejected. Other have questioned statements in the Hadith on the grounds of human rights and historical inaccuracies.

The Palestinian professor Suliman Bashear (1947 – 1991) wrote that “serious doubts could easily be cast not only against traditions attributed to the Prophet and Companions but a great deal of those bearing the names of successors too.” In 2008, Turkey’s powerful Department of Religious Affairs commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to develop a new collection leaving out some of the hadith reports which are not in keeping with the modern world. They claimed that even some of the authorized hadiths need to be assessed and perhaps reinterpreted in order to serve the needs of modern society.

3. Some Muslims reject all Hadith, even those accepted as saheeh
The group Ahle Qur’an or “People of the Qur’an” was formed in Amritsar and Lahore in 1906 by Abdullah Chakralawi (d.1930). This group taught that pure Islam is to be found in the Qur’an only. One of its members, Khwaja Ahmad Din, said in 1917:“No hadith can be trusted.”

One of their concerns was that the existence of the hadith casts doubt on the comprehensibility and perspicuity of the Qur’an. The Qur’an makes great claims for itself. It describes itself as ‘a light (from God), glorious, the truth, certain, inspired, powerful, unassailable, wise, perfected in truth and contains no falsehood.

It also declares itself to be clear. It is a perspicuous/plain book or Qur’an, for Allah made His signs clear so you can understand. We (Allah) sent down/made an Arabic Qur’an so that you may understand in a clear Arabic tongue.

The Qur’an asserts its own comprehensibility. It is a detailed book, with a detailed explanation of everything, which has neglected or omitted nothing. Moreover there is a divine tafsir that is part of the Qur’an.

“We (Allah) have explained everything (in detail) with full explanation”. Indeed We (Allah) have fully explained to mankind in this Qur’an every kind of similitude”.

It is explained by One who is wise and all-knowing. Furthermore it was uncomplicated. We made the Qur’an easy to understand and remember and We made it easy in Muhammad’s language. Moreover the Prophet was enjoined to do the same. Muhammad was told to convey the message in a clear way. We did not send a messenger except with the language of his people. Consequently, the Qur’an is sufficient. Muhammad can lead people out of darkness into light through its clear signs or verses. Allah could have supplied other books if needed (Q.18:109)

However these critics of the Hadith ask: If the Qur’an is as wonderful, clear, comprehensive, detailed, explained, uncomplicated and sufficient as it claims to be, then why should any other documents be necessary? On his death-bed, Muhammad said: 'Bring for me (writing) paper and I will write for you a statement after which you will not go astray.' Umar replied: ‘The Prophet is seriously ill, and we have got Allah’s Book with us and that is sufficient for us.’ (alBukhari 1:114). This could be a kind of motto for the Qur’an-only groups.

Ahmed Subhi Mansour (b.1938) formed a group called the Ahl al-Qur’an “to unify all those who believe that Qur’an is the ONLY source of Islam rituals, guidance and explanation of its legislations. So, it will be forbidden for anyone who adopts what-so-called Prophet Narrations (Haddith or Sunnah) to be used or adopted to express certain point of view or interpret the Holy Qur’an.” Another Muslim organization, calling itself ‘Free Minds’ claimed that

“[t]he gravest crime the self-appointed scholars who claimed to be Muslim made was to give authority to the traditions (Sunna) and the books of Sayings (Hadith) ALONGSIDE the authority of God and His messenger.”

The Quranic Society of Malaysia (QSM) was established by a group of Malaysian Muslims on 11 June, 1995 at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur for the purpose of calling Muslims in Malaysia and throughout the world back to the teachings of God in His final scripture, the Quran.

The highest profile assault on the Hadith came from Libya’s Colonel Mu‘ammar Qaddafi in July 1977. He pointed out irreconcilable contradictions within the Hadith. Of particular concern was alBukhari 1:30 “When two Muslims fight (meet) each other with their swords, both the murderer as well as the murdered will go to the Hell-fire.” He took this to mean that Ali would go to hell for fighting against Mu’awiya. He was also concerned about the 200 year time gap between event and compilation, so he pronounced the Qur’ān as the only real source of God’s word. When a meeting with Hizb utTahrir delegates proved ineffective, a committee of scholars, led by Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Muhammad al-Gazoly, visited him, pointing out the dangers of such a stance. These included being branded as an infidel and renegade. Qaddafi recanted, and the Committee announced his repentance to the Muslim world.

To conclude, Muslims have not responded to the saheeh hadith in the same way. Most Muslims have accepted them. However there has been a history of questioning, challenging and even rejecting the Hadith from within the Islamic umma by significant scholars for several centuries. These have come from a variety of sources, and for a range of different reasons. A challenge for contemporary Islam is how to understand the authority of the hadith in the light of these challenges.

CSIOF PictureBy Canon Dr David Claydon

Religious narrative may inform one’s identity and one’s world-view, but in itself it has no impact on one’s post-death situation. Whether one believes in pushing up daisies, or in eternal salvation, reincarnation or nirvana, or is committed to a view about a world of spirits, the belief will have absolutely no impact on what actually happens at the point of death! Most religious narratives offer a post-death concept and most assume some level of human achievement such as good behaviour or the killing of an infidel. Yet the Christian gospel places salvation in the hands of God alone whilst inviting individuals to place themselves in a right relationship with this self-revealing God.

So those committed to the Christian narrative would have a motivation to announce the availability of salvation as grounds for announcing the Christian gospel. However, salvation is not the only ground for this announcement. St Paul made it clear as he travelled across Europe where many other religions were adhered to that there is an immediate need to see lives re-moulded by the active presence of God the Holy Spirit in the life of all those who turn to God’s grace.

We must recognize the right of all people to pursue the world-view they choose, for there is likely to be elements of truth in their world-view, and Christians would wish that no matter what nation they live in, they too would be free to follow their religious commitment. Given that recognition, we might ask if there is anything unique in the various religious narratives. There are some areas of overlap such as between the Pharonic concept of a wealthy after-life and some Chinese religions , as well as between Hinduism and Buddhism. But the Christian concept of salvation in God’s eternal kingdom is unique; if it were not then there would be nothing worth suffering or even dying for. Not only our past, but also sadly our present history indicates that many people suffer and die for the sake of their commitment to the God of grace.

The 1910 Edinburgh conference was held to promote mission to those who did not hold a Christian Faith and we must take this into account. It assumed the potential universality of the gospel, but as Panikkar has pointed out such action creates a problem for those who do not hold to this faith.

So in today’s world we need to ascertain what an appropriate position could be. In arriving at this point I would first make two warnings.
There is no advantage in patronizing others. Each person develops a personal identity in the light of the faith adopted. We as Christians do not want to show ourselves as having a superior attitude, therefore we should not patronize those of other faiths.

We are called by the Bible to be humble and our humility lies in the fact that human achievement is not the mechanism for attaining a changed life or eternal salvation. We are open to learning from other cultures and values as well as the religious understandings of those among whom we seek to make known the Christian gospel. However, we do have a unique message to present and each individual needs to make up her/his own mind from the range of messages heard as to which one will be followed.

There is no advantage in being approvingly sympathetic to other religious narratives. At the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekanada pursued Ram Mohan Roy’s position that the Hindu practice of Sati (Sutee) could be dropped as this is not taught in the Vedas and thus Hinduism must be acknowledged as a helpful religion. If on this basis we approve the Hindu religion, then we are declaring that the Christian gospel has nothing unique to say. The same position becomes obvious when we note that regardless of what peaceful Muslims may state, their operational manual, namely the Qur’an, does declare that Islam is the only right universal religion, and apostates should be killed.

The old pluralistic view that there are many paths up the same mountain all leading to the top of the mountain, is not a helpful image (particularly when doctrine and political ideology merge). If there is an eternal God, then only that God can declare who he is and how he can be reached (Islam, Judaism and Christianity reject pluralism). Any human attempt at discovering the Divine has to be a product of human imagination. So either we have a self-declaring God to announce or we should keep quiet. If we do make such an announcement then we do have some boundaries for we are not simply appeasers. I will comment further on boundaries in a moment.

For Christian Mission today we need to grasp some concepts.
The most widely known concept is that of contextualization. A range of meanings have been attached to this concept. It has its roots in Paul’s message at the Areopagus (Acts 17), in that he related to an existing inscription on a local altar and recognized the belief in an ‘unknown God’. He was relating to an awareness of many of his listeners. Over the years many missionaries have found that the local people among whom they are ministering already have some awareness of concepts which need to be further developed.

There are some truths in most world-views. Lesslie Newbigin embarks on this concept with a chapter in his “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society” . He states that the truth about the gospel must be announced in a way that makes sense to the hearer and yet at the same time it must ‘not be a product shaped by the mind of the hearer.’ The gospel must be conveyed in the culture in which it is being announced and not presented in its original Hebrew culture.

Some religions have a concept of a Creator God yet know little if anything about him. Vince Donovan discovered this in his work with the Masai. Don Richardson found a redemptive analogy in his ministry among the Asmat tribe in Irian Jaya. Workers among Muslims can identify with the ‘One God’ concept, with the belief in ‘Isa’ and that we represent God in the world, but in all cases there is an enormous movement away from their original understanding as the story about Jesus unfolds and the character of a loving Christ is made clear. Eventually the missionary will discuss the Triune nature of God, since contextualization means both relating to already known ideas as well as sensitivity to the yet to be known.The term ‘contextualization’ is also used to establish a faithful declaration of God’s written word and relating this meaning to the context in a meaningful way.

The next concept I need to mention is the not so well known concept of determining the boundaries. Those in ministry today would be expected to identify the Biblical boundaries of behaviour linked to the nature and practice of the person of Jesus . One would hope also that all those in ministry today will work within the cultural boundaries until any of these boundaries are in conflict with the nature of the person of Jesus. Those committed to some faith or to no faith usually hold to some truths and Christians need to identify these, build on them and respect the culture in which they have been formed. But Christians owe allegiance and discipline only to the Cross. This means that whilst doctrine is not changed, values may be reviewed and adjusted as needed without necessarily being in conflict with the boundaries set.

The common basis for relating to people of other faiths today appears to be on a dialogue platform. The assumptions about dialogue vary enormously. But the essentials are firstly, that neither side expects to change its doctrinal stance. Secondly then, the purpose cannot be for conversion and it must be to convey historical facts, and/or to explain doctrinal positions and/or to promote harmony among the people. In Nigeria it has been used in an attempt to persuade Muslims not to kill Christians and burn down their churches (no doubt a desire for peace) and this has been a noted failure. In Nepal and India it has been used to explain that people are not paid money to convert (an attempt to explain the facts) and this too has not been successful. In Pakistan it has been used in an attempt to eliminate the blasphemy law, but this too has failed, even at the political level. In Australia it has been used to improve the understanding of two faiths which are engaging, but there has been little evidence of a helpful result either in publications or in reducing proposed acts of terrorism by extremists.

The desire often is to strengthen the capacity for tolerance and this could mean an improvement in relationships, but normally means a shift in values as doctrine is not adjustable. The “Common Word” was a written-dialogue by a group of Imams in Jordan 2008 and addressed to the Pope in Rome. It promoted Islamic values and required that Christians not be aggressors against Islam, with no comment about Islamic aggression past or present. Clearly, dialogue tends to be a publicity event rather than an effective means of increasing tolerance. It sometimes leads to constructive engagement, particularly in enabling the participants to better understand the stance of each faith or ideology, but it certainly is not a means, and should not be used as a means, for Christians to announce the gospel.

Tolerance is an acceptable goal in dialogue, but it must not mean setting aside the doctrinal truths to which a person is committed. Tolerance should not amount to political correctness or regarding alternative religious systems as equal to one’s own, but it should mean respect for those who hold other positions.

Any and every mission action among those of other faiths or of no faith should be undertaken not as a displacement concept, but as an opportunity to build on whatever knowledge and ideas the listener(s) may hold to and be open to a debate about the content of the narrative. Such debate will not change the essential features of the narrative, but may change the approach and may open up ways for further declaration of the message of a right relationship with the God who has revealed himself both in word and in The Word.

© Canon Dr David Claydon

MosqueBy Dr Moyra Dale

In restricted social environments, Muslim women have always used religious occasions in the home, such as Qur’anic recitations or dhikr to gain blessing and enjoy the religiously-sanctioned opportunity to gather and talk together over a glass of tea or a meal. Now women’s homes and special gatherings are increasingly being used as sites for da‛wa, encouraging women to conform their lives and dress to prescribed Islamic norms. So a birthday party becomes a place to urge the claims of hijab on all the young women attending. At the same time women are moving into more public (albeit restricted) space, such as using women’s areas in mosques, or giving exhortatory sermons in the women’s carriage on the train system.

This paper draws on research over a period of about eighteen months in a Middle Eastern city, when I attended the women’s programme in a Sunni mosque in an upper middle-class area, and interviews with the leader or da‛iyya who had founded the programme, whom I will call Eman.

The word da‛iyya comes from the root du‛a meaning ‘to call’ or ‘to invite’. In Islamic religious terms da‛wa is “the invitation, addressed to men (sic) by God and the prophets, to believe in the true religion, Islam.” It determined the Muslim community’s relationship to non-Muslims: “Those to whom the da‛wa had not yet penetrated had to be invited to embrace Islam before fighting could take place.” The contemporary piety movement relates da‛wa not only to non-Muslims, but also to the duty of every practising Muslim to urge fellow Muslims to correct Islamic practice. Emerick puts da‛wa alongside enjoining / forbidding and jihad as the three fundamental duties for Muslims.

Mahmood connects the recent growth of Muslim women teachers with the development of the concept of da‛wa: “In many ways the figure of the da‛iya exemplifies the ethos of the contemporary Islamic Revival, and people now often ascribe to this figure the same degree of authority previously reserved for religious scholars.”

Eman described the role of the da‛iyya in even higher terms: “the da’iyya is the ambassador of God to people and the successor of the Messenger.”
Through the role of da‛iyya women are now ascribed a role of authority and implicit leadership (khalifat al-nabi) that was generally reserved for men. How they take up that role is shaped by their personal context, and the competing forces of opportunity, or access to education and patronage, and opposition, whether gender-based or political.


Women teachers in history

The history of Islam has included women who were leaders and teachers at different times throughout its history. Aisha and Fatima are among those commonly mentioned from the time of Muhammad, but there are also examples of women teachers as well as hadith transmitters through Islamic history. Such women had to have access to education. Usually from the ulama class, these women were often taught by a male relative such as their father, and sometimes also had access to private tutors. Traditionally female religious scholars were often relatives of male clerics. Education, a male patron, and often class, were crucial qualifications.

Increased education and resources

However the recent growth in women da‛iyyas, or missionaries, is enabled by two major factors. The first is the increase worldwide in women’s literacy and education. More recently religious material has become widely available in popular media such as books, tapes and DVD’s, and satellite channels. This has given women more access to information and debate around theological issues and faith duties.

Alongside these developments has been the growth in conservative Islamic movements across the Muslim world. This is both enabled by and in turn contributes to the growth of religious material in popular media. These movements prioritize religious education, including for women. Some women preachers are self-educated: but increasingly religious institutions are offering training to women. Al-Azhar University in Cairo began training women preachers in 1999.

Eman’s own role as da‘iyya is enabled by support from her family. Growing up, her father combined his business trips with doing da‛wa in local mosques. At home he called his children together for daily prayer and teaching, and encouraged them to attend the mosque programmes, including over the long summer breaks. Eman’s mother also gave her daughters freedom to spend long hours at the mosque, instead of the more traditional role of staying at home and helping with domestic work. Eman’s socio-economic background and family links give her the freedom to be able to invest her time in the mosque programme. Now married to an engineer, she ably combines her role as wife and mother with a busy teaching schedule.

A Muslim woman’s role as da’iyya is dependent on a home and social context that give her access to education: and it is also validated by prior fulfilment of her domestic responsibilities.


Home duties and da‛wa

Women find their piety defined primarily in domestic terms. So they may encounter family resistance to involvement in a programme of religious learning and teaching that takes them outside the home and domestic responsibilities. Opposition from family, especially from the husband or his female relatives, was sometimes discussed at the mosque programme. Provided women can show they are adequately carrying out home duties, they can claim moral high ground in giving attention to religious duties. Arguments from religious sources can sometimes give women more freedom to challenge traditional cultural gender restrictions.

Cultural practices

The role of women in leadership is still controversial. In many Muslim women’s gatherings around the world, the teaching is still given by a man. Particularly controversial is the practice of a woman leading women in prayer in a mosque when there is a man present. While this is supported by three of the four schools of Islamic law (Shafi’i, Hanafi and Hanbali), Mahmood describes the opposition faced by an Egyptian woman da‛iyya who didn’t interrupt her lesson to allow women to join the male imam at the call to prayer, but waited until the end, and then led the women herself in prayer. Eman also follows this practice; but the imam in the mosque is supportive of her.

Kalmbach describes how a da‛iyya in Damascus adopts conservative behavioural and teaching practices which give her the space to teach more radical interpretations of Islam. So Eman generally follows very conventional norms of deportment. Her dress outside the home or in front of non-related men is always conservative, with long dark overcoat and headscarf, showing only her face. She is careful to always defer to the male leadership of the mosque and ensure that the women’s voices are not heard in the male-occupied main body of the mosque. By keeping her practice conservative she avoids censure, even while disputing the teaching of the four schools of law on men as imams in mixed gatherings through a tradition which defends the right of women to lead a mixed group of men and women in prayer.

Women gain the right to challenge traditional social norms of religious leadership by showing their conformity to religious social practices of dress and general behaviour, and by supporting their challenge from within the authoritative religious texts and traditions.

Political pressures

Muslim groups have an ongoing dance of engagement and restriction with the governments of the Muslim countries within which they operate. Increasingly such governments are adopting an Islamic stance, which requires validation from religious authorities within society. However in restrictive political environments, opposition has tended to find expression within mosques and conservative Islamicist groups.
For a while women da‛iyyas attracted less attention than male religious leaders, but as their number and influence grows, they are coming under increased attention and surveillance. In Egypt women da‛iyyas now have to have the state-issued preaching licence. For a long time in Syria the secretive women’s Qubaysi movement met in houses: but with their rapid growth in numbers and influence (they are said to focus on women from wealthy or influential families) the government now has opened a number of mosques to them, where their teaching can be more easily observed.
During the time I was attending the mosque, there were some months when the government ordered mosque gates to be shut for some of the time, and activities in the mosque restricted, as part of a clamp-down aimed at restricting opposition. When I recently went to visit Eman, she told me that foreign women were no longer allowed to attend the mosque programme, but only local women from near the mosque. Even the classes she had held in her home for foreign women were no longer allowed. She indicated that her home was watched and reported on, concluding that the government was nervous of international Islamic links.

Mahmood points out that the piety movement doesn’t directly confront governments. However its insistence on seeking to apply Islamic norms in every area of life challenges an implicit secular position that seeks to restrict Islam to matters of religious practice and family law , thereby refusing a separation into matters of ‘ibaada (worship) and ‘amalaat (works).

The perceived opposition of the west to Islam also shapes da‛wa. The call, or da‛wa, is to the Muslim community, so that by being renewed and true to their faith they will be able to resist western incursions. And da‛wa is also to the west, inviting them to acknowledge Islam as the truth rather than opposing it.

The Mission

The da‛wa to women attending the mosque programme called them to:

  • move beyond ritual to knowledge,
  • fulfil their home responsibilities appropriately as Muslim women,
  • be involved in da‛wa themselves to their own society and beyond.
  • Beyond ritual to knowledge

The emphasis on knowledge was a constant theme. Eman exhorted the women to undergird devoted practice with understanding, telling them, ‘An hour’s thought is better than a year’s worship.’

This teaching is not challenging the practice of the fundamental religious duties. Nor does Eman generally question the popular practice of accruing of merit or blessing through the multiple repetition of particular verses, or recitation of the whole Qur’an, in what could be seen as a semi-magical or mechanical use of text. When she teaches on “aql (mind) as being as or more important than din (religion) - Muslims throughout the community are very good at practising their religion, less good at using their mind,” Eman is not placing knowledge in opposition to faith practice. Rather, in a religious framework knowledge is presented as one of the religious duties, which may have priority over other duties. “If you need learning, take the time you spend in dhikr to learn.”

Similarly, the teaching in the mosque programme does not oppose religious teachers, nor does it encourage choice outside an Islamic framework. The women should be aware of the options for choice and how to exercise them: “People were free to agree with a given judgement or not, even as they were free to take from any of the four different schools of interpretation: and they could choose different schools for different times or subjects.”

Dīn and domestic duties

Women were encouraged to attend the mosque programme. At religious feasts women would give testimonies about how the programme had helped them. Such times almost always had a discussion of family problems that made it difficult to attend, with vigorous discussion around the right of women to come to the mosque in the face of opposition from husband or mother-in-law. Eman was careful not to subvert the priority of domestic duties, which also counted as part of a woman’s proper worship.

“There are different kinds of worship. There is the service of the home and children, teaching the children, caring for their food and cleaning. Education and worship in the home is more important than attending the mosque...mosques and religion are for men and for women.”

So she also insisted that the husband had no right to forbid his wife to attend the mosque, and if he did so, she wasn’t wrong to resist him. “For him to order her in her prayers and her worship, he doesn’t have the right in this, there are boundaries he doesn’t cross.”

While this is accepted within Islam, it is an important shift to locate a woman’s prayers and worship in the mosque. Traditionally women have always prayed at home. Eman’s focus is on the lectures and acquiring knowledge as a necessary part of women’s worship, rather than the dhikr and Qur’anic recitation which also take place at the mosque.

All called to do da‛wa

Eman encouraged the women to take any opportunity to be involved in da‛wa. A series of lectures and handouts told women the appropriate behaviour and words to use at times like weddings, births, funerals. They could copy good teaching tapes and give them away, or leave pamphlets in public places for people to pick up. Those who travelled overseas for work or study, whether to the Gulf or the West, were given contacts of other graduates from the mosque, and encouraged to think about how they might contribute. Eman urged the women to respond if they saw negative comments on Islam on the internet, and to consider learning another language so that they could engage more effectively with the west. I knew other young people learning English with missionary intent in order to relate to westerners.

However although everyone is encouraged to be involved in da‛wa, not everyone can be a da‛iyya. Eman offered special training for some:

“We will teach girls for free, in English and computers, the outstanding girls to become well-informed da‛iyyas, like the prophets, the best representation, circumspect, diplomatic, neat. … No prophet has flaws. There are special characteristics for a missionary - not all people can be one.”


Contemporary da‛wa movements offer women opportunity to move beyond domestic spheres to new physical and textual spaces. For these da‛iyyas, the domestic is not left behind, but becomes part of an expanding sphere of involvement.

Smith discusses the shift from domestic to public sphere:

“Of course, for centuries and still today, here and globally, women care for children, cook, do housework, and make other contributions to survival. It isn’t that we weren’t conscious or that we ceased to be subjects when we were at home doing the work of caring and cleaning. The extraordinary moment came when we saw that this was a place from which we could speak to and of the society at large, moving into a terrain of public discourse that somewhere along the line had been appropriated by and ceded to men.”

Eman is involved in teaching local women and sometimes expatriates, as well as lecturing in the Gulf states. She draws on the traditional texts of Qur’an and Hadith, books of tafsir (commentaries), alongside CD recordings and satellite programmes. And the content of her teaching moves between the everyday every night responsibilities of women’s worlds, and global discussions of the nature of Islam and the place of women within it.


Afshar, Haleh, Rob Aitken & Myfanwy Franks ‘Feminisms, Islamophobia and Identities,’ in Political Studies vol 53. (2003).
Canard, M. ‘Da’wa’, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, (Leiden: Brill, 1965, vol.II).
Deeb, Lara, Arab States, ‘Religious Practices: Preaching and Women Preachers’, in Suad Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Practices, Interpretations and Representations (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2007, vol.5.) 335-336.
Demirer, Yücel, Turkey, ‘Religious Practices: Preaching and Women Preachers’, in Suad Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Vol.5. Practices, Interpretations and Representations, (Brill: Leiden-Boston, 2007), 347-9.
Emerick, Yahiya, What Islam is All About (Kuala Lumpur: A.S.Noordeen, 1997).
Huq, Maimuna, South Asia, ‘Religious Practices: Preaching and Women Preachers’, in Suad Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Practices, Interpretations and Representations (Brill: Leiden-Boston, 2007, vol.5), 343-346.
Kalinock, Sabine, Iran, ‘Religious Practices: Preaching and Women Preachers’, in Suad Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Practices, Interpretations and Representations (Brill: Leiden-Boston, 2007, vol.5), 339-340.
Kalmbach, Hilary, ‘Social and Religious Change in Damascus: One Case of Female Islamic Authority,’ in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 35:1 (2008).
Khattab, Huda, The Muslim Woman’s Handbook, (London: Ta-Ha Publishers, 1993, 1994).
Mahmood, Saba, Politics of Piety, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
Mernissi, Fatima, The Forgotten Queens of Islam (trans. Mary Jo Lakeland, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993).
Rausch, Margaret, Egypt, ‘Religious Practices: Preaching and Women Preachers’, in Suad Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Practices, Interpretations and Representations (Brill: Leiden-Boston, 2007, vol.5.), 337-339.
Souad, T. Ali, Sudan, ‘Religious Practices: Preaching and Women Preachers’, in Suad Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Practices, Interpretations and Representations (Brill: Leiden-Boston, 2007, vol.5.), 346-7.
Smith, Dorothy E. The Conceptual Practices of Power. A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990).

Book Review 3Ingrid Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an: It’s history and place in Muslim life (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008, x + 262pp) ISBN: 9781405122580 ISBN10: 1405122587.

From the outset Ingrid Mattson makes clear her intentions as twofold: first, to produce “an academically grounded but accessible introduction to the Qur’an” (vi) and second, to provide “the perspective of a Western academic who is also trying to live as a faithful Muslim” (vi). The work is replete with copious quotes from the Qur’an, interspersed with many quotes from the Sira, the authoritative biography of Muhammad, thus reinforcing the impression of the work as manifesting both academic rigour and sympathetic engagement with Islam’s most sacred text.

There is much to commend in this study. It is very well written, undoubtedly achieving the goal of accessibility to a non-specialist audience, no mean feat for any study of the sacred texts of the world’s great religions. A key instrument in this success is Mattson’s use of rich anecdotes, grounding the more theoretical discussion in the lived reality of the Islamic faith.

Furthermore, the breadth of subject matter covered is vast, yet it coheres throughout. Mattson initially deals with the life history of Muhammad, without whom there would be no Qur’an as we know it. Her discussion then ranges across diverse subjects: the development of written Arabic in the early centuries of Islam; the canonization of the Hadith and the formulation of Sharia Law; the emergence of Qur’anic manuscripts; the mass printing of Qur’ans; the role of modern technologies, including the internet, in increasing distribution of the Qur’an; the early debates about the createdness of the Qur’an; the early creeds; the role of the Qur’an in protecting Muslims from sickness and evil spirits; the Qur’an in the life cycle of Muslims; and much more. The reader is thus treated to a veritable smorgasbord of topics of relevance to Qur’anic Studies.

Of particular interest is that Mattson provides the perspective of a Western woman on the Qur’an and the faith that springs from it. She is a former Catholic convert to Islam, so she brings to the study a Western educational and cultural background rooted in gender sensitivity, which is supplemented by a deep study of her adopted faith. This results in some invaluable observations, such as the statement that the Isra’iliyyat, Judeo-Christian traditions which have crept into Islam down the centuries, are sometimes undermining of Qur’anic values, especially “those related to women.” (194). There is much literature on the Isra’iliyyat, but this observation opens a new window into the subject which calls for further research.

Notwithstanding the strengths of this volume, weaknesses must be noted. Mattson’s passing engagement with approaches to the Qur’anic text of a more critical, revisionist nature is at best half-hearted. She could have been more daring in asking some of the taboo questions if she was really seeking to persuade a Western academic audience. What about the view of many that the Qur’an is not “revelation”, but is rather an evolved text which underwent the same kinds of textual “corrections” as did other great works of literature? What about the perspectives of those for whom Muhammad was not a prophet of God but was rather a skilled orator, an accomplished community leader and a fearless warrior? To address these questions, a more intentional engagement with non-Muslim revisionist scholarship would have helped, rather than her relatively brief references to such sources, largely dominated by an apologetic tone, at different points of the volume.

The first two chapters seem to be designed to smooth out the bumps of Islamic scripture and theology, explaining away those uncomfortable elements which run counter to Islamic dogma. An example is Mattson’s treatment of the Satanic verses reports (52), which she presents as lacking in validity. The approach of apologetics is also seen in the discussion of the emergence of the jihad doctrine, which is portrayed as entirely reasonable. In this context, Mattson explains away the early Muslim treatment of Jewish tribes, carefully avoiding the debate surrounding purported anti-Semitic ingredients in the early Muslim texts.

To be fair, Mattson’s study does become more believable as she moves down the centuries. Chapters Three to Six are more deserving of a place on undergraduate reading lists than the first two chapters. However, the quality does dip again in the Conclusion, which, like the early chapters, is more devotional than scholarly, serving a purpose of Islamic mission as well as reflecting scholarly endeavour.

There was a time when most books on Islam and its sacred text that were studied in western universities were written by non-Muslim scholars. Those days have gone, and deservedly so. It is important that western university students listen to Muslim voices and perspectives as they study Islam. Mattson’s volume is a valuable resource in this regard.

But this work also reminds us just how important it is that such students can continue to make reference to non-Muslim writings on Islam as well, so that the sympathetic approaches of Muslim scholars will be supplemented by other approaches, at times more critical, to ensure the continuation of western scholarly traditions where any questions can be asked, and any criticism aired.

Peter Riddell

Book Review 4Michel Cuypers, The Banquet: A Reading of the Fifth Sura of the Qur’an (Convivium Press, Miami, Florida, 2009, 565 pp) ISBN 978-1-934996-05-8.

The Banquet is not just 'a' reading of Surat al-Ma'ida, but a highly significant demonstration of how to interpret the Qur'an according to its own genre. For many it may seem that the work has broken on to the scene of Qur'anic scholarship out of a vacuum. In fact the author has been meticulously applying the tools of rhetorical analysis, as defined by the Biblical scholar Roland Meynet, for some fifteen years. Most of his earlier work has, however, been published in journal articles, in French, and has dealt with shorter suras in the latter half of the Qur'an.

The book explicates a methodology that respects the way in which meaning is bound up with structure in Semitic discourse. Cuypers sets out identifiable rules at the beginning, and then, through tracing the ways in which the text adheres to them, shows how they lead to interpretative insights. Because of the way chiasms and formulaic crescendos imply distinction between universal principles and contingent particulars some of these insights challenge traditional understanding. The careful close work, paying attention to word clusters, has also resulted in identifying well substantiated intertextual resonance between Qur'anic passages and portions of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

Cuypers is sensitive to the way the biblical texts work in their own contexts, and so able to draw attention to the co-incidence of interests of the Deuteronomic material which anticipates entry into the Promised Land, and the Johannine Farewell Discourse material which looks to the establishing of a new faith community. Thus, in an almost understated way, the author proves a discerning guide to underlying interests of the sura.

The copy editors failed to pick up a number of places where a computer auto-correct has opted for 'sure' instead of sura, and a half bracketed statement is left incomplete on p280. Other than these small matters the book is beautifully set out, with layout bespeaking the attention to detail to be found in the content. It is receiving warm interest in the world of Qur'anic studies, with Shi'ite and Sunni scholars affirming that the approach is in accord with the principles of qur'anic nazm (form).

Having already become recommended reading for students engaged in Qur'anic studies at SOAS, London, The Banquet seems set to become a valuable entrée for those looking for ways to approach the Qur'an with integrity.

Carol M. Walker
London School of Theology, Centre for Islamic Studies


Australia Crescent1Dr. Bernie Power
Bernie Power has worked in Asia and the Middle East among Muslims for over 20 years. He is currently a lecturer with the CSIOF.

In January 2007, the controversial Grand Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj Uddin alHilali, claimed that Muslims had a much greater right to Australia than non-Muslim white Australian citizens. "Anglo Saxons came to Australia in chains," he told an Egyptian chat show Cairo Today, "while we paid our way and came in freedom. We are more Australian than them. Australia is not an Anglo-Saxon country - Islam has deep roots in Australian soil that were there before the English arrived." On one point he was correct. Islam has had a long connection with Australia’s Aboriginal people. From the 1650’s or c.1720 , Muslim traders from Macassar (modern Sulawesi) traveled yearly to northern Australia to harvest ‘trepang’ or sea cucumber which were dried on the beaches before being transported to the lucrative markets of South East Asia. This was no small quantity of arrivals: “in any one area, Aborigines were totally outnumbered by the visitors.” Thus large numbers of technologically-advanced foreigners in sea-going vessels encroached on aboriginal land, accessing and removing natural resources for export.

Such social realities created a dissonance in the aboriginal mind, and began to find a place in Dreaming myths. The now-deceased aboriginal elder and informant David Burrumarra M.B.E. related such a narrative. “In one Dreaming account, in the beginning, Aborigines were ‘white’ and rich and Macassans ‘black’ and poor and the visitors worked for the Aboriginal land owners. But events were turned around when a mythological Dog representing Aborigines was rude and uncooperative to the visitors, and so the wealth of Macassans, which was seen to originate from Aboriginal land, was lost to them. From that point on, Aborigines were ‘black’ and poor and Macassans ‘white’ and rich.” The historian Ian McIntosh suggests that contact with the Macassans may have imprinted a subliminal message on the aboriginal psyche, preparing them for later European settlement. “Aborigines are confronted with the idea of being forever impoverished and bound in a state of dependence upon the non-Aboriginal Other…When Macassans departed from Arnhem Land, Europeans inherited their place as usurpers of Aboriginal wealth.”

The relationship between these early Muslims and the aboriginal people was not always positive. “'Macassan' goods brought both benefits and problems for Indigenous communities - knives and alcohol, for instance, proved lethal, especially combined with angry retribution over the abductions of Aboriginal women… 'Macassans' were routinely accused of debasing Aborigines with alcohol, introducing diseases and exploiting Aboriginal labour. ..Aboriginal songs … bespeak a period of conflict and bloodshed that brought intense social turmoil and disruption for the Yolngu.”

These events, too, became lodged in dreaming stories.

“Greed and jealousy on the part of Aborigines emerging from an insatiable appetite for material possessions led to bloodshed, murder and then revenge murders until nearly the whole population, both ‘black’ and ‘white’, was killed. It is not spoken of as ‘black’ killing ‘white’ or ‘black’ killing ‘black’ in the narrative however, but rather law breakers killing law breakers. The killers were said to be under the influence of the ‘spirit of the dead’, the Grokman or Wurramu, which would land on them from above and turn them from an orderly existence. People would forget ceremonial obligations, forget kinship, and indeed who they were.”

In later aboriginal thinking, Wurramu became identified with the devil.The coming of Islam brought social, economic and cultural upheaval. One result was a phalanx of new vocabulary drawn from the language of the Muslims: “male or female thieves, husband and wife stealers, liars, doublecrossers, and murderers. They go by names such as Balala, Bakurra, Bawurramu, etc., and are said to be based on the activities of actual people who lived in north-east Arnhem Land in the distant past which is also simultaneously the beginning of time. All of the words for the Wurramu are drawn from the Macassarese language and this strongly suggests a close interaction between the visitors and Aborigines in this time of turmoil.” For these reasons, there appear to have been few conversions to Islam by aboriginals during that period. The trepang trade ended in 1907, but the first Muslims had left behind a fatal legacy in a changed aboriginal worldview:

“In the here and now, there will always be strife, poverty and domination by Others. This, I suggest, is a previously unrecorded legacy of contact between Aborigines and Indonesians,” writes McIntosh.

Following British settlement, the interior of Australia was opened up with the use of ‘Afghan’ cameleers in the 1850’s. Polygamy was practised. “Some of those who had left wives back in India or Afghanistan also took wives here. Stevens mentions the history of Nameth Khan, a camel-driver with a wife and two daughters back in Peshawar, who took an Aboriginal wife as well, marrying her in the Registry Office in Alice Springs.”

There is evidence of sexual exploitation of aboriginal girls and women by the cameleers. Most of the ‘Afghans’ had returned to their own countries by the 1920’s, generally leaving their aboriginal wives and children behind.
Muslims sometimes present Islam as proclaiming justice and liberation to the oppressed peoples of the earth, and assert that it is the ‘black man’s religion’ which will throw off white domination. The US-based Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who visited aboriginal communities in 1998, has proclaimed the innate supremacy of the black races over whites, as have some other black Islamic groups.
Ironically, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was white, not black. Twenty of the earliest traditions (hadith) of Islam testify to this.

When a man asked the early Muslims: "Who amongst you is Muhammad?" They replied, "This white man reclining on his arm." Nor was he a liberator of indigenous populations, for Muhammad was a slave-owner, maintaining a retinue of black and white slaves. He used them for personal services, such as tailoring. Rather than closing down slave markets, Muhammad participated as a slave-trader.

His conduct towards his slaves was inconsistent. Before he became a prophet, Muhammad was given a young Syrian slave, Zaid bin Haritha, and he freed him and adopted him as a son. But when he assumed the role of a prophet at age 40, Muhammad acquired more slaves. Despite telling others to set slaves free as an act of piety, he did not manumit all his own slaves. Muslims who wanted to set slaves free to gain heavenly merit could do so at little cost, since their troops were frequently raiding other villages and taking more slaves. When his wife Aisha wanted to free a slave, Muhammad said, 'The captives of Bani al-'Anbar are coming now. We will give you one whom you can set free.'” Muslim slaves were not encouraged to seek their freedom. Muhammad said: “If a slave escapes, his prayer would not be accepted.”

Muhammad ordered the flogging of one of his female slaves. His son-in-law Ali reported that Islam’s prophet “committed me to flog her. But she had recently given birth to a child and I was afraid that if I flogged her I might kill her. So I mentioned that to [Muhammad] and he said: You have done well.” He also sanctioned the beating of another female slave. “The servant was called in and Ali immediately seized her and struck her painfully and repeatedly as he commanded her to tell the truth to the Prophet of God.”

Exploitative legislative practices were enacted. Muhammad told slave-owners that if they set a slave free, they could keep the slave’s inheritance for themselves. Women and children captured in war were given to his soldiers as slaves. When the Jewish village of Bani Qurayza surrendered to Muhammad, he beheaded all the men (600 to 900 of them) and distributed the women and children to the Muslim fighters as booty. Muhammad’s legacy continued as the history of Islam unfolded. In later years, the international slave-trade was facilitated by Arab Muslim traders who set up colonies on the coast of Africa and bought captured villagers from African tribesmen. Although proscribed in the West, slavery continued as an institution within Islamic countries, being banned in Saudi Arabia only in 1962.

Aboriginal people in Australia can hardly look to Islam as a society lacking racism and oppression. The numerical impact of Islam on aboriginal people so far has been small.

“The spectrum of Aboriginal identification with Islam includes fundamentalist and militant anti-Western supporters as well as ecumenical polytheists who adopt Islamic and other religious traditions simultaneously. It also encompasses those who have chosen not to convert to Islam but whose lives have nonetheless been shaped by their or their forebears' contact with various Muslim communities….Today there are an estimated 1000 Indigenous Muslims nationwide.”

This figure includes recent converts as well as non-practising descendants of followers of Islam, such as Arnhem Land people with 'Macassan' ancestry and those descended from the 'Afghan' cameleers.” These 1000 Muslims represent only 0.25% of the aboriginal people. High exposure converts, like the boxer Anthony Mundine, have raised the profile of aboriginal Muslims, and made them seem more numerous and influential than they really are. It is remarkable that, despite the long and close connection with Muslims, very few aboriginal people have been attracted to Islam. This may be about to change, as Muslims concentrate on the Australian indigenous people to utilize social fault lines, following their practice elsewhere. A Lebanese-American writer, in her New York Times Bestseller, notes the Islamic use of communal ‘wedge politics’ in her native and adopted countries. Of the tension between Muslims and Christians in the 1970’s, she writes,

“The PLO exploited the ancient hatreds and rivalries that had always simmered below the surface of Lebanese society. This is exactly what al Qaeda and radical Islamists are exploiting in America today in the African-American community, which is the largest community converting to Islam. They are using the race issue to attract converts, increasing the Muslim population in the U.S.”

Significant recruiting is occurring in Australian prisons, where both aboriginals and Muslims are over-represented. Although only 2.2% of Victoria’s population is Muslim, they contribute 7% of the State’s prisoners. Aborigines make up 14% of the national prison population. Both communities suffer from an unemployment rate of nearly three times the national rate. They are joined together in suffering. Hopefully Australian Christians, aboriginal and otherwise, will be aware of these trends and respond appropriately.

By Bill Muehlenberg
Bill heads up CultureWatch, an apologetics/ethics ministry started in January 2006:

David Claydon (ed.) Islam: Human Rights and Public Policy (Acorn Press, 2009). 

Book Review 2

The nineteen essays contained in this book deal with a number of aspects of Islam, and how politicians and policy makers should think about this faith. It examines a number of topics, including: sharia law, the role of women in Islam, the nature of jihad, Islamic financing, the place of Muhammad, and the state of human rights in Muslim nations.

Although this is mainly an Australian work (it is published in Australia and 9 of its 15 authors are Australian), most of this volume looks at Islam from a global perspective. Only several chapters deal specifically with the Australian situation. Thus all Western policy makers can find much of profit in these pages.

Australian expert on Islam Mark Durie has written a number of chapters in this volume. One deals with the importance of Muhammad in Islam. He is viewed by Muslims as the perfect model for human behaviour. What he said and did serves as the template for all Muslims.

Durie reminds us that reformation movements in Christianity drive us back to its founder – Jesus Christ. But the question arises, if Islam was to be reformed, and a strict return to the example of Muhammad was urged, would it result in Islam becoming more moderate or more radical?
Given what we know about Muhammad, Durie suggest the latter. While positive aspects of his life can be mentioned – his faithful twenty-year marriage to Khadijah, his compassion on the poor and orphaned, eg. – his less than ideal traits are what should worry us.

These negative aspects to his character “fall far short of the ethical standards accepted in modern secular democracies”. These include his general treatment of women, his treatment of enemies, his military career, and his use of violence.

As John Azumah notes in his chapter, Muhammad “took part in 27 battles and ordered 46 raids against non-Muslims”. He discusses jihad, and reminds us that Islam teaches a “perpetual struggle between Allah and Satan, good and evil … Islam and non-Islam, Muslim and non-Muslim”.

Seen in this light, there is “no room for dialogue or compromise. Islamic teaching is absolute and demands complete approval”. And Azumah warns that we should not be lulled into thinking that jihad is simply a spiritual struggle: “Muslims have always taken pride in the military exploits of Muhammad and have written books on these as proof of Muhammad’s prophetic mission. In fact, a very large portion of Muhammad’s biography written by early Muslim observers deals with battles, raids, plunder, killings and assassinations ordered or carried out by the Prophet of Islam.”

Patrick Sookhdeo examines Islamic finance, and notes how Western institutions and governments have been eager to introduce it into the Western system. Sookhdeo shows how Islamists have been pushing this, thus weakening the position of moderate Muslims. They are using it as part of the takeover of Western financial systems, and the eventual rule of global sharia.

Elizabeth Kendal writes on the lack of religious freedom in most Muslim nations. She especially focuses on apostasy laws and blasphemy laws:

“These laws, combined with the demographic trend of particularly high Muslim birth rates, guarantee an expanding community, but one that is experiencing repression through the denial of freedom of belief and freedom of expression.”

Daniel Pipes examines the situation in Europe. It is not looking too good:

“The secularism that predominates in Europe, especially among the elites, leads to a sense of alienation about the Judeo-Christian tradition, empty church pews, and a fascination with Islam.”

This makes for ideal growth conditions:

“Muslims display a religious fervour that translates into jihadi sensibility, a supremacism toward non-Muslims, and an expectation that Europe is waiting for conversion to Islam.”

Paul Stenhouse documents how Islamic “humanitarian NGOs” in Australia may be anything but. He reminds us that government attempts to promote and understand Islam are often really pushing the radical Islamist agenda. For example, Griffith University’s Islamic Centre has “links with the International Institute of Islamic Thought based in Malaysia, which is currently under investigation in the United States for funding terrorism”.
He also notes that Australian taxpayers have been “funding madrasas [Koranic schools] in Indonesia to the tune of many millions of dollars” through overseas aid programs. Says Stenhouse, this “should be ringing alarm bells in government and security circles”.

Peter Day looks at how misguided and naive Australian government attempts to educate people about Islam in fact simply become the channel for Islamic propaganda. For example, in 2004 the Federal Government produced a glossy booklet on Islam entitled Muslim Australians.
It was designed to teach Australians that Muslim are just like us, and that Islam is a peaceful religion, allowing full freedom of religion. The author of the booklet was Abdullah Saeed. But as Day informs us, Saeed penned another book in 2004, which did not get a mention in the glossy government publication.

That book was called Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam, and it paints a very different picture from that found in the tax-payer funded booklet. In it Saeed admits that death for apostasy is clear Islamic teaching. Anyone who dares to convert out of Islam is regarded as an apostate, and death is the just punishment for this.

Saeed even admits that the “vast majority of Muslim scholars writing on the issue of apostasy today follow the pre-modern position” – namely, that apostasy warrants death. Strange, but readers of the Government booklet are never informed of this.

All in all this collection of essays is indispensable reading, certainly for government officials, but for all concerned citizens. David Claydon and the authors featured here have produced a valuable resource and reference on how the West should think about Islam, especially in terms of public policy. It deserves a very wide reading indeed.


Charles de Bueger,
BA Graduate, London School of Theology
This article first appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of the LBC Centre for Islamic Studies Newsletter.


When the strictly fundamentalist Taliban regime controlled Afghanistan, the innards of cassette tapes decorated lampposts as a reminder to the people that music was forbidden.

In Turkey today, a country where 99.64% of the people are Muslims there are four public TV channels broadcasting Turkish music videos. Clearly, not all Muslim-majority cultures have the same views about music. Is there a true Islamic position, and what is it? While not all would agree that the text holds the last word in such matters, it is a good place for us to start. We will take a brief look at Islam’s holiest and most authoritative book, the Qur'an, as well as the sayings of Muhammad as recorded in the Hadith. We will also examine the views of the earliest commentators on these books as they seem to be closest to the strong views of groups such as the Taliban.

The Qur’an

The Qur’an does not say anything clearly (positive or negative) about music. However, there are a few indirect references, which are sometimes used by interpreters. For example, the Psalms are mentioned several times in the Qur’an (3.184, 4.163, 17.55, 34.10, 35.25):
“On David we bestowed Our bounty. We said: ‘Mountains, and you birds, echo his songs of praise.” [Q34.10, Dawood] Commenting on this verse, Yusuf Ali says, “David had the gift of song and sacred music, and this is shown in his Psalms. All nature … sings … back to God”.  In David’s day, God does not appear to have had a problem with singing. Not all commentators agree. An oft-quoted, and somewhat conservative contemporary Islamic author named Abu Al-Kanadi states that “It is a common misconception of certain Muslims – especially those having a western background - … that Dawood composed the Psalms and sang them to the accompaniment of music.” There is no verse in the Qur’an or authentic tradition that says David accompanied the recitation of Psalms with instrument(s). He also says that even if it were established that David did play music and sing, it does not matter to Muslims today, since the more recent teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith take priority. There are also three key verses that come up in the debate about music (Q53.59-62, Q17.64, Q31.6). We shall look at the last of these:
“Some there are who would indulge in frivolous talk, so that they may without knowledge lead men away from the path of God and hold it up to ridicule. For these there shall be shameful punishment” [Q31.6 Dawood]. There is here an issue with interpretation. Does ‘frivolous talk’ actually mean music and singing? Some say it does, but even al-Kanadi (who is opposed to music) says there are other meanings for the phrase, and so it is not a categorical proof text. Another author, Khan takes the strongly unorthodox position that the “frivolous talk” actually means the Hadith! He argues that if Allah really wanted to prohibit music, he would have prohibited it clearly in the Qur’an. Since Allah does not, we can assume that not only is it permissible, but that those documents and commentators that disagree can be described as “idol worshippers”. The strongest conclusion one can safely draw from this and the other verses is that anything that leads away from worshiping and obeying Allah is to be avoided.

The Hadith

Now we turn our attention to the sayings of Muhammad. As there is much more material in the collections of hadith and are generally more “down-to-earth”, there are more direct references to music in them. For example, Muhammad said “In my ummah there will be a people who will allow fornication/adultery, men wearing silk, drinking of wine and the use of musical instruments (ma’azif). Some people will stay at the side of a mountain and when their shepherd comes in the evening to ask them for his needs, they will say ‘return to us tomorrow’. Then Allah will destroy them during the night by causing the mountain to fall on them, while he changes others into apes and swine.” [al-Bukhari Vol 7, Book 69, No. 494v]. It is unclear exactly what ma`azif means, although translators believe it is some sort of musical term. This hadith appears to prohibit the use of musical instruments by listing this activity alongside others that are much more clearly forbidden. Khan, however, discounts this hadith by remarking that it cannot possibly be authentic since the Qur’an teaches that Muhammad did not know the future (Q7.188). He also points out that millions of people have listened to music and songs for the last 1400 years without turning into animals.6 Muhammad once said, “Angels do not accompany the travellers who have with them a dog and a bell”. Muhammad also said, “The bell is the musical instrument of Satan” [Sahih-Muslim Book 24, Nos. 5277 & 5279]. Siddiqi, the translator, makes no comment on the second of these sayings, but says that 5277 means there is no prohibition against dogs or bells –they are simply undesirable. The evil is not the bell (or the dog!), but their distraction from the remembrance of Allah.7 This is not an entirely satisfactory explanation – surely the ‘instrument of Satan’ is to be avoided by the faithful at all costs.

Early Commentators

Although not as authoritative as the Qur’an or the sayings of Muhammad, the opinions of the earliest Muslims are highly valued by many Muslims today. If a text is ambiguous to us, it makes sense to see not only how those (historically) closer to Muhammad interpreted it, but also how they lived. Al-Deen reports that al-Tabari said, “The scholars of all regions are agreed that singing is makrooh and should be prevented”. When al-Tabari was writing, ‘makrooh’ meant ‘forbidden’, although in modern Arabic it means ‘disliked’. Of the four Imams of jurisprudence, Imam Abu Hanifah took the strictest view of music. He “detested singing and considered it sinful”. His disciples “explicitly confirmed the prohibition of listening to all musical amusements … including wind instruments, tambourines, hand-drums and striking sticks”. Not all of the first Muslims avoided music however. Nasr says that from the earliest times, Muslims going off to jihad were accompanied by music.


Having looked briefly at the place of music within Islamic scripture, we can draw some conclusions. The first is that since there are so few explicit references (especially in the Qur’an), the issue of music cannot have been terribly important. However, Muhammad does seem to have been generally negative about it  (especially the use of instruments) although he did make exceptions for special occasions and certain people. His negativity is not explicitly explained, although commentators say that it is related to being distracted from the worship of God and study of the Qur'an, and the fact it often accompanies undesirable activities such as drinking and partying. In pre-Islamic days, Arab music was a particularly hedonistic affair - primarily a job for female singing slaves who doubled as prostitutes. It is thus hardly surprising that Islam came down so heavily on it.


1 P Johnstone & J Mandryck, Operation World, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001), 633.
2 Y Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary, (Lahore: Islamic Propagation Centre International, 1934), 1136 note 3799
3 A al-Kanadi, ‘The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing’, Sisters in Islam website
( This article is taken from his book, The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing, Jeddah: Abul-Qasim Bookstore, 1986.
4 Khan, Sharif, ‘Music is NOT forbidden in Islam’, Submission web-site (viewed October 2001,
5 MS al-Muhajjid, ‘Ruling on so-called Islamic songs with musical instruments’, IslamQ&A site (May 1999,, Question 5011)
6 Khan, ‘Music’
7 A Siddiqi, Sahih Muslim: Translation and Commentary, Vol 3 (Sh. Muhammad Ashraf: Lahore, 1996), 1163, note 2523
8 al-Tabari was the “supreme universal historian and Qur’anic commentator of the first three or four centuries of Islam” (Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol.X, p.11)
9 al-Deen, Shaykh Sa’d, ‘Ruling on music, singing and dancing’ on Islam Q&A website (read Nov 2001,, Question 5000)
10 Died 767 AD.
11 al-Kanadi, ‘Ruling’
12 S Nasr, Islamic Art and Spirituality, (Suffolk: Golgonooza Press, 1987), 152
13 al-Deen, ‘Ruling’
14 World Music Vol. 1, S. Broughton, M. Ellingham & R. Trillo (eds.), (London: Rough Guides Ltd, 1999), 324.


al-Deen, Shaykh Sa’d, ‘Ruling on music, singing and dancing’ on Islam Q&A website (read Nov 2001,, Question 5000).
Ali, Yusuf Abdullah, The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary, Lahore: Islamic Propagation Centre International, 1934.
al-Muhajjid, (Shaikh) MS, ‘Ruling on so-called “Islamic” songs with musical instruments’, Islam Q&A website, (May 1999,, Question 5011).
al-Kanadi, Abu Bilaal Mustafa, The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Abul-Qasim Bookstore, 1986.
Broughton, S, World Music Vol. 1, London: Rough Guides Ltd, 1999.
Johnstone, Patrick J & Mandryk, Jason, Operation World: 21st Century Edition, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001.
Khan, Sharif, ‘Music is NOT forbidden in Islam’, Submission web-site (viewed October 2001,
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Islamic Art and Spirituality, Suffolk: Golgonooza Press, 1987.
Siddiqi, Abdul Hamid, Sahih Muslim: Translation andCommentary, Vol 3, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1996.
de Bueger, ,Charles BA Graduate, London School of Theology This article first appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of the LBC Centre for Islamic Studies Newsletter.

By Janaya Mychael
Graduate of Bible College of Victoria (now Melbourne School of Theology)

Hare Krishna

The Hare Krishna movement grew to prominence in the West in the 1970s, at a time that many young westerners were turning East in their spiritual search, under the influence of fashion and a desire to distance themselves from the ways of their parents. The Hare Krishna appeal has waned in recent decades, yet their presence is still there on our streets and in our suburbs if we care to look.

So it was with a sense of considerable curiosity that I went with a group on 9 April to visit a temple in Albert Park, Melbourne, belonging to the Hare Krishna movement, more officially called the ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness Inc.) It was a day of challenges and questions, ones which bear sharing with a wider Christian audience. I had many expectations before going to the temple. I expected to see many idols and shrines to numerous deities, in particular a major idol to Vishnu “the Keeper”, who some believe to be an avatar of Krishna. I didn’t know the difference between the Hare Krishnas and Hindus, so I expected to be informed of the difference and perhaps challenged by their arguments regarding their faith. I expected a fancy and elaborate building that looked clearly like a temple. Inside I thought I’d be surrounded by a myriad of colour, stone-work and paintings displaying the great epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. I also expected a strong smell of incense and to hear Indian-style music. I expected to observe a relaxed atmosphere, little corporate structure; people meandering back and forth in individualistic worship, participating in various rituals – bowing andchanting mantras, possibly participating in yoga. I thought the women would be wearing brightly coloured, Indian-style clothing and lots of gold (or apparent gold) jewellery. I expected references to the sacred texts, karma and moksha (freedom from the cycle of samsara,or rebirth).

Events On The Visit

We arrived and presented ourselves at the reception. The building was an old Victorian style house converted into a temple. Thus from the outset, my experience was different from what I expected. From the outside, there was no obvious appearance that the building was a temple, although there was a large sign revealing it as ISKCON. The building still retained the air and charm of a large Victorian mansion. A strong smell of curry permeated the air. After speaking briefly with the Temple President, we were led to the 4pm service (known as an arti) in the temple, which is separated from the administration building by a courtyard. Part of the courtyard contained a garden which encompassed a fountain and two elephants that appeared to ‘guard’ its entrance. There are six arti services each day, with those in the early morning and early evening being the best attended. As the one we observed was still in work hours, there were very few people there. In the foyer of the temple we were asked to remove our shoes. The main area of the temple was an open room, with a marbled floor and intricate sculptured work all around the inside architraves. The sculpted work was of vine-like floral designs and lion heads on one side above the screen. This was all painted in pale pink and green giving the temple a ‘soft’ atmosphere. I found the colour and decoration of the temple quite beautiful. The marbled floor contained the design of a flower in the centre. There was only one main statue in the main temple. This was a lifelike statue of the founder of the Hare Krishna faith - Srila Prabhupada. There were approximately a dozen pictures on the walls of various people and deities. On the wall opposite the statue of the founder was a screen, behind which was the inner sanctum/temple. Within the inner temple were three statues in a row to Krishna.

The centre one was Krishna and his wife. The one on the left was a Lord and his “second” (partner in his work). The one on the right was another form of Krishna. There was a smell of incense but it was not overpowering. Each temple devotee first entered, bowed, and prostrated themselves on the floor towards the large statue of Srila Prabhupada. During the service, there were hymns (not just instrumental music) played on a stereo and the temple priestess continually rang a bell. Food was also offered to the idols before we arrived. At one point a conch shell was sounded for a few minutes. The priestess then handed out(through the screen) some rose-heads to a devotee who then passed them around to us.

Talking with the President after observing the devotions, we returned to meet with the Temple President. His office contained a few statues and pictures hanging on the walls. It was spacious, and not overly cluttered despite the many objects and books within it. It also had comfortable couches to sit on which helped relieve some of my nervousness. Our discussion ranged over many topics. The President quickly established that we were Christians (he said he could tell we were Christians by our “look”). However, once he realised that we were there to learn about his faith and not ‘Bible Bash’ or forcibly convert him, he relaxed and was sincere in trying to help us understand the points of view he held on various issues.

We were informed that the two main differences that distinguish Hare Krishnas from mainstream Hindus were their rejection of the caste system and their belief in monotheism. The founder of Hare Krishna (Srila Prabhupada) was against the caste system, teaching that it was a “perversion of Scripture”. The President explained that a person is not born into a rank, but rather people are born with a particular ‘make-up’, born with particular qualities which make them best suited to various professions (i.e. a person may be born with a flair for business (i.e. strong business skills) and, being a profession which they enjoy, they will thus do well and should hence remain in that position). Their view of monotheism is that Krishna is the original form and is supreme, with other deities underneath who are not to be worshipped directly. He also said that Vishnu (one of Hinduism’s major gods) was a form of Krishna. The President proceeded to give us an overview of the Hare Krishna’s history, and explained how his order had developed out of Hinduism. Another distinctiveness of the Hare Krishna movement is its dedication to mission and preaching. They strive to convert people through ‘chanting parties’ and through the distribution of books which explain their beliefs.

The temple we went to visit is one of the largest in Australia, with approximately 4000 families that are connected with it (most are
described as ‘sympathisers’), while approximately 100-120 of those families take an active role in the temple (i.e. as priests, administration staff, etc.). The President then went on to relate his personal testimony – how he had had a Christian upbringing, got involved in the ‘hippie movement’ and then heavily into drugs, including dealing. He related how no-one had been able to answer his questions on the purpose of life and who he really was. However, he found answers in the Hare Krishna people who accepted him as he was and encouraged him to get involved. During this he explained various points of belief such as all material things having a ‘spiritual side’ and how their goal is to free themselves from their bondage to the cycle of birth and death. He also talked about Hare Krishna views on purification and sin. To them, purification is the process of identifying with one’s spiritual consciousness and not material consciousness. The analogy given was that of a pure water droplet (our original spiritual state) falling on dirt. This combination makes mud (our present state). The goal of a Hare Krishna is to re-identify with spiritual consciousness (i.e. get back to pure water) – to release the soul from bodily form. Beginning to understand their concept of sin required learning their beliefs in karma – actions which give positive, negative or neutral responses (good karma, bad karma or akarma respectively). They believe that we desire to sin – the activities which produce negative karma. We can get rid of the activity, but not the desire to sin. This desire comes due to our ignorance of our spiritual condition and forgetfulness of our original position as a servant of God. Interestingly, devotional activities are seen as akarma, not positive karma. However, as the President went on to explain, a Hare Krishna actually wants neither positive nor negative karma, but rather akarma in order to break out of the circle of samsara.

Another topic we discussed was the clothing that they wear. The receptionist wore colourful Indian-style clothing, with lots of jewellery and piercings, while the president wore a white outfit. This is to identify them with the Hare Krishna faith. Similarly they daily put clay markings on their faces to declare their beliefs. We ended the discussion cordially after approximately one hour. In a further email, the president explained that the food offered in the temple was considered sacred and then later given to the devotees to whomever was hungry. The flowers given in the service were also part of the offering and therefore considered sacred. He also mentioned that the mark on a lady’s forehead is a symbol of her married state. In the discussion, he said that a requirement of an initiate or those who wish to be initiated was to be celibate. The president also explained that while preaching (and devotional activities) were akarma, they were still considered important in order to encourage people to “free themselves from the bondage to the cycle of birth & death”. He finally affirmed that they have a personal relationship with God and said that people have “just forgotten it” (thus it is viewed in a different sense to how a Christian would understand it). Thoughts for Christian Visitors to

Hare Krishna Temples

The visit posed many challenges of different kinds. First was the concern I felt that someone like the President, with an apparent ‘traditional high church’ background, could have so clearly missed the central point of faith
in God. Nor had he been able to find any Christian to adequately answer his questions on spirituality at the time that he was searching as a young man. It also stunned me that his testimony sounded like many I have heard in a Christian church service, and Christian visitors to Hare Krishna temples should anticipate this. I was impressed with the president’s attempts
to genuinely answer our questions, although I was not remotely convinced by his arguments! He was patient, hospitable and very kind, a feature of the Hare Krishna movement which is central to their own mission strategies. The Hare Krishna faith appears to be very much a works-based faith, working towards personal freedom, but of a different type to the
Christian faith which accepts a freedom through God’s grace. Their concept of sin is also different. As Christians, we would not attribute all sin to ignorance (we would argue that humans often knowingly do things wrong). We would also hold different views on Jesus’ divinity (this was discussed with the President). We would stress that he is the Son of God, rather than just an “empowered teacher” or “servant of God” or even a
“prophet”. Also, our views on the compatibility of an interfaith meeting would differ greatly. While we (along with Muslims and Jews) would struggle to overlook certain doctrinal differences (such as the divinity of Jesus), the president had no problem with accepting these. Overall it was a worthwhile experience and I am pleased that I had the opportunity to attend.1 There was too much to look at and absorb in one visit, but it was good exposure to a very different faith. Having said that, I felt uncomfortable a few times, and would not have liked to have gone on my own. The Hare Krishna followers we spoke with clearly saw our visit as an opportunity for their own mission. So Christians considering undertaking such a visit should prepare themselves beforehand with information on the movement and with answers to the challenges they are likely to face, and they should also make the visit in the company of fellow believers.

1 For further information on the Hare Krishna, see
Christopher Partridge, The New Lion Handbook; The
World’s Religions (3rd ed.; Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2005),
134-164, 443.

Reviewed by Peter Riddell
This review first appeared in the April 2005 issue of Third Way magazine.

Book Review 1Author: Jason Burke
London, Penguin, rev. ed. 2004
xxvii +355pp

This work represents a slightly revised edition of the version published by I.B. Tauris in 2003. It has allowed the author to bring readers up to date on the fast moving events of 2004, especially relating to Iraq and Islamic radical activity elsewhere.

Burke has spent extensive amounts of time in various parts of the Muslim world, and the different chapters provide vivid insights into radical Islam in locations as diverse as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Indonesia. In assembling this book he draws on an impressive set of source materials: print and electronic media, security agency reports, personal experience and interviews, and authoritative scholarly sources.

The second chapter shows that Burke is as comfortable engaging with Islamic theology as he is with contemporary politics and society, and is able to identify the links between the two. He draws on key Qur’anic themes to provide background to contemporary radical interpretations of the Islamic sacred texts.

His discussion of some of the great radical Islamic thinkers – Ibn Taymiyya, Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abu’l A’la Mawdudi – shows that he is aware of the evolutionary history of radical thought, and of how such thinkers have contributed to the ideology of modern Islamists such as Osama Bin Laden.

One of Burke’s key arguments is that Al-Qaeda is not a monolith, with a hierarchical structure. Rather it is amorphous, and in fact can be seen as a very loose “network of networks” with each component part exercising a considerable degree of autonomy. In this he is undoubtedly correct.

One of the great strengths of this study is that it benefits from the remarkable access Burke has had over the years to radical individuals and groups, from Bin Laden down. There is an authenticity about Burke’s analysis which only comes from first-hand experience. His direct engagement with groups as diverse as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Ansar al-Islam in Iraq means that the reader gets the sense of “hearing it from the horse’s mouth”, as it were. Burke also makes a valuable contribution to current discussion and debate by dispelling some widely reported myths. He comments that “it is often said that bin Laden was funded by the CIA. This is not true…” (p. 59). This will be small comfort to the legions of Americabashers who seek to heap blame for every ill in the world today upon the United States.

Nevertheless, one cannot escape the impression that Burke himself has an axe to grind with regard to America. We sense the author’s own views when he rather blatantly stereotypes attitudes throughout the Muslim world towards Osama Bin Laden as “respect for, admiration of and identification with an undoubtedly charismatic individual who appeared to be standing up against America, a state that was widely seen as overbearing, exploitative and, at the very least, uninterested in the suffering of Muslims worldwide, if not indeed directly responsible for it.” (p. 181)

There is no recognition here of the fact that the USA devotes over 50% of its vast overseas aid budget to Muslim communities around the world. Nor is there much recognition of the fact that vast numbers of Muslims around the world categorically reject Bin Laden’s ideology, motivations and methods.

Furthermore, Burke appears to hold the US responsible for a rapprochement between Bin Laden and the Taliban. In the wake of the bombings of two US embassies in Africa in 1998, there was an American military strike with Tomahawk missiles on sites in Sudan and Afghanistan which were suspected of being associated with the groups from which the bombers came. Basing himself on quite anecdotal evidence, Burke argues that the Taliban were about to hand Bin Laden over to the Saudi Arabian authorities to face treason charges, but changed their minds because of the US air strikes. The implication seems to be that the US brought subsequent terror attacks upon its own head by clumsy policy decisions. This is the tone throughout much of the book, and serves to somewhat undermine the great strengths of the work in other ways.
In the conclusion Burke helpfully offers a way ahead for the world’s leaders to address the growth of radicalism. He points to the importance of stripping away the legitimacy of the radicals through various means, and of understanding why the “warped vision” of radicals has such appeal among some Muslims. Burke does concede that military responses have their place in dealing with Islamic militants, but affirms that “military power must be only one tool among many, and a tool that is only rarely, and reluctantly, used.”(291).

All this is sound advice. However, these views are presented as being at odds with un-named (read American) policy; Burke comments “currently, military power is the default, the weapon of choice.” In fact, this is not fair. British and American administrations have used the military option reluctantly since 9/11, and it has been accompanied by wide-ranging non-military inputs to both Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. As Burke himself comments, speaking of the Afghanistan war in 2001, “though it tragically cost the lives of many civilians in Afghanistan, [it] gave the country the best opportunity for several decades to build a peaceful and secure future.” (p. 256) The same could be said of the Iraq War of 2003.

Notwithstanding the above criticisms, this book represents a valuable addition to the growing collection of studies of radical Islam, and provides a kind of close engagement with radical Muslims which is missing from most other studies.