Ronzani,R. and P. Onyango-Ajus (Ed.). What Christians should know about Islam. Paulines Publications Africa, 2003, 71pp, paperback, $ 2.50 and Michel, Thomas. What Muslims should know about Christianity. Paulines Publications Africa, 2003, 167pp, paperback, $ 4.50
These two companion volumes give a fair understanding of the Roman Catholic position to Christian- Muslim relations in order to “foster and encourage greater dialogue between Christians and Muslims”. Surprisingly the book addressed to Christians is less than half the size as the one directed to a Muslim readership. Although the editors confess that going into “all the many details of the Muslim faith” is beyond the scope of the book, the reader will be disappointed and left with many questions: Why is one third of the content dedicated to Family Life and the role of Jesus and Mary in the Qur’an, but virtually not one page deals with apologetic issues? Did the editors actually live and relate to Muslims or select a rather idealistic picture of Islam (p. 40 – Purpose of marriage; p. 25 – ‘Islam means the voluntary submission of one’s free will to God’)? One can’t help but come to the conclusion that this book was put together with a clear agenda, possibly to affirm the official declaration of the Second Vatican Council’s in the Nostra Aetate which concluded: “Muslims strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan… Although not acknowledging him as God, they worship Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honour, and even at times devoutly invoke…” Evangelical Christians will certainly not be able to join into such appraisals in service of constructive dialogue.
Michel’s description of the Christian faith is much more coherent and convincing. Not only has he given the last 23 years of his life in Lebanon, Indonesia, Turkey and other places, studied Arabic and acquired a comprehensive understanding of Islamic thinking, but also lectured Christian Theology as part of the programme in history of religions at the University of Ankara. The book is a refined presentation of his lectures covering “The Bible: Inspiration and Revelation, Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith, Historical Development of the Christian Community, and An Introduction to Christian Theology, Philosophy, and Spirituality”. The breadth and depth of the topics chosen is quite impressive, even including the Anabaptist movements during his treatment of the reformation period, pietism in the Lutheran church in Germany, or the Pentecostal movement. He has understood Islamic allegations against the Christian faith and pre-empties such objections by answering relevant questions and posing them first, eg “Why four Gospels?” (p. 39) Issues such as The Trinity and Redemption receive a 10 or more pages explanation while the brief passage on Mary covers less than a page and starts with the emphatic statement: “Christians never regard Mary as the wife of God.” And he concludes: “It is important to remember that all Christians know that the eternal god has no mother, and that god has never physically generated a son.” – Excellent emphasis! And last but not least the book concludes with “Suggested Readings from the Bible” recommending some 100 chapters right from Genesis to Revelations, but no reference to the OT apocryphical writings. – Well done! Certainly a book where many a Christian could learn much about his own faith and more so how to share it with a Muslim enquirer. WEG