Between Naivety and Hostility

Steve Bell and Colin Chapman

'This unprecedented collection of 18 essays and additional supporting articles, subtitled 'Uncovering the best Christian responses to Islam in Britain', are written on subjects close to the heart of everyone interested in Christian/Muslim relations.

The book is not an introduction to Islam. It is a book for those who have a passion for the "grace and truth" approach to Christian/Muslim relationships and those who want to understand this school of thought in all its compassionate diversity.

Paraphrasing Colin Chapman's words, it is a book about expressing approaches that give greater emphasis to either the Great Commandment or to the Great Commission.

The book is divided into three parts.

In Part 1: Assumptions and Starting Points, we have the starters, Ida Glaser's "Thinking Biblically About Islam" is for me the most original; stimulating reflection. She ends her contribution, "I believe that the most important question is not, "What does God think of Islam?" But, "What does he expect of us?"

In Part 2: Crucial Issues in Britain Today, we move from the entrées to the main courses and what dishes they are. Philip Lewis' magisterial overview of the British Muslim community today in which he underlines the issue of identity. Quote, "For many young Muslim men living in the inner city, there has been a process of multiple alienations; from wider society, mosque and home." Tim Green on conversion, apostasy and discipleship. Ziya Meral writes rivetingly on jihad with his incisive critique of our too-often simplistic analyses; themes taken up in another chapter. There are articles on education, women and the hot potato of Islamic courts so contentious when Archbishop Rowan Williams raised it in 2008. Part 2 needs time to digest.

In Part 3; Models of Positive Relationships, the dessert trolley is rolled in. With gastric juices still working hard on the main course Richard Sudworth introduces us to "the difference that makes a difference" approach to other faiths previously presented to us in his 2007 publication, "Distinctly Welcoming". I like his phrase, "embedded relationships of understanding". Andrew Smith tantalizingly describes the creative activities of a programme called Youth Encounter with which he is involved. (The chocoholic in me just wants more information.) At last an accessible critique of "taqiyya" (dissimulation) and a call to mutual integrity by Toby Howarth drawing on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

But what would a dessert menu be without a crème brulée flambé (with or without a blow torch)! Yes - Jay Smith juxtaposition with Chawkat Moucarry - polemics versus dialogue. Succinct and compelling chapters.What we need is something to settle the stomach after such rich desserts and who better than Bishop Bill Musk who exhorts us to further positive and creative relationships with Muslims at every level of society.Between naivety and hostility - controversy between two covers in order to produce a faithful missional response to Islam in its multiplicity of expressions. When did you last go to a restaurant and have a four course feast served up to you with impeccable table service for the price of a paperback?

Reviewed by Keith Fraser-Smith

Keith Fraser-Smith is a regular book reviewer and mission leader with Pioneers.