Islamic theology matters. Or so say the authors of seven recent books on Islam. In a recent edition of Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Benthall provides a review of these recent books on Islam, theology, and politics. Though these books differ in their perspectives, Benthall notes, “… all the books under review here indicate in varying ways that theology has to be one ingredient in our understanding of these difficult questions” (11). This brief post will also summarize Benthall’s comments on three of the books more relevant to this blog-those books written by John Renard and Miroslav Volf, and one that is edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin.
- John Renard, Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in Comparative Perspective (U. of California Press). Benthall tells us that this book is a study of the major theological tenets of Islam and Christianity. His method is to compare and contrast. For instance, according to Benthall: Renard claims, “The deity that Muslims worship is often thought of by non-Muslims as severe and judgmental; but many Christians have such a concept of God as well, whereas many Muslims believe that God’s mercy always takes precedence.” Renard also “compares the Christian understanding of Jesus as God’s Word made flesh with the revelation of the word of God in the Qur’an …” (11). Renard’s work may provide a glimpse into what Christians and Muslims believe, but on a sociological and descriptive and not a polemical and prescriptive level.
- Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (Harper One). Volf’s book explores theology proper, asking whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Volf’s aim is to frame the debate that has often become vitriolic. The book is a follow up to the 2007 “Yale Response” co-written by Volf and published in The New York Times, which supported the “common word between us and you” drafted by Prince Ghazi of Jordan and signed by 138 Islamic scholars. This “common word” claimed that love of God and neighbor are common to the Qur’an, Torah, and New Testament. As such, “the identity of the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur’an assumed by the drafters of the Yale Response is strongly endorsed by Volf in his new book, and he insists that, though before September 11, 2001 the question seldom surfaced in discussions of Christianity and Islam, it has now become vitally important” (11). [Note to reader: Christian Scholar’s Review recently hosted a review of Volf’s book by evangelical theologian Ben DeVan, as well as a response by Volf. See volume XLI, Number 2 (Winter 2012).]
- John L. Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, eds., Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the Twenty-First Century (Oxford University Press) is a collection of articles by Muslim and non-Muslims from America and Europe. “Together,” writes Benthall, “the authors give a comprehensive, well-documented account of the historical roots of present-day Islamophobia in white supremacism and in the colonial manoeuvre whereby Muslim societies were both eroticized and stigmatized; also of the more recent tensions in Muslim-Western relations that were brought to a head on September 11, 2001” (12).
The other four books reviewed by Benthall are:
- Chris Allen, Islamophobia (Ashgate)
- Robert Lambert, Countering Al-Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership (Hurst)
- Charles Kurzman, The Missing Martyrs: Why Are There So Few Muslim Terrorists (Oxford University Press)
- Scott Atran, Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What it Means to be Human (Allen Lane)
Again, I’ve not read these books, and have relied upon Benthall’s essay for this briefly noted. Hopefully these books will be helpful reads (though surely in unequal measure) for those of our readers who are interested in joining the conversation about Islam, theology, and politics.
 Jonathan Benthall, “Still a challenge for us all,” in Times Literary Supplement (Jan. 20, 2012): 11-13.