Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Muslims and Christians Are Not Both "People of the Book"

Inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
A year ago I met with a prominent Muslim leader who kept referring to us both as "People of the Book." He was hosting me at his mosque, and I was there to learn from him. I did learn a number of things that day, but one was not that Muslims and Christians are both "People of the Book." "We really believe the same things," he told me. I held my disagreement in. Because mostly, and essentially, we do not.

This Muslim leader would do well to read Stephen Prothero's excellent God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter. Prothero writes: "While I do not believe we are witnessing a "clash of civilizations" between Christianity and Islam, it is a fantasy to imagine that the world's two largest religions are in any meaningful sense the same, or that interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims will magically bridge the gap." (K 247-55)

My Muslim leader-friend is a champion of "interfaith dialogue," by which I think he means things like: 1) we arereally all the same; 2) we really believe the same things because we are alike in that we are "People of the Book; and 3) we therefore need not try to convert one another. But Prothero is correct, as many scholars have pointed out, that such talk with solve little since it is rooted in a basic untruth. I love to talk with Muslims about our differences, and do so with gentleness and respect.