I was at my friend's house and looking through a children's version of the Quran. The book was warm and friendly. Cute cartoons with heroic figures of faith filled every page, similar to the children's Bible that sits on my coffee table at home.
As I flicked through the pages of the Quran I found engaging stories that were unfamiliar to me. But I also found an anthology of ideas and stories that I know so well; the oneness of God, a God who created everything and who is rich in mercy and justice, the Ten Commandments; a call to love your neighbour; Noah's ark, David and Goliath, the miraculous birth and remarkable life of Jesus.
Perhaps it makes sense the two religions have many similarities. The founder of Islam, Mohammad, was familiar with Judea-Christianity. The Islamic prophet came from Mecca, a major trade route where he interacted with many Christians and Jews.
I think understanding the major world religions is important. Especially considering that the world is becoming more religious. Christianity and Islam are today the most numerous and fastest growing religions globally. Together they encompass more than half of humanity. (1)
This generates the question, how can we get along? Will there be increasing tension between adherents of these two major religions? Will there be more violence? Will there be greater segregation? Are we destined to live in that tragic society C.S Lewis describes in his book the Great Divorce, where everyone lives in their own suburb of empty houses because no-one can get along?
Yale professor in systematic theology, Miroslav Volf, thinks that such questions will define the 21st century as globalisation brings these two massive religions closer than ever before. (2)
The Crucial Questions
I sincerely hope we can get along. To me the Christian way is to treat others with benevolence, acceptance, hospitality and love. Surely, following the life of Jesus leads us to grace and inclusion.
Yet, even if we want to create a world of loving acceptance it doesn't mean we are, or will, or even know how to achieve this.
In his book Allah: A Christian Response, Volf gives us advice. He asserts that one step we must take if we want to see adherents to these two religions living peacefully side by side is to focus on our similarities, not just our differences. Violence and animosity and intoleranceflourish when we just focus on our differences. Focusing on our similarities will help us negotiate our various differences.
To Volf, looking for similarities between our religions leads us to ask; do we have a common God?
And then: Is one God about domination and the other peace? Do our God's stand in stark contrast to each other? Is there a battle on for supremacy of Allah and Yahweh? Volf predicts that how we answer this question is the difference between peace and bloodshed; two opposite deities always means war.
Volf goes on to explain how Arab Christians (as well as Christians in countries such as Malaysia) have for centuries worshipped God under the name "Allah." Saints, scholars and most Christians through the centuries have believed that Muslims worship the same God as they do. In chapters 2-3 of his book he draws on other historical theologians, like Martin Luther, who thought Allah and the God of the Bible (Yahweh) were the same God, but understood differently. (3)
Creating peace by finding Commonalities
Whatever our take on this topic, I'm convinced we need to start focusing more on the similarities between the two religions.
I guess this requires a lot of learning from our Muslim neighbours and friends. Pope John Paul II (the first Pope to visit a Mosque) wrote, "It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict." (4)
I hope and pray we can have loving, friendly dialogue. Because where there is love, there is love Himself.
(3) Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response
(4) Papal Address in Syria, May 6 2001
Danielle Carney lives on the Gold Coast and has a degree in Christian Theology and once worked for an inner city Church with a giant steeple. She spends her days leading small groups for homeless women on spirituality, losing debates to her toddler daughter, and trying to contain her overwhelming interest in Mystical and Monastic religion.
Danielle's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/danielle-carney.html