Spring 2016 · Vol. 45 No. 1 · pp. 2–3 

From the Editor: Engaging with Muslims

Vic Froese

The writers in this issue all assume that whatever the misunderstandings or illusions some might have about dialoguing with Muslims, the goodwill such encounters generate significantly outweighs them. To speak to another respectfully in itself communicates that one recognizes the other’s humanity and their worthiness of the basic regard in which all human beings ought to be held. Subsequent missteps can compromise that message, but it is difficult to shake the memory of the initial sense of affirmation. And in cases where the conversation uncovers unexpected points of agreement and surprising commonalities, that sense of affirmation can grow.

In a context of mutual respect, it becomes easier to ask tough questions. Thus, in the first article, Harold Jantz bluntly asks whether Christians and Muslims can really get long. Given the aggressive missionary character of the two faiths and the deeply rooted conviction of most Muslims that Islam requires political expression, if not outright political dominion, perpetual strife between Muslims and Christians appears inevitable. Can Muslims allay fears that ultimately they hope to see all nations governed exclusively according to Islamic principles?

Of course, not every interfaith dialogue concerns itself with such large questions. The second essay comes from Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, a Shi’ite Muslim with a deep passion for Muslim-Christian dialogue. His paper on spiritual poverty (that is, humility), originally presented at the third Shi’i Muslim/Mennonite Christian dialogue in 2007, provides insight into a key aspect of Shi’ite spirituality and its basis in the Qur’an and in stories of Muhammad’s life. Indeed, a condition of any fruitful dialogue is humility, in this case the sincere belief of participants that they might learn something new and valuable from others.

Correcting misconceptions is another important aspect of dialogue. The Qur’an’s supposed skepticism regarding the Bible in its current form is challenged, humbly, by Gordon Nickel. His careful study leads him to conclude that nowhere does the Qur’an explicitly suggest that the Bible has been corrupted by later scribes. Indeed, he argues that the Qur’an consistently displays great respect for the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and, implicitly, for the “people of the book” to whom they belong.

How to best justify interfaith dialogue can be a burning question for traditions whose sources are sometimes brusque in the treatment they prescribe for “others.” Harry Huebner, involved in formal dialogues with Iranian Shi’ite academics since 2007, suggests that Muslim-Christian exchanges are demanded both ontologically (the common source {3} of their being is in God the creator) and spiritually (on account of their common rootedness in the monotheistic faith of Abraham). A deeper appreciation of these truths, one would hope, will make us all readier to learn from each other and to treat each other as the kin we are.

A lifetime of dialogue with Muslims and people of other faiths informs Darrol Bryant’s paper on the prospects of Muslim-Christian dialogue in the post-9/11 era. Without denying that the new context has made that dialogue more intense, he remains convinced that the fostering of personal relationships and the practice of frank conversation, even about disturbing aspects of our histories, are essential to peace.

If friendship is one of the hoped-for outcomes of Muslim-Christian encounters, then the exchange of beliefs, opinions, and academic essays alone is likely to fall short. So our “Ministry Compass” section in this issue nicely rounds out the discussion. It is a reprint of “Practice Hospitality” from David Shenk’s recent book, Muslim. Christian. Friend. As this piece will confirm, Shenk’s experience and warm friendships with Muslims in Somalia and Kenya makes him a trustworthy guide for those of us uncertain of how best to befriend Muslim neighbors and engage them, in non-threatening ways, in our own informal dialogues. We hope many will go on to read the rest of Shenk’s fine book.

A note about the “Current Research” bibliography which appears in each spring issue: It will henceforth simply be called “Faculty Publications.” “Research” fails to describe the professional activity of many of our faculty since books, essays, and articles are not always their primary media of publication. Musicians, singers, drama directors, painters, sculptors, and other artists “publish” (that is, “make public”) by recording, producing, exhibiting, performing, and so on. These kinds of activities will now be added to our annual bibliography, as will major lectures and conference presentations. The change should give readers a better sense of the scope of the contributions our faculty are making to the arts, humanities, and sciences, and of their commitment to serve our church constituencies, society, and, not least of all, our Lord.

Vic Froese
General Editor