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Spring 2016 · Vol. 45 No. 1 · pp. 60–73 

Muslim–Christian Dialogue after 9/11

M. Darrol Bryant


The events of 9/11 cast a chill over Muslim-Christian dialogue. 1 Across the United States and Canada many Muslims, some of whom had been American and Canadian citizens from birth, found themselves attacked and threatened. They were viewed with suspicion, just because they were Muslim. For many, the image of the “Muslim as terrorist” became a commonplace. Now, nearly fifteen years later, we are still seeking to find a way forward. Here I want to revisit the events of 9/11, examine the post-9/11 image of the “Muslim as terrorist,” the distressing reductionism of a “twenty-four-inch world,” and explore some of the efforts at dialogue prior to and after 9/11. I conclude with some notes on the urgency of dialogue with Muslims.

In our meeting and dialogue with one another we don’t have to sugar-coat the differences between communities of faith, nor do we need to pretend they aren’t there—they are there and they are many.

As some readers know, I have been engaged in what I will call “the dialogue of religions” or “the encounter and dialogue of men and women of different religious traditions” for more than thirty years. Over {61} that time, I have read innumerable studies of the many religious traditions—from Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, and Muslim to Sikh, Shinto, and Zoroastrian, as well as my own Christian tradition. I have spent countless hours in these diverse religious communities—in homes, temples, mandirs, gurdwaras, monasteries, universities—and talked with adherents of these many traditions both in North America and in other parts of the world. It has been a learning journey to encounter this rich diversity of the religious life of humankind. It was in the late 1970s that I began to engage Islam—the world’s second largest faith-filled community. As I met Muslims in North America, India, Africa, and the Middle East, I learned that “there were Muslims and then there were Muslims.” The Muslim community/ummah itself was globally diverse. Moreover, it was an ummah remarkably faithful, though in diverse ways, to the teachings of their Prophet. I have consistently been struck by the depth of their prayer and their respect for Mohammad. 2 As Reza Shah-Kazemi remarks rhetorically, “what can explain the extraordinary devotion to his personage, a devotion sustained from generation to generation down through the ages, expressed outwardly in the most sublime litanies, hymns and poems from one end of the Muslim world to the other?” 3

II. 9/11

When 9/11 occurred, I was in Spain and had just returned to Madrid from Toledo, the old capital, where I’d gone to see a painting of El Greco that I had long admired. I was in the main train station when I noted a large screen showing some planes diving into the World Trade Towers. I assumed it was an ad for some movie. But I was drawn to it, and I was able to read enough of the Spanish ticker moving across the screen to realize it was actual footage of what had just happened in New York City. I immediately returned to my hotel room and turned on BBC and watched, stunned, as the news of the day unfolded. The following day I left for India, and when I arrived in New Delhi, my taxi driver assured me that “we would discover that Pakistanis were behind it!”—giving voice to that deeply and widely held Indian suspicion that all bad in the world comes from Pakistan. Shortly after I returned to Canada, I gave the keynote address to the annual seminar on World Religions sponsored by Canadian Muslims. The theme for 2001 was “God and Suffering.” I felt it was imperative to address the events of 9/11 in my remarks. Here, in part, is what I said then:

On the morning of September 11th, a hijacked 747 slammed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Then, as a horrified world watched, another hijacked 747 slammed into the other tower. And within the hour, while people {62} scrambled to get out of the buildings, some even leaping to their certain death, the towers collapsed in a matter of seconds. A third hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked plane crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside. On this day, thousands of innocent people died.

Within hours of these events, a stunned world began to speak of Muslim terrorists being behind these events. PM Tony Blair of Great Britain spoke of terrorism as “the new evil of the twenty-first century.” Osama bin Laden reportedly responded on the following day when informed of the events: “Allah be praised.” People gathered around the World Trade Center to offer prayers and to wave American flags. Days later, the entertainment world gathered to remember the acts of courage of hundreds of people on the 11th and concluded with Canada’s own Celine Dion as the lead singer in a stirring rendition of “God Bless America.” The rhetoric of the religions of the world was suddenly splashed across the media of the world as the Muslim God was set against the God that blessed America. And in the midst of these evil acts, people suffered in all kinds of ways. In addition to the thousands that died, there were the even more thousands who were left behind: wives, husbands, lovers, friends, associates, and children. It is estimated that over a thousand children became single-parent children that day. Many others suffered inwardly: horrified, terrified, frightened by these events.

On the 11th, I had returned from Toledo, Spain, to Madrid where I was defending a new religion in a court case, and on the 12th, I was headed for India to be part of an international seminar on the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in March of 2001. There I met with Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and other scholars to discuss the situation under the Taliban.

And now as we meet, we are into the sixth day of the American-led “War on Terrorism.” Of course, the acts of those engaged in the “war on terror” are not evil actions, according to American officials. Rather they would have us believe that these are the acts of those who would have, it is said, justice. Are not these also evil acts? And so the bombs have rained down on Afghanistan in an effort to smash and destroy the training camps of terrorists. And there is “collateral damage,” and so innocent Afghani men, women, and children also die, and the countryside is demolished. The wheel of suffering continues to roll. No one {63} is immune. 4

Immediately after the events of 9/11, many Americans began to say “the world has been forever changed by these events” and that we now find ourselves in a “post 9/11 world.” I found such rhetoric overblown and counterproductive, typical of the American penchant to define everything in relation to itself. What was needed was more sober consideration of these events and what they meant about, as well as for, the United States and its role in the world. What is, one might have asked, the American presence in the wider world that led to such hatred of the United States that people had hijacked planes and committed these terrifying and horrific acts? There was no wise response to these events. There was only a reaction: President Bush called it the “war on terrorism.” Since then, the Taliban has been expelled from power in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein removed from power in Iraq. But has anything been done to address the issues that gave rise to these events?

The men who hijacked the planes and flew them into the World Trade Towers were Muslims—mostly Saudi Arabian and none from either Afghanistan or Iraq. They were linked to Osama Bin Laden and to other movements in the contemporary Muslim world. To be sure, these terrorist movements are highly disturbing. Ideological and deeply politicized, they are movements that are fueled by a deep animosity towards the West (initially for Western colonization of Muslim lands but increasingly since the mid-1970s towards the United States and its imperial ambitions) and by what they perceive as the failures of contemporary Muslim states. 5 But the hijackers/terrorists are not all Muslims, nor are they a majority, nor do they even represent a large number in the Muslim world. It is the equivalent of identifying Christianity with “Christian Identity,” a group that identifies Christianity with White Supremacy and other evil things. 6 The events of 9/11 were condemned by Muslim leaders around the world. Muslim leaders repeatedly said that this kind of action—the hijacking of planes and flying them into civilian targets, suicide bombers, etc.—could not be justified by the Qur’an, or Muslim teaching. When I hear the term “Muslim,” what pops up on the inner screen of my mind is the Ali family in New Delhi and the Muslims I have met there over the past twenty-five years—the Shaykh from Nazareth and others praying in the mosque in Israel, the Muslims I met in Turkey who were so remarkably friendly and gracious on my visits, the Muslims gathering in the magnificent Blue Mosque in Istanbul for prayer, or scholars like the able Dr. Meena Sharify-Funk, now a colleague at nearby Wilfrid Laurier University.

But the image of the Muslim that has emerged after 9/11 is that of Osama bin Laden and the terrorist. In the hysteria that followed 9/11 {64} in the United States—Philip Roth called it an “orgy of narcissism”—the Rev. Jerry Falwell said that even the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad, “was a terrorist.” 7 This appallingly ignorant remark led to riots and the killing of several Muslims in India. Falwell later retracted his statement and apologized. A Sikh in the United States was killed, mistaken for a Muslim because he had a “turban.” Here in the Kitchener-Waterloo area following 9/11, some Muslims kept their children home from school and sharply curtailed their outside activities, feeling considerable animosity. In the United States, mosques were attacked, as were some here in Canada. Gregory Baum, one of Canada’s leading Catholic theologians, recently remarked concerning the “backlash against innocent Muslims” prompted by 9/11 that he was “horrified by this.” Indeed, he went on to say that “Christian churches have a duty to speak up and support Muslims who are facing uninformed prejudice.” Baum continued, “The church remembers its historic silence regarding prejudice [against] the Jews . . . and we must not allow this again.” 8 Baum’s courageous statement in the post-9/11 situation needs to be repeated by other Christian leaders. But it also illustrates some of the new difficulties in pursuing dialogue between Muslims and Christians after 9/11.

Prior to 9/11, there was the long-standing failure of Western Christianity to rightly understand the great traditions of Islam—a failure that is reflected in the long history of the Western world calling Islam “Mohammedanism.” This label is an offence to Muslims since it suggests that Mohammad is the object of Muslim prayer and devotion. For the Muslim, that is reserved for Allah alone. In an earlier essay first given at Aligarh University in India, I spell out some of those misunderstandings. 9 Before 9/11, I had found that dialogue with Muslims was generally welcomed though sometimes difficult—usually because of suspicions of Christian motives given the history of colonization and a pervasive conversionism within so much of the Christian world. And, because of the long-standing anti-Muslim narratives that have been part of the Christian world since the early Middle Ages. Dialogue with Muslims was possible simply because Islam is a great tradition that has given comfort and direction to millions and millions of people over the past 1,400 years. Wilfrid Cantwell Smith, a great Canadian scholar of Islam, later Director of the Center for the World’s Religions at Harvard and a teacher of mine, made this point about Muslims repeatedly in his many volumes on Islam. 10 Dialogue with Muslims was not only possible, but also was welcomed when the Christian came with an open heart and respect for the Muslim Way. Today, it is the world’s second largest tradition with approximately 25 percent of the believing world being Muslim of one kind or another. Christianity is the world’s largest tradition, with {65} approximately one-third of the world’s believers finding themselves in one or another of the Christian traditions. Together, these two traditions constitute nearly sixty percent of the believing world. Yet the relations between these two traditions have nearly always been strained if not overtly hostile. However, in the post-World War II period there has been a large movement of Muslims into the historically more religiously homogeneous countries in Europe, the United States, and Canada—Turkish Muslims to Germany and other places in Europe, North African Muslims to France and Spain, Muslims from former “colonies” to the United Kingdom, East African Muslims to Canada and the United States. Thus some Christians saw, from the mid-twentieth century on, the importance and significance of changing the relationships between Muslims and Christians.

The Muslims we encountered in the mid-twentieth century were Muslims that had recently emerged from lands that, formerly Muslim, had been dominated by Western colonial powers. There were the Dutch in Indonesia, now the world’s largest Muslim country. There were the British in India who left India fractured in 1947 and five hundred thousand to over a million Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs dying during partition. Now there is a Pakistan and an India and each has more Muslims than any Middle Eastern Arab country. There was the former Soviet Union, which dominated the Muslim lands of central Asia. Egypt was dominated by the French then the British until mid-twentieth century, and after World War I, the former Ottoman Empire was carved up among the British and French. With the end of colonization there has been a resurgence of Islam in the twentieth century, but it is a resurgence that still bears the marks, the hurts, the scars of colonization. 11

After 9/11, the atmosphere in the meeting of Muslims and Christians definitely took on a chill. Christians were worried that perhaps these Muslims were also terrorists—that suspicion about the Muslim was always there, usually covertly, sometimes overtly. And Muslims often were aware that they were being seen through the “terrorist lens” that had fallen across the world following 9/11.


If the depth of ignorance of Islam in the West was pervasive prior to 9/11, it has deepened and worsened following 9/11. Now the word “Muslim” is so deeply entwined with that of “terrorist” that these words have become synonymous for countless numbers in the Western world and beyond. It is thus very difficult to see the great traditions of Islam for what they are. La Ilaha Illah Allah (There is no god but Allah) is the belief that stood at the foundation of the faith proclaimed by the prophet {66} Mohammad (570–630) in the midst of the Arabian Peninsula nearly a millennium and a half ago. Mohammad saw himself in the line of prophets that went back to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and countless others including Isa, the Qur’anic name of Jesus. Mohammad did not see himself as founding a new religion but rather as recalling humankind to “the peace that comes with submission to Allah”—the meaning of the term “Islam.” (And “Allah” is the term that Arab Christians use for God.)

Yet Christians have an awful record in relation to Islam. Christianity has more maligned than understood this great faith. We have called it “Mohammedanism” rather than by its proper name. Its Prophet has been denigrated by Christians time and again: Dante encounters Mohammad in the lower reaches of hell in his not-so-divine Divine Comedy. Its scripture, the Qur’an, has not been acknowledged and is little known or studied by Christians. This history has contributed too many negative images of Islam within the Christian world. Christians need to overcome this history in their relations with Muslims.

And there are some signs in our times that this is beginning to happen. For example, the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church called for dialogue with Islam, as has the World Council of Churches. 12 In the Vatican II “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” we read:

Upon the Moslems, too, the Church looks with esteem. They adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all powerful, Maker of heaven and earth . . . they prize the moral life, and give worship to God especially through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Although in the course of centuries many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this most sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to strive sincerely for mutual understanding. 13

Kenneth Cragg’s characterization of Islam in Call of the Minaret in the late 1950s was a wake-up call for many in the Christian world. 14 Furthermore, there are those within the Muslim world who have also initiated dialogue with Christians in the hope of moving beyond some of the ignorance and misunderstanding that has too much characterized Muslim/Christian relations.

Most recently, there is the voice of Tariq Ramadan, an Egyptian Muslim and grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s, educated in Europe and a professor of Islamic Studies at Fribourg. Ramadan had been invited as a guest professor to Notre Dame following 9/11, but his visa was revoked and he was not allowed into the United States, due to “public safety and national security” concerns. {67}

Ramadan has written a number of very important books, and his Islam, the West and the Challenge of Modernity concludes with this paragraph:

The awakening of Islam may bring a contribution, hitherto unsuspected, to a real renaissance of the spirituality of the women and men of our world. Again one should avoid presenting the encounter between Islam and the West under the terms of a conflict, but see it instead in the perspective of mutual enrichment. In the face of a civilisation that maintains everyday its attachment to its faith in a unique God, prayer, morality, and spirituality in daily existence, the West will benefit in looking, and finding, in its own religious and cultural points of reference the means to react against the sad economist and technician drifts which we are witnessing. Does it have the means? Can it go beyond this stage of nervousness and rejection of everything that is not itself? The question deserves to be raised. Muslims doubt this sometimes; some foresee an inevitable conflict whilst others have trust in God and dialogue. All agree, however, in asserting that the future depends on our present engagement. Our daily spirituality must be nourished by the exactness of justice. This is the ultimate liberation that founds fraternities; to be with God and to live with men. 15

Ramadan’s commitment to universal moral principles and to dialogue with other traditions is an element that marks his writings. He is a brilliant thinker, familiar with Western thought yet deeply rooted in the great traditions of Islam, whose voice resonates in the Muslim world. More recently, Ramadan has specifically addressed Canadian Muslims, arguing that they must

Rise to the challenge: . . . they must make a considerable effort to review their sources and traditions. They must determine the fundamentals of their faith and practice. . . . They must propose new ways of being Canadian Muslims. It is a complex and difficult challenge that involves knowledge and analysis of traditional Islamic sources; as well as the Canadian environment, its history, its institutions and its culture. 16

Shouldn’t we welcome voices like his? {68}


Temporary mass media are credited with having given rise to a global village linked by instantaneous communication. Thus there is no time lag between events and our knowledge of those events. What happens in the West Bank or in Pakistan or in China or in Jerusalem or in Moscow is, we believe, immediately available to us on the evening news. But what we often fail to notice is how this instant news reduces the world to twenty-four inches—and to a matter of seconds (the time to speak about the events that we glimpse). Our vast, complex, multicultural and multinational world with its repetitive and often slow-moving rhythms on which the sun rises and sets day after day, month after month, year after year, is reduced to images on a twenty-four-inch screen. And what we see is always the world in conflict. Rather than the tens of thousands of births that occur every day, we see the few, sometimes many, deaths that occur violently in war, crime, cars or catastrophe. How often do we hear, for example, of the many efforts to bridge the conflicts or see the daily peaceful interactions of people, even in the midst of conflict?

This terrible and distorting reductionism in the mass media has been repeatedly brought home to me over the past fifty years. I remember my year in Geneva (1969–70) when I read the New York Times only three times, when passing through the United States on flights from Latin America, where I was organizing events for the World Encounter of Lutheran Youth, back to Geneva. I realized that I hadn’t really missed anything at all: the events of the world revealed the constant patterns that had been there at the beginning of the year.

During my first year in India with my family, our visit began with someone taking a shot at Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the celebrations at the Gandhi Memorial on October 2, 1986, the day of our arrival. The first letters we received were worried about our safety in India. For the letter writers, India had been reduced to the event in one tiny corner of New Delhi—and if it weren’t for the media, we probably wouldn’t even have known of the event.

In 1986 we also saw trouble in the Punjab and conflict between Hindus and Sikhs. We read and heard much about that conflict, but nothing of the rallies held in the Punjab where thousands of Sikhs and Hindus came together to acknowledge their historic bonds of friendship with one another.

When I was in Jerusalem in 2002 during a time of “suicide bombing,” every one of my days was spent with a group of Jews, Muslims, and a few Christians, trying to build bridges of understanding in the midst of conflict. Yet the media was filled with the ever-present threat of suicide bombing. Random acts of violence and deliberate bombings {69} are not the whole story in any society at any time. But from the way in which our view of the world is framed and reduced to twenty-four inches, one would think so. And following 9/11, the image of the Muslim as terrorist has been burned into our psyches in ways that make it exceedingly difficult to see anything else.


In our current situation, it is increasingly imperative that we Christians stand in solidarity with Muslims. I noted earlier that Gregory Baum, one of Canada’s leading Catholic thinkers, has made this very point. It has recently been made again by David J. Goa in his remarkable Christian Responsibility to Muslims: Four Lectures. 17 But such acts of courage need to be repeated time and again. For dialogue between people of different faiths needs to be encouraged and my experience over these last decades has convinced me of its necessity. It is not possible to explore here the dynamics of dialogue in a wholly adequate way. But let me make a few points in relation to dialogue between Muslims and Christians. 18

First, dialogue—a living and vital exchange between Muslims and Christians—is essential for giving the Other (Muslim for the Christian, Christian for the Muslim) a human face. Face-to-face meeting is essential to breaking through the images that we have of one another. David Goa, a scholar and long-time curator in the Provincial Museum of Alberta, makes a similar point in The Christian Responsibility to Muslims. In his first lecture he movingly recounts moments in a thirty-year conversation with Muslims in Alberta. And he urges his readers to engage one another and “not bear false witness.”

Second, in our post 9/11 situation, it is now possible to realize that those who follow the Way of “the peace that comes with submission to Allah” (the meaning of Islam) are not the Other but our neighbor, literally and metaphorically. The so-called global village has arrived everywhere. The first mosque in Canada was built in Edmonton in 1938. There are now over a million Canadian Muslims. Goa urges us to stop “[looking] at Muslims through the lens of the past.”

Third, in our meeting and dialogue with one another we don’t have to sugar-coat the differences between communities of faith, nor do we need to pretend they aren’t there—they are there and they are many. But in order for this to happen, we need to build trusting relations between these great traditions. Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet. And one of the most troubling issues for Muslims is the failure of Christians to acknowledge their Prophet. Goa approaches this issue in the fourth lecture of his Christian Responsibility to Muslims. Here he proposes that {70} Christians “recognize a remarkable person [Muhammad] in the seventh century and the community he called to faithfulness” and acknowledge him “as a servant of God.” 19

In the late 1960s, I made my first trip into Eastern Europe with a group of students from a small college in Minnesota. The Cold War was still hot, and the previous year Soviet tanks had crushed the Prague Spring. As we approached the Czech border, the apprehension in the bus grew—we were entering the “commie world.” A large fence with observation towers marked the border and contributed to the palpable anxiety. As the bus pulled into the border station and our passports were being collected, a young woman came out of the border station with her two young children. One of the students called out: “Look, they even have children.” We all laughed, nervously. The image of the Other had been broken.

As trust builds and relationships between Muslims and Christians deepen, it is possible to explore those failures and aspects of each other’s traditions that are most disturbing and troubling.

But in dialogue with Muslims it is fundamental for Christians to know that Muslims respect and honor the Prophet Mohammad, cherish the Qur’an, pray five times a day, practice charity, and long to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in their lifetime. To respect their Ways is not to betray our own, as some Christians seem to think. Rather, it is for Christians to be faithful to the Incarnate One who recalled us to “love God and the neighbor” as the whole of the Law and the Prophets. In the world after 9/11, this teaching is even more imperative than ever.


As I was revising this paper for inclusion in a new edition of Religion in a New Key it seemed appropriate to add a postscript on the situation fourteen years after 9/11. On September 14, 2001, US lawmakers passed the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists). On September 20, George W. Bush proclaimed the “War on Terror.” Operation Enduring Freedom was launched by the United States and United Kingdom against Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. It was thirteen years later, on October 26, 2014, under President Barak Obama, that the United States and United Kingdom officially ended their combat role in Afghanistan. On December 28, 2014, NATO officially ended combat operations. But US troops would remain to train Afghani forces. The estimated cost to the United States was $468 billion; Canada spent $18 billion on its contribution to the conflict. Tens of thousands of Afghani lives were lost along with 3,500 foreign troops, and thousands more suffered PTSD. The civil conflict continues. {71}

Operation Enduring Freedom also saw action in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, and the Trans-Sahara. Were the consequences there positive?

Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched by President George W. Bush in March 2003 on the unproven basis that “Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.” And in April 2003, Baghdad fell and later Saddam Hussein was captured. Yet the war continued until the American troops exited in 2011 again under President Obama. The cost was estimated at $757 billion by the US Defense Department. A study from Brown University put that number at $1.1 trillion. But the human cost soared beyond these numbers. Iraq was a political mess. Then in 2014, the emergence of ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant), the conflict in Syria, and the continuing conflict in Iraq led to American air forces returning to the fray, along with Canadian ones. Was this the outcome anyone wanted?

War has not proven to be the way to address the issues arising from 9/11. Rather, war has deepened and extended the sociopolitical tensions between the West and the Muslim world. It has also provided the criminal element within the Muslim world with further evidence for their allegations that the West is anti-Muslim. Wouldn’t it have been better to have pursued the criminals as a police matter? Wouldn’t we be further ahead if we had chosen the way of engagement, diplomacy, and dialogue?

Despite the problems raised by 9/11 and even more by the reactions to those events, the way of dialogue continues to grow and flourish in local and national settings across the globe. According to the Catholic News Agency, Pope Francis speaking to the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies on January 24, 2014, “stressed the need for dialogue between different faiths” and “praised the group’s efforts to promote Christian-Muslim dialogue, emphasizing the importance of such dialogue in achieving peace.”


  1. Earlier versions of this essay were delivered at a faculty seminar at Renison University College in 2005, and then at a regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion in 2006. It was again revisited for the third edition of my Religion in a New Key (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2015).
  2. In the mid-1990s, I held a conference at Renison College that resulted in a volume I co-edited with S. A. Ali, the founder of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies: Muslim Christian Dialogue: Promise and Problems (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1998). Some years later I was invited to contribute to an online journal, FutureIslam. When I replied that I wasn’t a Muslim, the editor responded in a way that I still treasure. I have contributed to the journal. {72}
  3. Reza Shah-Kazemi, “The Role of the Prophet Muhammad in Muslim Piety,” in Muslim Christian Dialogue, 149.
  4. I then went on to discuss the conference theme of “God & Suffering,” but I have never been invited back to the annual conference.
  5. See Mark Jurgensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), which looks at violence laced with “religious passion” in Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim traditions. Who, for example, recalls that Timothy McVeigh, found guilty for the Oklahoma bombings, had links to the “Christian Identity” movement? When the Oklahoma bombings occurred I was at a conference at Oxford in the UK, and the headlines read: “Oklahoma Blast Kills Hundreds, Muslim Terrorists Suspected.”
  6. See The “Christian Identity” groups gathered under this banner are several extremely conservative, racist, and militantly “supremacist” groups, including the Ku Klux Klan.
  7. In 2005 a Danish newspaper published “cartoons” that portrayed the prophet Mohammad as a terrorist. It sparked a controversy that continues to this day. Already in 1995, one of the participants—a Muslim from the United States—at the Renison conference brought along a “cartoon” portrayal of the Prophet as a terrorist that was being handed out as a tract by an American Christian group from the southern US. The Danish cartoon controversy was followed by “riots” in Muslim countries, and the destruction of the Danish embassy in Syria.
  8. See the article in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, January 21, 2006, 8.
  9. “Overcoming History: On the Possibilities of Muslim-Christian Dialogue,” in the Hamdard Islamicus 17, no. 2 (1994): 5–15, spells out my position. There I raised the issues of “fundamentalism” and “conversionism” as challenges facing Muslims and Christians. A revised version of that essay was also included in the second and third editions of my Religion in a New Key.
  10. Among Wilfrid Cantwell Smith’s many writings are Islam in Modern History (1959), Faith and Belief (1979), and On Understanding Islam (1984).
  11. One book that I would strongly recommend, though it does not address Muslim-Christian dialogue explicitly, is Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East (Boston: Beacon, 2004). It provides an excellent account of the past one hundred years of the Middle East and the legacy of the colonial era.
  12. The World Council of Churches has been sponsoring exchanges between Christians and Muslims since the early 1970s. And for many years now they have published Current Dialogue. See
  13. The Documents of Vatican II, ed. W. Abbott (New York: The America Press, 1966), 663.
  14. See Kenneth Cragg, Call of the Minaret (New York: 1959). An Anglican bishop, Cragg wrote many books on Islam.
  15. Tariq Ramadan, Islam, the West, and the Challenges of Modernity (Leicester, UK: Islamic Foundation, 2001), 311. Speaking to European Muslims, Ramadan remarks that Muslims must “reconsider our respective isolation and strive to promote the culture of dialogue that each of us individually {73} knows is fundamentally Islamic.” To Be a European Muslim (Leicester, UK: Islamic Foundation, 1999), 220.
  16. Tariq Ramadan, “Muslims need creative pluralism,” Globe & Mail, February 19, 2005.
  17. See David J. Goa, The Christian Responsibility to Muslims: Four Lectures (Camrose, AB: The Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, 2015).
  18. Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim, makes the same point: “Interfaith dialogue is a must today, and the first step in establishing it is forgetting the past, ignoring polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points, which far outnumber polemical ones.” See
  19. Goa, Christian Responsibility to Muslims, 94.
Darrol Bryant is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies at Renison College, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He is also director of the Centre for Dialogue and Spirituality in the World’s Religions. The author and editor of numerous works, he has been involved in interfaith conversations for over thirty years.
This essay originally appeared in the third edition of Religion in a New Key. It is reprinted here with permission from © 2015 Pandora Press and from the author, M. Darrol Bryant. All rights reserved.

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