Mixing the unmixable


Oil and Water — Two Faiths: One God
By Amir Hussain

Reviewed by Patricia Farris
Circuit Rider

Amir Hussain, a Canadian Muslim, is associate professor in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His specialty is the study of Islam, focusing on contemporary Muslim societies.

Hussain brings to this work a deep love of Christianity, its theology, hymns and disciplines. An academic, a Muslim scholar, who reads the Book of Mark each year during the season of Lent, Hussain approaches interfaith understanding and dialogue from the inside. He works from the heart as well as from the head. As such, his own commitment is a model of the very spirit of understanding that this book describes.

Oil and Water provides Christians with an accessible introduction to Islam written after 9/11 with the express purpose of increasing knowledge and understanding across interreligious lines. Starting with basics such as “What does ‘Islam’ mean, Who is a Muslim, Who was Mohammad, What is the Qur’an” and so forth, Hussain explores similarities and differences between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. His descriptions of the varieties of Muslims in North American (U.S. and Canada) provide helpful contexts for understanding the realities of life of our newest neighbors.

Many common misconceptions about the prophet Mohammed and the Qur’an are explored directly and clearly. A chapter on ‘Violence and Jihad’ situates current expression of Islamisist violence in the context of European colonial heritage, not to excuse it, but so as to place it in historical context. Discussion of “our own violence” and state terrorism will challenge American readers. It will also teach about the kinds of honesty and frankness that are essential not only to interfaith dialogue but towards the common goal of putting an end to all terrorist violence.

Hussain’s chapter on the ‘Roles of Women and Men’ will likewise generate much discussion. Hussain focuses on modesty as the guiding principle in questions of dress, veiling and shared prayer. This reframes the argument from issues of sexism or repression to one of spiritual obedience to the Qur’an.

In his concluding chapters, ‘From Tolerance to Dialogue’ and ‘Paths of Coexistence in a Shared Future’, Hussain explores Qur’anic bases for moving from mere tolerance of people of other faiths to active interfaith dialogue, Muslim views of Jesus and what Muslims can learn from Christians and Christians from Muslims. Perhaps here, his deepest desire becomes most evident, as he advocates for the necessity not only of dialogue but of building personal relationships with one another in light of the current world context. He concludes: “We must choose to walk the path together; we have no other choice. As Muslims and as Christians, we are called to a common future based on our common heritage. We both hear the call from God to transform our lives. If we really believe that we have obligations to the one true God, then we will recognize that we have obligations to each other as well. God’s peace and blessing are meant to be shared equally among all God’s children.”

This timely introduction to Islam for Christians provides a needed tool for learning, discussion and understanding. It can also shape a context from which persons move out into relationship with one another, to create friendships and coalitions that forge lasting foundations of peace.

Farris is senior minister of the First United Methodist Church, Santa Monica, Calif.

Reprinted with permission from Circuit Rider September/October 2007. All books reviewed may be purchased at Cokesbury Bookstores, at www.Cokesbury.com or by calling 1-800-672-1789.