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Islam and the West: Common Cause or Clash?
Book Review
Joy Hendrickson


Book Name: Islam and the West: Common Cause or Clash?

Author:        Ralph Braibanti

Pages:          56 pages.

Publisher:   Washington D.C.: Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University: Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding: History and International Affairs, 1999. Occasional Paper Series 15.

Written by the distinguished scholar Ralph Braibanti, this essay, which is published concurrently in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 16 (1999), I, confronts the anti-Islamic sentiment that has infected the West. It does so by emphasising the view which Muslims share with many Christians. The author’s main argument is that Muslims and Christians have enough in common to launch joint action programs to attempt to reverse the trend toward the complete secularisation of society. The monolithic view of a homogeneous Western world which is spreading its decadent culture through contemporary globalisation leaves out of account the numerous Christians who would sympathise with Muslim ideas regarding the need to re-establish a moral universe. Various examples of co-operation are cited as proof of the possibility of a new partnership: not Islam against the West, but Islam and the West against the decline of civilisation.

The recognition of a ‘common cause’ between Muslims and Christians of ‘safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom’ is traced back to the 1965 ecumenical decree of Vatican II. Also, Mary, the mother of Jesus (sws), is seen as a point of doctrinal commonality between Islam and Catholicsm since Muslims believe in the annunciation and virgin birth of Christ. While Muslims are not Christians, the miracles ascribed to Jesus (sws) in the Gospels as well as those related to his birth are accepted as literal truth. These beliefs of Muslims sometimes lead Muslims to protest when the Western media do not treat the person of Jesus (sws) with due reverence. It is suggested that present-day Christians might learn from the example of Muslims, who will not tolerate blasphemy.

These commonalities lay a foundation for possible joint action on social values. Rather than competing for converts to either Islam or Christianity, both groups would do well to co-operate to halt the moral and ethical decline of societies the world over. Muslims in Western countries like the United States, Britain, Canada, and France are encouraged to participate fully in the political life of these democratic societies by voting, organising interest groups, and getting elected to public office. The author suggests that Christians and Muslims can work together on a variety of social issues such as those of drugs and crime and the promotion of the sanctity of the family, protection of the environment, and solidarity of the community – to name only a few points of common concern.

Although some of the public policy issues pinpointed by the author sound like a litany exclusively proposed by the religious right in America, and many American women will take exception to the uncritical support of many of the Vatican’s less popular positions, there are still many undeniable ‘Christian’ values promoted. Muslim ideas of social justice based on compassion and equality which necessitate a more equitable distribution of social goods mirror Christian ideas. Many Christians are also aware of the social ‘deficiencies’ of contemporary society, which fails to guarantee our children an adequate education, or even a safe and healthy environment in which to thrive. Christians need to be concerned with the undeniable fact referred to by the author – namely, that it has become ‘fashionable’ to present oneself as an atheist or agnostic. The threat to the way of life all those who believe in an ‘inner life’ is real.

This book provides a much-needed corrective to distortions of Islam perpetrated by the media, which define the religion in terms of its fanatical fringe element. Even further information – about the resemblance of Islamic values to Christian values – is needed for the American public to see the virtue of interfaith dialogue, which can lead to common action that can contribute to the building of a better America. This is a book well worth reading and its advice is well worth taking.


Courtesy: Studies in Contemporary Islam, Vol.1, No. 2, Fall 1999

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