by Mona Siddiqui
Yale University Press, New Haven. 283 pages.
Mona Siddiqui demonstrates an irenic and complex view of the relationship between Christians and Muslims. Her fine book examines, among other topics, understandings of Jesus, Mary and the cross — seldom subjects for news programs in the U.S. A devout, worshipping Muslim, she teaches at New College in Edinburgh, Scotland, and associates with Christian faculty members. She teaches theological students who come from a variety of Christian traditions.
Siddiqui’s examination of Muslim faith contrasted with Christian faith shows that she has a deep understanding of her own faith, and of Christian faith as well. Being ignorant of many aspects of Islam, I was surprised and pleased to read her interpretations of the role of Jesus, the cross and Mary the Mother of Jesus, acknowledged in Islam as a Virgin Mother.
My limited exposure to the Quran was enriched by reading the Surah (a chapter of the Quran) devoted to the figure of Mary. In Islam, she is neither the Mother of God, nor is Jesus the only begotten Son of God. While this may offend many Christian believers, the story (in translation) in the Quran shows me that Jesus is an important figure in Islam, and Mary is given an honored place. Siddiqui says Mary “remains an example for the believers through her willingness and obedience.” In Islam, she is not honored in the way Catholic and Orthodox honor her as Mother of God or Theotokos. Her honor is in the quality of her life, her fear and fearlessness. Other chapters in “Christians, Muslims and Jesus” consider the cross and Jesus himself. She understands the devotion of many Christians to the cross, while perhaps unmoved in its presence.
In some crucial ways, her understandings of Islamic teaching relating to Mary and the cross have some similarities to the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition that for many years did not allow a cross to be displayed in churches and that ignores Mary to a large extent. In the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal, Mary is mentioned a couple of times, but is largely hidden amidst other theological verbiage.
Let me conclude with thoughts by Dr. Siddiqui:
“However differently Christians and Muslims define God and their relationship to God, God remains the deepest presence in our lives. For me, he lives in my thoughts and prayers, in the lives of my children, and in my most fragile hopes. In this respect I am convinced that whenever and wherever I turn to God I share this humbling and joyful relationship with all who turn to him in faith.”
This professor has done a great service to me in her approach not only to her own faith, but to parts of mine. Still, this is not an easy book to read. We are entering another world, another faith, and another understanding of some central aspects of our own faith. In the present contentious era, who will pick up Siddiqui’s book and read it?
Lawton Posey is a retired PC(USA) teaching elder in West Virginia.