Across the Jewish, Muslim, Christian religious divide

By David Conway, April 25, 2014
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Why can’t they get along? A Conversation between a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, by Dawud El-Alami, Dan Cohn-Sherbok and George D. Chryssideas, Lion Books, £8.99

The short answer to the question posed by the title of this absorbing book is that its very existence proves Jews, Muslims and Christians can. Written by three former university colleagues during a year’s online exchange about what divides as well as unites their respective faiths, the book is a model of a new type of interfaith dialogue no longer afraid to confront where and why the three Abrahamic faiths part company.

Chapters are devoted to differences of theology, observance, ethics and societal issues, such as blasphemy and the Middle East problem. Few readers will fail to learn a great deal about at least two of the faiths discussed, if not all three.

Having said that, as its three authors would be the first to acknowledge, their book only skims the surface of the topics they discuss, representing the first but not the last word about them. In particular, from a Jewish perspective, while Dan Cohn-Sherbok does an admirable job explicating his faith and in defending it against the surprisingly large number of misapprehensions his two interlocutors reveal themselves to harbour about it, certain calumnies about his co-religionists were allowed to go unchallenged that should have been confronted and rebutted.

One such was the claim made by the book’s Muslim co-author about present-day Israel that: “Some land was indeed purchased, but this was insignificant compared with that which was later occupied and taken by force.” This claim is palpably untrue. Of the territory that became Israel in 1948, almost nine per cent was Jewish-owned, three per cent was Arab-owned, while 17 per cent had been abandoned by Arab owners who had heeded the call to flee to allow invading Arab armies destroy the fledgling Jewish state at birth. The remaining 71 per cent was largely uninhabited Negev desert that had been vested in the Mandatory Power with a view to being handed over to the Jewish state upon its creation.

Setting the record straight about this matters, given with what evident relish the book’s Christian co-author relates that: “In 2007, in the US, the National Council of Churches took an anti-Zionist stance, claiming that Zionism was not only harmful to peace in the Middle East but… harmful to Middle East Christian relationships, as well as to interfaith dialogue.”

Also, in a book whose authors were “resolved to speak openly and honestly” about what divides their faiths, why was no mention made of Jihad or the many acts of violence committed in recent times by so many Muslims in the name of religion? If any subject warrants inclusion in a book about why Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot get along, it is this.

David Conway is a visiting senior research fellow at Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society

Last updated: 4:22pm, April 25 2014