- Transformative Readings of Sacred Scriptures: Christians and Muslims in Dialogue ed. by Simone Sinn, Dina El Omari, Anne Hege Grung
We Lutherans, with our theologically-driven interest in the mystery that occurs between Word and hearer, will find this book a compelling read. Fruit of a Christian-Muslim conference organized by the Lutheran World Federation in 2016, it invites fresh thought on how a written text deemed sacred becomes a transformative power in the lives of believers and society. It is fresh because we find ourselves considering testimony by believers of another faith [End Page 235] that they, too, experience this phenomenon—fresh because proponents on both sides seem affected by direct living contact with their respective sola scriptura—fresh because the resulting insights gained and offered from both sides seem worthy contributions to life and thought in the contemporary world. If this seems a bit "edgy," it is probably because it calls for openness to contributions by unfamiliar scriptures, and because emphasis on the immediacy of scriptural contact risks sidelining more studied orthodox positions and opinions.
This 62nd volume of the LWF Documentation series consists of an introduction and fifteen essays by seventeen scholars, both Muslim and Christian, from eight countries, mostly European. Their work represents actual presentations coordinated by two European institutions, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo and the Center for Islamic Theology of the University of Münster, Germany. The essays are grouped into three sections. The first, entitled "Reading Sacred Scriptures in Dialogue," addresses the main theme of how Christians and Muslims might think about and helpfully share their scriptural insights with each other. The second and third sections, "Transformative Readings of the Qur'an" and "Transformative Readings of the Bible," offer examples of the theme played out in the context of particular passages or concerns.
The richness and variety of these essays exceed what can be properly explored here, but some brief examples might pique one's interest. Oddbjørn Liervik's essay on handling problematic texts takes an example from each side—hell for Christians, and use of the sword for Muslims—to show how both faiths have violent passages requiring special attention. Christians find themselves applying an "ethical critique" (20ff) and Muslims, a "moral enrichment" (24ff), to humanize such verses through an "ethical concern for the vulnerable human being" (27). Mouhanad Khorchide provocatively entitles his article "The Authors of the Qur'an are Still Alive: The Qur'an as an Act of Communication." Surprisingly, almost incarnationally, he includes the actual "actions and life plans" (96) of Qur'anic reciters in God's own revealing act. Safet Bektovic suggests that "many Western European societies meet Islamic principles of social justice better than many of the existing Sharia-based Islamic societies" (84), and Jerusha Lamptey looks to taqwa, or piety, as more definitive [End Page 236] of faith than identity within any given religion (73–74). Asmaa El Maaroufi-Ulzheimer develops a Qur'anically based ethical approach to animals, and Martin Kopp uses climate change to demonstrate an approach to topics not included in the biblical worldview. Every essay presents new surprises and insights that will provoke valuable discussion among Christians and Muslims alike, not only scholars interested in hermeneutical questions, but also the reflective faithful as well.
If there's anything lacking, it is the kind of expectation of the alien work of God Lutherans call Law. While Marianne Kartzow looks for "destabilizing and transformative potential" (173), the expectations of newness through reading scriptures tend to be relatively domesticated—non-eschatological and socially appropriate. Kenneth Mtata is not the only one to ask for something like "deliberate predetermination of the boundaries of the positive changes … that are possible" (159). Perhaps Clare Amos' characterization of the Bible as a "dialogue partner" (155) is too mild for a vigorous doctrine of revelation.