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  • Muhammad Reconsidered: A Christian Perspective on Islamic Prophecy by Anna Bonta Moreland
  • Anthony Giambrone, O.P.
Muhammad Reconsidered: A Christian Perspective on Islamic Prophecy. By Anna Bonta Moreland. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020. Pp. 192. $45.00 (hard). 978-0-268-10725-3.

Anna Bonta Moreland has written a short, yet bold, yet irenic book, arguing that Christians may, in good theological conscience, name Muhammad a prophet. Drawing upon Thomas Aquinas's treatment of prophecy and the new interreligious openness of Vatican II, they may, she contends, acknowledge him as the recipient of real divine revelations. This cannot be understood in the same way that it is understood by Muslims in the Shahada, the Muslim creed, we are assured. Indeed, if it were, this would effectively be an act of submission and make us Muslims. How then exactly might Christians, while remaining Christians, correctly speak about Muhammad and so fill in a prominent lacuna left by the council, which spoke in positive tones about the religion of Islam and its adherence to the one, merciful God, but left its founder conspicuously, entirely out of the picture? Moreland has landed upon a genuine quaestio disputata.

Her thesis is provocative, but not entirely new. Hans Küng, among others, has advanced the same basic claim. Küng's adventuorous theological orientation is well known, so it is important to add straightaway that Moreland brings forward a new argument and articulation, more ecclesially and magisterially centered (she repeats her interest to work ex corde ecclesiae) and she thus offers a more restrained and even open-ended position. It is, nevertheless, easy to detect a hope shared by both Moreland and Küng of "major positive consequences" should Christians take this step of interreligious reverence towards Islam and its founder. Readers of the book may, as I do, admire and applaud Moreland's conscientious attitude and effort, yet also wonder ultimately whether all this is adequately justified—both the optimism and the attempted theological defense.

The 132 pages of text (at its heart a fusion of a 13-page Modern Theology article from 2013 and 16-page article published in 2015 in Theological Studies) are easily read and summarized. The many questions these pages excite are much more difficult to address, however. This is one of those rare cases where an author has perhaps written too little, rather than too much. As in a medieval quaestio, one must address quite a few subpoints and objections. [End Page 139]

The book is neatly divided into six chapters with a clear progression, sometimes somewhat disjointed in practice. Chapter 1, entitled "Setting the Stage," makes a protreptic point in highlighting how the contemporary world's troubled engagement with Islam owes much to secular modernity's problematic (areligious) understanding of religion. In this scenario, Moreland agrees with Pierre Manent that the Catholic Church offers unique resources for dialogue. Developments at Vatican II appear of particular relevance here, and from this perspective she proposes exploring Islam, through the sensitive theme of Muhammad's prophetic claims, from within a properly Catholic framework.

The following three chapters then work to plant the project within the bounds of the Catholic tradition, in terms of both magisterial pronouncements and theological reflection. Chapter 2 accordingly runs through a series of relevant Church documents, while chapters 3 and 4 focus on Aquinas's teaching on prophecy.

Moreland, in her discussion of Church teaching, opts to lead with Dei Verbum, not in view of any passage directly relevant to Islam or even pertinent to prophecy as such, but rather under the conviction that we have moved to a new hermeneutical phase in the interpretation of Vatican II. Quoting John O'Malley, she agrees that, "Instead of examining the documents in isolation from one another, we are now ready to examine them as interdependent" (19). In practice, this means a certain return to "the spirit of Vatican II," though Moreland later more cautiously speaks of "the spirit and the letter." If Dei Verbum thus yields her the notion of a nonpropositional revelation, open to ever-deepening understanding, she means to apply this to a theme nowhere addressed in...


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pp. 139-145
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