Islam and Christianity, Dialogue and Monologues
Robert R. Reilly's monograph, The Prospects and Perils of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, argues that the real problem with political and social structures in Islam is theological
Peter D. Beaulieu
In the middle of the ninth century the Caliph al-Mutawakkil abruptly terminated the Mu’tazilite school of Muslim rationalist theologians, thus leaving stillborn the earliest chance to harmonize Islamic belief with reasoned (“Hellenistic”) thought on man’s relation with God and each other. This early turning point is the focus of Robert R. Reilly’s inquiry into a sectarian Islam as much “at war with itself” as with the West. He joins Pope Benedict XVI (Regensburg Lecture, 2006) in focusing at the interreligious or intercultural level. Reilly is moderate in tone but incisive, non-polemical but direct, as he draws from a wide range of sources both Christian and Muslim.
Drawing from his earlier work (The Closing of the Muslim Mind), Reilly begins with formal Church pronouncements for interreligious dialogue and for collaboration on issues like justice and peace and life. The sticking point, not yet addressed in these documents, is our nevertheless (and profoundly) different understandings of the natures and relationships of God and man. From the historical background of Islamic theology we are led through Muslim responses to Church’s dialogue initiatives—material calling for attention and real debate. The following review should not substitute for reading The Prospects and Perils of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which this reviewer recommends to a broad citizenry as well as specialists and academics. Reilly’s audience includes leaders in interreligious dialogue and surely those positioned to restore the coherence of Christian witness under the New Evangelization.
With Hasan Hanafi of Cairo University, Reilly holds that the real problem with social, political, and economic structures in Islam is theological: the “inherited intellectual substructures.” It is at this level that “reform must take place and real dialogue be held.” Reilly notes that reason is not among the ninety-nine names for Allah (nor does the term “Father” appear in the Qur’an). Given the multiple perils from any imprecise framing of issues, the meaning or translation of basic terms (peace, justice), and the contradictory contexts in which identical things might be said, Reilly builds toward a critique of the three regional conferences on Catholic-Muslim Dialogue in the United States.
Referring to relevant litigation, the U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation trial (2008), he suggests that “if the FBI prohibits formal cooperation with un-indicted co-conspirators, perhaps the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops should also.” Based on access to only the published records, he plausibly equates some dialogue with cooperation. The bishops legitimize too routinely the most available (and radical) Muslims groups. The bishops might pause to consider Reilly’s documentation and weigh his conclusion that “Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the United States requires a major reevaluation in terms of the organizations involved, the personnel participating, and the substance addressed.” (Participants in the 2000-2011 Dialogue are listed in an Addendum.)
The Historical Context
Historically, the ninth century Mu’tazilites cut across all sects and schools of theology in their experimentation with a more reasoning Islam, but were blocked by the more cautious Ash’arites whose grip on Islam is barely diminished after twelve centuries.