Interfaith Relations and Islam

Interfaith Relations and Islam

 General Books on Interfaith Relations 



Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America, by Gustav Niebuhr—In this lucid account of interfaith encounter in the US, Niebuhr presents historical and current anecdotes, highlighting the need to go “beyond tolerance.” This book is a helpful experiential examination of engagement among faith communities in this country.


A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, by Dr. Diana Eck—A professor at Harvard University and director of the Pluralism Project [], Eck writes this field standard—and eminently readable—book about the religious composition of the US today. It has been out for about 10 years, but it still timely and very helpful.


When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs, by Rev. Charles Kimball—Kimball served at the National Council of Churches in the Interfaith Relations office, and is well-qualified to address the issues posed by the title of this book. Library Journal writes, “After 9/11, we all need to consider how religious practice can lead to evil. Kimball includes many religions in his discussion but focuses on Christianity and Islam because they are the largest and are both missionary religions.”


The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, by Jonathan Sacks—This book is an important treatise on globalization and coexistence. Rabbi Sacks addresses many of the important issues of justice and peace in this book, in a lucid and reasoned way.


How to be a Perfect Stranger, vols. 1 & 2, eds. Stuart Matlins and J. Magida—These two books are indispensible as one prepares to visit another faith community. In extensive detail, the editors have provided information on what to wear, what to expect, and how to engage and interact in appropriate ways in the presence of others. This set is a valuable resource and reference. 


Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, by Gerard Russell—Russell, a former British diplomat, has written an interesting and accessible book on several lesser known religious communities of the Middle East and Central Asia. Chapters on the history and current realities of the Mandaeans, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Druze, Samaritans, Copts, and Kalashas, provides insight into the lives and customs of these various communities, both in their place of origin and in the diaspora. Some of these religious communities will be more familiar, or will be recognized because of current media coverage of the Middle East, but most groups are largely ignored or simply unknown.


The Pilgrim Library of World Religions, Edited by Jacob Neusner—This is a four-volume series that looks at several different themes and considers how each of five of the world’s religions (Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam) approaches each issue. The five volumes are “God,” “Evil and Suffering,” “Women and Families,” “Sacred Texts and Authority,” and “Death and the Afterlife.”


The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew—Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner— This book is a marvelous model of interfaith engagement involving all three Abrahamic faiths, as well as insight into the difficult kinds of discussions that are sure to come up. The value of relationship and engagement is at the core of this account of the three New York authors’ discussion in the post- 9/11 context. 


Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, by Eboo Patel—Patel is the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a movement based in Chicago that aims to engage youth of different faiths in service to the community. This book is autobiographical and lays out Patel’s vision for such engagement. 


Introducing Judaism, by Eliezer Segal—Segal takes a historical approach, focusing on religious aspects of Judaism, and introducing themes as they emerge from authentic Jewish documents. Students will gain an understanding of how Judaism is lived by its adherents and the historical and geographical diversity of Jewish beliefs and practices. 


We Are All Moors, by Anouar Majid—In this study, Majid traces a direct line between the Spanish expulsion of Muslims and Jews in the 15th century to the situation facing Europe and the United States today regarding immigration. Positing that European attitudes toward Muslims and US attitudes towards Hispanics are similar to the earlier period, he asserts that “since the defeat of Islam in medieval Spain, minorities in the West have become…reincarnations of the Moor, an enduring threat to Western civilization.” A careful treatment of the historical relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims is especially enlightening; linking historical events to contemporary debates is equally instructive. 

 Books on Islam and Muslims



The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, by Sidney Harrison Griffith—In this historical exploration of (primarily) the first four centuries of interaction between Christianity and Islam, Griffith details the types of engagement that took place—intellectually and theologically. He shows the role of the Arabic language in communication, as well as in preserving important philosophical history, and demonstrates that the history of Christian-Muslim relations is replete with positive interchange that affected both communities. 


Oil & Water: Two Faiths, One God, by Amir Hussain—This book is a concise and basic presentation of Islamic history tenants, and scripture. In addition, it offers detailed answers to some of the most popular questions people have about Muslims, including violence and jihad, the role of women, and Sufism. Hussain issues a call for dialogue, and begins the discussion himself with this book. 


The Venture of Islam, by Marshall G.S. Hodgson—A classic history of Islam from pre-Islamic Arabia to the 20th century, Hodgson did not complete the third and final volume before passing away. The three-volume set is a valuable and seminal resource for anyone interested in the history of Islam over the centuries. 


Jesus and the Muslim and Muhammad and the Christian, by Kenneth Cragg—Written by this eminent Episcopal bishop, these two books are deep and helpful contributions to the area of Muslim-Christian relations. Dealing with theological and historical questions, Cragg, who has written many books in this area, draws on much practical experience to provide a framework for approaching some of the complexities Muslim-Christian dialogues surely encounter together. 


Covering Islam: How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world, by Edward Said—This third book of Said’s trilogy explores the ways in which the media and opinion-makers have influenced the general perceptions of Islam and Muslims. Published originally in 1981, this book, again employing an analytic of representation, can offer insights for the 21st century as well, especially given the curiosity and apprehension about Islam in U.S. society today. 


Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner— In a concise volume, Donner offers an historical analysis of the beginnings of Islam, including the pre-Islam period, the life of the prophet and his successors, the first century (hijri) wars, and expansion, and consolidation of the faith. The title is significant because Donner’s main emphasis is that at the beginning, the new movement was ecumenical in nature—that it attempted to reach out and include Judaism and Christianity, and not set itself apart. This is a fascinating argument. Donner’s approach is historical criticism, and it works well in this account. If you have an interest in some of the ways the new faith community developed, and interacted with others, this book is a good complement to more traditional accounts of the early years of Islam.


The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? by Doug Saunders—“The fear of a Muslim tide is the fear of being swept away, a fear that they are powerful, consistent and changeless, and that we are fragile, temporary and malleable.” With this, Saunders concludes his highly readable and compact book in which he debunks several perceptions about the Muslim community. He presents hard statistical data in addressing demographic, social, and political topics, countering claims made to generate fear of the Muslim community. Saunders also reminds the reader of past similar efforts to demonize Catholic and Jewish immigrants. 


Who Speaks for Islam? by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed—This study makes an important contribution to the literature on Muslim opinions on a variety of subjects is impressive and important. It is a highly readable and accessible book, with much that may be surprising. It’s greatest value ids that it offers voice to Muslims around the world.


Engaging the Muslim World, by Juan Cole—With a historian/academic’s approach, Cole writes with much experience and speaks to the layperson. This is not an overly academic book, and offers much in the way of history and background in many issue areas and on many countries. Cole is the author of the blog, “Informed Content,” which is a source readers may wish to visit.


Secularism Confronts Islam, by Olivier Roy—One should not be fooled by this book’s brevity; the rigor of Roy’s thought demands an engaged reader (and not just because the text is in translation!). Using the case of France as a backdrop, Roy examines the differences between secularization and laïcité, which is an extremely important distinction in the context of the public political sphere and religious space; and he argues for laïcité. He suggests that a respect for law and order does not place a demand on beliefs to adapt to the law. A religious organization or body that respects laïcité is one that does not compromise its values but recognizes the law. For Roy, laïcité reinforces religious identity by separating it. In the case of France, he compares the 1905 law establishing the principle of laïcité and the current debates on Islam. These discussions have important implications for debates about immigration in Europe, Islam and the “West,” and can serve as a useful comparative paradigm for the case of the US.


Islam and the Arab Awakening, by Tariq Ramadan—Political, sociological, and philosophical/theological, this volume offers a clear alternative to the bifurcated debate between “Islam” and “the West.” Ramadan is especially strong in arguing for a new pathway, afforded by the Arab awakening, that would assert Islam’s best qualities and promote a recalibration of East-West relations. His caution is that the uprisings would lead to a perpetuation of former, familiar patters. Ramadan’s ideas provide—and stimulate—analysis of global relations in healthy ways. 


Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, by Tariq Ramadan—In this thoughtful book, Ramadan develops what he feels is the appropriate role for Muslims in non-Muslim-majority societies. Himself a Swiss citizen with Egyptian roots, Ramadan is an academic who has done exptensive work on this question. This book offers ideas for Muslims in the West in an engaging way that addresses Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 


What I Believe, by Tariq Ramadan—Ramadan is a Swiss Muslim with roots in Egypt, and a public intellectual. This short but replete philosophical book looks at a variety of topics including the relationship between religion and culture, Muslim integration in the West, fears, economic realities, and the kinds of self-examinations that societies must undertake. He proposes a way forward for the future of Europe (and the West) as it deals with more immigration, and focuses on a program he calls, “The New ‘We’” which looks beyond religion and toward social citizenship


What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America, by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf—In this tight and well developed book, Imam Abdul Rauf demonstrates the many ways in which Islam and basic American values are consistent. This is especially important in a time when Muslims are often regarded as enemies of the US. Imam Rauf is the leader of the Farah Mosque in New York City, and makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of the relationship between Islam and American society. 


Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America, by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad—In this short volume of three chapters, Haddad explores in remarkable depth the historical trajectory of what it means to be Muslim (and Arab) in the US, as well as the philosophical debates among Muslims about living in a non-Muslim majority country. She goes on to describe the dramatic shift in attitudes toward American Muslims following 9/11/01. 


Enemies Within, by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman—The reporting that led to this book won the authors Pulitzer Prizes. Apuzzo and Goldman, in a book that reads like a novel, follow the unraveling of a planned attack on New York City, and at the same time investigate the controversial practices of the New York Police Department in monitoring the activities of Muslims in and around the city. The book identifies matters of civil rights and is a must-read to understand why Muslim-Americans feel unjustly scrutinized. [Click here to watch an interview with the authors on Democracy Now:


The Submission, by Amy Waldman—This very intelligent and well-written novel addresses a number of issues related to the Muslim community in the post-9/11 US. The basic story revolves around the New York City World Trade Center memorial committee’s decision on the 9/11 memorial—an anonymous process until the design is selected, at which point the committee discovers it has selected a memorial submitted by a Muslim architect. City politics, personal feelings, and the role of journalism all play a part in this tight and intelligent novel.


The Place of Tolerance in Islam and Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, by Khaled Abou El Fadl—Just two of el-Fadl’s many books on political and legal aspects of Islam, these books represent the kind of thinking el-Fadl has done. A legal scholar at UCLA, el-Fadl’s books are accessible to the layperson and are deeply engaging with regard to issues on many people’s minds. 


An Islam of Her Own, by Sherine Hafez—A book that is intellectually rigorous and empirically grounded, Hafez’s study of Muslim women’s community development work sets out to de-gender what she calls “Islamic activism.” In doing so, Hafez sheds a bright light on the kind of volunteer and non-profit work that is being carried out by faith-based groups in Egypt to provide social services. This exploration is challenging to common paradigms on Muslim women, and quite accessible. 


A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America, by Leila Ahmed—As much about trends in Islam as about the veil itself, Prof. Ahmed tracks developments in the Middle East and in the US over the past several decades regarding the place of Islam in society, and its manifestations. Through an examination focusing primarily on Egypt and the US, Ahmed discovers the social activism of those who identify closely with their Muslim faith. Her discussion of the veil is important, as is her treatment of feminism. Equally interesting is Ahmed’s findings regarding Islam’s institutions, as well as generational and identity questions faced, particularly in the US.


Do Muslim Women Need Saving?, by Lila Abu-Lughod—Drawing on years of anthropological study in Egypt , her family experience, and knowledge of the Muslim world, Abu-Lughod explores the motivations and rationales for Western intervention to promote Muslim women’s rights, and then offers an intelligent challenge to those forces. This critique of (mostly) Western efforts to challenge “Islamic” values is intelligent and should be read by anyone interested in women’s rights—not just in the Middle East and Muslim world, but anywhere. 


A Necessary Engagement, by Emile Nakhleh—A a former US Government Intelligence agent, and a Palestinian Christian, Nakhleh offers much insight and wisdom into the issue of how the US Government has treated Islam, from an insider’s perspective, and offers solid advice on how the new administration should proceed to improve relations with the Muslim world. His book is short, but rich.


Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, by Gilles Kepel—Kepel is a French academic who has been studying Islam, and specifically political Islam, for decades. His understanding and presentation of the historical context and developments are precise and quite helpful. He is quite familiar with the issues, and this book will help the reader understand the story behind the media coverage of Islamic movements. 


Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by Robert Pape— This book, which was originally published in 2005, is a systematic presentation of ground-breaking research on suicide terrorism. Compiling an all-inclusive database of incidents of suicide terror from 1980-2003, Pape looks at what common threats link the over 300 incidents. His conclusion is that nationalist movements confronting an occupation by a democratic state that is of a different religion are most likely to employ suicide terrorism. His cases are strong, and his conclusion is convincing. Religion, including Islam, is not a primary motivating factor, and this is an important finding. Pape’s book has become a seminal study in the few years since it was published, and has important recommendations for reforming US foreign policy.


Unity in Diversity: Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East, edited by Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Emily Welty and Amal I. Khoury—This exceptional book is a collection of articles on interfaith relations and dialogue in various countries of the Middle East. There is much dialogue taking place: efforts to reduce conflict and to foster peace and toleration, and the lessons learned can be useful in other contexts. This book is highly informative about such efforts that are not regularly publicized, and even includes discussion of some of our denominational partners in the region. 


The Concise History of the Crusades, by Thomas F. Maddon—For a fine overview of the Crusade period, Maddon’s book is an excellent resource. It provides histories of each of the Crusades and the circumstances surrounding them in a way that will whet the appetite of the reader. 


American Christians and Islam, by Thomas Kidd—This volume is a fascinating read about Christian engagement, especially timely following Pres. Obama’s speech in Cairo about a new course of US involvement in the region and with the Muslim world. This book traces the history from the colonial era to the present. It does, of course, discuss the work of the American Board, but it is interesting to note the different categories of Evangelical Christianity over the course of time. It is well-researched and analytically sound.


Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America after 9/11, by Geneive Abdo—This book focuses on the reality of Muslims in the US, and gives a good look at this segment of US religious and social life. 


Situating Islam, by Aaron Hughes—In this slim but dense volume, Hughes analyzes the scholarly approaches to studying Islam in the Western academy. A colleague wrote, “The bulk of the text is devoted to exposing these deficiencies and revealing the assumptions behind essentialist approaches to Islam, meaning the supposition that there is a timeless or ahistorical core of Islamic faith that is expressed differently at different times and places; and that the inner lives of faithful Muslims lead to identifying which of these expressions are authentic and which are perversions.” The teaching and study of Islam today is highly political, and it is studied and taught in ideological ways, different than the study and teaching of other religions. This book is fascinating and helpful to understand these dynamics. 


The Islam Quintet, by Tariq Ali—In these five historical novels, Ali examines different periods of Islamic history: Moorish Spain, Saladin’s court, the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, 12th century Palermo, and 20th century Pakistan, the UK, and the US. Ali’s style is captivating and his ability to relate so much history while weaving enticing stories is superlative. 


God is One: The Way of Islam, by R. Martin Speight—In its second edition, this book is ideal for learning about Islam and using for discussion. It includes study and discussion questions with each chapter and makes a food presentation of the basic beliefs, and issues, facing Islam today.