Engaging Islam from a Christian Perspective

by Bonnie Evans-Hills (Author) Michael Rusk (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 284 Pages


Is it possible to bridge two faiths, to cross through myriad cultures, and to seek to understand some of today’s great global crises from the viewpoint of the other? With an estimated 5 million Muslims in the United States, Islam is a faith that invites attention. Beginning with the perceived dissonance of east and west, of Christianity and Islam, and working through the complexity of antagonistic worldviews that have been perpetuated over the centuries, Engaging Islam from a Christian Perspective seeks to rediscover the deep interconnectedness between these two world faiths. The political upheavals experienced across North Africa and the Middle East and the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Boko Haram in north east Nigeria indicate the urgency and importance of establishing constructive dialogue. This book sets local dialogue in the wider context of the significant international conversations that have been taking place between the two faiths. The emergence of Scriptural Reasoning as a major tool of inter-religious dialogue is explained and illustrated. However, this perspective is balanced by a consideration of how dialogue can proceed while acknowledging the diatribe, hostility, and violence that in some parts of the world terrorize adherents of both faiths. Re-establishing a dialogue of trust, three areas are explored that reveal the potential radical outcomes of meaningful dialogue. An important corrective is given as to how women perceive themselves as Muslims; the question of whether one can be actively gay and Muslim is raised; and the complex issues surrounding inter-faith worship are sensitively explored. Engaging Islam from a Christian Perspective offers the intriguing possibility that local conversation can bring about profound transformation to both faiths.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Engaging Islam from a Christian Perspective
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword by Archbishop Justin Welby
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Muslims in Britain: An Overview of Recent Church of England Engagement
  • Chapter 2. Muslims in Britain: International and Local Influences
  • Chapter 3. The Lambeth Conferences: 1988 and 1998
  • Chapter 4. A Common Word
  • Chapter 5. Scriptural Reasoning
  • Chapter 6. Archbishop Rowan Williams 2003–2012
  • Chapter 7. Ancient Scars, Long Memory: How Do We Handle Our Histories?
  • Chapter 8. Responding to Islamist Extremism
  • Chapter 9. Anglicans and the Shia Tradition
  • Chapter 10. Listen to Her Roar! Engaging with Muslim Women
  • Chapter 11. Speaking the Unspeakable—Is It Possible to be Muslim and Gay?
  • Chapter 12. Heart Speaks to Heart
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Scripture Index
  • Series index

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By the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby

Engaging Islam from a Christian Perspective comes to us at a critical time: with some Christians wondering not simply how to engage with Muslims, but whether they should even consider it. Michael Rusk and Bonnie Evans-Hills offer insights in this book that come out of years of Christian ministry, strong inter-faith relationships and deep reflection in multi-faith parish contexts. I have known Michael since 1990, when I learned much from him on placement in his parish in Durham. I feel their voice is one well worthy of being heard within this contemporary debate on inter-religious engagement.

The book clearly maps the key moments in Anglican engagement with Muslims over the past 30 years including the Lambeth conferences of 1988 and 1998, ‘the Common Word’ letter from Muslim scholars around the world and the transformational inter-religious work of my predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. We arrive at the present with a clear and informed understanding of both the joys and challenges in our current engagement with Muslims.

Yet, throughout this helpful overview, Michael and Bonnie tread with sensitivity, careful to avoid oversimplification. It is because of such sensitivity, that Michael and Bonnie are able to offer a Christian perspective on some of the most difficult issues that arise in Anglican engagement with Muslims: ← IX | X → from islamophobia to the role of women and even attitudes towards homosexuality. In the discussion of the practice of ‘Scriptural Reasoning’, readers are encouraged to discover the joy of delving into our own and one another’s scriptures both in relationship and with integrity. Michael and Bonnie gently show us practical ways to engage with deep difference which are informed both by theological reflection and long experience.

Perhaps the most significant theme of the book is hope. Instead of simply outlining problems, Bonnie and Michael suggest a way forward. It is a cry for genuine reconciliation between Muslims and Christian that echoes throughout the book. Michael and Bonnie recognise that for this to take place, Christians as well as Muslims need to be self-reflective and self-critical; open to learning and open to repentance. A renewal of relationship means entering into a safe place where the difficult conversations can be had and past hurts can heal. The Christian reader is challenged to avoid complacency, while at the same time being encouraged to accept the invitation into relationship with those different to ourselves. We are not asked to compromise our own faith, and profound differences will remain, but we are challenged to love our Muslim neighbors meaningfully and in obedience to Christ’s call.

++Justin Cantuar

| XI →


I hadn’t known Michael Rusk long when he invited me to visit his home, providing me with lemon cake and a lovely pot of tea, and in his unnervingly subtle way asked me to write a book with him. How could I refuse? He has the gift of celebrating and bringing out the gifts of others, much of the time sitting back and allowing them the limelight. Oftentimes his own gifts of wisdom and gentle strength can go unnoticed, but not by me. He has an ability to filter all the memories, myriad notes and bits of information jumbling around in my brain, into a cohesive account told with deep sensitivity. How is it possible to express appropriate gratitude for the friendship of someone who has enabled you to feel you have a positive contribution to share with the world? Thank you, Michael.

My daughters, Zahra and Elva, walk alongside me in this journey of life. It has not always been easy for them, but they continue to encourage me to write and forbear their mother’s eccentricities with patient grace.

Two people who gave me a place in the Church, who took a chance on me and encouraged my ministry in interfaith dialogue are the Rt. Revd. Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich, and the Rt. Revd. John Hind, retired Bishop of Chichester. I hope their trust has been rewarded. ← XI | XII →

God has created us social beings, to love and care for one another. Whatever good there is in my writing is shared with these wonderful people who have been such a blessing to me. And whatever is flawed is entirely my own.

Bonnie Evans-Hills

My thanks go first and foremost to Canon Chuck Robertson, the editor of this series, for his invitation four years ago to write this book. His friendship, creative encouragement, and optimistic conviction that this book was worth writing, have been crucial throughout and for this I am profoundly grateful. Canon Robertson’s advocacy and vision for the publication of books of theological depth in the Episcopal Church offers inspiration to a new generation of writers.

I am immensely grateful to my colleague, Bonnie Evans-Hills, for sharing her deep experience of Muslim-Christian engagement with me. Being introduced into her fascinating and rich world of diverse faith traditions has been a remarkable experience. I would also like to thank her for her hard work, and patience with me.

I am grateful to Dame Mary Tanner for her friendship and encouragement of my writing and for reading one of the chapters. The careful reading of the entire text by Bishop Michael Ipgrave and Bishop Toby Howarth, both noted practitioners in this field, is something for which I am deeply appreciative. The interest and encouragement of Bishop Richard Atkinson and Canon Andrew Wingate has also been very helpful.

My children, Matthew, Connie, and Felicity are a great joy to me and their questions on why their father, a Christian priest, should be writing on Islam, have been a recurring and humorous topic of conversation at the dinner table. I would like to thank Jayne and Alan Lewis for their friendship both to me and to the family. Long field walks with my dogs, Annie and Jack, have been a vital part of the writing process. I am also grateful to friends who have written to me to encourage me to consider the inter-religious encounter from a European perspective. Your e-mails have been both enriching and enlightening.

The parishioners of the Parish of Oadby have been gracious and generous in enabling their clergy to allocate significant amounts of time to research and writing: the spiritual vitality and maturity that they share is a hallmark of a wonderful Church of England parish. When I came to Leicester in 1999, coming from the university city of Durham in the north-east of England, ← XII | XIII → I had little idea of how significant inter-religious encounter would become as part of my ministry. This book points to the transforming impact that the city has had on my thinking through the daily encounters of my ministry. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

Michael Rusk

| 1 →


Michael Rusk

It was a dark afternoon in early December 2010. The archdeacon had asked me to meet with a prospective curate and I had agreed. We met in the untidy Parish Office, the table between us most often used by the treasurers to process the parish finances. The meeting began pleasantly and somewhat formally. Until I asked a question that is asked of any curate by their Rector in the course of an initial meeting: “Tell me about your faith journey?” With the Church of England being a great patchwork quilt of different traditions, I had expected some journey from charismatic evangelical to liberal catholic. But my future colleague had a deeper, richer, and more astonishing story to tell. ‘I was born and grew up in Colorado. In my twenties, I converted to Islam, leaving the US. I went to live as a Shia Muslim in Iran and I studied Islam in the holy city of Qom. After 12 years of practicing Islam, I came to live in England. I embraced Christianity and I am now an Anglican priest.’ I cannot remember how I responded to this revelation, but I knew deep down that life was going to become interesting, very interesting!

Engaging Islam is the fruit of that initial conversation. I soon discovered that my colleague, the Revd. Bonnie Evans-Hills, had not only a unique life-story to share but also inhabited the world of Christian-Muslim dialogue in the United Kingdom. Gradually as I got to know this network, I realized that it was in this area that some of the most challenging national and global ← 1 | 2 → questions were being addressed. Nationally complex issues are raised on many levels as Muslims from many different backgrounds make their home in the United Kingdom, creating diverse and often vibrant communities yet sometimes living marginalized, ghettoized lives. Internationally, there is ever greater urgency to search for understanding, peace, and justice between Islam and Christianity in a world coming to terms with the traumas of 9/11 and 7/7.

To these Bonnie Evans-Hills brought a wealth of knowledge, insight, and networks, all of which feature in Engaging Islam. I came as one trained in Christian systematic theology and embarked on a voyage of discovery as I encountered Islam in depth for the first time. I came to discover that some of the most creative Christian theology has been taking place in the world of Christian-Muslim dialogue. I found that the quality of contributions made by Anglicans was often of the very highest order. This made me proud to be Anglican and convinced me that Anglicans have a unique contribution to make to Christian-Muslim dialogue that far outweighs their numerical strength. Time and again, I found that Anglicans had the confidence to make the first approach in setting up dialogues and extending the hand of friendship. I found it encouraging that where excellent foundations had been laid by the Roman Catholic Church or the World Council of Churches that Anglicans were content to build upon them. Anglicans too were quick to respond to initiatives of Muslim faith leaders and scholars.

Engaging Islam is primarily about the Anglican encounter with Islam. But what is meant by Anglican? Most, but not all, of the theologians and church leaders discussed in Engaging Islam are from the Church of England, and the term Anglican is used instead of that more convoluted description. There is considerable focus on the work of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a role which increasingly requires considerable engagement with Christian Muslim affairs. Through that Office, Church of England Anglicans instinctively consider that the contributions that they make are for the benefit of the worldwide Anglican Communion. But it is important to note that there are Anglicans throughout the world who, as part of the Anglican Communion, have an equal contribution to make to Christian-Muslim dialogue. Often they find themselves in very different contexts and their experience of Islam can be markedly different. Episcopalians are part of this rich diversity and as Anglicans contribute to the pool of wisdom that constitutes Anglican Muslim encounter. Engaging Islam offers insights into the Christian-Muslim encounter in England that are worth sharing due to the resources that the Church of England has invested in this area in terms of theological expertise ← 2 | 3 → and reflection; face to face encounter in local parishes; and in leadership in the national life.

Islam is a vast ocean and Christian-Muslim dialogue is a great sea within that. These essays offer the experience of what it is like to sail that sea—at times in stormy seas and at other times in calm waters. These essays are offered that you may come on board and join us in this voyage of discovery.

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· 1 ·


An Overview of Recent Church of England Engagement

Bonnie Evans-Hills



XIV, 284
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
East and West inter-reliogious dialogue muslim
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 284 pp.

Biographical notes

Bonnie Evans-Hills (Author) Michael Rusk (Author)

The Reverend Bonnie Evans-Hills received her MA in pastoral theology from Heythrop College, University of London. She has considerable experience in Muslim-Christian dialogue, focusing in particular on dialogue with Shia Islam following a three-year study in Qom, Iran. Evans-Hills participated in a theological exchange at al-Azhar University in Cairo for the Anglican Communion’s al-Azhar Dialogue. She is currently Diocesan Inter-Faith Adviser and a parish priest in the Diocese of St. Albans, England, and serves on the national Presence and Engagement Task Group mandated by General Synod to resource multi-faith parishes. Evans-Hills has also worked with the World Council of Churches in dialogue with scholars from Iran and presented her guidelines on «Gender and Inter-Religious Dialogue» at the WCC 2013 Assembly in Korea. Canon Michael Rusk is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Leicester where he is Team Rector of the multi-faith parish of Oadby. Educated at the universities of Cambridge and of Durham with degrees in classics and theology, he now brings his theological expertise and practical experience of inter-religious dialogue to the advocacy of Muslim-Christian dialogue.


Title: Engaging Islam from a Christian Perspective
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304 pages