Monday, February 12, 2007

Dudley Woodberry and Dialogue with Islam

One of my missiological heroes is Dudley J. Woodberry. Dr. Woodberry has served as a pastor in Kabul, Afghanistan as well as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and is currently professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Intercultural Studies with Fuller Theological Seminary. He has written a number of helpful materials on Islam from a Chrisitian perspective that is balanced and written with an eye toward careful cultural consideration and missiological reflection, such as "The War on Terrorism: Reflections Of A Guest in The Lands Involved." His reflections and writing on Islam were recently expressed in one of the more interesting articles in the February 2007 issue of Christianity Today titled "Can We Dialogue With Islam?: What 38 Mulsim scholars said to the pope in a little-known open letter."

This article begins by recalling the international uproar in the Islamic world that followed Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam reported through the media out of context that he gave as part of an address at the University of Regensburg in Germany in September 2006. The Muslim reaction that followed was tragic, including the killing of Christians and burning of churches. But Woodberry points out that not all of the reaction from Muslims was violent, and he points to a group of 38 Muslim scholars who wrote an open letter to the pope. Those scholars who contributed to this letter are significant. As Woodberry described them:

The Muslims who signed the open letter include grand muftis who are authorized to make legal decisions for Muslims in their countries. Other signers are professors at major universities in the Muslim world and the West who influence the rising generation of Muslims. The opportunity to engage with them is significant.

Woodberry goes on to describe the substance of the letter to the Pope, including several areas of critique where the Muslim scholars point out what they felt were errors in the papal address. Woodberry concludes this article with comments that Christians would do well to consider in a post-9/11 world, comments that are relevant for those with concerns about interreligious dialogue in other contexts as well:

No, meaningful dialogue does not require that the participants relinquish a witness concerning their faith. Nor does it mean we can't disagree about how they understand their history and faith. But it does require that we listen and learn what they really think. These 38 Muslim leaders have given us an extraordinary opportunity to do just that.

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