Divine Hospitality: A Christian-Muslim Conversation, written by Fadi Daou and Nayla Tabbara

In: International Journal of Asian Christianity
Richard Kimball Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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(Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2017), pp. xvii + 162. original title, L’hospitalité Divine: L’autre dans le Dialogue des Théologies Chrétienne et Musulmane, French ed. (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2013). Translation by Alan J. Amos. isbn 9782825416921

Divine Hospitality: A Christian-Muslim Conversation is the collaborative work of two eminent Lebanese scholars, Dr Nayla Tabbara and Rev. Prof. Dr Fadi Daou. Tabbara received her PhD from École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris and Saint Joseph University, Beirut. She is a university professor and author who writes in the areas of Islamic theology of other religions, education and interreligious & cultural diversity, as well as Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic feminism and Sufism. Daou holds a PhD in Christian Theology from the University Marc Bloch, Strasbourg, France. He writes extensively concerning various aspects of coexistence and religious diversity. As a Maronite priest, he founded the Lebanese Interreligious and Ecumenical Office. In addition, he served as part of the Vatican’s delegation for dialogue with Al-Azar University. Together, Tabbara and Daou are co-founders of the Adyan Foundation. According to the mission statement, the Adyan Foundation “works on valuing cultural and religious diversity in its conceptual and practical dimensions, and on promoting coexistence and diversity management among individuals and communities, on the social, political, educational and spiritual levels.”

The background of the authors makes them ideally placed to embark on such an important and timely publication as Divine Hospitality. It addresses the lack of understanding and trust between Muslims and Christians due to centuries of communal conflict and political tensions in the Levant region that are both historic and symbolic, and which contribute to a mutual sense of suspicion and alienation. The authors are acutely aware of the role these views play in dividing communities and allowing corrupt regimes and political leaders, often fuelled by external forces, to exploit their communities’ fears of the religious “other” for their own benefit.

The authors recognise that ignorance of one’s own faith is at least as responsible for contributing to sectarian tensions as is ignorance of the other’s faith. Just as sectarian mistrust is multi-faceted, so too must be the solution. Although theology cannot resolve all the problems of Muslim-Christian relations on its own, it has a responsibility to contribute to the solution by guiding believers in their perceptions of the other, and by not allowing religion and theology to be misused as sectarian tools. The authors argue, therefore, that theology has a role to play in presenting society with a clear exposition of religious differences that allows the reader to explore from the deepest truths of their own faith that the spiritual message of the religious other is not foreign to God’s plan. All people, the authors argue, are people of God and have a role to play in God’s plan of salvation.

Through Divine Hospitality the authors offer a systematic theological attempt to explain how Islam and Christianity view the religious other. Tabbara examines different verses from the Qur’an that discuss the religious other in conjunction with centuries of Islamic exegesis to encourage the reader to adopt a more inclusivist approach. Likewise, from a Biblical perspective, Daou explores examples of belief in God that have existed alongside, but separate from, the narrative of the Children of Israel that were present in the life of Jesus and in the days of the early Church. Through the teachings of the Church, namely those of Vatican ii, especially Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate, Daou examines the sometimes uncertain trajectory of thought concerning the religious other from the days of “outside the Church no salvation” to accepting that the “Spirit of God blows where it wills.”

Divine Hospitality contains two separate concise theological arguments for promoting religious plurality. Although the authors are challenging themselves by taking into consideration the questions of the other, they do not dilute their arguments regarding irreducible differences; these differences exist and must be respected. The authors are writing shoulder to shoulder to provide the readers from their own tradition with a solid foundation from which to appreciate their faith, as well as the faith of the religious other and to reflect on the spiritual, ethical, and practical consequences of accepting the other. This is a new approach the authors call “theologies in dialogue.” This approach is neither polemic, nor apologetic; it does not seek compromise or syncretism, but rather requires the integration of the religious other and their questioning into one’s own faith journey as a companion on the way. The authors contend that with believers exists a “spiritual communion” where theological questions translate into terms of everyday life. Divine Hospitality and “theologies in dialogue” provide the intellectual and theological reasoning for embarking on the path that the heart knows it must travel.

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