Truth over Fear

Combating the Lies About Islam

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Charles Kimball
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , August
     2019.
     158 pages.
     $16.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780664264628.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Interfaith dialogues among religions are imperative for a peaceful world order. To attain and participate in this interfaith conscience, each society should maintain mutual understanding and respect. In this regard, Charles Kimball's notable work, Truth Over Fear: Combating The Lies About Islam, contributes a comprehensive schema of religious harmony and mutual trust for the contemporary age. More particularly, this book is devoted to unmasking how Islamophobia cultivates hatred in non-Muslim settings, especially in Christians, and to suggesting ractical ways for religious cooperation. Since it was published after the horrific terrorist attacks on New Zealand Muslims in March 2019, this book will attract a great number of readers across the world. This book is targeted to certain groups, including Christian clergy, adult study groups in churches, and individual Christians and Muslims who want to break through the fear and confusion about Islam. The author's longstanding experience in the field of interfaith dialogues enhances this formidable text.  

Religion is, in fact, the double-edged sword that can be used both for peace and disturbance. All religious traditions that have stood the test of the time are replete with turbulence. Therefore, it is not possible for a religious person to write off frustrated, angry, and even violent extremists who present themselves as purified devotees of their religion. This book clearly establishes the fact that religious reading and understanding must be made upon diverse streams and not on a singular approach. However, too many non-Muslims in the West have not come to concede this diversity and complexity of Islam. Reflecting on the biased position, Kimball meticulously writes: "The result is a caricature of Islam and Muslims that often reflects the highly visible actions of extremists and revolutionaries."(4)  Throughout the book, he identifies historical and ideological similarities between Islam and Christianity in order to annihilate Islamophobia.

It is a commonly held view that Islam is responsible for Islamophobia because it has depleted its privilege and reputation in the public consciousness. In other words, it is an imposed violence on Islam. Such reductionist pronunciations can be viewed as an instrument for ultra-secularism and for gaining power. Particularly speaking, Donald Trump has grabbed the media spotlight since the announcement of his campaign for the presidency occurred on December 7, 2015, through his statement urging the "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." Kimball lists this inflammatory statement at the beginning of the book. The first chapter provides constructive pragmatic responses of the Muslim community leaders to Islamophobia and to biblical mandates to safeguard Christians for engaging with Muslims.

To understand a religious tradition, one ought to comprehend its core structure of faith and practice. Kimball, too, follows such a conventional paradigm, which relies more on the religion’s philological foundation rather than ritual variations, to encapsulate what it means to be Islam in a simple presentation. The five pillars of Islam—confession of faith, five daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca—are briefly described in the second chapter. The more striking observation is that the four other pillars rest on the confession of faith (Shahadath) as constant reminders of who God is and what God expects of us during our time on earth. Kimball’s fieldwork experiences in Cairo have brought more conceptual clarity and functional cohesion for explaining the fasting of Ramadan. He goes on to say about the influence of experience during the research: "These experiences have not only produced a deep appreciation for these Muslim spiritual disciplines, but they have also opened my eyes to underappreciated elements of my own religious tradition."(43) All his investigations, in effect, assist to find the way to his own religion.

The third and fourth chapters investigate the historical trajectories of conflict and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims and the contemporary condition of the Islamic world. Beginning in Prophet Muhammad's lifetime, it spans periods of expansion of Islamic civilization (the Middle Ages) and Enlightenment to the 20th century. It is remarkable here that the prevailing perception that Christians and Jews have always been in conflict with Muslims and always will be so has been hair-splittingly challenged by the author.

Contemporary manifestations of the Islamic world, discussed in the fourth chapter, are inconceivable from a spectrum of monolithic narration. Since Islam is diverse, a singular or limiting approach is untenable Instead, Islam is comprised of many divergent denominations such as Sunni, Shia, and Sufis with specified, framed, and unique ideological preferences and interests. Kimball strives to include all groups of Muslims, irrespective of their inclination, in the wider category of Islamic community and does not dispel any of the extremist groups. He observes: "many people seem instinctively ready to place extremists completely outside the realm of 'true Christianity' or 'true Islam'. But this explanation will not do." Henceforth, he depicts the distinction between Sunni and Shia on the basis of the timeline, beliefs, practices, and branches along with a short description of Sufi concepts in Islamic tradition.

The fifth chapter is a description of Christian organizations. Despite its brevity, the chapter outlines the role of different ecumenical movements, evangelism, and church organizations such as World Counil Churches and National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA  in strengthening and empowering interfaith dialogues with Muslims. The last portion of the book puts forth several types of Christian-Muslim programs or projects that have provided great value in modern society. Interfaith prayer services and Iftar can be effectively implemented to engender mutual understanding and fraternity. Instead of a global level emancipatory mechanism, Kimball emphasizes local awareness programs in which each person of the particular society can engage, share, and live up to their personal willingness and aptitude towards a “common word between us(123-26).”

Despite the depth of the subject, this book is highly useful to wipe out lies about Islam from the public sphere. As a guide book, the style of presentation and the language are simple and easily attainable without any theoretical smoke and mirrors. The questions at the end of each chapter encourage the reader to revise the aforementioned concepts and to engage critically with the subject at hand.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Muhammed Edakkadamban  is a graduate student in Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Calicut.

Date of Review: 
July 29, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Charles Kimball is Presidential Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

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