Book compares Bible, Qur'an - Catholic Courier

Book compares Bible, Qur’an

The current chairperson of the Commission on Muslim-Christian Relations, Deacon George Dardess has written an excellent study, Do We Worship the Same God? The Bible and the Qur’an Compared (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2006).

This 162-page guide can be used in a group or individually. It offers enough biblical background to give the typical lay person a context for comparison of the two religious texts. And Deacon Dardess’ translations from the Islamic text are clear and contemporary.

“I was trying to overcome some of the stiltedness of most of the available versions,” he said.

He also admits that “Muslims say that the Qur’an cannot be translated.”

Marvelous revelations abound about both Christian and Islamic Scripture — Muslims’ reverence of Mary, for example — as well as about the cultural differences from which have arisen many misunderstandings and much tension. Deacon Dardess hopes to make “Islam feel less (frighteningly) ‘other’ and far closer to our Catholic Christianity than we might have thought.” And he succeeds beautifully.

As deacon at Rochester’s Blessed Sacrament Parish, the author is familiar with what he calls the “typical parish,” with its mix of backgrounds, interests and theological/Biblical sophistication. He notes that these diverse people seem to be unified by their common fear of Islam that he says is aroused by unfamiliarity with Islam and Muslims and by media scare tactics. It’s a fear he strives to quell.

His experience as a teacher — first as assistant professor of English at Tufts University in Boston, then as English department head at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester — can be seen in the careful presentation of the parallel texts and in the guided discussion questions at the end of each chapter. These questions are designed to be accessible to readers at all levels of theological understanding. Many are clearly derived from the material presented in the chapter, but others invite the reader to personal reflection.

Deacon Dardess preaches monthly at Blessed Sacrament, and with his wife, Peggy Rosenthal, facilitates the parish’s social-justice team. He also works for the diocesan office of Parish Support Ministries, where he is involved with interfaith ministry — especially ministry with Muslims — and migrant ministry.

In his enthusiasm for dialogue between Muslims and Christians, however, Deacon Dardess does not allow the reader to think the differences are negligible. For example, he opens the chapter concerning the Holy Spirit by warning “the Spirit is a topic that Christians and Muslims can easily find themselves arguing about, creating more heat than light.”

The arrangement of the book opens with two chapters of “Background and Orientation.” This section alone will go far in clarifying the distinctions between our faiths, and closes with a prayer for open minds and joyful hearts as the reader undertakes the study.

Each of the 15 chapters that comprise the majority of the book is entitled “What Do We Each Believe About … ” various theological and scriptural topics, ranging from the creation to heaven and hell. In the chapter concerning Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, one of the interesting points of comparison Deacon Dardess points out is that “in the Qur’an account, no sooner are (Adam and Eve) out of the Garden than God forgives them!”

In a chapter on the Muslim and Christian beliefs concerning heaven and hell, he addresses what he sees as “a lot of misrepresentation of Islam on this point — as if Islam blesses suicide bombers who fall directly into the arms of virgins once they get to heaven.”

The author makes it clear in the introduction that “for now, the discussion itself is more important than the answer.” So, it comes as no surprise that the culminating chapter addresses the title question while admitting that it cannot be ”wrapped up with a neat answer and put away safely on a high shelf.”

In the service of this discussion, Deacon Dardess continues to engage in study and to make presentations of the results.

He encourages the public to attend the Muslim-Catholic Alliance gathering in the Schultz Student Center at Nazareth College on Monday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m. There he and a Muslim friend will be speaking on the topic “Do We Worship the Same God?”

Deacon Dardess’ book will be sold for $12 after the presentation. It also is available at the Cathedral Bookstore at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Episcopal Good Book Shop in Rochester and online.

Palma is an adjunct assistant professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester and an adjunct instructor at Nazareth College in Pittsford. She has a master of science degree in education from Nazareth and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.

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