March 30, 2017

Arabic translation of Christian-Muslim dialogue book launched in Cairo

Written by  Emily Jones
David Shenk (left) and Badru Kateregga (right) hold the Arabic translation of their book, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. David Shenk (left) and Badru Kateregga (right) hold the Arabic translation of their book, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Photos provided by Andres Prins.

CAIRO — Since 1980, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk has been helping Christians and Muslims cultivate mutual understanding. On March 15, prominent Egyptian Muslim and Christian leadership gathered at All Saints’ Cathedral to celebrate the official launch of the Arabic translation of the influential book.

Co-authors Kateregga and Shenk joined in the celebration by sharing stories of how Christians and Muslims have used A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue to build bridges of understanding and peace in many countries around the world.

One story was that of Indonesian Mennonite church leader Paulus Hartono, who has used the book in his peacemaking efforts between Islamic militia and Christians in Indonesia. Among other benefits, a partnership formed between Christians and Muslims who worked together to provide relief after the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

Another story was the book’s significance in opening dialogue between Kosovan Christian and Muslim leaders in the wake of the 1998–99 war for independence. This interfaith dialogue contributed to religious freedom being enshrined in the first constitution of Kosovo.

After the authors’ remarks, a young imam stood to address those representing Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawki Allam. He asked that the book be circulated among all mosques in Egypt to show a way for peaceful relationship. He also requested that the authors write a new book containing the wonderful stories he had just heard.

Shenk believes the imam is not alone in his hopes. “Young imams are pleading with decision makers,” he said.

Interfaith dialogue in Egypt is rare but needed, says Shenk. About 90% of Egyptians are Muslims, most of them Sunni; while Christians, who are allowed to practice their faith, comprise an estimated 10% of the population.

Muslim-majority areas like Egypt are the reason that Shenk always hoped A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue would be translated into Arabic. “That gets right into the heart of the Muslim movement,” he said.

The book, translated into at least a dozen languages since its publication, has actually been available in Arabic for several years, initially through a translation by the Mennonite Brethren Church. Shenk cited turmoil in Egypt as the reason for its delayed launch there.

Last year the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer H. Anis, archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt and President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, decided that the time was finally right for a public launch of A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue.

Al-Azhar University in Cairo provided this translation, which has a foreword by former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and another by Anis.

Shenk says the endorsements from members of each faith give the book a validation in both worlds that is hard to come by.

Andres Prins, who serves with Shenk on Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian/Muslim Relations Team, also attended the launch. He noticed the religious leaders’ warm reception of the event.

“They enjoyed seeing a white North American Christian and a black African Muslim being friends, getting along with each other, and telling stories. Traditionally, Christians and Muslims in Egypt have not intermingled as friends,” said Prins.

He called the authors’ collaboration “a refreshing example of what could be possible.”

Kateregga, a Sunni Muslim, and Shenk, a Mennonite, became close friends as professors at Kenyatta University College in Nairobi, Kenya, in the 1970s. At times, they team-taught comparative religion.

The idea for A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue was set in motion after Shenk received a request from Kenya’s Uzima Publishing House to write a book comparing Christianity and Islam.

He approached Kateregga to suggest they co-write a dialogue in which they would share their faiths with one another.

The final product has twelve chapters by Kateregga sharing a Muslim witness, followed by Shenk’s twelve chapters sharing a Christian witness. Kateregga and Shenk also write brief responses to each of the other’s twelve chapters, creating a conversational tone.

Shenk said the book’s key contribution is that it opens the door for conversations about faith between Christians and Muslims. One possibility he gave for its use was simply a Muslim and a Christian meeting at a tea shop to discuss their feelings about the book.

Kateregga and Shenk hope the Arabic translation of their book will encourage Egyptian Christian and Muslim leaders to create space for dialogue, understanding, and peacemaking.

“If Egypt opens her heart for conversation, that affects the whole Muslim world,” said Shenk.

A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue is available for purchase online at heraldpress.com.