John Renard, Responses to 101 Questions on Islam (1998) (note: this book is now titled 101 Questions and Answers on Islam)
This book is a collection of answers to typical questions that the author has been asked about Islam when speaking to predominantly Catholic groups. John Renard has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from Harvard and was a professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University when this book was published.
I am interested in Islam and have read other introductory books about it. I’ve also read other books in the “101 Questions and Answers” series (Paulist Press) and enjoyed them. The series has a Catholic scholar giving sober, serious, and straightforward answers to questions they’re normally asked by Catholic audiences on their area of expertise. The books in the series are not polemical—if you are expecting this book to be a Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, you will be sorely disappointed or greatly relieved. Nor is this book a catechism. It is written by a Catholic scholar who deeply admires Islam but is still a Christian.
The author arranges the questions into the following themes; I’ve also given one question asked in each category because I think it helps to give a flavor of the book:
- Beginnings and Sources (#3 Who was Muhammad? What do we know about his life in general?)
- History and Development (#13 After such a spectacular beginning, why did the first major dynasty last less than a century?)
- Beliefs and Practices (#23 What do Muslims mean by the term “Allah”; is this deity anything like what Christians and Jews mean by the term “God”?)
- Law and Ethics (#34 Do all Muslims interpret the law in exactly the same way?)
- Spirituality (#43 Do Muslims engage in other forms of prayer besides the salat?)
- Cultural and Intellectual Themes (#54 I’m surprised that you mention visual arts that way, because I’ve always heard that Islam is an “iconoclastic” tradition.)
- Relationships to Christianity and Judaism (#64 Who are the “Peoples of the Book” and how does this concept affect Islamic interreligious relations?)
- Women and Family (#76 Do women have a place in the Islamic view of human rights?)
- Global and Geopolitical Issues (#88 Many people—including Muslims—have the impression that Muslims are all alike in the way they approach their religion. Can you comment on that?)
This book was published in 1998 and has held up well, except for the last chapter on “Global and Geopolitical Issues.” If it were being rewritten today, I am sure it would address questions related to terrorism after September 11, 2001, and the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are questions about jihad and terrorism, but the then-present conflict mentioned in one question was the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia.
I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to others. Those interested in introductions to Islam might also enjoy reading What Every Christian Should Know About Islam (rev. ed. 2009) by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, a Christian convert to Islam. Her book is also in a question-and-answer format but has more of an apologetic flavor as the questions are answered from the perspective of a believer.