Roman Catholics and Shi'i Muslims: Prayer, Passion, & Politics

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Roman Catholics and Shi'i Muslims: Prayer, Passion, & Politics. By James A. Bill and John Alden Williams. (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. 2002. Pp. xiv, 194. $24.95; $17.95 paperback.)

Seldom has the general public had its attention more forcefully riveted on comparative religious studies than today, when the distinctions between Muslim groups have become nightly news fare and the connection between faith and terrorism has become a matter of keen debate. The authors, both at the College of William and Mary, contend that Catholicism and Shi'ism have some common ground to explore in terms of ceremony, redemptive suffering, and social activism. They consider the power of martyrdom and of ritual, of a mother-image (Mary, Fatima), and of other congruences.

The pages are enlivened by diagrams to show the taxonomy of law and politics (pp. 95, 98-99) and an engaging debate over the problems of reconciling reason with revelation. Not everyone will agree that Thomism offers as ready a reply to Muslim views on politics as the book asserts, and the contention that social sensitivity has consistently characterized both faiths will find critics. Indeed, the question is ultimately asked, "But what happens when the state -wields the sword in the interest of the few and the corrupt or when the political elite promotes injustice rather than redressing it? History suggests that in these circumstances, the Church often temporizes, accommodates, and compromises" (p. 121).

A danger that the volume has avoided is to smooth out the differences to the point that the very real distinctions disappear. …