Roman Catholics and Shi'i Muslims: Prayer, Passion and Politics, by James A. Bill and John Alden Williams. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. xi + 146 pages. Notes to p. 166. Gloss. to p. 169. Bibl. to p. 177. Index to p. 184. $24.95.
The authors undertook to write this book after Iran's President Mohammad Khatami visited the Pope in March 1999. As Bill and Williams point out in the Introduction, September 11 made such a book even more necessary in that "it is in everyone's interest to develop a greater understanding of Islam" (p. x). In spite of being conscious of differences and historical hostility on both sides, the authors want to address "the community of civilizations" rather than the "clash" between them (p. 3).
Roman Catholicism and Shi'a Islam were chosen for four reasons (pp. 3-4), one being that a systematic comparison between the two systems had never been made (p. 4).
The book consists of seven chapters. The Introduction presents the aims of the book and gives some useful statistical information about the spread of Shi'a Islam (pp. 4-6). Chapter 1, "Roman Catholicism and Twelver Shiism," traces the historical background in which both religious systems developed. Chapter 2, "The Story of the People of the House," introduces the 14 holy personalities of Twelver Shi'ism, i.e., Muhammad, Fatima, and the 12 imams. Chapter 3, "Sacred Actors and Intercessors," shows the central role of the cult of holy personalities and places (imams, saints, shrines, etc.) in Roman Catholicism and in Shia Islam. Chapter 4, "Redemptive Suffering and Martyrdom," describes the place of these themes in both religions, in their theology as well as in the practice of the believers. As the authors say, "the redemptive deaths of Imam Husayn and Jesus Christ became the sources and symbols in Shiism and Catholicism, . . ."(p. 73), an aspect much less present in Sunni Islam or Protestant Christendom. Chapter 5, "Catholic Mystics and Islamic Sufis: The Confluence of Experience," gives a panorama of mystic practices and developments in Islam generally rather than concentrating on specific Shii aspects. Chapter 6, "Law and the State," gives an introduction to Islamic law (shari'a). The quietist attitude of Shi'is is also underlined (pp. 109-110). Chapter 7, "Authority, justice and the modern polity," compares religiously based liberation movements, like the Catholic liberation theology and the movement that finally led to the Islamic revolution in Iran and points out the central function of the clergy over the distribution of money collected through almsgiving in both religions (p. …