Despite the growing number of Muslims in the United States, for many Americans Islam remains profoundly foreign. A nationwide survey conducted last year by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that the percentage of Americans with an unfavorable view of Islam increased to 37 percent, up from 33 percent in 2002. The percentage responding that Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence nearly doubled, from 25 percent in March 2002 to 46 percent in July 2004. These opinion trends come despite continued efforts by political leaders to downplay the cultural and religious differences between Christians and Muslims and to counter suggestions that a “clash of civilizations” is inevitable.
Perhaps inspired in part by an anxiety over this religious and cultural divide, books such as Bruce Felier’s Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths have invited consideration of Islam’s spiritual kinship with Judaism and Christianity. In a global conflict in which images from the mass culture — from McDonald’s Golden Arches to a tranquil Osama bin Laden fingering his Kalashnikov — are so powerful, common religious figures can provide symbolic counterweights. While the reverence that Muslims, Jews and Christians share for such scriptural figures as Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses is commonly underappreciated, perhaps even less recognized is the role in Islam of another biblical figure: Christ himself. (MORE)