Skip to main content

In this episode of Faith for Normal People, Pete and Jared are joined by Adil Hussain Khan to talk about the story of Abraham in the Islamic tradition, how Islam differs from Judaism and Christianity, and whether the concept of interreligious dialogue is really as effective as we think. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • Is Islam included in the “Abrahamic” religions? 
  • How does the story of Abraham play out in the Islamic faith?
  • What are the differences between the account of Abraham in Genesis versus ancient Arab folklore?
  • Does the Qur’an talk about the “shared roots” with Judaism and Christianity, or is shared roots even the right phrase?
  • What does “people of the book” mean in the Islamic tradition?
  • What is the relationship between the Qur’an and the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament?
  • Is there a difference in how Muslims conceive of religion in comparison to Christians?
  • Are there different translations of the Qur’an like there are of the Bible?
  • What are the difficulties of interreligious dialogue, especially between Christians and Muslims? What are the unspoken expectations often found in these conversations?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • Outside of Islam, among Jews and Christians. Muslims are painted as being part of one of the Abrahamic traditions, and Islam is presented as an Abrahamic faith. But a lot of non Muslims aren’t really familiar with how Muslims would interpret that. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • The city of Mecca today, with the shrine in the center of Mecca, the Kaaba, is believed to be this place where Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael in the desert. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • There’s this overlap of the [lineage] of Isaac going through Sarah and the [lineage] of Ishmael going through, eventually, to Islam, that connects Muslims to Jews and Christians as an Abrahamic faith. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • Many of the narratives in the Qur’an are these creative retellings about previous prophets. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • So much of the Qur’an reads like these moral narratives retelling some of these stories that are not necessarily as detailed as you’d find in biblical narratives. There’s lots of stories of Moses, of Abraham, stories of Jesus, of Mary. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • When Muslims read the Qur’an, they’re inherently confronted with the roots of the Jewish and Christian roots of the Islamic tradition. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • The Qur’an is a very short text. It’s one book, one volume. If not in its entirety, then at least portions of it are frequently memorized by Muslims to be recited in prayer. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • I think in inter-religious dialogue, the expectation is that first and foremost, everyone will agree and get along and that it will somehow lead to a more harmonious, peaceful, just, equitable society. And I think dialogues in general are constructed in a way to ensure those outcomes take place. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np
  • To just hold a theological dialogue and talk about, for example, some Christian concept, and to say, well, let’s debate heaven and hell, let’s debate sin, let’s debate God, let’s debate whatever we want to debate. That’s not really a dialogue. — Adil Hussain Khan @theb4np

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript [Intro music plays]

Jared: You’re listening to Faith for Normal People, the only other God ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete: I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Music transitions into episode]

Our December class, Is God All Knowing, is going to be taught by Aaron Higashi. It’s been a long time since I met someone as earnest and passionate about teaching the best in biblical scholarship to folks as Aaron. So I’m really excited to have him on board for this class. It’s happening December 14th from 8 to 9:30 PM Eastern time. Aaron shows us in this class how God’s omniscience is contested in the Bible, specifically in Genesis 1 to 11, which is where he’s going to focus. 

When you sign up for the class, you get access to the one night live class, a live Q & A session, the link to the class recording so you can watch it back anytime, and downloadable class slides. The class is pay what you can until the class ends. And then as always, it costs $25 to download. You can get all of our classes, of course, for just $12 a month by becoming a member of our online community, The Society of Normal People.

For more information and to sign up, go to 

Today on Faith for Normal People, we’re talking about Islam with Adil Hussain Khan. 

Pete: Yeah, and Adil is a distinguished professor of religious studies at Loyola University. That’s in New Orleans. And we just had, Jared, an engaging conversation, and I learned a lot.

Jared: I love some episodes where you walk away saying, “Oh, I actually genuinely learned a couple of brand new ideas.”

Pete: Yeah, or more than a couple. Because this is so outside my universe of discourse. So. 

Jared: Well, don’t forget to stay tuned at the end of the episode for Quiet Time during which we’ll talk more about that. We’re going to reflect more on the conversation. 

Pete: Alright, folks, let’s just dive right in. 

[Music plays over teaser clip of Adil speaking in episode]

Adil: I think that if one was to find a dialogue partner, I don’t think that you can predefine the conclusion before the dialogue begins. So if there are people in your community of other religions that you’re unfamiliar with, and you don’t know what they’re like, and you don’t know their tradition, I mean, just talking to them, just dialoguing with them to get to know each other in terms of how they perceive themselves within the context of the community would be fine.

Pete: Adil, welcome to our podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. 

Adil: Thank you very much. 

Pete: Let’s get right into this. Christians often hear about, you know, the Abrahamic religions, meaning Islam, Christianity and Judaism. And maybe just speaking for yourself, as a Muslim, what does that phrase mean to you? I think we have to be careful not to paint too broad a brushstroke here because I don’t know about you, Adil, but I hate when people ask me, what do Christians think about X?

I’m like, are you kidding me? They’re all over the place. So, we assume there’s some diversity too in Islam. So, what does that phrase “Abrahamic religions” mean to you? 

Adil: Well, there’s a lot of assumptions about what that means, particularly outside of Islam among Jews and Christians. Muslims are painted as, you know, being part of one of the Abrahamic traditions, and Islam is presented as an Abrahamic faith.

But a lot of non Muslims aren’t really familiar with how Muslims would interpret that. And so, for Muslims, what this means is that it goes back to the story of Abraham himself. And there’s differing accounts, there’s conflicting accounts that end up coming together in the Islamic narrative. So, there’s the biblical account that we have of Genesis, and then there’s what we can refer to as, let’s say, ancient Arab folklore that Arabs in pre Islamic times passed on and told themselves about the story of Abraham. 

So, prior to the advent of Islam, Arabs were aware of Abraham, and in the story of Abraham, Abraham is married to Sarah, and according to the account in Genesis, Sarah cannot conceive. So, Sarah gives Abraham Hagar to conceive a child. And, according to the biblical account, Hagar is presented as her slave, and according to Arab folklore, she’s treated more as a wife, as another wife. And so Hagar and Abraham conceive a son, and according to the biblical account, Sarah becomes jealous. So, in the biblical account, when Sarah becomes jealous, she casts out Hagar and Hagar’s son Ishmael.

Abraham then proceeds to take Ishmael and Hagar out into the desert and leaves them out there. So, going back to the account from Arab folklore, this is seen as all part of God’s plan, and in the Islamic tradition, it’s embraced as, like, a sacrifice on all of their parts. So when Abraham leaves Hagar and Ishmael out in the desert, eventually they run out of supplies. And according to this account in Arab folklore, what happens is that Hagar notices that baby Ishmael is hungry. And baby Ishmael is crying, they have no more food, they have no more water. And so she leaves, puts baby Ishmael down into the desert, onto the ground, and starts looking around for some passersby or for some signs of life.

And there’s some hills adjacent to where she is. So, she runs up one of the hills and looks off into the distance to see if she can see any signs of life or any passersby that could help them. And when she did not see anyone, she ran down the hill and ran up the adjacent hill, the next hill. Again, looking off in the other direction, she could not see any signs of life. And so she repeated this, running back and forth between the hills seven times, and came back to baby Ishmael. And there she noticed, in the ground, in the dirt, where baby Ishmael had been crying and kicking, there was some moisture. So, she moves the dirt out with her hands, and notices that the water start to pool beneath baby Ishmael’s feet, where he was kicking.

And so this narrative that’s told in the Islamic tradition takes place geographically in the modern day city of Mecca in modern day Saudi Arabia. So Arabs believe, even in pre-Islamic times, that Ishmael was left here with Hagar, with his mother, by Abraham. And what happens then is when the water supply, you know, the water pools up, they can drink from the water and survive long enough so that when passersby do come by, they can trade the water for other supplies and continue to live.

And so the city of Mecca today, with the shrine in the center of Mecca, the Kaaba, is believed to be this place where Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael in the desert. And the main primary water source of the city of Mecca in the past was this natural well, the spring, that is still there today and people can drink from it when they visit the city of Mecca, known as Zamzam.

And so in that context, in that narrative, the Arabs believe that they descend through the lineage of Ishmael and that they see themselves, you know, Ishmaelites, as being Arab. And it’s from that Arab tradition that eventually Muhammad is born in the city of Mecca in Arabia in the sixth century. And so there’s this overlap of the side of Isaac going through Sarah and the side of Ishmael going through eventually to Islam that connects Muslims to Jews and Christians as an Abrahamic faith.

Jared: What about the Qur’an and its description of these relationships? Does it talk about the shared roots, uh, with Judaism and Christianity, or is shared roots even the right phrase there? 

Adil: The Qur’an in general is very ambiguous. It’s very broad, it’s very generic, it’s not terribly specific. So, it does refer to Jews, it refers to Christians, it refers to some other faiths. It also has a terminology of the people of the book, the Ahl al Kitab. And the people of the book are those who are believed to have received scripture prior to Muhammad, prior to Islam. And they are considered to be authentic recipients of revelation. Their scriptures were believed to have been valid in their time, but they are then superseded by the Islamic revelation is the way that the Qur’an presents it and the way Muslims would interpret it. So there are several verses in the Qur’an referring to the people of the book as people, you know, who are, share this commonality of monotheism. And Muslims, at least theologically speaking, would have used those commonalities to treat them differently from, for example, general polytheists.

Jared: Meaning, in the ancient world, if you believed in polytheism, believing in many gods, there were a lot of religious traditions in that day that would have been polytheistic. And so, within Islamic tradition, this idea of the people of the book would have made it distinct that there was a group of religions that would have been monotheistic and that would have been a way to designate. kind of the religious tradition that Islam would be similar to, at least as far as it relates to this idea of monotheism. 

Adil: Yeah, so it seems like this is something that developed a little bit through early Islamic history in the life of, uh, Muhammad. It seems like earlier on, perhaps, you know, relationships between Jews and Christians and early Muslims may have been better. And then as it progresses later on, there might have been a bit more antagonism a little bit later. But the primary adversaries, let’s say, in the Qur’anic narratives are the polytheists. So the people of the book are certainly considered different from the polytheists. They would be perceived as better than the polytheists.

But at the same time, as you get to later verses and later tradition, They still are not, you know, those that accepted Islam. So there is that distinction as well, however, they’re seen as being generally accepted monotheism that is, at least once upon a time, was part of, uh, the teachings that God had provided and Muslims would see them as having, you know, deviated somewhat from the path for various reasons.

Pete: One thought has come to mind here, Adil, that you recounted the story of Hagar and Ishmael. And it’s, I would say, a creative retelling of the biblical narrative. And it’s just worth observing, again, to maybe our listeners that, yeah, the New Testament does an awful lot of creative retelling of Abraham’s story to connect Abraham, even somewhat awkwardly, I would say, to issues of the gospel.

So, I, I always find that interesting how texts are used by later religious communities. But a question I have is maybe more for you. How do you feel about the phrase, “the shared roots with Judaism and Christianity?” Is that something that is helpful to you? Is it something that is maybe not helpful?

Adil: Um, I don’t see a problem with it. I think that anyone familiar with Islam would acknowledge those roots because they’re there. There’s no way around them. And not only the justification for Muhammad himself, but many of the narratives in the Qur’an are these, you know, retellings, as you put it, uh, creative retellings about previous prophets.

So much of the Qur’an reads like these moral narratives, uh, retelling some of these stories that are not necessarily as detailed as you’d find in biblical narratives. So, there’s lots of, of stories of, of Moses, lots of stories of, of Abraham, lots of stories of Jesus, of Mary. And so, when Muslims read the Qur’an, they’re inherently confronted with, you know, the roots of, the Jewish and Christian roots of the Islamic tradition. There’s no way around that. There’s no way of denying that it’s part of it.

Jared: What is the relationship between the Quran and the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament? I’m thinking here, again, within the Christian tradition, the Hebrew Bible sort of gets—Pete, you bringing the Gospels up, it’s sort of like carries it along or it’s included in and there’s obviously a lot of significant differences between what the Jews would call the Hebrew Bible and what we would call the Old Testament, but there’s also a significant amount of overlap.

So, kind of our holy book, if you will, our religious tradition kind of assumes it. I mean, even in the name New Testament, there’s an assumption that there’s an Old Testament. So, how, how does the Qur’an or how does Islam think of, I’m thinking probably of, of the Hebrew Bible as well, but maybe the New Testament too, relate to the Quran. Is it something that’s like, it’s pointing back to it all the time? It’s integrated to it, or what’s that relationship?

Adil: Yeah. I mean, it’s certainly there and I don’t know if it’s pointing back to the actual texts themselves, but rather the narratives within the text. And there’s an assumption that the readers or the audience listening to the recitation of the Qur’an has some familiarity with who these figures are.

So, it’s not very detailed. The Qur’an is a very short text. It’s one book, one volume. It’s something that’s frequently memorized by Muslims. If not in its entirety, then at least portions of it are frequently memorized by Muslims to be recited in prayer. And those narratives They basically set the foundation for everything that Muhammad, in his own mission, is trying to accomplish.

Pete: Well, you know, returning for a second to shared roots, and I asked the question for a reason, let me be more transparent. I know that, you know, Christians sometimes, they’re a little concerned about a term like that because it might sound like, you know, the characteristics of Christianity are going to be obliterated by the shared roots, like we’re all the same thing.

Is that a concern that you share as well? 

Adil: I mean, I don’t personally share that concern, but I think there are plenty of people who would share that concern, you know, whether they’re Muslim or Christian or, you know, identity, you know, it’s a very strong thing. And so people who might feel that their identity is threatened by looking into shared roots, I could certainly see them, you know, being a bit more anxious about how they see their own role in this bigger picture.

And it was different if you lived in a society where you had never met any Muslims. You know, perhaps it didn’t matter as much. But in a globalizing world today where, you know, in most urban city centers, they’re pretty diverse and there’s a lot of people. It becomes harder to avoid that.

Jared: Using that as a jumping off point, I’m curious to talk about something under the surface. I think it’s easy to talk about the ways that maybe Christianity or Islam are different on the surface. But I’m curious if there’s ways that Muslims conceive of religion differently than you’ve experienced maybe Christians conceiving of religion.

I ask that because we had a guest on not too long ago who talked about the idea, even, of a people of the book. As Christians, someone who grew up in a Christian tradition, it was very text heavy and so the Bible was this inerrant book and it was the guidebook of life and it painted the moral picture and everything we did went back to the book.

And again, that’s a particular Christian tradition. Other Christian traditions would think of it differently. But then, so then what happened was when I was exposed to other religious texts, I assumed that those adherents or people who practice that faith expression thought of their book in the same way, you know, even down to like the book of the dead, almost like that’s the scripture that is holder of all of the truth that you need and it’s inerrant.

And it’s, I’ve just realized in that interview how wrongheaded that was as a kid to think I was bringing a whole sense of religious experience and expression, not just to particular beliefs, but how we even hold beliefs. So I’m just curious, that’s maybe a big question, but are there ways that you, you’ve seen or encountered as a, a, a professor of religious studies, the conception of religion being different within these two traditions?

Adil: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I, I think, I mean, just sticking to the, the notion of texts itself and scripture and what that means in an Islamic context versus, for example, a Christian context or even a Jewish context, it’s, it is different. And so, in biblical traditions, there is this idea that the Bible is the Word of God. And in Islam, there’s also this tradition that the Qur’an is believed to be the Word of God. But even that understanding of the Word of God, I mean, they read very, very differently. So, Muslims believe that the Qur’an itself is literally, verbatim, the Word of God as revealed to the Prophet through the angel Gabriel.

That’s how they would define it. And so anything that appears in the Qur’an, Muslims would believe that it is literally the Word of God as it was revealed. It’s not retold. It’s not, you know, reworded. It’s not something that even when we get to questions of translation, That Muslims might be willing to translate, you know, the text of the Qur’an, uh, it’s not uncommon to find Muslims making the argument that the text of the Qur’an is the Arabic text as it was revealed, and that’s it.

Pete: And revealed, you mean dictated, more or less? 

Adil: Well—

Pete: Like each word specifically is revealed?

Adil: Each word is revealed as it is. And so, according to Muslims, when the angel Gabriel would bring these revelations to Muhammad, he memorized them. And he repeated them verbatim, is the way Muslims would see it. Unlike, When he was just speaking, you know, his own mind or interpreting his own, you know, interpretations, those narratives, sayings of Muhammad, you know, actions of Muhammad, those would all be collected into a different corpus of literature known as hadith.

And if you read Hadith traditions, in many ways, they read much more like the Bible. It’s, you know, accounts of what happened here, and what happened there, and what’s going on in this situation. The Qur’an doesn’t really read like that. So it very much assumes the voice of God for the most part, and Muslims distinguish it from other texts.

And with that in mind, there is this certain, you know, reverence for the Quran as being the word of God verbatim, you know, Muslims believing it to be the word of God verbatim as it was revealed to the prophet. 

Jared: Within that, is there a, so, you know, like I mentioned, I probably, I grew up in a Christian tradition that would have had a very similar understanding of what the Bible is, but then there would be many Christian traditions that would have a different view, even within, you know, kind of faith, they would consider themselves Christians and practicing of the Christian faith, but they would have a different view and they don’t hold to that kind of, uh, inerrantist or, or word for word revelatory from God understanding of the Bible.

Is there that diversity within the Islamic tradition as well, where you would have practicing Muslims who would maybe disagree with that particular stance, or is it pretty monolithic in terms of what the, the beliefs about the Qur’an are? 

Adil: So, part of the point that maybe I didn’t quite articulate as well is that when you look at the Bible, like, for example, if you just Google the Bible and you go to, you know, the first few websites that come up, they usually have different versions of the Bible that one can look at and read and understand. And people, depending on, you know, their personal affiliation in Christianity, might have their preferences about which ones they prefer and which ones they don’t prefer. And even with those biblical texts, it’s understood that they come, you know, they’re reconstructed into English and rendered into English from previous reconstructions that were done by, you know, Christian theologians in the past. 

With the Qur’an, you don’t really have that. You have one Qur’anic text that all Muslims would point to in the Arabic language. And there are, you know, there’s some variation in how some of those verses might be recited in terms of recitation, meaning pronunciation differences, potato, potatoe type things.

But other than that, the text is the same. 

Jared: Mm. Yeah, that’s helpful. I think that is a good clarification, but maybe I can also go a step back from there and ask my question in a different way, which, and Pete, feel free to say it better than what I’m going to try to articulate, that I would say certain Christian traditions would even say the Bible is important, but would step back from saying it’s in any literal way the Word of God.

It’s a tradition that’s passed down that has captured, you’d even say a revelation from God, but it’s expressed in human words and we pass this religious experience that people had of God down through the traditions and that’s what we have now. And so, there’s this broad umbrella of viewpoints on what is the Bible? Is it the Word of God? In what way is it the Word of God? Is it this divine revelation that is dictated and is actually literally the words of God, even though, yeah, as you say, it’s been translated and, you know, passed down in this way? And then there would be others who would say, well, it doesn’t seem like it’s that.

It’s this other thing. And all the way up to some people saying, no, it’s not, it’s not the word of God in any real sense. But that doesn’t mean, you know, that doesn’t exclude me from being a Christian. I just was curious if there is there that diversity of viewpoints within Islam? 

Adil: There certainly has been that type of diversity in Islamic tradition, particularly in early Islam, this was debated: You know, what did it mean to say that the Quran was the word of God? Was it literally God’s speech, because if it was God’s speech, then the assumption was that, you know, God is eternal, God predates time, pre-exists time, and so God’s speech as an attribute of God, therefore, is also something that precedes time itself.

And that makes the Qur’anic message essentially in being God’s speech like an attribute of God. And that was a position that eventually won out, as opposed to, for example, those that still believed that it was, uh, the Word of God, but that it was perhaps, you know, let’s say, revealed to the prophet and articulated in his tongue in the way that he would articulate it the Revelation. That was also a view, but that was not the dominant view that, that won out eventually. 

Pete: One quick point too, Adil, that you mentioned before that I just think it’s worth drawing out a little bit more of. It’s not just, in both Judaism and Christianity, it’s not just the translational issue. But it’s the very text of scripture itself is essentially reconstructed by scholars, and there are textual debates and arguments, and you don’t have that in Islam, correct?

Adil: This is something that, I mean, there’s certainly been plenty of attempts to try to poke holes in the classical Islamic narrative. Some are better founded than others, but there’s certain differences in just the way the texts come about. So, for example, in the Islamic tradition, the text, we’re talking about it as a text, as a book even today in our own conversation. However, this text was by and large oral tradition. It was something that was recited. It’s considered a recital. It’s something that Muslims would, would memorize by heart and convey and teach orally. And so, for that reason, the textual sources that we have you know, archaeologically, historically, that go back, the variations that have been found are still considered, at least within the Muslim community, as somewhat secondary as opposed to the oral tradition.

So when people go and study Qur’an, they would memorize specific recensions, and get those recensions correct, you know, accurate. 

Pete: Can you define recension? 

Adil: So, this would go back to some of these pronunciation type issues. So, when the text of the Qur’an was being written down initially, according to the Muslim historians, the script was not that specific.

The Arabic script was basically like a skeletal script. So, certain things were left out in the writing, in the, you know, the physical writing of the text. Things like, for example, voweling. So when you read the oldest texts of Qur’an that exist, and there are some old ones, you know, there’s this 7th century Qur’an, 8th century Qur’an that’s available to go and read, they’re not complete.

So, when you read a word, if you were reading it in English, with just consonants you could reconstruct it with different vowels, and that word might change. So, for example, if you have the letters B and T, and you decide, well, maybe the word is B A T, bat, you could read it as bat. However, If you came to the conclusion that the word was actually b e t, then you could read it as bet, and you needed to know the context of how to put it together.

So in terms of reconstructing the old text, it’s still heavily dependent upon the memorization and the oral tradition. That’s been used to reconstruct those recensions. And there’s certainly variation in the recensions, but as of now, there hasn’t been anything terribly damaging to the standard narrative that Muslims put out about the construction of the text, in my opinion.

I’m sure there are people who would disagree with that, but that’s not the best way to criticize the Islamic tradition, in my opinion. I think the reconstruction of the text is relatively recent. You know, we’re talking quite a few centuries after Christianity, you know, 7th century, 8th century, as opposed to 1st century.

It’s more recent, there’s some more information, and the textual sources that we have are reasonably consistent with oral tradition. 

Jared: Um, I did want to turn to this conversation around interreligious dialogue, because I do think, I can just speak for me, I’ve been a part of a lot of interfaith like events and things like that, and a lot of my Christian cohorts just are awkward and have a hard time even knowing how to talk to people of a different faith.

So, you mentioned you’ve written about unspoken expectations in Christian Muslim relationships. Can you talk more about that? What, from your perspective, what are these unspoken expectations and how does that impact conversation? 

Adil: Sure. I think in inter-religious dialogue, the expectation is that first and foremost, everyone will agree and get along and that it will somehow lead to a, you know, a more harmonious, peaceful, just, equitable society.

And I think dialogues in general are constructed in a way to ensure those outcomes take place. So when people are dialoguing, they often pick the dialogue partners that are most likely to make this happen. However, the argument that’s put forth, you know, the justification for the interfaith dialogue is that the reason for the dialogue is because of interreligious conflict, and the dialogue, you know, promotes peace. It creates peace. However, the people who are, are dialoguing are not the people who are in conflict with each other. So, the expectation from the very beginning, or from even before the beginning, is that the dialogue is set up in a way, uh, to ensure that liberal ideals, you know, pluralist ideals are met.

That’s what I was arguing. 

Pete: Uh, meaning what? Could you define that a little bit more clearly? Liberal ideals. 

Adil: Sure. So, for example, uh, the example was just given right now that some Christians may have struggled with talking to Muslims, you know, how to talk to Muslims in an interfaith dialogue. Why should that be a struggle?

It shouldn’t be a struggle unless there’s no commonality, or there’s no means for bridging the gap. But when you look at actual dialogues that take place, oftentimes, the hard issues are avoided. They’re not the type of thing that people look to to work through problems or to work through differences, or to say anything other than that we agree with coexisting with each other.

And so, for that reason, I feel like the dialogues are not, not very helpful in that way. I think it would be far better to actually talk to people, particularly if there are problems. You know, in Christian Muslim relations in particular, since 9/11, I mean, there’s, there’s been a big emphasis on dialogue, and the presumption is that it will help stop the violence, for example, from 9/11 that took place. But the type of people that, you know, may have sympathized with the 9/11 attackers are not the type of people that are invited to the dialogue.

It’s always your, you know, your local people from, from other religions who you already get along with, who you know, you can maybe, you know, share a nice meal with, who you can talk to, and, uh, agree that both of you want to coexist in the society. That’s not really a, a dialogue. 

Pete: Adil, is it, is it even reasonable to expect, let’s say, Christians have their own extremist groups, to have, you know, Christian nationalists or whatever, for example, wanting to sit down at a table?

Is it too much to expect to have, let’s say, extremist Islam sit down, right? I mean, they’re probably, I mean, the way we, we put it in our tradition and, you know, Jared can verify this. It’s like, they’re not interested in dialogue. They’re interested in monologue, right? So you, you only have, you can’t talk with everybody.

Adil: I think that, I mean, That’s a fair claim to make, right? I wouldn’t dispute that. However, if one’s going to make that claim, then there’s no point in dialoguing with people, like, you can’t also make the claim that, that the dialogue is, is what brings about peace. Because if the claim is also that the dialogue brings about peace, then you need to be talking to the people that you’re in conflict with.

And so whether they’re actually willing to sit down, you know, whether exclusivists in any tradition are willing to sit down, I think is besides the point.

Jared: In that case then what, what is a better way to engage in these, in these dialogues? Are, are you, are you saying we should be having more, uh, healthy conflict rather than sort of skirting around or just kind of focusing on the things that we aren’t going to fight about having good, healthy fights about where we disagree and how does that all work out or or so? What are you advocating for then? 

Adil: I think yeah, that’s a really good question I don’t I don’t know what I’m advocating for in particular I think I’m pointing out some of the the issues, you know, the flaws Initially at least I think that if one was to find a dialogue partner I don’t think that you can predefine the conclusion before the dialogue begins So, if there are people in your community of other religions that you’re unfamiliar with and you don’t know what they’re like and you don’t know their tradition, I mean, just talking to them, just dialoguing with them, initially, to get to know each other in terms of what, how they perceive themselves within the context of the community would be fine.

There are other things that could be done as well, and this is a common dialogue model that’s frequently referred to as well, of people collaborating on social issues that are considered to be part of the common good. So, for example, if your community happens to have a homelessness problem, then reaching out to other religious communities to help tackle that homelessness problem could be, you know, a form of collaboration and would result in some type of dialogue, you know, taking place. 

However, to just hold a theological dialogue and talk about, for example, some Christian concept, typically, and to say, well, let’s debate heaven and hell, let’s debate sin, let’s debate God, let’s debate whatever we want to debate. That’s not really a dialogue. 

Pete: It’s a lack of self awareness.

Adil: It’s a lack of self awareness. 

Pete: On the part of Christians, for example, who assume a certain topic of discussion is going to be valid for everyone. It may not be.

Adil: Sure. Absolutely. And I think you need some dialogue to know what would be valid in the first place. 

Pete: Oh, the irony. [Chuckles]

Jared: Good. Well, we are unfortunately at the, at the end of our time, but maybe this could be just kind of a final question of, of if there is this desire, I’m not thinking even of interreligious dialogue or getting to know your neighbor as much as it is I think some people are just genuinely curious about Islam and what Muslims believe and how they practice their faith, but don’t really have a good avenue for learning that. Do you have any good resources or next steps for people who just want to take a step and say, Hey, I just want to get myself educated here about my Muslim neighbors.

What would you recommend? 

Adil: Yeah, I think the internet is a great resource. I mean, that’s so generic, but it really is. I don’t know that you’d need to go out and find the Muslims necessarily, you know. You could do quite a bit of work reading about it online, listening to podcasts. I mean, these things are available to most people. And you could learn quite a bit without needing to, to do, uh, you know, enrolling in a university class or anything, you know, they’re pretty simple. 

Pete: Alright, well, Adil, thank you so very much for being with us today. And, uh, this was just a wonderful conversation. We thank you for taking the time. 

Adil: Thank you very much.

[Music signals beginning of Quiet Time segment]

Jared: Now for Quiet Time…

Pete: …with Pete and Jared. 

Jared: Alright Pete, I was trying to even wrack my brain about this. We’ve wanted to have a Muslim scholar on for quite some time. Why? Why was that an important thing for us? And this is not a leading question. We didn’t come up with this question beforehand to get a certain answer. I’m asking this for the first time in real time. 

Pete: Okay, so the first time we started talking about having a Muslim on Bible for Normal People years ago and now Faith for Normal People, I immediately just perked up. And I’ve been trying to think of why that’s the case. And I think it’s this, that I want to express my faith in a way that can embrace everything and not build walls between myself and other people. The world’s gotten much smaller as we know. And, you know, I’m very much a minority in how I think about God, I think, in the world around us. And, and I think having someone on who represents a major world religion that frankly, I barely understand is for me an act of duty in a good sense of the word.

You’re not like, “Oh, I gotta do it.” It’s like, no, I should do this. Right. And—

Jared: It’s like to be a good global citizen. 

Pete: Yeah, basically, that’s exactly what it is to be a good global citizen. This little tiny planet we live on, I always think of Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot thing, you know, and just like, yeah, I mean, why are we killing each other? Why are we hating each other? And why can’t we talk about our differences and, and, and maybe our similarities? And along those lines too, Jared, there’s a gentleman in the Episcopal church I go to, an elderly man, who said he’s just at this point in his life, he’s just interested in trying to understand what unites all of us when we talk about God, I’m like, you know, yeah, okay. And yeah, but this is distinct. Yeah. Every religion is distinct, but is there anything that can unify the people on the planet? And I know that would have made us both nervous I think, myself, maybe 20, 25, 30 years ago, and maybe you, you know, a little more recently because you’re younger than I am, but. But now it’s like, no, this is where this has to go. 

Jared: Well, then I want to talk about that because I think for me, when you say we would have been uncomfortable with unity talk, I want to understand what’s the system underneath that. What’s the system of belief why we would be uncomfortable? And I think reflecting on this episode, it’s that part of the value of my faith was based in its exclusivity.

Pete: Right, exactly right. 

Jared: Its uniqueness. I don’t know how many times, I think I can speak for you because I’m sure you get it more than me. The question is asked of us, yeah, but thanks for bringing all this up, but if we take account of everything you’ve said about the Bible and how it came to be and all of these things, what makes Christianity unique?

Followed by, then why be Christian? Because it is so ingrained to think that the value of being Christian is that it is unique, and not just unique, but uniquely right. And I don’t think, if you don’t deal with those underlying assumptions, then no wonder you’re going to protect the exclusivity and the rightness of it over against other religions and other people.

So I think we have to deal with this like, because sometimes it’s, it just is a remnant. You may not even be actively thinking that way until you run across these things that sort of, by just attrition, you run out of things that make it unique, and then you’re like, all of a sudden left with this pit in your stomach of, oh, well, then why am I Christian if it’s not unique?

Pete: Wait, no, the thing is, one thing that A.J. Levine said to me once, we were talking about this like 10 years ago, I had her read a copy of, what’s the first book I wrote? Oh, The Bible Tells Me So, right? 

Jared: Mm hmm. 

Pete: So, and she had some critiques of it, but we talked about this, and And she said, you know, don’t say Christianity is unique, say it’s distinct.

That’s a little bit different language, and I think that’s very helpful. And you know, what makes Christianity distinct doesn’t mean it can’t be distinct alongside other expressions of faith and that come from their own part of the world. I mean, you know, I think all the time, had I been born someplace else and under different influences, what would I be?

I’d be believing something else thinking everybody else is wrong. And to me, that’s the dynamic. Like, why do we have that mentality? And I think Christianity has been particularly subject to that kind of thinking because of certain things we read in the New Testament. You know, it’s, you know, “every knee shall bow to Christ,” you know, and, and maybe that’s the, what do I know? But I’m saying, again, that can still be true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t inherent eternal value in other people and how they think and how they’re raised and where they come from. And, you know, one thing I’ve come to peace with too is whatever, let’s say Christianity’s right.

I’m probably right 5 percent of what it is, you know, and no more than that. I just, I mean, what do I know? And I’m putting my thoughts together and trying to make sense of things and trying to be coherent. And, and it’s very difficult. And along the way, my own self gets in the way all the time. And, you know, then to talk about other religious faiths, it’s like, This is just above my pay grade, you know, it’s not my job to do that.

And I don’t, I have no interest in doing that because I want to live at peace and be, you know, I do want to be a good world citizen. 

Jared: Right. But again, if your worldview says that not only are other people wrong, that Christianity is uniquely correct, but that being wrong has eternal, like, torturous consequences.

Pete: Right. And I think what happens here, Jared, is that people who think like that can sometimes stop thinking like that by engaging with other human beings. 

Jared: Yep. 

Pete: You know, and that’s, that’s absolutely been it for me. And I think that’s why I was so happy to have Adil come on the podcast. Cause I’m like, I’m going to get a chance to engage with someone who thinks differently than I do about pretty much everything. I mean, I just, it was, it was beautiful to hear him talk. 

Jared: Do you think it is the personality differences as to the chicken or the egg? Because I do think some people will spend their life having experiences with others and not gain the empathy or the understanding of what you’re talking about.

They will continue to see them as someone who needs saving from eternal conscious torment and they are a project and we are unique, they could spend their whole life within that framework. So, what needs to change first is their beliefs, their theology, and then when they change those beliefs, they can start to see that.

And I think for other people, it’s the other way around. I think it’s their empathy does overtake and it does kind of lead, they lead with that. And that starts to topple some of the theological underpinnings. 

Pete: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, people will navigate that journey, if I can use the metaphor, you know, in different ways.

Um, I think people who have, will have difficulty will resist that. I think that is also a function of their psychology and their sociology and we all have it. It’s not, that’s not condescending to anyone, but I, you know, I think some people just aren’t as easily constituted to have a flexible worldview or to allow their worldview to be challenged.

But in some cases, it’s like so much happens. You just, you can’t continue as you were. And the more you entrench, I mean, that can bring about some illness too. I think, yeah, you know, that’s just my opinion, but. So yeah, it does take, there are different types of people. It takes all types and, and, but this is about us, right? [Chuckles]

And how, how we’re processing things and having a Muslim like Adil, especially on the podcast. It was, I thought it was a wonderful experience. I’d like to do more of that, but focus on maybe specific topics, you know, things to talk about, like even the nature of God. I’d love, I’d love to talk to someone from other faith traditions to talk about the nature of God and how they see it personally, and how maybe they represent their own religious tradition. 

Jared: Yeah. 

Pete: Maybe one day. 

Jared: Sounds great. 

Pete: We got a whole podcast, we can do whatever we want.

[Outro music signals end of episode]

Jared: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you want to support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One, if you just want to give a little money, go to 

Pete: And if you want to support us and want a community, classes and other great resources, go to

Jared: And lastly, it. always goes a long way if you just wanted to rate the podcast, leave a review and tell others about our show. In addition, you can let us know what you thought about the episode by emailing us at 

Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of Faith for Normal People. Don’t forget, you can also catch our other show, the Bible for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Prescott, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Jessica Shao, and Lauren O’Connell.

[Outro music ends]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.