New Dictionary to Explain Christian-Muslim Relations

A is for Allah, J is for Jesus.

And then it gets a little tricky. M is for Messiah but the word holds a different meaning for Christians than it does for Muslims.

A new dictionary in the works may shed light on the similarities and differences between two of the world's major religions – Christianity and Islam.

Christian-Muslim Relations Dictionary is slated for release in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The four-year project is being spearheaded by Martin Forward, executive director of the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action at Aurora University. He will lead two editors and about 60 contributors.

Religious scholars from around the globe will be asked to contribute to the proposed single-volume book.

The compilation of entries on Christian-Muslim relations will follow the format to a similar project Forward contributed to – the 2006 A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations.

The book will consist of around 360,000 and up to 900 alphabetically-arranged entries on people, places, theologies, denominations, scripture and other core texts, the Tribune reported.

"The dictionary will act as a focus for the discipline of Christian-Muslim relations internationally," Forward said, according to an AU news release.

"As such, we hope it will develop understanding of positions both within and between Christianity and Islam."

The roots of the two religions are among the distinctions to be documented in the book.

Forward told the Tribune that Christianity began about 2,000 years ago while Islam began 600 years later. Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus, who Christians believe is the son of God. Islam is based on the recordings of Muhammad, who Muslims believe is a prophet of Allah – the Arabic word for God.

Christians and Muslims hold very different views of Jesus, whom both believe existed.

"For Christians, Jesus is the suffering Messiah who dies on the cross and is resurrected," Forward explained to the Chicago Tribune. "For Muslims, Jesus is not primarily a suffering figure. Muslims don't believe Jesus died on the cross, and if he did die, he wasn't resurrected and isn't the son of God. Muslims don't believe God has a son."

The Muslim account of Jesus' life was presented in a recent film by an Iranian filmmaker entitled "The Messiah." In the film, Jesus did not die on the cross but was replaced by Judas Iscariot, who transformed in speech and appearance to look like Jesus.

Forward noted that in mystical Islam, Jesus is described as the "seal of saints," meaning that he is the most important prophet in regard to the mystical experience, according to the Tribune. But in traditional Islam, Muhammad is called the "seal of the prophets," Forward told the paper.

While the book will highlight the differences between the two religions, Forward said it is intended for "constructive rather than destructive ends," according to the release.

In addition to Forward, editors of the volume are Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islam and director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; and Rashied Omar, a research scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.

Omar told the Tribune that there is a "a phenomenal growth of inter-religious dialogue and outreach between Christians and Muslims across the United States and the world" since the 2001 September attacks.

"This inter-religious dialogue movement is found all over the globe," Alexander also commented. "But it doesn't get much press."

The new book will also include entries on art, cinema and feminism.

Contents will include an introductory essay, bibliography, and appendix material such as a chronology.

The Henry Luce Foundation of New York City recently awarded Aurora University a $30,000 grant to create the dictionary of Christian-Muslim relations. The organization was established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents who were missionary educators in China.