Can We Talk About Islam by Tony Payne
Here are three reasons to read this book:
1 It’s short
This book is short. Super short. Don’t get me wrong - it is good to read long books. But sometimes life means a short book is in order. And at 54 pages this one still packs a punch. If we gave books a value-per-page score, ‘Can we talk about Islam?’ would be 9.5/10.
2 It’s about Islam (and how to talk about it)
I am no expert on Islam. To be honest (to my shame) this is the first book I’ve read specifically on how to talk about Islam. And it was so clear and so helpful! In his third chapter Tony Payne summarises the key teachings of Islam, comparing them to Christianity. For example, in Christianity, the problem is our rebellion against God (sin) and hence the solution is atonement to restore a personal relationship with God. Yet in Islam the problem is ignorance or weakness and so the solution is guidance through the prophets (particularly Muhammad) in order to enable submission to Allah.
There’s also a really helpful summary of the diverse strands of Islam. It left me feeling much better equipped to avoid caricatures which depict extremist groups like ISIS as either representative of all of Islam or none of it.
3 It’s not just about Islam
The hidden gem of this book is chapter two – ‘Why don’t secular humanists want to talk?’ Don’t know what a secular humanist is? As Payne points out, chances are they are your neighbour, boss, dentist and cousin. Secular humanism is the air we breathe. This chapter is an incredibly helpful discussion of what secular humanism is and why secular humanists don’t want to talk about religion – because to them ‘whatever religious belief you have is a matter of personally chosen faith and values and opinion’ (p12). Payne explores and explains why they think this using a really clear illustration (involving a disappearing staircase!) which he admits to nicking from Francis Schaeffer. Well hats off to Mr Schaeffer because it’s a really helpful illustration! I read this chapter thinking – ‘that is what my friends think…ahhhh….that makes sense of why they think that’. It also was also helpful to see ways that I also can slip into a secular humanist mindset.
In the final chapter Payne considers how to talk about Islam with Muslims and also with secular humanists. Part of me wishes that this chapter was longer, with concrete examples and conversations included…but as I said at the start – this book is short!
About this month’s contributor, Annabel Nixey
I'm a Sydney-bred, Canberra-newbie who's still getting used to the idea of four distinct seasons (yes, in winter it is chilly!). My favourite genres are… for movies - period dramas, for books - biographies and for coffee - tea. I love trying new recipes and the occasional crafty exploit.