Christian W. TROLL, Dialogue and Difference: Clarity in Christian-Muslim Relations. Tr. David Marshall. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009. 184 pp., $34.00, paperback, ISBN: 978-1-57075-856-0.
Reviewed by Patrick J. HAYES, University of Makeni, Sierra Leone

Since 1961, the Jesuit Christian Troll has been one of the most active academics working today in Christian-Muslim dialogue, teaching on two continents, including at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome where he also served as a consultor for the Commission on Religious Relations with Muslims of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He was also founding editor of the journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. Today he is a research scholar at the Sankt Georgen Hochschule in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. There he has collaborated with his translator on other projects (see, e.g., and devoted his attention to the promotion of dialogue. The present volume is a translation of the author’s Unterscheiden um zu klären: Orientierung im christlich-islamischen Dialog (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder Verlag GmBH, 2008), which is itself a compilation of previously published essays.

While special emphasis is given to the situation of Islam in Europe, the analysis of the current state of dialogue between Christians and Muslims is global in scope. What is vital for ongoing and fruitful dialogue, Troll insists, is the sobering honesty to which the two parties must adhere. Both have to acknowledge their own faults and be willing to lay them before the other for full inspection. This, and only this, serves to advance the dialogue and becomes the measure for mutual respect and understanding. There is no room for sugar coating one’s own self-reflection and proselytism is to be excluded. Removing these obstacles, he argues, goes a long way toward shaping attitudes that bring about a proper sharing in the common good of societies whether or not their populations are predominantly Muslim, as in parts of the Middle East or South Asia, or Christian, as in the European or North American context. In the end, equality in dignity is based on truthfulness. It sets aside all pretense toward compelling anyone to believe one way or the other, least of all through legislative means.

Such propositions must be seen in light of certain movements and population trends in European society. Troll uses the hard case of the admission of Turkey to the European Union to illustrate the complexity of applying his theses to lived reality. But the wider ramifications of his proposal—how do we get along?—have resonance in other contexts, which is one of the great merits of the book for use in college and seminary classrooms.

So much of the Christian challenge of living alongside Muslim neighbors is the importance of coming to know the Muslims in their midst, that is, the local dialogue partner. Establishing who speaks for whom is somewhat thorny, however. For instance, Troll notes that a mere twenty percent of Muslims in Germany who affiliate with a mosque and of these a smaller percentage is of Turkish origin. Of these, a quarter of Turkish Germans are from the Alevite community who are themselves different from Sunnis and the Twelver Shi’ites. In introducing both the ethnic and sectarian elements, is the dialogue somehow diluted or otherwise diminished the more concentrated one becomes? Who then speaks for Islam as a whole? Of course, the example has no limits. One could apply a similar dynamic in Brooklyn so that it is quite challenging to get a handle on anything approaching a definitive Islamic statement in matters related to belief or spiritual outlook or political affinity.

However, Troll is hardly put off by this and sees particularity as one of the great benefits of coming to know the other. Partners in dialogue are enriched, he contends, in life (openness to a “neighborly spirit”); in action (collaborating for integral development and liberation of all); in theological exchange (the mutual appreciation of spiritual values); and in religious experience (where sages, “rooted in their own religious traditions,” share the techniques of prayer and contemplation, faith, and ways of searching for God). Troll adroitly engages the Qu’ran, frequently calling out some of the more technical Arabic phrasing and expertly translating it into a modern idiom. Always the practical outcome is before him and the realism with which he approaches dialogue, especially post-9/11, is commendable. In short, this tightly argued treatise from a seasoned veteran offers a way that can remove barriers and sets a foundation for a profitable encounter between Christian and Muslim alike.

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