“the islamic interfaith initiative” reviewed in “reading religion”

The Islamic Interfaith Initiative

No Fear Shall Be upon Them

By: John Andrew Morrow

475 Pages

  • ISBN: 9781527573314
  • Published By: Cambridge Scholars
  • Published: October 2021
  • $97.39 from publisher

The Islamic Interfaith Initiative: No Fear Shall Be upon Them is an encyclopedic work that takes the reader on an extraordinary journey through the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional life of John Andrew Morrow. Its sixty-six chapters cover a wide range of themes and subjects which pertain, in various ways, to Islam and Muslims. Amongst them, the Covenants of Prophet Muhammad, undoubtedly, occupy a place of central importance. However, in reviewing this work it is important to note that it is not structured like a book on one or more specific topics. It is a compendium of miscellaneous writings, which Morrow describes in the preface as “a prime example of spiritually-inspired and morally motivated intellectual activism.” 

The above description points to key characteristics of the book, which, like much of its author’s work, is grounded in profound spirituality, impassioned ethical awareness, and keen intellectual inquiry. Its contents are aimed at inspiring reformist proactive engagement with challenges, particularly those affecting contemporary Muslims.

Morrow is widely recognized as one of the foremost scholars of Islam whose writings are based on exhaustive, meticulous research. His phenomenal learning and painstaking investigative capability are evident in The Islamic Interfaith Initiative, which addresses specialists as well as the general public. In my judgment, the primary objective of this work—excluding autobiographical narratives—is to educate its Muslim and non-Muslim readers by challenging them to critique their own beliefs and actions.

Morrow challenges those who identify as Muslims, many of whom belong to Islamic groups that condemn other Islamic groups. He challenges non-Muslims who practice and promote Islamophobia. He challenges Westerners who do not distinguish between true followers of Islam and criminal groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, whose actions are in total violation of Islamic principles. He challenges the U.S. government, which condemns those who recruit and indoctrinate young Muslims to become religious extremists while its own military actively trains white supremacists. He challenges American law enforcement agencies that treat US-born terrorists differently from other terrorists in its custody.

In my view, one of Morrow’s primary objectives in challenging Muslims and non-Muslims to engage in reformist thinking is to enable them to dismantle the religious, cultural, and ideological barriers that separate them. His approach derives from his understanding of his own background and identity and what that means in the context both of the world as he sees it and of his vision of what it ought to be. The roots of his strong commitment to promoting religious, ethical, and spiritual pluralism and interfaith/intercultural collaboration lie in his personal life-experience.

Morrow is a descendant of French Canadians and the Metis Nation and was raised Roman Catholic. Starting a self-study of world religions at the age of 13, he concluded at the age of 16 that “Islam, submission and surrender to the One, was my home. It was a journey to the center of my own soul” (Dalil Foundation Magazine, “Interview with Dr. John Andrew Morrow,” Shafaqna, 2018). Tawheed (Oneness of God), the cardinal principle of Islam, was in accord with what his indigenous ancestors had also believed, namely “that there is one God, the Great Spirit” who had “created the world in harmony and that we, human beings, are but a part of the whole.”

Morrow realized very early in life that he was not a Christian since he did not believe that Jesus was divine. However, he gratefully acknowledges what his Roman Catholic upbringing taught him. “I learned to love and worship God. I learned about the prophets and messengers of God…I learned morals and ethics. I learned Natural Law and Canon Law” (“Interview with Dr. John Andrew Morrow”). 

Morrow, who owns and values the different components of his religious heritage, has found support for his belief-system in core Qur’anic teachings. In the opening Surah of the Qur’an, God—the fountainhead of his faith—is described as Rabb al-‘alameen (The Creator and Sustainer of all peoples) whose Mercy and Guidance extends to all creatures. The title of The Islamic Interfaith Initiative contains the words “No Fear Shall Be upon Them,” which are taken from the following Qur’anic verse:

Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear shall be upon them, and neither shall they grieve. (Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 62; an almost identical verse is Surah 5: Al -Ma’idah: 69). 

What is made explicit in the above text is that all who believe in God and the Last Day (when they we will be held accountable for their actions during life) and who act righteously will be rewarded by their Rabb (Sustainer). Accordingly, Morrow advocates reverence of all people of faith who do good deeds irrespective of their religious affiliation.

This is not the first time Morrow has advanced this position. For instance his phenomenal work The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World  (Angelico Press, Sophia Perennis, 2013) has focused attention on Prophet Muhammad as supreme model of religious graciousness, who offered his personal protection to Christians and other non-Muslims living under his rule to secure their safety and welfare. Covenants was a monumental achievement, considering how the Prophet of Islam has been maligned in the West, which inherited the fear and hatred of Islam predominant in Christendom since the first appearance of Muslims in Europe.

Like Morrow’s magnum opus, The Islamic Interfaith Initiative will advance his objective of bringing people of different religions, cultures, and ideologies closer to one another in a spirit of unity, amity, and collaboration. It may also pave the way toward attaining his goal of breaking down walls separating the three major groups in the Islamic world—Sunnis, Shi‘as and Sufis—and paving the way to a unified Muslim ummah—the global Muslim community.

Riffat Hassan is professor emerita in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

Date Of Review:

July 30, 2022