cover image ROMAN CATHOLICS AND SHI'I MUSLIMS: Prayer, Passion, and Politics

ROMAN CATHOLICS AND SHI'I MUSLIMS: Prayer, Passion, and Politics

James A. Bill, . . Univ. of North Carolina, $27.50 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-8078-2689-8

The meeting of Muhammad Khatami, president of Shi'ite Iran, and the Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II in March 1999 symbolized to coauthors Bill and Williams (both professors at the College of William and Mary) the vast similarities between the two faiths these men represent. Going beyond the numerous similarities in doctrine, this uneven book quickly moves to a discussion of virtually identical practices, such as passion plays (for Roman Catholics commemorating Jesus' crucifixion and for Shi'ite Muslims enacting the gruesome murder of the Prophet's grandson at Karbala). Some readers may be surprised to learn of the positive influence and contribution of Muslim philosophers to their Catholic counterparts, and to discover incidents of beneficial cultural exchange. Each chapter is loaded with stimulating gems, exploring, for example, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatima as the Islamic counterpart to the Virgin Mary, or the Iranian Revolution as a "classic" class-warfare revolt on par with the French and Russian Revolutions. The book's few faults are notable. The emphasis on Shi'ism inappropriately leaves Sunni Islam, practiced by 90% of the world's Muslims, looking inadequate, disorganized and warlike. Further, as the authors admit, a number of the similarities explored here are in fact correspondences between Roman Catholicism and Islam in its entirety, not just Shi'ism. The book's dry tone is unfortunate; often the authors note being personal witnesses to particular events of religious significance, yet provide a banal description. Finally, the theoretical and actual treatment of women in both faiths deserves greater discussion. (Mar.)