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The Tenth Parallel

New book reveals how Muslims and Christians meet, clash and find peace around the globe

The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam
By Eliza Griswold
(Farrar, Straus And Giroux) $31

Eighty percent of the world’s Muslims live outside the Middle East, with half of them living along the 10th parallel. Eliza Griswold, prizewinning journalist and poet, masterfully narrates the stories of individuals who live some 1,100 kilometres north of the equator.

Griswold spent seven years travelling in Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. These pages reflect her experiences of the people and provide an education on life in the Global South that is at once illuminating and empathetic.

Christianity and Islam meet, and often clash, along this parallel. In Nigeria, we are introduced to two fundamentalists (a Muslim and a Christian) who tried to kill one another for at least a decade. While each still believes the other to be hopelessly lost, they have tired of the violence and are now seeking to deprogram those they were largely responsible for militarizing. Griswold concludes that the work of these two remains “ultimately mysterious,” an enigma that can’t “be explained away by self-interest, or anything else of this world.”

Her travels in Indonesia reveal a country of “Islams” with internal conflicts that indicate the clash within religions is at least as important as the clash between them.

In the Philippines, Griswold tells the story of Martin and Gracia Burnham, Christian missionaries kidnapped by a Muslim extremist and held in the jungles for most of a year. Martin died there, shot during a rescue attempt. While nearly starving to death, Gracia struggled to survive by working to love her kidnappers, focusing on their poverty in order to forgive their personal failings. As Griswold puts it, “She’d focused on their shared humanity.”

In these pages, a reader encounters Griswold’s own struggles to understand faith. As the daughter of a liberal Episcopalian bishop, she grew up wondering what faith could “cost” her and asking herself “how it was that smart people could believe in God.” The journeys chronicled here have taught her something about the costs of faith, and also of the terrible abuses evident when faith attaches too much to power or self-interest. But, in the end, she offers a kind of testimony: “I had met many believers . . . and every time I thought I had them classified, they slipped out of my easy distinctions.”

In most cases, the people she met had moved “far beyond the binary divisions between Saved and Damned, Good and Evil, Us and Them.” In this book, Griswold speaks of hope along the fault lines, a message all of us desperately need to hear.

Mark Toulouse is the principal of Emmanuel College in Toronto.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
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