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Lamin Sanneh is a rarity. A native of Gambia, West Africa, he grew up in a Muslim home. As a teenager, Sanneh decided to convert to Christianity. Ironically, the liberal Methodist missionary to whom he announced his decision reacted with embarrassment, not joy, and asked the young man to reconsider. Sanneh did reconsider, felt "inexorably driven" to the gospel, and talked the missionary into baptizing him.

To compound the ironies, Sanneh proceeded to earn a doctorate in Islamic history even as he studied Christian theology. Throughout his spiritual pilgrimage, he maintained close ties with his Muslim family. A professor first at Harvard, then at Yale, Sanneh brings singular qualifications to interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Sanneh speaks openly about the guilt complex of the West. Like the Methodist missionary, some Western Christians feel embarrassed when they encounter converts from Asia or Africa. "But when I have repeated for them my personal obstacles in joining the church, making it clear that I was in no way pressured into doing so, they have seemed gratefully unburdened of a sense of guilt."

In Europe, Sanneh senses a lingering guilt complex over colonialism. Strangely enough, he points out, from the Muslim perspective "colonialism did more to aid Islam than all jihads put together." Queen Victoria's representatives in Africa saw local imams and muftis as a socially stabilizing force and built up their power, even to the extent of passing laws against conversion to Christianity. In countries such as Nigeria, Muslims protested the British withdrawal and granting of independence.

In addition, Western Christians feel deep guilt over the Crusades, even though, as Sanneh says, Arab historians give the Crusades ...

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July 2007

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