Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Walking in Islam's sandals. A book review I did for seminary.

In April of 1993, British electronic band Depeche Mode had a hit single with “Walking in My Shoes,” a song about experiencing life through someone else’s eyes. If the listener would just walk a day in someone else’s shoes they would face the same temptations and come to the same conclusions that the other person did. “Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” may be a clichéd phrase but at its core is a real nugget of truth. It is with this truth in mind that Dr. Nabeel T. Jabbour writes his book on walking a mile in a Muslim’s shoes entitled, “The Crescent Through The Eyes of The Cross.” In this book, Dr Jabbour takes the reader into the mind of Muslims and exams the world around us. He challenges western preconceived notions about Islam and current affairs. Peeling back the mystery that has surrounded Islam in the west, he confronts the reader often giving cause to pause in argument with both the author and the reader, himself. Using composite characters of Islamic people he has met and known along with scripture from both the Koran and Holy Bible, Dr Jabbour succeeds in pushing Christians to “go beyond mere tolerance to a passion for Muslims.”
Dr. Jabbour begins the introduction of the book with a saddening description of a sculpture from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This piece of art had two interrelated scenes back to back, separated by a door. On one side was a Native American man in a fierce snowstorm, knocking at the door of a log cabin and pleading for refuge and warmth. On the other side of the door was a warm room with a terrified mother holding a shotgun while the woman’s frightened three-year-old daughter clung to her dress. The terrified mother was refusing to open the door.
This sculpture is saddening because fear and distrust have kept the woman from giving the Native American the one thing he needs most. This sculpture is a metaphor of the relationship many Christians have with Muslims. In the west, Islam is looked upon with a sense of fear and distrust. This fear and distrust have kept many Christians from taking the gospel to Muslims in sincere and effective ways. In this book Dr. Jabbour attempts to move the reader from fear and distrust into love and passion. To go beyond mere tolerance into understanding, will help Christians become effective in ministering to their Muslim friends.
Dr. Nabeel T. Jabbour is an Arab born-again Christian who was born in Syria and lived in Egypt as a missionary with The Navigators, “ an interdenominational, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people navigate spiritually, to know Christ and to make Him known as they look to Him and His Word to chart their lives.” In addition to living among Muslims for many years, He has a doctorate in Islamic Studies. Drawing from these experiences as well as working with Muslim international students who have come to U.S. study, he has come to know and love many Muslims. He admits that a few have become his heroes including Rabi’a al- ‘Adawiyya, a slave whose famous prayer led many women to be mentored by her. In order to convey in a quickly and timely manner how Muslims feel about a number of issues, he creates a composite character of many of his Muslim friends. Ahmad Abdul Mun’im is a fictitious person but what he has to say is very real and timely. Beginning with a story about meeting Ahmad after a service that Dr. Jabbour spoke at, the reader is introduced to an Arabic student in a PhD program.
Ahmad has a small family who gave up many things to help him come to the U.S. He is very curious to learn more about America and have a multi-cultural experience while in school. After 9/11, it become harder for him to fit in and many people were either downright mean to him or just suspicious of his motives. Ahmed had met some good people who invited him to church, and he became interested in the Bible. Ahmed has many questions and it is through his eyes that the reader gets to know and love the people of Islam.
Through the course of friendship with Ahmad, Dr Jabbour is able to listen and understand Ahmad’s position. Many people are not able to understand why Muslims do not immediately become Christians after hearing the gospel. Ahmad in his last meeting with the author prepares a written statement that expresses exactly how he feels about Christians, Christianity, and the West. In his own words Ahmad explains:
One of those who tried to convert me asked me to explain to him why is so difficult for me to convert and get integrated into Christianity. My response to him was, “There are three major reasons: Your message; you, the messenger; and me, the receiver.”
Throughout the rest of the book, Dr. Jabbour unpacks two of the three areas while leaving most of “the messenger” to the addendum, which he will send to anyone in an email who has read the book.
First, Ahmad gives a brief description of each category. One of his greatest problems understanding Christianity is its vocabulary and content. Even when reading the Bible in Arabic it seems foreign to Ahmad because it uses distinct Christian terminology. He wonders why Christians expect Muslims to learn all of the Christian vocabulary first in order to receive the message. Another problem that Ahmad has with the message is the use of legal jargon. Christians when explaining the gospel only use a paradigm of guilt and righteousness. While this is in no means a wrong view it is not the only view of salvation in the gospel. Ahmad asks if the gospel has anything to say about shame, honor, cleanliness, and power. Ahmad also feels disrespected by Christians who make assumptions about Islam. Christians compare Muhammad to Christ and the Koran to the Bible. Christians who present the message to Islam do so with a skewed view of Islam. Ahmad’s last problem with the message is that He thinks that the Koran is more reliable than the Bible because the Koran is the exact word of God dictated to men. “Why should I leave my superior message and replace it with an inferior message that relies on a less reliable book?” he asks.
Many readers may then be faced with some criticism that is hard to swallow. Ahmad then describes why he has a problem with the messenger. For most Muslims, Christianity is synonymous with the Western world. Because of this correlation, past and present circumstances between the west and east present a huge obstacle in receiving the gospel. Ahmad begins with the Crusades. Many readers may find themselves arguing with Ahmad’s recollection of history, but to argue would miss the point. Dr. Jabbour is quick to point out that Ahmad is presenting his view and it may or may not be correct but these views are still obstacles to overcome in reaching Ahmad for Jesus. Ahmad believes that Western Christian countries sent wave after wave of armies into the Islamic east on Christian jihad. He also compares the current U.S. Middle East policy with those same crusades. He wonders, “In your neo-Crusader attitude have you unleashed Islamic fanaticism and escalated violence?” Adding fuel to the fire of crusades was the period of time when European powers colonized much of the Islamic world. This period still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of Muslims and many wonder if the War of Iraq is another attempt at colonizing the Middle East.
Ahmad also paints a very different picture then the Western media of suicide bombers and Palestinians fighters. He has a hard time looking past the apparent contradiction of support for Jewish men who join the army and fight and the rejection of Palestinian men who use their only available weapon, their body, to fight. He even compares them to Samson. Ahmad then asks, “Why do you feel theologically closer to the Jews than to the Muslims?” For many his questions will be hard to bare. Deep convictions that many Christians hold are challenged. For example, Ahmad does not separate church from state. In Islam it is church and state. For Ahmad to accept Christianity he feels that he must accept capitalism, democracy, and many other values that the west hold dear to. He especially does not like what he views as immorality that is presented in the name of freedom of press.
In the last segment of Ahmad’s written statement he discusses himself, the receiver. Ahmad almost sadly asks why he could be expected to leave his current culture and people. He would feel like a traitor and would be ostracized from his family and friends. He expects that he would have to give up his culture and appreciation for Arabic art. He feels like being asked to convert is being asked to change his name. He asks, “How did you feel, as Americans, when you heard about the American man, John Walker Lindh, who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan and took a Muslim name?” Ahmad ends his discussion with saying that he would be committing high treason. After this meeting with Ahmad, Dr. Jabbour is left speechless and with many questions. Dr. Jabbour promises to go into greater detail in further chapters but first he will have the reader meet Ahmad’s father and see the struggles he faces.
Ahmad’s father brings an even different prospective. He is a semi-retired physician from Egypt who strives on keeping up with the world events around him. He his views have grown and changed over time into a disturbing direction. In the beginning, he was opposed to radical fundamentalism but as events have changed his opinion has too. Ahmad’s father is disturbed by recent trends of globalization and the growth of American power. While he does see some good in American values, he is fearful of the freedom of expression without limits. He watches television and is bombarded with programs attacking Islam and the prophet Mohammad. Because he is not an American citizen, he does not get to vote in American elections. This leaves him with a sense of helplessness as American leaders decide policies that many Middle Eastern countries must follow. To Ahmad’s father, it is no wonder why some people have begun taking up arms and using their bodies as weapons.
The reader will notice that many of Ahmad and his father’s objections are not theological but cultural. They associate western culture with Christianity. In other words, they are against Christendom. Christendom can be described as the places and political powers associated with Christianity. It is the geographical realm of Christian culture. Dr. Jabbour then begins to show the difference in Christendom and the kingdom of God.

Dr. Jabbour defines the kingdom of God as:
• The invisible rule of God
• The expansion of the gospel irrespective of who rules the land,
• Living with Christ like attitudes and behaviors
The question is asked, “Are Christians confusing the kingdom of God with Christendom?” What is more important to God? Dr. Jabbour challenges the reader to think outside of Christendom. He describes the growth of the church in China as it is persecuted. A simple reminder is given that Christians are called to be Christ like in every situation. It is a challenge to reprioritize the reader’s goals towards the kingdom of God, to live an example of Christ in the midst of persecution. The main point in the challenge of Ahmad’s father may not be to agree with him but to spend time listening. The western world is very quick to speak but slow to hear. If Christians are willing to listen and understand Muslims view point they will be strengthening a bridge that will be able to carry the truth of Christ to them.
The reader is introduced to Ahmad’s sister who also brings a unique perspective. The western media are very quick to denounce what they view as sexism and mistreatment of women. Ahmad’s sister, Fatima, is the first to recognize that sadly there are people who claim to be Muslim who mistreat women just as there are some men in the west who do it to. She is also quick to point out the many advances that women have made in Islam. She points to great leaders in Islamic history including Khadijah, the first wife of Mohammad. One point in particular that she wants to point out is the wearing of the hijab. She takes great pride in wearing it and does not feel oppressed. She feels a sense of empowerment in knowing that she is not treated as a sex object. She also does not reject arranged marriages but understands the importance that family plays in the lives of a committed couple. Her parents will choose wisely with the input of their daughter. Most importantly, she points out verses in the Koran that teach equality and opportunity for both men and women.
Now that Ahmad and his family have given their views on many things, Dr. Jabbour begins the process of breaking it down and shedding Christian light onto it. To begin with, the author makes some assumptions. He first assumes that the reader’s loyalty is to the Great Commission and the kingdom of God. He also assumes that moderate Muslims will be more open to the gospel to than extremists. Another assumption is that it is all Christians’ responsibility to behave justly with love and humbleness while believing the sovereignty of God. The final assumption is that most Muslims are moving into one of two directions, moderation or extremism. It is this last assumption that is the most vital. If Christians are to be effective in reaching Muslims then they must work to move Muslims towards moderation. Christians must remove the outer wrapping from the gospel that keep moderate Muslims from becoming Christians and push Muslims to the extreme end.
As having been shown from Ahmad’s perspective, Muslims pay closer attention to the cultural trappings of Christianity. They are fearful that they will have to leave behind all of their culture and jump headlong into Christendom. Will they have to give up their Arabic name and family? These outer garments of the gospel are really just cultural elements that are not essential. But for fear of losing Christendom, many Christians do not present the gospel in a way that is culturally accessible to Muslims.
The scriptures are then opened for the reader and presented to show an alternative to cultural Christendom. Dr. Jabbour points to such important passages as Matthew 5: 13 where Jesus talks about being the salt and light of the earth. Another important passage is John 17 in which Jesus prays that his followers would not be taken out of the world but would be sent into it. Christians are called to reach past ethnocentrism and into the world. The reader is then given two scripture examples from the Old Testament representing ethnocentrism and mission living. The first example is of the captivity of Israel in Egypt. When Israel first came to Egypt they had a friend in leadership. But instead of integrating with Egyptians and being the light, they chose to live in exclusion. Four hundred years later, they were still outsiders and looked upon with suspicion. This resulted in the enduring of slavery until God rescued them. The second example comes from when the people of God were exiled in Babylon. In the book of Daniel, the Israelites were not able to live outside of Babylonian life but were integrated into its structure. Even with this integration, people like Daniel did not compromise in respect to God but because of their willingness to engage the culture, God moved the king of Babylon to praise him. “It is a challenge to live in the world and not be of the world “
Using this idea of integration and contextualization, how should Christians present the gospel to Muslims? Paradigms play an important part in this process. The Western world has focused on a legal paradigm when presenting Christianity. In doing this, they have limited the message of the good news. While it is true that the cross represents forgiveness and freedom from guilt, it also has other dimensions. Dr. Jabbour suggests that these other dimensions might be more effective in reaching Muslims. In particular, the cross is able to bring honor from shame. The shame and honor paradigm plays a huge role in Islamic culture. Many times family discipline involves shaming children when they are wrong. This is an element that Muslims can understand and appreciate. They are able to see the shame in the cross. In fact, Islam goes out of the way to remove the cross from its belief because of this shame. If Christians are able to show how Jesus took upon Himself the shame of the world so that they might have honor, it will go a long way in reaching them.
Lastly, Dr. Jabbour addresses Ahmad’s final obstacle to the faith. For many years, Christians have expected Muslims to drop all ties to Islam and become Christianized. While it is true that in order to follow Christianity one must leave behind teachings that are contradictory to the gospel, for Ahmad, Islam is much more than a religion. It includes his family, his heritage, his language, and culture. Should he be expected to leave his culture and join the “holy huddle” that many Christians live in? Ahmad has seen many times people who claim to be former Muslims, denouncing Islam and its culture.
Once again, Dr. Jabbour points back to the Bible for an answer. This time the answer comes from a curious text. Using 1 Corinthians 7:17-25, the reader is given a new and insightful look at a passage mostly about marriage. The passage is instruction for new believers who are in a marriage to an unbeliever. Paul instructs the believer to remain in the marriage out of love and hope that their partner may become a believer themselves. Paul is instructing the person to remain in the situation in which they found themselves. Using this wisdom, Dr. Jabbour says that new converts from Islam should remain in their culture. They should not remove themselves from the situation but become the salt and light to those around them. In doing this, they will reach their family and others who will not be reached by an outsider. This suggestion is both controversial and hopeful at the same time. Muslim background Christians are able to use familiar Islamic names for Jesus and the prophets. They are able to spread the love of Jesus from the inside.
The message of this book is ultimately love. Many people who read this book will find themselves challenged to see the world through a different lens. The western notion of Christianity is confronted all the way through. Readers will find themselves arguing against some of the assumptions that the composite characters make. Some of the hardest teachings come against Christendom. An allegiance to political powers is confronted and a mirror is shown to the west. By doing this, a transformation will occur in the heart. The internal struggle to listen to Islamic concerns should cause an outpouring of love for the Muslim world.
Not only does the book bring change of heart, it also offers practical advice on reaching Muslims. The chapters on integrating into the culture and becoming examples to Muslims will provide much insight into reaching this mysterious world. Christians are able to see Muslims as people who need Christ. They are able to see bridges that can address the concerns of Muslims. Advice about presenting the Gospel in paradigms important to Muslims is an example that all Christians should heed. God has used Dr. Jabbour to present a case for loving and reaching Muslims. The author has succeeded in his goal of moving the reader to compassion. By challenging and confronting western notions and giving a peep into the mind of Muslims, Dr. Jabbour has opened hearts for Muslims. Walking a mile in Ahmad’s sandals will give the reader reason to pause and to contemplate justice and love. This book has truly taken the time to look at Muslims through the eyes of the cross.

1 comment:

twbks said...

I'm in awe having read your thoughts
Regarding how Christians can better understand and bring the gospel to Muslims. I have been learning so much about Islam the past year and have been surprised at how much my world view has opened up. I have many questions and I'd love an opportunity to discuss a few with you if u are open to it. I couldn't find a way to email u so I'm hoping you see this comment.