by Bernie Power
William Carey Library, 2016
—Reviewed by Amit A. Bhatia, PhD/Intercultural Studies; adjunct professor, Trinity International University; Fellow, Billy Graham Center for Evangelism
Bernie Power’s stated goal in Challenging Islamic Traditions is to contrast al-Bukhari’s collection of the Hadith—a body of text that details the traditions of Muhammad and the early Islamic community—with the teaching of the Bible as well as norms from other societies.
Power asserts that to understand the Qur’an, “the key text of Islam,” it is necessary to understand the Hadith. This sheds light on why Islam has failed to fulfill its claims that it is the ‘answer’ and will “prevail over all other religions.” It also helps the reader grasp the reasons that underlie “Islamic violence, its lack of progress, and the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ with the West and other countries.”
In Section One, Power sifts through challenges to the “whole concept of the Hadith,” including the way in the which the Hadith were assembled, as well as the confusing nature of the connection between the Hadith and the Qur’an. The reader will be able to grasp concerns, including the problem-laden process—spanning a period of approximately two hundred years after Muhammad’s death—of the compilation of the Hadith; and the challenges that the isnad (‘lists of transmitters’) system poses to the “historical reliability of the Hadith.”
In Section Two, Power’s objective is to show that while there appear to be commonalities between the Bible and the Hadith, a careful scrutiny reveals that there are differences both in factual material as well as lessons taught. Power elucidates differences ranging from views of God, the life of Jesus and Muhammad, violence and vengeance, views of women, and historical facts.
In Section Three, Powers argues that the Hadith are found ‘wanting’ on numerous points. His discussion on political policies and human rights concerns provides fodder for discussion about whether Islam is viable as a universal religion.
Given the obvious differences between Christianity and Islam, in the fourth section Power presents simple, yet effective suggestions for engaging Muslims. Power’s book is easy to read and replete with ‘technical’ information drawn from the Hadith.
In Engaging Islamic Traditions Power scrutinizes and evaluates the Hadith to point out that Christians should use it as an avenue to engage Muslims. He begins with a brief description of the contents of the Hadith and its significance for Islamic life. He also writes that there are truths in the Hadith that are shared with the Bible that will help establish “common ground between Muslims and Christians,” as well as provide avenues for discussion to point Muslims to revealed truth in the Bible. In Section Two, Power discusses the “concord” between Islam and Christianity, touching on topics such as positive aspects in the life of Muhammad; positive ways in which both Muhammad and Jesus treated women; and theological and devotional, as well as ethical, elements that the Hadith and Christian teaching share.
Section Three emphasizes connections between the Hadith and Christian teaching that serve as points of dialogue to draw Muslims’ attention to Christ. Power highlights the character and actions of God; the nature of human beings; forgiveness and punishment of sins; inadequacy of works for eternal destiny, and the connection between ‘deeds’ and ‘rewards;’ and the significance of the cross.
In Section Four, Powers focuses on practical implications for Christian ministry and offers a very helpful discussion of three types of dialogue for engaging Muslims, all of which stem from overlaps between Christian teachings and the Hadith. Power’s irenic, positive, and bridge-building tone is particularly appropriate, and will instruct and encourage Christians seeking to engage Muslims with the gospel of Christ in a time when there is so much negative perception of and animosity towards Muslims and Islam.
Both these books are well researched, drawing deeply from Christian and Muslim scholars. They provide rich information about Islamic life, knowledge, and comprehension which will go a long way in endearing Christians to Muslims in the course of their dialogue.
Bhatia, Amit A. 2016 (forthcoming). Engaging Muslims and Islam: Lessons for 21st-Century American Evangelicals. Portland, Ore.: Urban Loft.
Chapman, Colin. 2007. Cross and Crescent: Responding to the Challenges of Islam (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Oksnevad, Roy and Dotsey Welliver, ed. 2001. The Gospel for Islam: Reaching Muslims in North America. Wheaton, Ill.: Evangelism and Missions Information Service.