by Rollin Armour Sr.
In this survey Armour describes the spread of Islam, the first Christian response from criticism to martyrdom and the largely—though not exclusively—“deformed image” of Islam in the medieval West.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. $25.00
—Reviewed by J. Dudley Woodberry, Professor of Islamic Studies, School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.
Rollin Armour has provided a very timely and helpful survey of the encounter between Muslims, Christians and the West from the time of Muhammad until the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida. In this survey he describes the spread of Islam, the first Christian response from criticism to martyrdom and the largely—though not exclusively—“deformed image” of Islam in the medieval West.
He then looks at the Western counteroffensive of the reconquest of Spain and the Crusades and the various attempts to understand Islam, convert Muslims and build bridges of cooperation, and some Protestant understandings of the Muslim expansions as a sign of God’s judgment and the end of the age. Next he turns to Western colonialism, modern views of Islam that show greater acceptance, the problem that Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel has caused, concluding with an overview of Islam and the West today that describes the Islamic resurgence and the various trends in the Muslim World.
Of particular value is the comparison between the integrated view of religion, politics and society in the theory of medieval Christendom and what others have called Islamdom. Likewise he shows the similarity in the view of Crusader theoreticians concerning holy war and Muslim views of the lesser jihad, and the division of the world by both communities into what Muslims called “the house of Islam” and “the house of war.”
For those who too easily describe Islam as a religion of war and Christianity as a religion of peace (although there are certainly relevant contrasts between Muhammad and Jesus), he cites historic examples of brutalities by Christians against Muslims. He also contrasts Muslim and Christian perspectives on human rights, which Westerners see as inherent in humans by the law of nature where Muslims see them as derived from God and his revelation, the Qur’an, not majority votes by humans.
Perhaps too general a connection is made between colonial expansion and Christian missions, though it certainly existed. For example the East India Company actually tried to limit missionaries for fear of their hindering profits, and the British policy of turning administration over to the local administrators, which in northern Nigeria were Muslims, led to the expansion of Islam.
The inclusion of Jordan as a region under French control (p. 148) is not accurate, nor is the statement that “Britain announced its support for Palestine as a National Home for the Jews in its . . . Balfour Declaration” (p. 131). Arabs are quick to point out that the Balfour Declaration only said that the British “would look with favor” on the creation of a National Home for the Jews in Palestine; but it did not say where in Palestine and by adding the words that nothing should be done “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” it presumably did not mean giving the Jews all of Palestine.
The author does not understand the breadth of some evangelicals for he speaks of them as tending to advocate mission as the only legitimate approach to non-Christians (p. 144) and seems to reserve for Christians not inclined to evangelize “the opportunity to learn firsthand about another religious tradition” (p. 181) Numbers of us evangelicals advocate cooperation with Muslims wherever we can, and many conservative Christians are at the forefront of learning firsthand about other religious traditions. Our missionary concern helps us better understand those of another faith with a similar missionary concern. Nevertheless the author has done us a great service by surveying such an important topic in such a helpful way.
Check these titles:
Zebiri, Kate. 1997. Muslims and Christians Face to Face. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publishers.
Daniels, Norman. 1960. Islam and the West: The Making of an Image. Edinburgh, Scotland: University Press.
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