by Christine A. Mallouhi.
In the middle of her book, Waging Peace on Islam, Christine A. Mallouhi challenges evangelical Christians with this question, “How can we continually paint Muslims as hostile spiritual enemies with whom we are engaged in the greatest battle of our century, and then be willing to go to our Muslim neighbours and share Christ’s love with them?” (p. 178).
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 2002, 348 pages, $15.00.
—Reviewed by Alan M. Guenther, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec (Ph.D. cand.).
In the middle of her book, Waging Peace on Islam, Christine A. Mallouhi challenges evangelical Christians with this question, “How can we continually paint Muslims as hostile spiritual enemies with whom we are engaged in the greatest battle of our century, and then be willing to go to our Muslim neighbours and share Christ’s love with them?” (p. 178). This question illustrates the two themes of the author in critically evaluating how Christians have viewed Muslims as an enemy to be conquered and in proposing that we rather reach out in love, getting to know Muslims at a personal level with a willingness to recognize a sincere seeking after God. These two approaches to Islam are represented respectively by the Crusades and by the missionary efforts of St. Francis of Assisi during the Crusades.
Throughout her work, the author presents personal anecdotes of encounters with Muslims as well as quotations from Muslim authors as illustrations to demonstrate the fallacy of many Western Christian assumptions about Islam and Muslims. Although written before the events of 9/11, this message that all Muslims are not uniformly terrorists bent on taking over the world is perhaps more relevant now than ever. The author rightly points out that many Christians in the West who fear Islam have never gotten to know a Muslim at a personal level. That is why the anecdotal approach of this book is so helpful—it allows us to hear and see real, living Muslim men and women through the experience of one who married into a Muslim family by marrying a convert from Islam, and who spent much time in Muslim communities in North Africa and the Middle East.
After an introductory chapter, Mallouhi introduces us to St. Francis and reflects on his life and teaching in a devotional manner. His efforts to preach the gospel to Muslims, however, are not described until much later in the book. In the next chapter, she reviews the history of Christian encounters with Islam, beginning with a brief summary of early encounters and then moving on to Crusades which are seen as a prototype of how Christians have dealt with Islam for most of their history. The author admits that her approach is lopsided in describing Christian atrocities in greater detail than Muslim ones, but justifies her approach in that she is writing for a Christian audience to challenge them to re-evaluate their behavior. In my opinion, however, a greater weakness is the adoption of the Crusades as a prototype of Muslim-Christian relations. While Europe was definitely influenced by the experience of raising armies and the reports of battles, these battles restricted to Mediterranean coastlands did not loom so large in the imagination of the vaster geographical region under Muslim control. Their perception of Christianity had been shaped much more decisively by the earlier encounters with Christian theologians and scholars as Muslims conquered territories populated primarily with Christians—Iraq, Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Spain. The current preoccupation with the Crusades in Muslim writings is more a product of post-colonial reflection on that history, than it is of the Muslim historians of that time.
The fourth chapter on “The Problem of Palestine” at first seems to detract from the unity of the book, dealing as it does with a problem local to one region that involves Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) and Jews, rather than Muslims and Christians. However, as is clearly presented, Western Christian attitudes toward this issue are very much shaped by the prejudices and assumptions Mallouhi is seeking to address. Furthermore, the relevance of the problem extends much beyond the Palestinian or even Arab world, and is a vital element in the perception of the West by Muslims in every country. Nevertheless, not enough emphasis is given to the fact that the majority of Muslims are not Arab. Although understandably restricted by the author’s personal experience, it would have been helpful to examine the expressions of Islam in other regions such as Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. For example, Sufism in India and Pakistan is much more a part of traditional Islam, including the school of thought from which the Taliban and the Tablighi Jamaëat have sprung.
After these discussions of historical and modern contexts, the book addresses current Christian attitudes towards Muslims and makes a plea to move from “crusading” approaches (such as prayer walks in cities in the 10/40 window) to an approach patterned after the practice of St. Francis—loving individual Muslims and demonstrating Christ in our daily lives with them. Much emphasis is placed on recognizing similarities between the two faiths rather than fighting over the differences, though those are candidly acknowledged. The author encourages us to get to know Muslims intimately and recognize their spiritual quest after God as legitimate. Her presentation of the pillars of Islam is a delightful, sympathetic description. She ends with closer examination of the mystical approach of St. Francis and that of Muslim Sufis, seeking parallels in their practices and inner longings. Although I appreciate the effort to find points of contact in the mystical aspects of the two faiths, I am reluctant to dismiss the importance of theological statements of faith in favour of the recognition of their longing for God, as readily as the author seems to do. All in all, I think this is a valuable resource to encourage Western Christians to re-examine their prejudices towards Islam.
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