Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review --Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ

Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ
by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen
[Mustafa, a radical Islamic terrorist, has been assigned by his sheik to write a book revealing the distortions of the Christian faith. To do this he has had to read the Bible.]

For the last several days Mustafa had decided to concentrate on the prophecies in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the Injil that referenced the Prophet Muhammad. Though he couldn't find the name Muhammad in the Holy Book, there were twenty-six texts that supposedly pointed to him. Eagerly he had read the first one, Genesis 49:10: "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to Shiloh." Al-Haqq had said that "Shiloh" was Muhammad, but when Mustafa had investigated to prove this linguistically and rhetorically and legally, he'd concluded that Isa the Christ clearly fulfilled the prophecy much more than Muhammad did.

He had turned to Deuteronomy 18:15: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to hm." Al-Haqq had explained that Isaac's sons and Ishmael's sons were brothers, and thus Muhammad was a brother of Isaac's sons. But when he'd referenced the Quran, it said that the prophet would be from the Arab people and speak Arabic. The Torah text spoke of a prophet form the Hebrews who spoke Hebrew. If this prophet was Muhammad, then I would distrust the Quran. That was a dangerous thought.

Mustafa had exhausted himself with study and concluded that none of the twenty-six texts spoke of Muhammad. And now he stared at this verse from sura "The Table" of the Quran: "People of the Book, you will attain nothing until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which is revealed from your Lord." The Quran affirmed the authority of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. He turned to sura 3:84 and read: "Say: 'We believe in God and what is revealed to us; in that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, to Isaac and Jacob and the tribes; and in that which their Lord gave Moses and Jesus and the prophets. We discriminate against none of them. To Him we have surrendered ourselves.'" But how could the Christian God be the same as Allah? He'd read in the Gospels: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." Allah commanded exactly the opposite in the Quran. In the sura "Repentance," God commanded: "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them." It was impossible that the two Gods were one and the same. It was impossible that the two books, the Holy Bible and Quran, were both right. While the two books agreed on some things, the differences were startling. One of them had to be wrong.

The prayer time was over and the flow of activity on the street was back to normal. But now Mustafa knew what he had to do--pray. Allah, God, which is the real book? Show me which book is right?

A peace washed over him, and Mustafa felt confident that God would reveal the truth.
Mustafa is just one of the people we travel with as we see various encounters with Christianity deep within the world of Islam. Some encounter Jesus (Isa as he is called in the Quran) through reading the Bible. Others find him in the stories told them by friends who are eager to share a new knowledge of God as a loving father, instead of the stern God as commonly communicated in Islam. These believers run the gamut of personalities, from a young girl who is cast off by her family for her Christianity to a Christian couple who return to their country following God's call to minister to native Christians to a highly influential government official who must keep his Christian faith hidden. We are shown just what it means to claim faith in Jesus in a place where religious ecumenism is given lip service but where hate crimes against Christians are given a blind eye by authorities.

Anyone who has read a book by Brother Andrew will recognize a familiar pattern. I first read his book Gods Smuggler when I was lent a copy in high school. It was the compelling story of Brother Andrew's efforts to smuggle Bibles to persecuted Christians in countries under Soviet control. I found it so compelling that I have remembered it to this day and eagerly accepted this review copy based on that memory.

As former Communist countries became free for religious practice, Brother Andrew turned his ministry to countries where Christians are still persecuted and where even owning a Bible will bring them under attack. This book does not show us much of Brother Andrew, however, but focuses on the stories of a group of persecuted Christians in an Islamic country. We follow them over quite a bit of time and get a a good feel for the daily crosses that a Christian experiences under Islam.

Despite the opportunity to show only one extreme, the book authors take pains to stress all sides of Islam's and Christianity's coexistence. For example, when Brother Andrew makes one of his infrequent visits there is a particular university professor who always invites him to visit so that they may contrast and compare their faiths. If Islam were practiced with the attention to kindness that this professor proclaims as the Islamic ideal, our view of Islam would indeed be different than it is today. Another positive fruit of the persecution is that all denominations of Christianity cooperate as fully as possible in order to find ways to exist at all.

One of my favorite sections of the book was when a Protestant lay worker seeks a Catholic priest's advice for how to find a substitute for the daily Islamic prayer structure that some recent converts are desperately missing. The priest suggest a simple adaptation of the liturgy of the hours. He also overlays it with meditations adapted t0 the liturgical year so that they have a way to key their faith into the Islamic calendar, which the men will miss as well. This is not only a wonderful look at ecumenism but at the ways in which Christian faith are adapted within a particular culture. While I read this I found myself thinking of the first century Christians working with both their new found faith and the Roman liturgical calendar.

The book ends with a section called "How Shall We Respond?" which has many insightful commentaries about the reality of the need for Christians to meet the challenges that Islam presents. It is presented in a way that puts a human face on our brothers and sisters who are separated from us by their Islamic faith. Regular readers may recall that this book was the last of a trio that gave me a new prayer resolution. I believe that this eye opening book will do that for many and highly recommend it.

Interestingly, after finishing this book, I began reading George Wiegel's newest, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, which is much more intellectually based than Secret Believers. I had seen this book highly praised in many places and expected to enjoy it. However, what I did not expect was that so many of his excerpts from books about Islam would resonate so deeply as being true because I just had read about that very reality as experienced by the persecuted Christians in this book. Readers may want to consider reading these two books together for that very reason.
Although Muslims like to enumerate the 99 names of God, missing from the list, but central to the Jewish and even more so to the Christian concept of God, is "Father"--i.e. a personal God capable of a reciprocal and loving relationship with men. The one God of the Qur'an, the God Who demands submission, is a distant God; to call him "Father would be an anthropomorphic sacrilege. The Muslim God is utterly impassive; to ascribe loving feeling to Him would be suspect.
Cross-posted at Happy Catholic.

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