Gregory E. Reynolds
The Truth about Islam: The Noble Qur'an's Teachings in Light of the Holy Bible, by Anees Zaka and Diane Coleman. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004, xx + 194 pages, $11.99, paper.
Ten Steps in Witnessing to Muslims, by Anees Zaka. Philadelphia: Church without Walls, 1998, 71 pages, $5.00, paper.
With the plethora of books on Islam flooding the market Reformed Christians will find the works of Anees Zaka refreshing. The two books I am reviewing are a perfect complement to help prepare church officers to engage our Muslim neighbors with the gospel. The Truth about Islam compares Islam and Christianity based on the texts of their respective scriptures. Ten Steps in Witnessing to Muslims, as the title tells, is a practical manual describing the evangelistic engagement itself. This review will focus more on The Truth about Islam.
The Truth about Islam fulfills its subtitle admirably through the inclusion of numerous charts and tables (thirty one tables in all) contrasting the Bible and the Noble Qur'an with quotations on a variety of topics. Zaka and Coleman have packed a great deal of primary source material into a small space. This adds significantly to the value of the book. A fine example of this contrast is found in Tables 20 and 21 (pp. 100-101) in which brief direct quotations from the Noble Qur'an and the Bible describe the attributes of Allah and Yahweh. The difference is startlingly clear.
The first six chapters contrast Christianity and Islam on the concept of truth, the identity of Muhammad, the identity of Jesus Christ, the Bible and the Noble Qur'an, the concept of God, and the ways of living in each religion. The seventh and final chapter deals with communicating the gospel to Muslims in the post 9/11 world.
The sixth chapter on grace and law is marred, in my opinion, by seeking to demonstrate the centrality of Christianity in the founding of the American republic. "Grace in action permits cultures to flourish" (147). What the numerous quotes from the founding era actually demonstrate is that the ethics of Christianity, not the grace of the gospel, were co-opted in the service of the new political order. Suddenly, instead of one religion contrasted with another, the implied contrast—and thus conflict—is between two civilizations, Islamic and Christian. That many elements of the Christian view of men and things, institutions, and virtues, helped create the soil in which our constitutional republic was possible, I do not doubt. However, to link the cause of the gospel to any particular culture assures the doom of the entire gospel enterprise. The identification of its religion with government and culture is part of the problem of Islam, as Zaka and Coleman point out in other places. But to imply that democracy is an answer to Islam sets up a false conflict, which incidentally exacerbates the problem by raising the specter of the Crusades. Is this the sort of warfare we see in the New Testament? I do not doubt that Islam according to its own scriptures is not conducive to democracy in any form, as Zaka and Coleman rightly assert. Nor do I doubt that consistent Islam represents a serious threat to our civil freedoms. What I do doubt is that it is the church's job to fix that problem by "recapturing the culture." Such an agenda simply finds no warrant in the text of the Holy Bible. Nor is such an enterprise the proper response to the world-dominating intentions of Islam. In fairness to Zaka and Coleman, the point they are trying to make is that democracy requires Christianity. The very freedom of thought that Zaka and Coleman laudably praise comes precisely from the Christian doctrine of the spirituality of the church, which promotes civil tolerance in the interest of separating church and state; but this is not the gospel. The gospel is supremely intolerant in the sense that it claims to be exceptional. But American exceptionalism is not the message of the church. The very freedom that the clear separation of church and state allows is not a call for Christian civilization, whatever the benefits Christian presence may have on a given culture. If some Muslims use this freedom in the quest to impose the will of Allah, it is the business of the state to stop them from committing treason or other crimes. It is the business of the church to preach the gospel. Raising this issue in the way the authors do confuses the very cause of evangelizing Muslims and, oddly, undermines the very point they are making so clearly in the rest of the book.
Furthermore, it is an open question whether or not the beguiling prosperity of American culture, combined with its vague religion of moralistic therapeutic deism, can be resisted by Muslim immigrants. In any case, whether we are slaves to pleasure (à la Huxley) or slaves to the state (à la Orwell), all loyalties to any aspect of the created order are challenged by the Lord of heaven through the gospel of his Son. Oddly, and fortunately, in the last chapter the following excellent statement is made in apparent contradiction to some of what is said between pages 144 and 151: "Understand and clarify that Western culture is not biblical Christianity" (169).
The final chapter happily gets back on track with some excellent advice on how to be faithful witnesses to our Muslim neighbors. Using John 4, Luke 24, and Acts 2 and 17 as models, principles for engagement are clearly summarized. Two additional books are recommended by the authors in this concluding chapter: for apologetics Greg Bahnsen's Always Ready, and for Muslim evangelism Samuel Zwemer's The Muslim Christ. Additionally an excellent bibliography suggests many more fine resources. The most notable feature of this chapter is the "Church without Walls" concept of gathering with Muslims for respectful, honest discussion of what is taught in the scriptures of Islam and Christianity, seeking to break down the walls of hatred, distrust, isolation, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and conversion (168-169). "Most biblical Christians are intimidated by the militancy of Islam, but it need not be so" (173). The book continues with the counsel that Christians should have confidence that Muslims need the gospel, and that many consequently have a deep sense of sin and emptiness. This calls for compassion in befriending and communicating the love of God to Muslim neighbors.
The clear exposition of biblical, historic Christianity makes this book function like an expanded tract, and with care may be used as such (174), though it is meant more to be a primer for Christians evangelizing Muslims. The theology of the Noble Qur'an in comparison with that of the Bible is an arid spiritual landscape, one which should make us yearn, as Paul did for his countrymen in Romans 10, to see them come to know the Lord of grace and glory. The continuous prayer that separates each of the seven chapters beautifully expresses the motivation of the authors of this book.
Ten Steps in Witnessing to Muslims duplicates some of the material in The Truth about Islam, but is unique in providing more detailed information about the culture, customs, manners, and religious practices of Muslims. It reminds us that because Muslims are made in God's image, and because they have some roots in Judeo-Christian ethics, they have many admirable virtues.
The clear organization of the two books makes them very accessible for continued future reference. Their usefulness is greatly enhanced by the confessional Reformed commitment of Pastor Zaka (a PCA minister), together with his clear presuppositional approach (read Van Tillian apologetics). Despite my one serious disagreement expressed above, I highly recommend both books as helpful aids in understanding and witnessing to Muslims.
Gregory Edward Reynolds
Amoskeag Presbyterian Church
Manchester, New Hampshire