There are a lot of books and resources mentioned here, so firstly, I will set out a short list of those I most strongly recommend.
To discover the content of islam I recommend the resources by Mark Durie. For a detailed account of a moslem turning to Christ, discovering the truth about Mohammed along the way, there is Seeking Allah, finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. For encouragement about God at work among moslems see A wind in the house of Islam by David Garrison. Lastly, as one of the most beautiful books you will ever read, I suggest an account by an American woman who lived in Afghanistan of her dealings with the people there, In the land of the blue burqas by the pseudonymous Kate McCord. These resources are all discussed below.
It is good to be able to recommend a range of other excellent resources on islam in general and also on events in the Middle-East. Not all these resources are Christian; it is worth advising considerable caution in the conclusions one draws about issues which are far from black and white. (One article I read recently ascribes the current situation in Syria/Iraq entirely to demographics; this scarcely explains why jihadis are gathering there from every corner of the earth, but it is worth considering.)
Some very valuable, sympathetic background information on islam may be found in books by former missionary Bill Musk, Touching the Soul of Islam and The Unseen face of Islam. These books explore the way muslims actually live in the Middle-East; the daily concerns Musk describes have more to do with folk islam than with the koran; how to deal with sickness, with evil spirits…. the structure of society and how it works. Musk’s concern in these books is with outreach, as it is in Holy War – why some muslims become fundamentalists. His books are kind. We, indeed, are called to the ministry of reconciliation and restoration, not to critical stone throwing, as we do well to remember as we think about the snare of islam in which so many are caught.
This note about not being angry and throwing stones is a rather important one; these next two paragraphs are a late addendum to the present article after reading two more books, the second of which is altogether outstanding and would profoundly help anyone seeking to love and understand. The first is A God who Hates by Wafa Sultan. This book is written by a Syrian lady who despite coming to loathe the supposed God of the muslims, still identifies herself as a muslim though living in the US and engaging in vigorous and widely known criticism of islam. The reason for this is that she sees islam as fundamentally a culture, the culture indeed in which she grew up in Syria and with which she is deeply imbued. She tells how as she grew up she became increasingly concerned and finally disgusted with the culture of her native land in its muslim aspect and in particular the way women are treated. She herself was a doctor and illustrates with stories, at times grotesque, from medical practice. She married a man who more forthrightly than herself rejected islam as being directly the source of the culture; he ‘escaped’ first to the US, and she followed. She tells of her struggles with the new culture and her deep appreciation of it. The book is very telling in its account of the psychology of first generation muslim people in the western world; of how very torn they are. Her understanding of how islam is governed by fear is very revealing. She became notorious in the muslim world for standing up to a boorish gentleman on public television and insisting on her right, woman though she is, to be heard. She seems to be a very well-known person and well worth reading. From the Christian point of view, I found particularly interesting her statement that she cannot get rid of her muslim identity, though she would like to; she does not think it possible. Her theology is that God – the evil God of Islam, the “God who hates” – is a human construct, and that she wishes to create or find a good God. She has not yet reached the point of thinking that there might be a real good God who is not a human construct, which would mean that the God who hates is a nasty distortion of truth. This book is strongly recommended; a very fine woman!
In a similar vein there are a number of books by Nonie Darwish. Her father was an important Egyptian military figure who was killed by the Israelis in Gaza. Because of his high position she obtained a good education at the American University in Cairo, and had a good job. Able to see both worlds, the islamic and the free, she began to react strongly against the highly restrictive customs of her native land, particularly as they affect women. She writes movingly about her personal circumstances as well as trenchantly about Egyptian culture. She emigrated to the US and became a Christian believer. She found that she loved the US with its freedom but also chronicles her dismay to see her adopted country accommodating islam. She is an important leader of ex-muslims speaking out against islam.
Next, and just a wonderful book, is Seeking Allah, finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. The author describes growing up in a very loving happy muslim family, with important formative years in Scotland, before returning to the US where his father was a naval officer; through his teenage years and on into university he had to grapple with how islam, to which he was very committed, fits in with the western world and with Christianity. Of particular interest to me was the happy, devout, loving background and how this could be in an Islamic background. It is important to note that the family was Pakistani, belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect, which is rejected by many muslims. This group strongly believe in islam as a religion of peace, but the author makes the case that many other muslims do have the same emphasis. How can they believe this? The answer lies in careful ‘cherry-picking’ and what looks like a carefully cultivated ignorance of everything bloody and violent in islam; he grew up really believing, with his lovely parents, that Mohammed was the pinnacle of men, a model of mercy and compassion! He, like his parents, was astonished to find islam and terror going together; apparently many people like this just don’t know. He is a very academically capable young fellow; he begins to ask questions and along the way encounters a similar young fellow who becomes his best friend, a Christian. Slowly he has to put the two faiths under the search lamp of reason’s scrutiny and this process is chronicled in detail, first establishing the potential viability of Christian faith, and then the crumbling of the supposed rationale for islam. It is notable that he, as a child, as did his muslim parents, experienced occasional answers to prayer, and this was a key element of his eventual conversion, since he could not doubt the reality of God. A most important element in his turning to Christ was asking God to give him dreams in which He would say clearly which was correct, islam or Christian faith. The book is notable for its sharp psychological insight into marked differences in muslim/western modes of thought, as well as the passionate search for truth. After reading this book anyone would feel most edified in their faith as we see so closely how Christ becomes his all in all; and hugely more sympathetic towards and hopeful for muslim people; some of my reading points to large scale future turning of muslim people to Christ, as well as my having seen plenty of evidence of ex-muslims becoming very vibrant believers. I forgot to mention also Miracles among Muslims by Christine Darg, an evangelistic lady in the Middle-East who gives many wonderful accounts of just this thing, including a surprising (to me) section about Yasser Arafat, who evinced some interest in Christian faith.
Personally, I have for a long time followed the web-site of Daniel Pipes (www.danielpipes.org); Pipes is not Christian but he is a genuine scholar, that is, with a committed concern for objectivity; as a man with Jewish forbears, he is a friend of Israel; as an American, his pragmatic concern is with what he considers to be American interests. His stance is pro-America and pro-Israel. (Note – my church background has a strong tendency to uncritical support for Israel; I would recommend reading Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour as a balance to this; it is the biography of a fine Arab Christian who emphasizes the mistreatment of Palestinians.) Behind Pipes stands Bernard Lewis who is understood to be the pre-eminent historian of islam; Lewis looks across the whole of Islamic history in his many works before dissecting ‘what went wrong’; his books are not particularly engaged with the current terrorist problem. This however is Pipes’ concern. Standing to some degree on Lewis’ shoulders he distinguishes between ‘moderate’ muslims and islamists (a view which I think is fraught with difficulty); he wishes to warn about the latter, both with regard to the muslim world and within the western world. Pipes is a scholar with close knowledge of the Arab and Turkish worlds; he is particularly good on Turkey. A range of stances are taken at the allied Middle East Forum (www.meforum.org), but of great interest at every turn; so this is a web-site I very strongly recommend, particularly articles by Raymond Ibrahim, who has his own website, www.raymondibraim.com . This man researches muslim attacks on Christians including a book, Crucified Again ; he has an aggressive approach to islam. Similarly, Gatestone Institute carries a wide spread of articles, across a range of issues. Articles I look at regularly follow events in Europe, providing some important information. There is a fascinating article at meforum by a former US military man who was a trainer to Arab forces – his critique of Arab ways is, as I say, fascinating: Why Arabs lose wars by Norvell B. de Atkine. ME Forum have associated groups providing legal aid to such as Geert Wilders, and one which monitors bias and low standards in US universities. It is worth adding that the danger with the non-Christian sources is the lack of apparent answers and failure to address the spiritual issues.
ME Forum also publish articles by Mark Durie, a pastor from Melbourne, who is particularly trenchant in his well researched views on islam; he holds that supposedly moderate muslims keep quiet about islamism because they know it is all in the koran and implicity though not explicitly support it. He sees islam as the problem. His materials are available at www.markdurie.com. I would suggest Durie as a good Christian source on/discussion of islam; there is a combination of real learning about islam and commitment to Christ that is admirable. Both Durie and Ibrahim consistently bring home points about what islam really entails which continue to surprise, even when you feel you understand. Durie is very kind, though here too his main interest is warning about the dangers of islam. Here he is on the supposed distinction between islam and islamism:-
If you put a young God-fearing Muslim in a room with an Islamic radical and an Islamic moderate, both trying to win over the young person’s soul, the radical would win again and again. It is because the canon – hadiths, sira and Koran – are massively stacked in favor of the radical position. Yes, there are violent passages in the Bible too, but it is an uphill battle to build a violent theology based on them. With the Koran, building a violent theology is like rolling balls down a hill. It is a huge uphill struggle building a “moderate” Islamic theology on the basis of the Islamic canon alone.
I think some commentators – whose work I respect and admire – speak of “Islamism” because they don’t want to dignify the radical cause by calling it “Islam.” Also, if they name the problem as “Islam,” it would seem too overwhelming. Nevertheless, I agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and other ex-Muslims that the problem of radical Islam is the problem of Islam itself. The will to dominate is hard-wired into the core texts of Islam, and this cannot be excised from the heart of these texts without a traumatic assault on the fundamentals of Islam. So I don’t like to speak about “Islamism.” To me it feels like a cop-out.
I have read Durie’s book The Third Choice; the third choice of the title is dhimmitude, that is that islam sees non-moslems as having 3 choices when they come to town, conversion, death, or the inferior status of dhimmis, bound to pay jizya and be thoroughly subservient to their moslem masters. Durie looks at the life of Mohammed and the evolution of his thought, his development from a background of severe rejection through self-rejection, doubt, demonization (my word), self-vindication, self-aggrandisement and strong aggression; a classic pattern of paranoia leading to delusion. (Put simply, Mohammed was a paranoid psychotic – my conclusion). Durie investigates the way authority works in the moslem world; the relation between the texts, that is the Koran, the hadiths (collections of sayings attributed to Mohammed), various lives of Mohammed, and then subsequent refinements of sharia law. The relation between these texts is complex, which means that the great majority of moslems have little idea of what they all really say, so there is reliance on scholars to tell them. Many, perhaps most, moslems have only an airbrushed version of the character of Mohammed; non-moslems are not supposed to look into these things. The superiority of moslems to all others, something stated specifically by the unfortunate Mohammed, is constantly asserted and carefully guarded, and is part of the background to the oppressive system of dhimmitude which forms the main topic of the book. Before I read this book I thought that islam was horrible; after reading it, even with a reasonably extensive previous knowledge, I thought I hadn’t realized the half of it. This caused me to think that maybe Durie is overstating things, but do not in fact believe this to be the case, though certainly he is focusing on the very negative – but it is all there! The moslem way of thinking is so very different, utterly alien; Durie is constantly bringing home that where westerners and perhaps Christians in particular think they are being nice and gracious and kind by extending courtesies to people individually and corporately, this will be being read by moslems as a correct attitude of subservience to them, of weakness, of progressive acceptance of our status as dhimmis and of the superiority of islam. Durie would appear to me to be a genuine expert; this book is not an easy read in so far as it is not a pleasant topic, but it is an important book. The end of the matter is that it is important to denounce islam for what it is.(‘Denounce’ is, again, my word.) There must be a complete and explicit rejection of dhimmitude.
While the above, I think, is a reasonably accurate account of the book, I find a much more careful, nuanced account of islam on some excellent videos posted on YouTube titled The theology of the Qu’ran. Here, in a series of 5, Mark takes a dispassionate look at what the book says, referring regularly to western scholarship. The discussion is fairly academic. As well as the theology, questions are raised as to the origins of book, and in particular as to the historicity of Mohammed. (It seems that carbon dating puts some of the Koran manuscripts earlier than the supposed life of this man!)
For myself, from a not particularly learned standpoint, the following from Sydney based psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed in The Australian newspaper seems to summarize things nicely, but again, not very hopefully:
Islam is primarily a religion of conquest. The fact the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving and committed to Australia is not because of Islam but despite it. They have too much to lose to interpret Islam too literally. But that does not mean there are not thousands of Muslims from around the world, including Australia, who may not take such a liberal view.
Some books from a non-Christian standpoint I have read and can recommend include The Closed Circle by David Pryce-Jones which examines Arab political culture, including a condemnatory look at Arafat. Two more critical/historical books are by VS Naipaul, Among the Believers, set in the late 70’s including an account or revolutionary Iran and then Beyond Belief where he describes his return 14 years later to Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Naipaul attempts to be objective but winds up bitingly critical; among his various shrewd impressions, he retells stories of people he interviewed; he is a very sharp observer.
There are some wonderful testimonies. Gulshan Esther,The Torn Veil is one such; from Pakistan, from a devout Islamic family she tells how Jesus first appeared to her in vision and then healed her. Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef is a wonderful book which I believe was a number one best-seller, deservedly so. The author’s father was a founder of Hamas and a man of integrity who reluctantly became implicated in violence. His son became disillusioned with fighting as a means of bringing peace; as little more than a boy, only 20 or so, he became a double agent, working for the Israelis; he became exposed to the gospel and the Prince of Peace. This book is a must read, for understanding the conflict in Israel, for the excitement of the double-agent’s life in the most dangerous of places, and then for what Jesus means to him. He says that islam is like a ladder,with the ordinary muslim at the bottom feeling guilty because he (or she) is not a fundamentalist, and the fundamentalist ‘extremist’ at the top; the moderates in the middle, he says are more dangerous in the sense that you can never tell when they may move up the ladder into fundamentalism. It is perhaps surprising, given that this book was a NT Times bestseller, that the people who make noises as political leaders continue to be so badly informed, and say the silly things they do. By the way ‘islam’ does not mean ‘peace’ – it means ‘submission’.
Perhaps even more wonderful is by Daniel Shayesteh The House I left behind; this very remarkable man was much involved in the ‘Revolution’ in Iran in 1979, but was deeply unhappy with the direction it took and was imprisoned; a man of remarkable integrity, he found refuge in Turkey, and there encountered Christ. His account of Iran is fascinating; he sees islam as a sort of accretion on top of ancient Iranian culture, which he sees as more basic to Iranian character. The intellectual process he went through as he compared islam with the teachings of the Bible and slowly accepted the latter is of great interest. He is a rather outstanding person.
There are a number of books I have read which I no longer possess. The striking thing is the tremendous clarity with which these ex-muslims recount their conversions.
The following two books are useful for a preliminary understanding of islam. These are by Reza Safa. Inside Islam is a look at the beliefs of islam by this former Shiite Iranian, and a discussion of how to reach the islamic world with the gospel; he is now an evangelist. The Coming Fall of Islam in Iran is a little more historical and detailed. Somewhere he quotes a saying about Iran that, ‘When Khomeini came to power islam in Iran was a sick cow; Khomeini shot it dead’. Safa’s conclusion:- “The time for the Muslim world is here. The harvest in these nations is ripening and in some, like Iran, is already starting to be gathered.’ This is an urgent appeal for action, to love the muslim world.
I would like to re-iterate that now is the time for the muslim world. I discuss a wonderful book A wind in the house of Islam by David Garrison below, a book which strongly makes this point.Their faith has scarcely any rational grounding, and certainly no salvation! but they do believe in God, and as the modern world calls the 7th century system severely into question, they need new faith; furthermore in so far as their ‘faith’ is not particularly islamic (ie in so far as they believe in a good God) and are unaware of the realities of all that Mohammed said and as they become aware of the depredations of those that are thus aware, they may be very open to the good news! The book by Qureshi is an outstanding work to encourage Christian believers to help.
I close this part of the discussion with a quotation from Mark Durie:
Persuading Muslims to take the words of Muhammad seriously is the core strategy of radicalization. This tactic works as well as it does because it appeals to a plain reading of Islam’s holy texts.
To be deradicalized, a Muslim needs to repudiate the theological authority of the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an. This is a hard call for pious Muslims. Ayan Hirsi Ali was surely correct in her recent essay calling for reform of Islam when she wrote that:
‘the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.’
Hirsi Ali also declared: ‘we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice. We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.’
Hirsi Ali was right: the West needs to engage with and repudiate the Islamic dogmas that killing or being killed in murderous attacks against non-Muslims is some kind of golden key which unlocks the gates of paradise. Until these beliefs and the canonical teachings they rely on are acknowledged and repudiated, the lives of non-Muslims will continue to be discarded as the ‘ticket to paradise’ of Muslim belligerents. (Mark Durie Blog)
Please also see the article Radicalization.
A note on the fundamental nature of Islam
There is some debate from the Christian side about the relation between islam and the Jewish and Christian faiths. There is a most skilful discussion but particularly on this issue in another book by Mark Durie entitled Which God? His line is to bring out the total lack of continuity of islam with ‘Abrahamic faith’; he has a telling final chapter titled The Abrahamic Fallacy. This book is strongly recommended, in part because of the way his quotations bring out how lovely Christian belief is! Durie is strongly against using the word Allah to refer to God.
I do have my own take on the fundamental nature of islam, which, however, feels very amateurish compared to Durie, and is somewhat at variance with his view that Allah simply is not God, and that there is no connection beyond one or two borrowings. (Though he states in his videos that in the middle-east, Allah is the accepted term among Christians for God.) My first recourse is to the idea of natural religion – that all people everywhere naturally believe in a good benevolent Creator God and more or less seek him. (See Richardson Eternity in their Hearts.) To the extent that islam is a reflection of the natural human impulse to ‘seek after him’ it is good, but unhappily that is not all that islam is about; specifically, everything in the Islamic world which draws upon the Koran and the example of Mohammed is a terrible distortion of the God who in our Bible reveals himself more fully than natural religion knows anything about – ‘revealed religion’. Thus my understanding that the Allah of the Koran is a distortion of the true God, based on Mohammed’s own life experience, his (exceedingly) partial exposure to Jewish and Christian thought, and a substantial demonic input. (I understand Durie to say not that Allah is a distortion, but simply, altogether different, a different God – though, as I say, he does point out that Arab converts from islam continue to call God ‘Allah’, implying a commonality. There is a very important discussion here, and Durie’s position is contradicted by Garrison.)
A comparison of the life of Mohammed with the standard model of paranoid mental illness tells us just about everything you could wish to know about the basic nature of koranic islam. A common outline of paranoia proposes a pattern of Paranoid Personality Disorder progressing to Paranoid Delusion and on to Paranoid Psychosis. This is exactly what we see in Mohammed.
He starts out life facing considerable rejection and a harsh natural and cultural environment –Durie goes through this in detail in The Third Choice. He also seems to have had an interest in religion; this, I understand, is often the case with people with a paranoid tendency – they are looking for answers to their fear. However, the paranoid personality traits seem to have become well established in the unfortunate Mohammed. Psychological literature tells us that the serious break with reality that is Paranoid Delusion tends to occur in mid-life, around the age of 40, and this is just what we find with Mohammed; in his case the onset of delusion seems to have been accommodated by the demonic – in fact the demonic nature of Mohammed’s inspiration is of course explicitly stated. In keeping with the normal progression of the illness, Mohammed had powerful delusions of grandeur, that he was God’s final messenger, no less. Then we note that at the outset of his new religious career Mohammed seems to have been relatively benign, but clearly his condition worsened into a psychosis; he became increasingly violent and unpredictable, his life degenerating markedly, in terms of violent reversals of policy and pronouncement as well as actions. From what I understand, any biography of Mohammed will confirm this pattern.
I conclude that islam as found in Mohammed is the religion of a profoundly paranoid individual. This is the reasoned out version of an initial response to first attempting to read the Koran, namely that it was the work of a severely deranged mind with a sort of genius for religion. The whole of islam is a tightly worked out system of thought exactly reflecting the nature of paranoia – conspiratorial, defensive, self-contained, suspicious, exclusive and potentially very violent, and with the vital factor of projection, the behaviour so symptomatic of the paranoid mind and which my reading indicates is so very evident in the muslim world. It is an interesting speculation as to how historically such a system gained a hold over so many people; it would also be interesting to investigate the degree to which the system does now affect the minds of people who are subject to it. What I think is for sure is that in so far as islam is koranic, this is the correct way to approach it (as a paranoid delusional mindset) and that the governing paradigms for governments and other public bodies to approach the islamic world and muslims should be the paradigms used in approaching, helping, encountering, dealing with the paranoid.
In terms of individual muslims the answer seems to lie in befriending, asking questions, and educating muslims about their own system. Nonie Darshwin says that the one thing that perpetuates islam is the fear of its subjects to ask questions, an act which in itself constitutes apostasy, so that the sharia system they think they support in fact lies far outside their actual knowledge. Islam thrives on ignorance. Some recent reading on paranoia (Clinical Theology by Frank Lake) suggests that once the delusional paranoid break with reality has occurred, it can still be helped and managed if the ‘patient’ can be brought to see the delusion not as something to reject but as a symptom of a deeper, infantile state which has emerged into the conscious mind; the paranoid person can then start to deal with the delusion as such. Clearly this kind of approach is well outside the reach of most institutions, government for example. The western world has, accordingly, little idea how to deal with islam; we excoriate as crazy the ‘extremists’ (those most affected by the paranoid system) and try to urge those less advanced to keep a grasp on reality! Of course, we hope the Word of God can gain deep access into the hearts and minds of the islamic world – Egypt, remember is encouragingly referred to as ‘my people’- and so too, the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we can note that it is the communities that conform to the paranoid personality pattern, not necessarily individuals.
The most recent book I have read is A wind in the house of Islam by David Garrison, another really wonderful book. This is a work of high intellectual quality, reporting research into movements among muslim people towards Christ around the globe. The author identifies 9 ‘houses of Islam’, corresponding to 9 geographical areas. Starting with the premise that in nearly 1500 years there have been essentially no substantial movements of muslims to Christ the author identifies some 80 or so movements in the last century or so nearly all of them happening now. The author travelled and interviewed muslim background believers in Christ, investigating why they had become believers, what Jesus means to them, what they think of Islam now. (to be continued…)
In the land of blue burqas is a very lovely book. It is set in Afghanistan among people who are fiercely islamic and locked into a traditional way of life that has no other perspective. The author gives an account of her own slow but deep conversion to Christ at home in the US, and her decision to go to Afghanistan to organize an NGO which would help the people with businesses, schools and so on. She was therefore working closely with the Afghanis, and it is her relationships and discussions with them on spiritual issues which fill the book. She learned their ways and customs and adapted very sensitively in so far as was compatible with her Christian witness; this and her work gave her free access to many, particularly the women. Again and again, as she explored the muslim beliefs and conveyed hers, she would encounter stark incomprehension; but she learned to never attack or confront islam but instead to show respect and simply talk about the ‘Honorable Jesus’ and allow her friends with whom she lived and laughed to draw their own conclusions, in part by enabling them to see the consequences of islam – violence. Many outwardly simply reject, but the seed is sown; and at times there is a real appreciation of Jesus’ different ways. The particular point of identity I remember is the idea that we are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and that for suffering people this fact can override powerfully enculturated religious views. Perhaps the major thing to come out of the book is to never, never, never judge another person, something we are all too prone to do as we think about the things islamic people do; had she entered into judgment at any point, or at least rather than struggling against it, succumbed, the author could never have had trod the fine and very dangerous line between speaking about Jesus and being offensive. It is worth adding that where the books by those like Ibrahim and Durie examine and warn against the nature of islam, here we have something close to the personal response of Jesus to the needs of the people. A beautiful book and another must read.