Islam the Challenge to the Church – Book Review

Islam the Challenge to the Church
Author:  Patrick Sookhdeo
Publisher:  Isaac Publishing, 2006
ISBN:  0 95478 354 9

Book Review by  Rev Dr Colin Bulley, Academic Dean and Head of Practical Studies, Redcliffe College.

Islam the Challenge to the Church is a fascinating and frustrating book!  It is fascinating in that it encompasses in very short order a large number of issues that are vital for assessing the challenge of present-day Islam to the church, it is very up-to-date and it is not afraid to say the ‘hard thing’ regarding Islam, something much needed today.  It is frustrating in that it does not have (or make?) the space to justify adequately all its statements or to qualify them – though the author may well not wish to do the latter.

Islam the Challenge to the Church has all the advantages and disadvantages of having been written by Patrick Sookhdeo, the greatly experienced and knowledgeable founder and director of the Barnabas Fund, established to care for Christians persecuted by Muslims.

There is no doubt that Sookhdeo has done the world a service by presenting a side of present-day Islam that is usually underplayed or ignored in both the church and the general Western media.  He is right to stress:

* the way in which Islam’s theology is that of a majority so that it expects to hold power reducing minorities to second-class citizens via ‘institutional injustice’ (p.66);
* its aim to make Dar al-harb (‘house of war’) Dar al-Islam (‘house of Islam’), often via violent jihad;
* its fixing of women’s status at a basically 7th-century level;
* its misrepresentations of its own theology for Western consumption, not least in Western schools;
* the predominance of conservatives in it;
* Islam’s irreconcilable differences from Christianity;
* its pressures for better treatment in the West while withholding equal treatment for Christians in countries it controls;
* the dangers posed by Muslim schools;
* Islam’s advocacy of Shari’a as the code by which Muslim life should be ordered;
* its seeking to protect itself from all criticism;
* the considerable difficulties involved in Christians cooperating or dialoguing with Muslims and in apologising to them, etc..

On the other hand, there are a number of issues concerning which Sookhdeo does not provide adequate justification and/or discussion, leaving the impression that an at times alarmist and unfairly negative view of Islam is being presented.  A few examples:

* the omission of American and British foreign policies as one of the major reasons for the politicisation of Islam in the West (p.2);
* the implication that the Western church could disappear in the face of Islam (pp.2-3);
* the lack of a reference and so of justification to support the assertion that ‘two versions of the Qur’an remained as late as the mid-twentieth century’ (p.15);
* the same regarding the statement that ‘mosques, in contrast to churches, have always been centres of political agitation and intrigue’ (p.23): no doubt some have at some times, but have they all at all times, including now?
* the lack of assessment or estimation of how widespread the Muslim use of taqiyya (‘dissimulation, permitted deceit’) is (pp.33-37);
* similarly regarding the influence of Muslim curses on Christians and Jews as compared with the length and prominence of Patrick’s treatment of them (pp.37-40);
* the almost exclusive focus on the differences between Islam and Christianity (pp.48-54);
* the lack of recognition of any justice in the Muslim claims to equal rights in the West (pp.55-56);
* the implication of the danger of Islamic schools without any discussion of the danger of Christian schools (p.58);
* the lack of recognition that some (many?) Muslim women appreciate the protection afforded by Muslim treatment of women (pp.59-60);
* the overwhelming emphasis on the difficulties involved in Christians befriending Muslims, difficulties that arise solely from within Islam and from Muslims desires to demonstrate superiority over Christians and Christianity (pp.71 ff).

Sookhdeo might well argue that he wanted to present the challenge of Islam in a very brief compass and so he did not have time and space to qualify some of the above as he might have done in a larger book.  He might well want to justify some or all of the matters I have criticised above.

I thoroughly enjoyed, and was stimulated by, reading this highly informative and timely book and recognise that ‘getting the balance’ regarding the depiction of Islam is difficult and varies from person to person.  However, that does not lessen the obligation to try to get it right and I’m sure Sookhdeo has sought to do that, though I may disagree with him in some particulars.

Back to Issue 13

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