Kissing Cousins? and Touching the Soul of Islam – Book Review

Kissing Cousins? and Touching the Soul of Islam
Kissing Cousins
Author:  Bill Musk
Publisher:  Lion Hudson
ISBN:  1 85424 675 5.

Touching the soul of Islam
Author:  Bill Musk
Publisher:  Lion Hudson
ISBN:  1 85424 652 6

Kissing Cousins? and Touching the Soul of Islam are two comprehensively researched and complementary volumes that will prove enormously stimulating to those already in the process of training (formally or otherwise) for ministry to Muslims.  Neither aims to be a ‘beginners guide’.

Of the two, Touching the Soul of Islam is the more readable, helped by regular real-life illustrations.  It is an anthropological study, full of wisdom and experience, and difficult to contradict.  Musk states that the core of the book lies in Chapter 4 – required reading for all those who have any regular dealings with Muslims.  It is an essential sweep of the heart of the Islamic worldview, focused on the place of honour and shame in Islamic societies.  Reading this chapter alone will help any Christian to understand not only his Muslim neighbour, but also to have realistic cultural expectations of new brothers and sisters, who have come from an Islamic background.

Chapter 4 ends with a challenge to western Christianity’s emphasis in gospel preaching, focused as it often is on John 3:16: ‘Perhaps it is time to stop expecting the Muslim to see the love of God in the cross of Christ.  It might be easier for him to glimpse there something of Christ’s loyalty to his Father, something of the Father’s glory in watching his Son obey him to the end, vindicating “family” honour and engendering providential acts that defend the Son’s honour and true status.’ (p.112).  Alternatively, in Kissing Cousins?, Musk postulates whether it might be better to communicate the gospel ‘through the lens of 1 John 3:8 – God destroying the devil’s work’ (p.360).

The former idea certainly resounds with Scripture’s testimony to God’s primary concern for his own glory.  The defeat of Satan does also seem to be a part of the NT gospel proclamation (Colossians 1:13; 2:15) – an aspect which I know I neglect from my Western cultural standpoint.  Some questions remain, though, about the legitimacy of this kind of contextualisation.  But I think this is one of the strengths of Musk’s writing, provided the reader is prepared to engage in further study.  He is good at flagging up potential ethno-centricism in our reading of the gospel, and forces the reader to begin to work that through in an attitude of humility – excellent mission preparation!

The specific aim of Kissing Cousins? is better understanding between Christians and Muslims, to enable more fruitful communication between them.  In other words, he desires attitude change – if we change our attitude to Muslims, they might change theirs to Jesus.  Whilst attempting to be careful to avoid pluralism, Musk wants to prevent the reader from simply writing Islam off as Satanically-inspired (p.382), forming a ‘blind’ to effective communication.  He desires that Christians abandon a ‘view of Muslims as simply rejecting Jesus of the Bible – begin with where they are and move them on from there’ (p.15).

Musk is clear that the two faiths are indeed cousins, since despite significant differences, they share much in common – both being Monotheistic and having shared Abrahamic ancestry.  In his ensuing doctrinal survey, I found myself most discontented with this central contention.  Concerning Abraham, Musk asks how we can say that he had a relationship with God.  His answer is that it was ‘in a manner similar to the Islamic conceptualisation of Islam’; in other words that Abraham submitted to God, the essence of Islam.  He is very vague about any knowledge Abraham may have had of the Saviour.

Yet when we examine the Genesis account, we see quite a different encounter between God and Abraham.  In Genesis 15:5 it is the Word of God who takes Abraham outside to see the stars.  It is The Angel of the Lord who meets both Abraham and Hagar and is clearly responded to as if he were God – something angels are not normally comfortable with.  Has God ever been seen or known except through the 2nd Person of the Trinity?  Only pluralists can answer yes! Of course, Abraham’s understanding was veiled, but it seems very difficult, and dangerous, to liken Abraham’s faith in God to Islam.  Furthermore, it seems manifestly inaccurate to claim that Christians and Muslims are monotheists alike.  God’s people have never been monotheists in the way that Muslims understand Allah.

In propounding his ‘cousins’ idea, Musk stresses other similarities, both doctrinal and historical.  Most importantly this concerns Muhammad, who in his proclamation of the One God in a polytheistic context is ‘truly in the lineage of the biblical prophets’ (p.82). In specifically answering whether we can conceive of Muhammad as a true prophet, Musk states that he is in that uncomfortable area in between (p.83) – typically Anglican we might jest!  All of which fits his conclusion that Islam is rather more like one of the heresies of the early Church, that is, can be corrected rather than needing to be wholly rejected.  For as Musk says, “Truth, after all, is truth, wherever it is found” (p.83).

I wonder how many Christians will be able to give their assent to that definition of true prophethood?  This is my other main disagreement with Musk, in the area of Revelation.  Musk states that the truest comparison should be between the Qur’an and Jesus, rather than the Bible, for the Bible is not an end in itself – it is Jesus who is the perfect revelation from God.  Such an idea, spiritually attractive from some angles, is in fact rather dangerous, for there is no Jesus other than the Jesus of Scripture. God’s Revelation of himself has never been composed of ‘event’ only, as in the sending of Jesus, but always includes God’s words of explanation.  Musk’s is a biblically-unwarranted dichotomy.

These are my major reservations about Kissing Cousins?. On a lesser scale, I would also add that some sections require much fuller explanation, such as asking how the Qur’an can be God’s eternal Word, when this comes so close to offending Muslim sensitivity towards placing anything or any attribute alongside God.  Musk also punctuates these ‘heavy’ sections with lighter interludes in which he briefly recasts OT narratives to suggest how we might convince Muslims that they have a ‘special place in the divine heart’.  I am not sure what to make of these!

Elsewhere, Kissing Cousins? is very strong in helping the Christian understand the historical roots of Islamic extremism, something which definitely helps to balance our media-saturated perceptions.  There is also some helpful material on the Gospel of Barnabas.

In summary, I have to concede that Musk’s aim has been largely fulfilled in me, in terms of an attitude change towards Muslims.  Although I disagree with many of his workings, these too have nevertheless stimulated my own preparation for mission service.

Back to Issue 13

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