Many of us are perplexed about the phenomenon of radical Islam, which seems to have come out of nowhere to hit us with a ferocity that is stunning. Islam has forced itself onto the world stage in a way that is unavoidable and without precedent. Yet, questions abound, and we are inundated with conflicting information and answers.
What is the real message of the Koran? Whence the hatred spouted by the likes of Osama bin Laden and his millions of admirers? Why is the Israel/Palestine conflict seemingly without a solution? Is the Islamization of Europe inevitable?
The questions go on and on; and so do the confusion and division about the answers to them. The biggest challenge is to find trustworthy information and true insight about Islam and its impact on the world.
This is where the life and work of the Rev. Bassam and Shirley Madany in their joint ministry to the Arab world fills a very important role. Bassam Madany was born in Syria, received his early education there, emigrated to the U.S. in 1950, trained for the ministry, and preached the Gospel to the Arab world on the Back to God Hour radio broadcast for 36 years until his retirement in 1994. He and his wife Shirley maintain an Internet ministry focused on Islam and the Middle East.*
Previously, Bassam Madany published The Bible and Islam: Sharing Gods Word With a Muslim (reviewed in this paper August 2,2004). Their most recent joint publication, An Introduction to Islam, consists of 33 chapters of interviews, reviews and essays, dealing with every important facet of Islam, its relationship to Christianity, and its impact on the Western democracies.
The reader is introduced to a slew of titles and authors, as well as few documentaries and films dealing with Islam, such as the following: Islam is More Than a Religion; Islam and War; Jesus in the Quran; Missions to Muslims in the Twenty-First Century; Muslims and Christians in Dialogue; The Muslim Challenge to the West; What You need to Know About Islam and Muslims; The Attraction of Islam; and In Depth: A Conversation with Bernard Lewis.
Islam is More than a Religion
One of the most important facts about Islam, ironically the hardest to understand by secularized Westerners, is that it is more than a religion. Many commentators tend to ignore this reality and therefore do not understand the depth of conviction (fanaticism) of believing Muslims. This is why so much of the public discussion about Islam misses the point.
Bassam Madany explains that Islam views religion, culture and politics as one indivisible entity. It rejects the idea of the separation of church and state. Instead, it has an exclusivist political worldview and therefore has no room for non-Muslim entities (i.e., states) to freely exist within the context of the Household of Islam. (195) It is this theocratic notion of politics that makes Islam an imperialistic religion with imperialistic designs. (163)
The migration of millions of Muslims to the West is occurring at a time when the West, especially Europe, is in the process of cutting its ties with its Judeo-Christian heritage. This is what makes for a confusing picture for these new immigrants. They tend to remain isolated from the mainstream where many find their identity in their religion while seeing around them moral decadence and spiritual confusion. They are convinced that Islam is the superior religion that has answers for all that is wrong with the West.
But the contrast with Islam goes deeper. Islam presents itself as the superior religion because it is based on the latest and perfect expression of Gods law for all times and for the entire world. Although the first centuries after its founding by the prophet Muhammad in 622 was a time of political conquest and cultural enrichment, during the last 500 years Islam has suffered decline and conquest. It blames the West and modernization for the poverty and the lack development within the Arab world.
The result is that the mindset taught by the proponents of radical Islam is absolute confidence in their world-embracing mission combined with revenge toward the West, which they blame for their own backwardness. The chapters in this Introduction provide fascinating insights about this background of what now constitutes one of the most complex and dangerous challenges for the Western democracies.
Introduction is very good at helping us to become better acquainted with the history of Islam as well as its main, immutable source of inspiration, the Koran. The latter is held to be holy and infallible because the prophet Muhammad, so it is claimed, received it directly from God (Allah). Pious Muslims accept the Koran to be the only and all-inclusive authority for faith, worship, and morality. This exclusivist view lies behind the belief that all man-made laws are an attempt to defy Allahs authority and therefore amount to blasphemy, a sin worthy of death.
Why They Hate Us
This central article of their faith explains that ultimately radical Muslims do not hate us because of what we have done but for who we are. In other words, their hatred is not caused by the hedonism and crime within the West, but by their considering us Infidels (especially Christians and Jews, but all other non-Muslims). As the authors of Introduction explain, the division is one between the Household of Islam versus that of war. It is exactly this background that makes the hatred between radical Muslims and the Others so irreconcilable.
Oddly, refusal to face this reality is now deemed to be the better part of wisdom in the West. This notion is very much at work in the Western media, the academy and has even infected the Christian churches. Bassam Madany describes how this is happening, and he refers to two films shown on U.S. television and used in public schools. Many of you may have watched Islam: Empire of Faith and Legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. Madany writes about the former: One can hardly believe the shocking revisionism, distortions, and omissions that are replete in this account of the history of Islam. (197)
In the same category are some non-Muslims who are seen as authorities and in fact serve as apologists for Islam, including John Esposito and the former Roman Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong. On the other side, the authors mention a number of outstanding experts and critics of Islam who provide helpful information and insights, including Robert Spencer, Wolfgang Pannenberg, Peter Riddell, Peter Cotterell, Bat Yeor, Bernard Lewis, and many others.
Bassam Madany singles out for special attention the amazingly gifted missionary and prolific author, Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952) whom he calls Defender of Apostolic Missions. Zwemer authored more than fifty books and was the founder and editor of the journal, The Moslem World. He knew Arabic very well and delighted in explaining the claims of the Christian faith to inquiring Muslims.
The Madanys take issue with those Christians who advise that we must proclaim a pluralist or contextualized kind of Christianity and downplay the fundamental difference between the Bible and the Koran. These modern Christians think that we should adjust the biblical message by making it more in tune with the notion of tolerance and inclusiveness. Bassam and Shirley Madany explain why the age-old message of salvation by grace alone is the only one entrusted to the Christian Church.
They do a masterful job in showing the difference between the biblical message of a loving God and salvation by grace versus the Koranic teachings about salvation by works and by conquest. This message comes through most clearly in the second book listed.
Voices from the Arab world
Muslims Meeting Christ is edited and mostly written by Shirley Madany, containing a large number of testimonies from listeners to the Arabic language Back to God Hour radio broadcasts. The last chapter tells the story of this mission to the Arab world beginning in 1958. Chapter 2 consists of a 1975 conference speech by Bassam Madany, The Changing Situation in Islam.
Chapter 8, Pioneering in Arabia, is the story of a remarkable missionary of the Reformed Church of America, Cornelia Dalenberg (1893-1988) who spent more than 50 years in the Arab world. Her speech The Cross of Christ in Arabia, presented in 1936, is a moving description of the hardship and spiritual poverty she encountered. It is above all a story of faith and the power of Gods love to heal and redeem those lost in darkness and fear.
In his 1975 speech Bassam Madany began by reminding his audience of the character of Islam and the circumstances that contributed to its rise since the mid-seventh century. He said:
Of all the great world religions, Islam is uniquely anti-Christian. It has always been a formidable enemy of our faith since it denies every fundamental Christian doctrine. The greatest tragedy in the history of the world is that things could have been otherwise, and that Islam may never have arisen had the early church been more concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Arabs. If only the church had given them the Word of God.
These two books provide a great deal of information and insight about the history and character of Islam at a time of apprehension and confusion, also within the Christian community. Above all, they confirm that where the truth of the Bible is diligently proclaimed and lived, hatred makes way for love, and fear and despair are replaced by courage and hope.
These timely and clearly written books deserve a place of honour in every Church and Christian school library, as well as in every Christian family.
*For information and book orders, contact
Middle East Resources, 106 E 162nd Place, South Holland, IL 60473 USA