There is no doubt that there is a wave of movements to Christ sweeping across the Islamic world, and this testimony by Abu Atallah with Kent Van Till is witness to that. As this movement grows, it is important that we in the West listen to voices that have been marginalized in the past: the voices of Muslim-background believers and of the historic Egyptian church, Protestant or Coptic. This book is an important addition to a growing collection of books by Muslim-background believers, such as Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by the recently deceased Nabil Qureshi. While Qureshi was a convert from the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, Abu, or Stephen, Atallah, to use his English name, is a convert from mainstream Sunni Islam and so has an interesting perspective not only from a religious but also a cultural-political standpoint.
I especially appreciated Atallah’s first-person testimony and insights gained from his ministry among Muslims. I also gained more awareness of the plight of Muslim-background believers and the dangers involved in converting from Islam to Christianity. Many of us in the West are unaware of these issues. This book is a good reminder of what many converts from Islam are experiencing today. The specific stories of believers – and Atallah’s family is a good example – help us to understand the shame and struggle that Muslim-background believers and their families suffer when individuals convert.
Making it personal
This is really the strength of the book. While there are many instructional materials by both western and Middle Eastern authors on understanding Islam, many do not have the stories of personal struggle and insights to the religious and cultural reasons for conflict and pain among the converted. I would like to see even more stories written in this vein, especially because the church in the West has not suffered in these ways and paid this kind of price for conversion. While I fear that some of what Atallah recounts might increase the growing fear of Muslims in the western church, I believe that Atallah presents a balanced, realistic view of Islam and encourages Christians to love Muslims, much as he has done himself. He encourages us to believe that Muslims can be won for Christ; indeed, this is occurring all over the world, as confirmed by A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison.
The challenge in the North American context is to bring together this kind of realistic portrayal of Islam in the Middle Eastern context with a western desire to bring Muslims and Christians into interfaith dialogue. Such a dialogue is not about compromising or blending our beliefs but rather talking frankly about our different perspectives and traditions in a way that is peaceful and builds community. Some methods of reaching Muslims can lead to a clash of religions. It would be interesting to hear how Egyptians are sharing their faith through religious dialogues and other faith initiatives.
God uses many ways to bring people into his kingdom, and evangelism is one way. Could another way forward be methods of dialogue, which is both a witness as well as a time of listening to the religious other in order to understand their perspective? A Reformed approach to other faith traditions trusts that the Holy Spirit has spoken some aspects of truth into other religions yet also believes that all religions are fallen and in need of Christ’s redemption. It is only through Christ that we find the way, the truth and the life. In the missional spirit of Lesslie Newbigin, we journey together to be converted by Christ. I would like to hear more discussion on such interfaith issues from an Egyptian and Middle Eastern perspective.
At Resonate Global Mission, we have spent the past seven years encouraging the average church member to love his or her Muslim neighbor, via both personal witness and interfaith dialogue. I continue to pray that Christians in North America will overcome fear and engage with their Muslim neighbors. This book will be an encouragement to them. At the same time, I believe that there are special people with the skills, spiritual gifts and knowledge of having once lived as Muslims who are able to reach out to their Muslim neighbors more effectively than can the rest of us. Such people need the support of the church and the prayers of the saints to continue their ministry in such an important time as this. Ministry to Muslims takes a lot of special knowledge and skill, but most of all it takes courage and love.
I am thankful for this team effort by Atallah and Van Till. My prayers are for God’s continued blessing in this ministry. I look forward to a follow-up book down the road recounting more stories of what God continues to do through Atallah and other Muslim-background believers.