Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road [1]– Paul Gordon Chandler

A Book Review by June Engdahl

This book is a study of the unusual witness of a Syrian-born Muslim believer in Christ, one Mazhar Mallouhi.  It is prefaced with praise from various well-known writers and certain leaders in Christian missions, including the late Ralph Winter, Greg Livingstone and Brother Andrew.  For Livingstone, Mallouhi is his “primary mentor in the Arab world.” Brother Andrew prays that the book “will build a new much needed bridge.”  

Paul Gordon Chandler, the chronicler of Mazhar Mallouhi’s life and understanding of Christ, is a Western Christian who has spent much of his life serving with the Anglican/Episcopal Church in various Middle Eastern countries.  He is most comfortable in a “Muslim context.”  (p. 1) Introduced to Mallouhi almost two decades ago in Tunis, they became fast friends.   Chandler writes glowingly of his unique and irenic witness in bringing Christ to Muslims in a way that they can be accepted and welcomed into their culture.

As he introduces his friend, Chandler poses this question: “Is it possible for someone from a Muslim background to follow Christ uniquely and remain an insider, staying within their Islamic culture?”  (p. 2) Mazhar Mallouhi says “yes”.  It seems reasonable enough that any new believer in Christ would not have to part with absolutely everything in his culture to follow Christ.  Foods and harmless customs and traditions would fit into that category.  But one has to understand that in Islam, culture, theology and politics cannot be separated. The Arab family, clan, religious community and nation are just too important a part of their culture to be questioned. (p. 102)    In order not to offend Muslims, Christ would have to be incorporated into their total Islamic belief system and made subservient to it. 

Chandler and Mallouhi, of course, do not admit as much, but the effect of their effort to re-present Christ in an “insider” friendly way does just that.  The Christ Mallouhi wants to share with Muslims is not the historic Christ of Scripture and the Christian Creeds of the major Christian traditions: Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.  In an effort to make Christ inoffensive to Muslims he becomes malleable in their hands.  The eternal Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, Son of God and Saviour of the world through His atonement for sin, before whom all the world will eventually bow in humble adoration, is missing from the Christ they have refashioned for the Muslim road. 

Striving to bring Muslims to believe in Christ is a worthy goal and not an easy task as history has proved.   But it should not be done at the expense of the biblical truth that defines Him.  Chandler wants to present Mallouhi as a breath of fresh air compared to what went before him.  This is clearly seen in his negative attitude toward the West, which he tirelessly reiterates.  He is scornful of most every Western interaction with the Arab world.  He does not challenge the Middle Eastern milieu’s simmering antipathy toward the West in general and Christianity in particular.   He notes that the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, became influential in the area’s schools.  The Brotherhood, along with the Arab media, considered the influence of Christian missionaries in the region a “kind of disease to be eradicated.” (p.19)

Chandler gives credence to a still popular book by Mustafa Khalidi and Umar Farrukh, first published in 1953.  Evangelism and Imperialism in the Arab World, that essentially blames Christians, their activities, their works of charity, schools and hospitals as “dangerous agents of Western imperialism.” (p. 19) He fails to mention the fact that Umar Farrukh was a member of the Syrian Communist Party, and an ardent supporter of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, who insisted on linking Christian missions to imperialism.  One wonders if those Christian missiologists who so highly praise Mallouhi’s paradigm, as set forth by Chandler, actually agree that an Arab Communist’s negative interpretation of Western activities in the Arab world, especially Christian activity, should be touted as a valuable critique and warning for how Christian mission work in the area should proceed.

Conversely, Chandler exhibits no similar attitude toward Islam or Muslim culture.   Some of the more obvious defects that any neutral observer would see in Islamic teaching and culture are intolerance toward all other faiths, the often ill-treatment of Christians and Jews in Muslim majority countries, the inferior status of women and their mistreatment by men, in the home and in law, intolerance toward fellow Muslims who might question Islam or leave it, the imposition of Sharia law, the Madrasas teaching young Muslims to become Jihadists and murder in the name of Allah.  Chandler does not even get close to discussing such things.  And these serious defects are not even exhaustive.

Chandler and Mallouhi seek to elevate Islamic culture, not criticize it.  Inelegant truths do not serve their purpose.  They want to separate Christ from Christianity and bring him into the Muslim culture and their Islamic belief system just as it is.  This they suggest will make him acceptable to Muslims. Doubt is raised about devoted missionaries to the Muslim world in years past, who are seen as lacking the Spirit.  According to Mallouhi:

“The Muslim media picks up any negative comments from the Christian world about Islam.  For example, if you go to Bahrain, in the Gulf, you will hear some of the elderly local Muslims speak negatively about Samuel Zwemer, the famous American Protestant missionary, who served in the Gulf region in the early 1900s.  Although he is a great hero to Western Protestant Christians, there was something in his attitude that did not link with his message to them and his life’s efforts given to them.  It is very sad that the spirit of Christ was not evident to some Muslims.  So it requires generations of sowing the true spirit of Christ.” (p. 194)

His defensiveness toward any kind of criticism of Islam is obvious in how he prefaces his dismissive attitude toward Zwemer.  There is no questioning of the “elderly local Muslims” negative view of Zwemer.  It is likely that anything Zwemer would have said or done would be seen negatively if he was preaching Christ crucified, as the only way, truth and life.  Was that the “attitude” they didn’t like?  In any event, by what criteria does Mallouhi judge that Zwemer lacked the “spirit of Christ”? To even bring up such a gratuitous criticism dishonors Zwemer and attempts to delegitimize his myriad and worthy efforts for the cause of Christ in the Arab world.[2]

Mallouhi’s syncretistic perspective went through several stages.  As a child he was strictly schooled at home and school in Islamic belief and ritual.  However, by his early 20’s, Mallouhi rejected the Islam instilled in him from birth.  He began to study Eastern religions, read the world’s philosophers and loved Russian novels.  He joined the Baath Party and the Syrian Army, where he was eventually given a desk job when it was discovered he was a writer and a poet.  He began to study the works of the Hindu Gandhi and discovered his “great respect for Christ.” (p. 21) 

Mallouhi also read the Arabic Old and New Testaments which he received from another army man who was a Syrian Presbyterian.  He read them over and over and was finally struck with Christ’s words “come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” and “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”  And so it was at age 24, in 1959, his heart responded and he asserted that Christ was “truly” his “Lord” and he asked Him to give him that promised new life. 

Chandler’s description of Mallouhi’s change of heart lacks several things.  There is no indication that the objective truths of the Christian faith, as things to be believed, played a part in his enlightenment experience.  It was entirely subjective; a movement toward the Christ who promises rest and abundant life.  But such promises have a context in Scripture.  They apply to believers who understand, grieve for, and desire to be saved from, personal sin and guilt before God and his law.  They are a fruit of faith in Christ as Scripture reveals Him. 

As the story of Mallouhi’s life unfolds, it becomes clear his experience of Christ was going to be on his terms, free from any meaningful connection to Christianity, the Church, its creeds, confessions and doctrines in any traditional way.  Chandler states that Mallouhi experienced a change as his whole personality was vivified; he loved everyone, and danced for joy.  But rather than giving credit to the Holy Spirit working through the Scripture for his new life, Chandler attributed Mallouhi’s transformation to “God’s Spirit working through one humble Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, who did his best to live his life in the shadow of Christ as taught in the Sermon on the Mount.” (p.23)  In a section dealing with suffering, (p. 130-133) Mallouhi again mentions his debt to Gandhi.  While being imprisoned unjustly at various times by some of the despotic governments in the Arab world, notably Egypt and even Syria, his very own homeland, Mallouhi credits Gandhi as his inspiration to follow Christ. (p. 130) It is odd, if not heterodox, to find comfort in Christ as mediated by Gandhi, who was not even a Christian.[3]  One of Mallouhi’s favorite writers, the Methodist E. Stanley Jones, (p. 205) was also very appreciative of Gandhi, and claimed that unbelievers from other faiths actually “have” the Spirit of Christ while often Christ’s own followers do not.[4]    

As Mallouhi progressed in his particular understanding of Christ, he first associated with Arab Christians, who viewed Arab culture critically along strict orthodox lines.  They told him to “leave his cultural past behind.” (p. 105) He made the attempt but was troubled about it.  He believed they were either too doctrinaire or did not exhibit the spirit of Christ.  Finally, with the help of liberal Western Christians sympathetic to Arab culture, Mallouhi completely changed back to becoming very protective of his Muslim background and culture.

Mallouhi eventually went to Beirut, where there was a flourishing intellectual community.  Many had suffered persecution from Arab governments in the area and found Beirut a respite.  Mallouhi wrote several of his novels there and eventually married a Syrian Christian, but the marriage was troubled and only lasted four years.  He moved to Morocco, started a business, and eventually went to America and studied at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission, in the years immediately prior to his meeting and marrying his second wife Christine in December of 1975.  Chandler does not say a lot about his life at Fuller, where “there was a special programmatic focus on the Islamic world” except that he was “able to be of assistance to professors in some of the classes.”  Fuller’s Mission Department at the time was in the forefront of advocating and advancing a new theology of missions at variance with historic missionary theory and practice.[5] 

Chandler and Mallouhi steer clear of setting forth the truth claims of either Christianity or Islam.  The reader has to settle for Mallouhi’s claim to have great love for Christ as if that ends the matter.  He says very little about the Christ he loves: His Incarnation, Deity, Personhood and the doctrines formulated by the early Ecumenical Councils of the Church about Him.  To do so might conflict with his purpose of reaching Muslims for Christ, without offending them.  When he goes into Mosques and cafes with his Bible telling Muslims about Jesus one can only assume he is avoiding most of the basic truths that the scriptures outline.  The irreconcilable differences between the two faiths that would inevitably arise were he to do so are thus avoided.  The real issues at stake are deeper but not addressed.  What is to be done about the exclusive truth claims of the Christian faith and how they differ from Islam’s own claims to exclusive truth?  What is the responsibility of Christian missionaries to proclaim them?

Over 50 years ago F.F. Bruce, when describing the jailing of a Sudanese Christian man who had delivered a sermon on Jesus words “No man cometh unto the Father but by me”, wrote this:

“It does bring home to us what, to many people’s minds, is the crucial skandalon of the Christian faith, its central offence.  Christianity will not come to terms with other religions, nor will it relax its exclusive claims so as to countenance or accommodate them.  It presents itself, as it did in the first century, as God’s final word to man; it proclaims Christ, as it did in the first century, to be the one Mediator between God and man.  The Sudanese evangelist might be right in maintaining that he said nothing hostile to the Muslim faith so far as the law of the land was concerned, but in a religious sense any proclamation of the gospel, especially when based on such a text as he chose, must inevitably be hostile to a system which proclaims another Christ to be the spokesman of God par excellence.[6]

Chandler, Mallouhi and other Insider Movements on the mission field today are attempting to soften the skandalon.  Christianity, they say, should come to terms with Islam and be accommodating to Muslims.  They urge that great care be taken to avoid giving offense or discrediting anyone’s culture, excepting, of course, Western culture.  Certainly, needless offense should be avoided, yet it strains credulity to think Insider Movement techniques, be they what they will,[7] would lessen offense in any measurable degree for those who believe that Islam is the final revelation from Allah, superseding the Christian religion and outside the bounds of criticism.

To show how strongly Mallouhi is influenced by this mindset, he says that all efforts by Western Christians to convert Muslims to Christianity is “not true love or friendship.” (p. 81) Scripture, however, teaches that all men everywhere (including Muslims) are lost in sin and need salvation and reconciliation with God, which necessitates conversion.   If Western Christians (or any Christians) do not preach the necessity of conversion they are neglecting a seminal Christian truth.  Surely, if “conversion” from Islam to Christianity is so detrimental to “true love or friendship” why would Mallouhi and Chandler not also look askance at Muslims seeking converts to Islam?

They are looking for common ground between Christianity and Islam.  Thus Chandler says “In the Qur’an Jesus is called the Messiah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Word, and Spirit of God.”   “Christians and Muslims have a “commonality” in their “mutual respect for Christ.”  Mallouhi adds: “Building on what we have in common requires that Christians take a positive view of Muhammad and all he was attempting to do.  Beginning with this foundation, everything changes in how we view Islam.” (p. 89)

True, the Qur’an uses the terms described for Jesus.  But Muhammad gave them his own interpretation. Every word has a context. There is nothing in common between the Biblical Messiah and the Qur’anic Messiah.[8]  For instance, “Messiah” in Christianity relates to the Anointed One, the second person of the Trinity, Son of God, while  “Messiah” in Islam means he is a mere servant of Allah.  The other designations have similar contextual differences.  Missionaries cannot properly witness to the Gospel of Christ by simply noting that similar words are found in both the Qur’an and the Bible.  They have to be true to the Scripture as it witnesses to itself and not mold it to fit into any other religion’s tenets.

By suggesting that Christians are required to take a positive view of Muhammad and all he was “attempting to do”, Mallouhi is shutting off debate about the character and ethics of Muhammad as well as his aims and methods in spreading his new belief system. There is much in Muhammad’s life that is morally questionable.  The many Christians, who seek rapprochement with Muslims and their faith, generally ignore the dark side of Muhammad’s personality, but there are now many resources available, particularly on Internet websites hosted by ex-Muslims and reformist Muslims, that speak about these issues and criticize both Muhammad and the Qur’an.[9]

In describing what Muhammad was “attempting to do”, Chandler sanitizes his record considerably.  Muhammad’s Meccan phase “focused solely on spiritual reformation, preaching to the residents to return to following the one true God away from their polytheism.” His Medinan phase “became associated with power and authority, and he himself became a political and military figure, uniting the various Arab tribes around a common belief and mission.” (p. 90) In fact, from its inception Islam spread by conquest with the sword and belief was coerced on fear of death.  Chandler attempts to mute that fact by contrasting Muhammad with Constantine.  “[W]hen Constantine, the Roman emperor, converted to the Christian faith, he not only made the church officially legal, but put Christianity on the path to becoming the state religion and began to fight wars in the name of Christ.” (p. 90)  This comparison needs rebuttal beyond the scope of this review  Suffice it to say that, unlike Muhammad, Constantine did not claim “prophet” status, or claim to be the purveyor of God’s latest and final revelation to mankind.  His military exploits had more to do with fending off the Roman Empire’s enemies, not coercing belief with the sword.  He began a policy of religious toleration, especially for Christianity, which up to his time had not been tolerated by the Empire.

Christianity had spread by persuasion and often by the martyrdom of its converts.  It is true that Christians, including Constantine, did not always live up to the principles of Jesus, and did spill blood on occasion in contending for the faith.  Yet their actions should not be judged as morally equivalent to those of Muslims, whose very teachings engender a jihadic spirit and allow, if not demand, wars of conquest for Allah!   Today Islam has many followers spilling innocent blood in its name, based on the teachings of its holy book.  Christians all over the Muslim world have suffered death for their beliefs at the hands of Muslims.  Yet in the light of these known facts, and seeing daily its current manifestations in terror networks around the world, why would Chandler instead direct his ire at Christians who, he says:

“are in danger of repeating harmful periods of history when the West has gone to war on the Muslim East to conquer, physically or spiritually, in the name of God.  Muslims rarely hear ‘Good News’ from Christians; instead they feel targeted as enemies in a new war. … Do Muslims know we are Christians by our hostility?  It is time to lay aside warfare rhetoric and antagonistic strategies; this only creates an unnecessary enmity between us.  The Christian faith will continue to be suspect to Muslims while the Christian West sees the Muslim world as an enemy.” (p. 74)

One of Mazhar’s protégés, a North African academic named Samir, is the type of believer Mazhar promotes.  Samir became a Christ follower while doing a doctorate on a Sufi mystic who wanted to be “crucified like Christ.”  Samir didn’t want to lose his “Arab identity” and rejected becoming part of the local Arab Christian community which was “viewed like those who have AIDS” because when they converted they were seen to have left their Arab culture and joined “the West.”  Mallouhi mentored him and Samir read his novels.  He continued “to study Sufism and came to the conviction that the essence of Christ’s teaching, and also the heart of Sufism, was of self-sacrifice for God.”   He continues to pray in the Mosques and his “spiritual growth” is enhanced by using “the beautiful verses of the Qur’an, the Gospels, and the Psalms.”  In his lectures at University he urges students to study the Bible. “He feels very comfortable inviting people to believe in Christ, since they do not need to become ‘churchians.’” (pp. 114-115) 

Here is another example of trying to make Christ fit into an Islamic belief system, in this case a mystical Sufi’s.  Do those missiologists who so highly praise Mallouhi’s efforts to reach Muslims really have no problem with this Sufi’s misunderstanding of the Person and work of Christ and his attempt to appropriate Him for his own subjective purposes?

What Mallouhi thinks about the Bible’s truth claims and the Church’s doctrinal beliefs is troubling to say the least. 

Concerning the Church Mallouhi says this: 

“Personally, I have not been part of an official religious institution.  But rather I have focused on serving and working together with others interested in spiritual matters.  I feel we often limit our Lord, putting him in a box, building a structure around God.  And then too often we lose the power in it or can’t experience the spirit of it.  I am fed more often than not by those outside the church.  I do, however, love fellowship with followers of Christ, and wherever I have lived I have started such groups – people meeting together to talk about Christ and grow together in our understanding of God.  This is what ‘church’ is to me.” (p. 182)

Such unconcern for the Church, Christ’s bride, (Rev. 21:9) which He loves and for which He died (Eph. 5:23-27) is a denial of a main truth of Christianity.  Meeting with people outside of it is to separate them from Christ’s bride, the body of believers.  Going to church was “difficult” for Mallouhi, “like ‘going to the dentist’”   This is how he described a more “positive” church-going experience:

“The one time I felt I truly had a positive worship experience in a Christian Church service was in a very small Anglican gathering in Rabat, Morocco.  There were very few of us present, but the liturgy, the cantor response, and the celebration of Holy Communion all together led me to worship God.  In church services I find that I am more often than not an observer of what is happening at the front and it is often entertainment.  In the mosque I am a participator in worship.”  (p. 177)

Several elements of the Anglican service moved him to “worship God”, but in the Mosque he could actually “participate” in “worship.”  This attempt to find a commonality in Christian and Muslim worship is spurious.  Can Mallouhi and other Insiders truly claim that Jesus’ command that we worship the Father “in spirit and truth” applies to both church and mosque?   Who precisely is the object of worship in these two settings?  The Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or the Muslim’s Allah?  One thing is clear though.  For Mallouhi worship in the mosque takes precedence over what takes place in the church.

Mallouhi further elaborated on what he thought of the Eucharist/Holy Communion as follows:

“… sharing a meal with others who follow Christ is what I find as my ‘holy communion.’  Sharing the bread is very significant in Arab culture.  When you meet a Middle Easterner who likes you, he will want you to share his bread, to be part of his family.  The root is in the Old Testament, such as the stories of Melchizedek and Abraham and the three strangers, and Jacob and Esau.  For us Arabs, this is still our tradition.  My father and grandfather did not go to lawyers for agreements.  They broke bread.  When tribes fight, in order to seal their reconciliation, they break bread together.  It is sad that the Church has lost this meaning; we have lost the sense of responsibility for each other.  It has become instead a church liturgical tradition.” (p. 178)

This may be a nice tradition for reconciling Arab tribes in conflict and sealing agreements without lawyers, but its only similarity to Holy Communion is “breaking bread.”  Men and women need to be reconciled to God before being reconciled to each other.  God in Christ has done something about that.  In the Eucharist/Holy Communion believers break bread and drink wine to remember that Christ shed his blood for them, accomplishing their reconciliation with God (Matt. 26: 26-29; Rom. 2:14-16; Col. 1:21-23).   It is not the Church, but Mallouhi, who has lost the true meaning of “breaking bread.” 

Asked whether baptism was necessary for someone “from a Muslim background” he responded:

“It depends on the person …. it is the equivalent of when a Western Christian becomes a Muslim and has to go to the Mosque and say the shahada.  So I usually encourage baptism.  Of course, it is not necessary, as millions of people follow my Lord without having been baptized.  This highlights a challenge within Western Christianity.  Often Western culture has become more influential in religion than spiritual things.” (p. 178)

But what does Christ say? “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)   If Mallouhi wants to truly obey his Lord, he cannot so cavalierly make baptism an option. “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”[10] And what does he mean by conflating Western Christianity with Western culture?  He seems to be saying in this confusing assertion that the doctrine of baptism has been a mere cultural accoutrement that needs to be challenged because it is part of Western “religion” while his approach is more “spiritual” and thus superior. Furthermore, Mallouhi’s claim that “millions of people follow my Lord without having been baptized,” has no verifiable proof behind it!

When asked specifically about the Trinity he said “he didn’t understand it” but the reality for him was living with his Master and his Father and he feels led of God’s Spirit and that “whatever form Christian theologians want to put on it is up to them” but it is not a “necessity” for him. (p. 177)

A proper Trinitarian understanding is necessary to understand the Orthodox doctrine of God.  Islam’s doctrine of God is fatally flawed and needs to be pointed out to Muslims seeking to know Christ.  In Robert Letham’s study The Holy Trinity In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship[11] he writes:

“A fully self-conscious and developed Trinitarian theology is indispensable for the future progress of evangelism and missions.  We find ourselves face-to-face with a militantly resurgent Islam.  I find it hard to see how Islam, or, for that matter, any religion based on belief in a unitary god, can possibly account for human personality or explain the diversity in unity of the world.” (p. 10)

Letham further states:

“Islam has no way to explain or even to maintain human personhood.  Relationality among human beings cannot be founded on man being the image of God, since God himself is not and cannot be a relational being.  Moreover, love cannot exist in God.  A monad cannot love.” (pp. 444-445)

Islam fails to understand sin and its devastating effects upon man and the created order due to Adam’s fall.  There is no place for a Savior to atone for man’s sin.  As Letham explains “Allah is a solitary monad with unity only … centered on power and will … and there is “virtually no room for love.” Muhammad came from an area where there were heretical Christian groups so he never really knew orthodox Christianity.  Jesus was a mere human prophet, who never died on a cross, which would be too humiliating for a God whose “favor is evidenced by success.”” (pp. 442-443)

Chandler and Mallouhi are not attempting to do with Islam what they want to do with Christianity.  Islam in the end remains untouched.  Its leader, its tenets, its holy book, its culture and traditions, its attempt to dominate the world are not criticized.  Only Orthodox Christianity is tampered with.  Christ is made malleable, his commands unheeded, the Church’s Sacraments marginalized and its doctrines trivialized.  Christ and His Church are fashioned into what they want them to be, not what they actually are.

Mallouhi is known for his writing.  He has his own publishing house, Al Kalima.  His novels are popular in the Arab world and his interesting literary output can be found on his website.  Other facets of his work can also be found there. 

Of more immediate concern for Christians, however, is his involvement in translating several books of the Bible into Arabic, which he terms “re-presentations”.  The work is discussed in a chapter provocatively entitled “Opening a Middle Eastern Book: returning the Christian Scriptures to their Middle Eastern Origin.” (pp. 147-159)  Mallouhi believes the Bible should be brought “back to its original roots, where it should be.”  He re-reads it “with a different approach and from a different angle.”  He believes the Bible is a Middle Eastern, not a Western book, inferring that only people steeped in knowledge of the Middle East can truly understand it.  But Scripture is God’s revealed truth for all mankind, wherever they are and whatever their ethnic makeup.

Mallouhi’s re-presentations include An Eastern Reading of the Gospel of Luke, A Sufi Reading of the Gospel of John and Genesis: The Origin of the world and Humanity.  During translation, he cooperated closely with Muslim Arabs and other “influential Muslims, including well-known literary figures.”  The aim was to “produce publications that re-present the Scriptures in a way that addresses their [Muslims] felt needs, and to shatter stereotypes, overcome prejudices, and illuminate and resolve typical Muslim misunderstanding of the text.” (pp. 147-148)  Along with the Bible text is a “Muslim focused commentary that explains the Scriptures and presents Christ as the Middle Easterner that he was.”   The commentary is meant to help explain to Muslims such sensitive terms as “Son of God” and “Trinity” and remove “theological misconceptions and barriers.” (p. 148)

Translators should not bring preconceived notions about how Scripture should be made acceptable to Muslims or anyone else into their translations.[12]  Being so concerned with “felt needs” and “prejudices” indicates a preconceived bias about how Scripture translation work will proceed in order to speak to such concerns.  It does not instill confidence that it will be done with an eye to a faithful interpretation of the text. The Insider Movement is flirting with similar approaches to Scripture and missiological methods.[13]

Mallouhi is to be praised for the love and concern he exhibits for his people and culture and that he wants them to know and love Jesus like he does.  He has communicative skills which any Western missionary would be pleased to have.

It is interesting that Mallouhi loves the biblical stories so much, and tells his own so well, as evidenced by the effect his novels have on people.   His love of stories also points to something missing in Islam, which would be difficult for him to admit: it has not many stories.  Mallouhi’s biblical re-presentations affect people positively as well.  They seem hungry for the word.  One can only hope and pray that one day they will read Scripture for its own sake, in the classic Van Dyke Arabic translation.  Unlike the lady who, after reading Mallouhi’s Luke re-translation stated: “it’s ‘the Injil with a Muslim feel to it.’” (p. 151) they would understand that the Bible is indeed for the Muslim, but also for every nation, tongue and people, the bread of life for the whole world.  

June Engdahl, the writer of this review, has been assisting in the ministry of Middle East Resources since September, 2008.  She edits the works of Rev. Bassam Madany whose articles appear on this website as well as on several other international websites.

[1] Paul-Gordon Chandler, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.

[2] Many of Zwemer’s works are now on-line at the Answering Islam website and are worthy of reading: Click on “Z” at the Index to Islam to access his writings.

[3] Zwemer also had a different opinion about Gandhi.  At the beginning of a series of five lectures [entitled The Solitary Throne] given at the Keswick Convention in 1937 he said this: “The title is borrowed from a statement made by Mahatma Gandhi in one of his books: “I am unable to place Jesus Christ on a solitary throne.”  He believes, as do all Hindus, in many incarnations, and not in the unique origin, character and messages of our Saviour.  The finality of Christianity is being challenged even in so-called Christian circles.  But the Lamb is on the Throne and He alone is worthy to open the seals of the Book of Life and History.” (Source)

[4] Jones’ critique of the West and its Christian witness in India early in the last century produced a classic study The Christ of the Indian  Road (the Abingdon Press, 1925), which can be compared to Chandler’s updated version of the paradigm. 

[5] This has been well documented in an essay by the late Dr. Frederick Evans, Jr., “Neo-Evangelicalism and Its Impact on Missions: An Historical Overview” It was read at a meeting of some concerned Evangelicals who met at Four Brooks Conference Center, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, between July 9 and 11, 1985.  The meeting was called to discuss the Contextualization Movement, especially as it impacted Christian Missions to Islam.

[6] F. F. Bruce, The Defense of The Gospel in the New Testament, pp. 88-89,Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965.

[7] Among other things those in Insider Movements seek to find replacement terminology for scriptural words and concepts like “Son of God” and “Trinity”, which are highly offensive to Muslims.  Mallouhi does the same thing in his Bible translations.

[8] This subject is dealt with in a book by Jeff Morton entitled Two Messiahs: The Jesus of Christianity and the Jesus of Islam, Biblica Publishing, 2011.  Dr. Morton is a scholar at Biola University, Los Angeles, California.

[9] An example of this type was recently posted in this article, What is the Qur’an?

[10] Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to Question 94 “What is Baptism”.

[11] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship, P&R Publishing Company, 2004.

[12] The 19th Century missionary/scholar, Henry Jessup, wrote an autobiography entitled Fifty-three Years in Syria which is now online. A very interesting chapter in that book relates how the famous Smith-Van Dyke Arabic Bible was translated. It can be found on-line here.  The reader is urged to read this informative study for a comparison to Mallouhi’s technique.

[13] See an excellent online article about Insider Movements by Bill Nikides, recently published in St. Francis Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, August 2011.