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Don’t judge this book on Islam by its cover

Some Christian Chronicle readers have surely met a Muslim — at work, Little League or P.T.A. — and have felt ill-equipped (even afraid) to initiate a conversation beyond, “Hi, what’s your name?” 

In Print | Monte Cox
Don’t get me wrong. That’s a good way to begin a conversation. 

Those who feel intimidated by any encounter with a Muslim should read “How Not to Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America ” by Joshua Graves, preaching and teaching minister for the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn. 

However needlessly provocative the title is, the short book still proves imminently useful.

The image of the radical Muslim generalized and applied to all Muslims is one of the stereotypes Graves believes shapes the typical Christian response toward Islam. He also assumes (correctly, I believe) that most of us are too busy to really become educated about Islam and, because of that negative stereotype, we feel mostly bitterness, not compassion, toward Muslims. 

Therefore, “many Christians feel completely underequipped in engaging persons of different faiths,” Graves writes. 

This book could help change that.  

Chapters one through three lay the groundwork — by identifying those assumptions and stereotypes — for what follows in chapters four through 11, where Graves applies the parable of the Good Samaritan to Muslim-Christian relationships.

He takes Muslim-Christian dialogue very personally, as all of us should. The fact that he grew up near Dearborn, Mich., home to “the largest Arab population in the world outside of the Middle East,” underscores the significance of one point Graves makes throughout the book: most of us don’t really know any Muslims. 

In Middle Tennessee, Graves regularly brings Muslims and Christians together for dialogue. He equips readers to do the same in their cities and congregations. Chapter nine outlines 13 sessions local congregations might use to engage in discussion, learn about their Muslim neighbors, correct the caricatures, and overcome the fear and intimidation that inhibits positive interaction between us.  

Graves’ book includes basic information about Islam (especially in Appendix I, titled “Islam for Dummies (Like Me).”

He also names significant factors in the rise of Islam in America, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which dropped limits on immigration from Muslim-majority countries (and other nations in the East).  

Though there is enough here to make the reader want to learn more, what I took from the book was more inspiration than information. 

For Graves, the primary piece of inspiration is in the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Who is my neighbor?” really is the key question. And the answer — that every creature is made in God’s image and is, therefore, “my neighbor” — should shape our relationships with everyone, not just Muslims. 

“We cannot love groups of people, we can only love people,” he writes.  

Graves may press the analogy too far in applying the parable to our contemporary context when he equates the Good Samaritan with “a young Muslim with ties to al-Qaeda” as the hero of the story, given that group’s commitment to perpetuating their cause through violent means. The story of “The Good (peaceable) Muslim” minus the al-Qaeda connection would’ve been better.  

Readers inspired by Graves’ book may find themselves hungry for more information about the nature of Allah, the Quran, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Hadith, Islamic ideals regarding marriage, family and ethics in general, and Muslim organizational structures. They’ll certainly be more curious about the agenda of groups like ISIS., the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram, Hamas and their kind. 

But if readers are moved to introduce themselves to the next Muslim (or Hindu or Buddhist or Baha’i) they meet, and go beyond learning one another’s names, then I’m sure Graves would be satisfied that this project was worth the effort. 

And I would agree. 

MONTE COX is dean of the College of Bible and Ministry and occupies the William and Doris Fulks Chair for the Study of World Religions at Harding University in Searcy, Ark. He is preaching minister for the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy.
The long road from Baghdad: A missionary to Dearborn, Mich.

•  In Middle East, faith leads to death, rebirth 

•  Muslims among us: Can Churches of Christ engage in meaningful dialogue?

Filed under: Features Reviews

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