The long road from Baghdad
DEARBORN, Mich. — In the heart of this Detroit suburb,…
Monte Cox has to be as precise with his pen as Robin Hood is with his bow and arrow — hitting the same target twice. That’s the task he faces in his latest book, “Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors.”
Cox, dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., has the very delicate task of balancing truth and love as he talks about our relationships with believers of Islam, Hinduism, Shinto, Baha’i and many other non-Christian beliefs.
As a professor at a university associated with Churches of Christ, he has to present the main religions of the world from the perspective of a faith started by the One who claims that he is the only way to God. Cox has to be careful not to hold the followers of any faith accountable to any discrepancies — or even wickedness — that their faith may teach.
In that, Cox hits the bullseye both times — with arrows of truth and love.
As a native of Iraq and a former Muslim, I was most intrigued by the chapter titled “Our Muslim Neighbors.”
Due to today’s rhetoric, dealing with the Islamic faith and the Muslim people — two subjects that, I am convinced, need to be totally separated from each other — is a daunting task. A preacher feels like he is between the rock of what he is supposed to say and the hard place of what reality is.
Although the Islamic faith, based on its scriptures, theology and early history (and not on its followers, most of whom did not choose to be Muslim) introduces itself as a militant faith, it is equally important to point out that most of its followers are peace-loving, moral people and good citizens. Cox does well in noting the claims of a few members of the Islamic faith that their religion is good and benevolent, while exposing the scriptural grain of salt that begs to differ.
His exposition on the object of worship in Islam (Allah) is very professional. Coincidentally, I taught a class called “Is Allah God?” at Harding just after the book was published. Cox’s views practically matched what I taught, and his account of Muhammad’s life and the early history of Islam can hardly be argued against by any Muslim.
He labors to avoid portraying Muhammad as evil, but neither does he show him as an inspired messenger. Cox skillfully avoids the trap of considering Ishmael to be the Muslim version of Isaac in terms of God’s promise. That promise is a biblical doctrine, not Quranic.
In other words, Cox’s study on Islam is admirably objective.
One section on jihad, however, has a clear Muslim undertone. Although most Muslims today believe and teach that they are not called to wage a holy war against non-Muslims — and although the word itself means “struggle” in general — the context of the word wherever it is mentioned in the Quran does refer almost exclusively to the actual war. Although Cox gives four cases when the jihad is justified (all of which sound like synonyms for self-defense), the Quran commands Muslims to fight non-Muslims — and even Jews and Christians.
Whether Muhammad intended for Islam to be militant, or whether he delivered the violent passages only to mobilize his community to avenge themselves against those specific people who had persecuted them, no one knows. We do know, nonetheless, that Islam spread through the conquests of the early Muslims way beyond Arabia, led by Muhammad’s companions who sat at his feet.
Cox claims that his work is intended to introduce Christians to world religions. In terms of Islam, I can say that “Significant Others” gives the reader a thorough, accurate and useful tool to understand the faith.
In my travels, I work to equip Christians to develop the right motives, to show their Muslim neighbors the love of Christ and the truth of his gospel. I am asked, more often than not, about Islam — its history, theology, and people.
If that is what you seek, read this book.
WISSAM AL-AETHAWI, a former Iraqi soldier and engineer who grew up Muslim, is a Christian missionary to the heavily Arab community of Dearborn, Mich. A graduate of Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, he serves on the ministry staff of Sunset Church of Christ in Taylor, Mich., southwest of Dearborn.
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