Anabaptists Meeting Muslims
ed. James Krabill, et al.. Waterloo, ON and Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2005. 566 pages.
This timely book is a veritable compendium of the historical and current Anabaptist church families’ endeavors to relate as Christian witnesses to Muslim peoples worldwide. Here in one volume we find a rich symphony of voices: (1) seasoned Mennonite/Anabaptist theologians and scholars of Islam, (2) a variety of field workers from different settings and under diverse church mission and service agencies around the world, and (3) persons of Muslim background, now Christian believers engaged in dynamic dialogue with other Muslims. Moreover, the contributors to the volume’s forty-two chapters (plus appendices A-I) derive from both the older North Atlantic and the younger Two-Thirds World peace churches. The latter offer powerful testimonies both of performing faith healings (463-466) and of what it means for them as Muslim believers to be followers of Jesus Christ (459-462): “The God I knew in Allah came close to me in Jesus,” explained one student (231).
This book resulted from the presentations given at the “Anabaptist Consultation on Islam,” held at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 2003. Organized into four sections, it deals with “The Big Picture,” “Learnings and Vision,” “Issues and Themes,” and “Observations, Witness, and Counsel” respectively. The main title, Anabaptists Meeting Muslims, is a bit ambiguous in that one might expect from it an inclusive two-way exchange between adherents of both religions. In reality, this was a gathering of some two hundred registrants (21), representing mostly the Mennonite-Anabaptist faith families; these people met to discuss and analyze their meetings with Muslims, but without the latter being present. However, the book’s subtitle, A Calling for Presence in the Way of Christ, is an apt description of how most Anabaptist dialogue partners have tried to conduct themselves, as the presentations and testimonies of the consultation amply show.
This book is unique in its comprehensive coverage of Mennonite involvement in mission and service in Muslim settings for some one hundred and fifty years, and of the theological and practical challenges Christians encounter in their interaction with Muslims. The writers not only identify the contentious Christian doctrines, e.g., Jesus the Son of God, Jesus’ death on the cross, and the doctrine of the Trinity; they also show ways the “standard questions” may be most helpfully answered so as to promote greater understanding (294-297; 312-314). In this way, the things common to Muslims and Christians, as well as their divergences, stand out in bold relief. Especially illuminating are the nuanced comparisons: the status of women in Islam and Christianity (141-152), the comparison of the Muslim and Christian views on power and suffering, on history and salvation, on sin and forgiveness, or on war and peace (268)—here Islam’s stance is akin to Christendom’s “just war tradition.” Nevertheless, this book attests to the existence of pacifist Muslim groups in Africa, like the Jakhanké Muslim clerics who predate Anabaptism by more than two centuries (264-272).
While preferring an open approach to preconceived “strategies,” the dominant position on Christian-Muslim relations that emerges in Anabaptists Meeting Muslims constitutes a clear alternative to the “clash of civilizations” attitude assumed by many Western societies toward Islam (74). Instead, this book promotes forthright but respectful dialogue, viewing Muslims not as targets for conquest or conversion but as potential friends to be won through “incarnational” presence and patient witness in their midst. Christians, they say, should embody the gospel, since the church may be the only “Bible” most Muslims (who believe the Bible is corrupted) will ever read (cf. 453; 458). This has enabled Anabaptist workers to cultivate and maintain a long-term Christian presence even in hostile Muslim settings like Algeria (215-221) and Somalia (235-240), while other denominations left in frustration.
Appropriately, therefore, some writers make reference to sixteenth-century Anabaptist Michael Sattler’s historic stance toward Muslim Turks—then threatening to invade Europe—which urged the churches to relate to them only in Christian love. (The book is fittingly dedicated to this pioneer.) Sattler’s imprint is clearly discernible in much of the historic and ongoing Mennonite practices in relating to Muslims as described in this book.
Not all contributors in this volume speak with one voice, however. Some stress Christ’s substitutionary death in their witness to Muslims, while the majority emphasize a theology of presence and witness through incarnational living “in the way of Christ.”
Anabaptists Meeting Muslims will appeal to a broad range of readers including adult Sunday school classes, book study groups, and lay readers interested in Islam; it is a must for any witness/service workers in Islamic settings. Although perhaps too eclectic to serve as a textbook for a world religions course, students and professors will find here a rich mine of information on Islam.