FEW of us have faced the challenges of living as Christians in a Muslim country. In this book, Rachel Pieh Jones tells her own faith story, in which she, her husband, and their two young children — Evangelical Baptists from Minnesota, in the United States — lived for 18 years in Somaliland and Djibouti, two countries in the Horn of Africa (Feature, 28 May).
Written in a lively, captivating, and occasionally humorous style, Jones describes how, while living abroad, she rejected facets of her conservative faith which taught that all Muslims were bad people and that Islam was evil. She began to see “glimmers of God” in the generosity, the friendship, and even the religious practices of the Muslims she met.
Attending the mosque (even joining Muslims in their prayers), witnessing the poverty of local people, and facing the daily possibility of death at the hands of terrorists, Jones, as she says, was forced “to examine my beliefs, my habits, my attitudes”, and, by such interaction with Muslims, was led “to be closer to Jesus”.
The book is structured (rather tenuously) around the five pillars of Islam — shahadah, or confession of faith; salat, prayer; zakat, alms-giving; Ramadan, fasting; and haj, pilgrimage — and on the claim that “such duties are basic to Christianity too”.
Jones, expressing various religious insights, challenges us to question our prejudices and stereotypes, and reminds us that we can learn so much from other faiths, despite our differences.
Nevertheless, although interesting, challenging and uplifting, the book is at times puzzling and unsettling. Is Jones suggesting that Jesus can be known as Saviour in Islam just as in Christianity? Was her reciting Muslim prayers in a mosque, and the drinking of zamzam water for healing, compromise of her Christian faith or simply showing respect for Islam?
In various places in the book, information given on Islam is misleading. For instance Jones celebrates the fact that both Christianity and Islam teach that Jesus will return victorious in the future, but fails to say that in Islam, Jesus will return as the destroyer of Christianity and the Cross.
None the less, I strongly recommend this book. Besides being an enjoyable read, it is a timely reminder for all of us to do all we can to remove prejudicial barriers and build bridges between different faiths.
Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a writer on Islam, and serves as a Methodist local preacher.
Pillars: How Muslim friends led me closer to Jesus
Rachel Pieh Jones
Church Times Bookshop £11.69