The Muslim World (TMW) is one of the leading academic journals covering Islam worldwide. Strange it would call its own history “bigoted”.
It was founded in 1911 by Samuel Zwemer, a founding father of Protestant missions in engagement with the oft-rival monotheistic faith. Now published by Hartford Seminary, like much of the Protestant mainline its original evangelistic fervor has faded. Still I was startled to read the concluding sentence of an informative historical biography TMW published in commemoration of their 100th edition:
“A century later, TMW has successfully broken ranks with religious provincialism and bigotry, and lives up to the present motto of the Seminary “exploring differences and deepening faith.””¹
Is this a fair account of all but TMW’s most recent scholarship…
Although men and women are spiritually equal before God they have different functions and responsibilities. There are four ways in which the primacy of men over women is affirmed in the Qur’an: (1) man is physically stronger (Q 2:228); (2) men may discipline their wives (Q 4:34); (3) in a legal situation. In the 1980s there was much debate in Pakistan as to whether in a court of law the testimony of one man is equaled by the testimony of two women or of one woman. In the end it was decided that in each case the judge would decide – a solution which pleased neither the fundamentalists nor the liberals. The question of evidence in court stems from one particular Quranic verse ( 2:282). However, Muslims put a very high store on the Hadith or Traditions. Some hadith raise interesting questions about the position of women. Aisha, one of Muhammad’s wives, was not happy about being categorized with dogs. Bukhari, in his collection of Hadith (Vol.2, 135) records that Muhammad said that “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people). I said you have made us (i.e. women) dogs.” (4) Finally, in the matter of inheritance (Q 4:11). Generally a daughter inherits half of what would come to her brother. The rationale is that the son has greater economic responsibilities. “Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God has gifted the one…
Courses and books on Muslim Women are often seen as peripheral materials. This is odd when you consider that women make up at least half the Muslim world, amounting to one billion people. Because the Muslim world is largely gendered, the world Muslim women inhabit is largely invisible to many of the men running courses and writing books around the world. I don’t mean that women are not visible and active in public places, along with men—they are in most Muslim countries today. But the rules that guide their interaction, behavior, the topics they discuss, and the themes that shape both their religious and personal experience are different from those of Muslim men. They are two different communities occupying the same space.
Number one is God’s timing. Remember the passage in Acts 18 where Paul is in Corinth and is discouraged. The Lord said, “Don’t be afraid; don’t be silent.” Literally He says, “Quit being afraid, Paul. I have many people in this city.” Well, he didn’t have many church members there at the time. So, it seems what the Lord was saying is, “Paul, I got here before you. Thanks for finally showing up, brother. And I have been at work here in social, political, cultural, economic and familial things.
Where Muslims are coming to faith, you typically find some sort of contextualized strategies. Obviously, contextualization gets widely debated in Christian mission circles. Translation is contextualization. So the question is not contextualization but how much is appropriate and effective. We need to remove unnecessary barriers in communicating the gospel.
Where Muslims are being won in large numbers, people have discovered ways to encourage national converts to stay in contact with their kin. In Muslim cultures the priority is family and community, and many places the gospel is taking root in a communal context.
Another element is signs and wonders. Obviously, it is imperative to get the word of God into the hands of people–exposure to God’s word is a crucial part of the process, as well as ongoing prayer. But God is working through visions and dreams and miracles to break down barriers and open their hearts to the word.
We tend to ignore Islamic values and witness from the perspective of a Western mindset. We tend to be direct when great value is placed on ambiguity and relationship. We often ignore the whole of issue of honor which stands at the hardened core of Islamic societies. The last thing you want to do is get into a win/lose situation. Where the gospel is taking root, Christian witnesses have learned to talk and share with respect instead of confronting and offending that which is most cherished in his or her life.