Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles
reprinted from the September 2000 edition of Essentials  
  Folk Islam, here and there, and how we can respond.

Book Reviews

Jenny is currently working as a missionary for CMS.
  There is a growing awareness that Islam is becoming more militant. Its missionary zeal is producing new converts from the West. My cousin in England recently converted to Islam and married a Muslim. There has been a real growth in the number of mosques, even here in Melbourne. Halal meat is found in the Coles near us. We need to understand our Muslim neighbours, we need to reach out to them with a living gospel, a gospel that affects our everyday lives.  
  As a part of my preparation for working in the Islamic nation Pakistan, I have been reading a lot on Islam. The interesting thing that has captured my attention is the prevalence of Folk Islam, or mystical Islam. I am convinced of the need to understand this particular flavour that Islam has acquired over the centuries. It is widespread across the Islamic world (70% of Muslims practice Folk Islam) and even here in our own multicultural neighbourhoods.  
  Examples abound. At the Sunday market stalls across Australian suburbia, we see glassy eyes swinging on pendants. Do the teenagers buying these know that they are to ward off the evil eye? At most gift or new age shops, we can buy spells, love potions and herbal remedies, all sold widely in Islamic countries by pirs, the local Muslim saints, to assist with everyday life issues. I know some people in Melbourne who like to wear a cross to keep away bad luck. Folk religions have been around for thousands of years, and still linger on in the homes and hearts of ordinary people.  
  The Unseen Face of Islam; Sharing the Gospel with Ordinary Muslims, by Bill Musk, MARC, 1994.  
  This is a great book to begin the search into the world of Folk Islam. I was amazed at the prevalence and uniformity of Folk Islam across the Islamic world. The everyday nature of the practice of this variation on Orthodox Islam struck home. It revealed the hearts, and in particular the fears and longings, of people living in deeply superstitious communities.  
  Through stories Musk illustrates what ordinary Muslims believes about the world and their place in it. He shows how people and communities respond to fear, uncertainty, sickness, death and the need for guidance. The history of such practices, like the veneration of dead saints, is outlined and then a helpful comment from a biblical and missiological perspective is made.  
  In part two, Musk outlines the worldview of the ordinary Muslim. He compares the western and Folk Islamic views. We see how their religion attempts to meet their needs in a world full of evil spirits, ghosts and various heavenly beings. The one god Allah is far removed from everyday life. Instead, other spiritual beings play with humans, for good or mostly for harm. People must be protected against them. He shows conversely that our Western, scientific worldview has no room for such spirits. The Christian reader is challenged to reconsider the Western worldview and consider the deeply spiritual world of the New and Old Testaments.  
  Musk clearly shows the interaction of Orthodox Islam with Folk Islam. Most Muslims would profess to be Muslim, they would agree with the five pillars and major belief system. However, on a day to day level, they live according to the local folk practices. This is particularly the case for women. They are often illiterate and lack knowledge about Islam. But they face daily the issues of hunger, sickness and fear, which they turn to folk religion to cope with. The prayers or amulets of the local pir seem more effective than going to the mosque.  
  In the last section of his book, Musk suggests some ways forward toward a more fruitful sharing of Christ with ordinary Muslims. It is a challenge for us to more fully live out the Gospel of freedom from fear and of blessing, and to show the difference Christ makes in our everyday lives. We are challenged to critique our own values, individualism and our heavily cognitive ways of seeing the world.  
  Bridges to Islam; A Christian Perspective on Folk Islam, by Phil Parshall, Baker Books House, 1983.  
  A shorter book, but denser, with fewer illustrations and more historical analysis. Parshall outlines the origins of Folk Islam. It is a fascinating account, with the rise of Sufi Muslims and their missionary zeal and devotion to Allah. They focussed less on the fear of God and turned to him in love, with songs and tales of devotion. Their Islam mixed easily with the Hinduism and folk religions of Asia and the animism of Africa. It is seen to be quite syncretistic and almost universal in nature, any mystical union with the divine being acceptable.  
  What follows is a more succinct outline of the Sufi beliefs and practices, many told first hand. This section builds on Musk's book in that it deals with the leadership, pir and Sufi Saints, and their origins and practices. There are many orders, something to suit everyone it seems. Parshall also deals with the interaction of mysticism with orthodox Islam, showing its apparent heresy, yet its general acceptance in most Islamic countries.  
  The analysis went beyond mere descriptions of events to revealing the heart of the people who practice them. Their longing and needs are exposed, with the hope that people like us would then share the gospel appropriately, meeting their everyday needs, not just substituting belief systems. He challenges us to think: how would I reach this person with the gospel? He gives their religion dignity, yet doesn't compromise the one path of salvation found in Christ.  
  The last chapter opens up some bridges to mystical Islam. He reminds us of our stumbling blocks, our bloody history with Muslims, the errors of past missionaries and embarrassing perceptions they have of Christian leadership. We do well to learn from this. He focuses on love, the nature of our fellowship, their respect for prayer, the 'mystery of the Gospel" and the supernatural nature of our faith as bridges we could develop. These bridges are useful here in Australia, in our schools and communities and as we take the Gospel to Islamic countries.  

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