DALLAS (BP)–Since most cross-gender conversation is discouraged in the Islamic world, Ergun Caner envisioned a book to train Christian women to reach Muslim women.
As the author of several books on Islam focused on apologetics and evangelism, Caner admits that male theologians have a tendency to be pedantic, laborious and rationalistic.
“To reach Islamic women, one needs wisdom that is biblical, empathetic, and sympathetic,” he writes as the general editor of “Voices Behind the Veil,” a new release from Kregel Publications with various chapters penned by women — authors, speakers, theologians, mothers, housewives and pastor’s wives, as well as four missionaries, two of whom serve in predominately Islamic countries, and several Muslim converts to Christianity.
Muslim women “come to our shores, live in our neighborhoods, work in our offices, eat in our restaurants, and shop in our malls,” Caner observes. “When we were unwilling to go as His ambassadors into the uttermost parts of the world, God brought the uttermost parts of the world to us. Now the onus is on us to learn how to most effectively reach Muslim women with the mercy, grace, forgiveness, and atonement of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.”
Christians in the West can no longer pretend that Muslims live on the other side of the world or that what they believe doesn’t affect them, writes June Hunt, nationally syndicated radio host of “Hope for the Heart,” in the foreword to the book.
Hunt observes that many Islamic nations enforce legal and cultural standards based on prejudice against women that result in fewer legal rights. Such disparity extends to some countries that draw from Islamic teaching the legal right of a man to beat his wife.
“The Lord may be putting into your path a Muslim woman who is seeking something different, yet she doesn’t know what she seeks,” Hunt writes. It’s not enough for her to watch how a Christian woman lives in order to be drawn to Christ, she notes. Since most Christians feel ill-equipped to witness to followers of Islam, Hunt underscores the need to learn more about the Muslim mindset in order to speak to their minds and their hearts. Christian women have the recipe that needs to be shared with Muslim friends so that they, too, can have the “Bread of Life,” she writes, calling Voices Behind the Veil a “must-read.”
Several contributors provide readers with an overview of Muhammad, his 13 wives, his revelations that make up the Koran and the collection of his sayings and reminiscences called the Hadith. In a section titled “Islamic Theology 101,” readers learn of Islam’s five pillars as well as how Muslims’ regard for Jesus affects their openness to the Gospel.
Author Diana L. Owen sifts through Islamic teaching on women regarding creation, parity/disparity, marriage, divorce, sexual immorality and life after death, citing the religious texts to offer clear insight into a complex subject.
Mary Kate Smith describes daily life in specific Islamic countries, and in Rachel L. Hardy’s interviews, we meet four Muslim women who converted to Christianity:
— Terra, a 28-year Texan, raised in Denver as a Sunni Muslim who learned from a Billy Graham broadcast that she “fell desperately short of the glory of God.” Witnessing to Islamic women would revolutionize the world, she believes, since they are the ones who raise the sons who lead their nations and religion.
— Katrina, a 46-year-old American raised as a nominal Christian. She married a Muslim man, intending to fully pursue Islam. But after witnessing the abusive side of Islam, she cried out to God to reveal truth to her. Her profession of faith caused her husband to divorce her. Katrina says Christians lack boldness with Muslims, a quality that they would respect.
— Sharareh, 34, and Parichehr, 40, both Iranians who moved to the United States with their husbands. Both women questioned the preferential treatment of men and were familiar with elements of violence toward women condoned in some Muslim countries. The spiritual journey of a Muslim toward Christ can take years, they note, urging the compassion of individual Christians and churches that Muslims may visit.
The contributors to Voices Behind the Veil do not paint Islamic beliefs with a broad brush, recognizing that Muslims practice their faith differently in various regions and sects.
“Hundreds of women have played key roles in the spread of the Muslim faith around the world, despite the very real restrictions placed on them,” Emily Hunter McGowin writes. And yet, “for every Muslim woman who has risen above suffering and degradation, a million others have not had that advantage.”
Contributor Susie Hawkins offers a sensitive understanding of why Muslim women veil themselves in obedience to the Koran and Islamic law. Whether wearing a baggy overcoat in Damascus, Syria, the head-to-toe chador covering in Iran, the abaya cloak, burqa mask and elbow-length gloves of the United Arab Emirates, or the respectful scarf seen on a Californian, Hawkins relates how these women do not see the clothing as repressive, preferring to identify with Islam and express their devotion to Muhammad. Hawkins appreciates their serious approach to virtue and their willingness to adjust personal appearance to reflect genuine modesty, yet she objects to the mistaken teaching that regards the female body essentially as evil and the cause of sexual immorality.
Suzanne Lea Eppling provides Christian empathy for the Muslim girls often facing catastrophic ordeals as a result of an Islamic belief that Allah has not given women the same mental capacity as men, basing a woman’s identity instead on her future as a wife and child bearer. “While they wait for someone to tell them of Jesus, many are brutalized physically, married off young, and left to live in ignorance,” Eppling writes. “We as Christians cannot sit back and let feminist groups and secular child advocates fight alone for the plight of millions of girls behind the veil of Islam.”
Former Middle East missionary Kathy L. Sibley describes an account of a Muslim woman’s revelation that she had dreamed of a white person with whom she shared tea and trusted to help her find the way of life. “The members of God’s church may not be the only ones praying that God would send workers into the harvest,” Sibley writes. “Those praying the most fervently may be the very same ones who themselves are the harvest.” Sibley identifies the real source of imprisonment for Muslim women, like all other women — not an oppressive society or a dictatorial government, but sin.
Few bonds in human existence are as deep and abiding as those shared between a mother and her child, Jill Caner writes, explaining how the shared experience of bearing life can provide a bridge into the lives of Muslim women.
Virginia Burns, in her chapter on “Love Unveiled,” anticipates God using the momentous tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, to compel men and women of all backgrounds to ask eternal questions. A divinely inspired love undergirds her nine suggestions for a gentle Christian witness to Muslim women.
“It’s very easy to push the lost out of our way as we live our lives,” Burns writes. “Our curiosity about Muslim people takes the place of our concern for their lost condition.” She reminds Christians of their own need for Jesus, and then points to the same need in Muslim women. “Jesus Christ, in His great mercy, has set aside this time in history to open the Muslim countries, and the hearts of the Muslim people to the Gospel.”
The testimony of a Southern Baptist representative working in a Muslim country relates how God gave her a new heart to do the impossible task of sharing her faith with such oppressed women. Debora DeVorce Brunson describes why the worldwide missionary endeavor to reach more than 1 billion Muslims rises or falls on prayer. “Nothing of eternal significance has ever come from God without the fervent and prevailing prayer of believers,” she notes.
Caner sets a lofty goal — to present a work specifically geared toward raising up a generation of Christian women capable of touching the lives of Islamic women and presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As his wife, Jill, relates in quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini, “If women change, society changes.” She echoes the prayers of the volume’s other writers in calling on Christian women to speak to the heartfelt needs of Muslim women and “earn a hearing for the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist Texan newsjournal.