Guide to Koran lives up to its name

Thursday, June 3, 2004

While events in the Middle East and Far East garner much attention politically, Western Christiandom has been forced to pay attention to a strange religious force which, on the surface, sounds so similar to Christianity, but acts ---- and reacts ---- much differently.

Author Mateen Elass has a near-unique viewpoint on the subject, having been raised in Saudi Arabia in a Muslim environment, and serving as senior pastor of a Presbyterian church in the Midwest. He holds degrees from Stanford University, Fuller Theological Seminary and the University of Durham in England, and has written feature articles for Moody magazine, including "What Muslims Think of America."

His expertise regarding Islam is matched by his understanding of most American Christians' ignorance of the subject. He concisely addresses in detail Islamic concepts and similarities and conflicts between the three major monotheistic religions without "dumbing down" for the reader, but imparts a clear understanding of his subject matter.

The writing is direct and to the point, revealing descrepancies between Islam and Christianity. He makes note that Muhammad apparently misunderstood the history of Christianity and Judaism in talking about Biblical persons outside the context of their time, and probably confused Mary the mother of Jesus with Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron.

Elass's research reveals evidence which runs counter to traditional Islamic belief, that the early disciples of Muhammad flawlessly memorized his holy pronouncements, dictated directly to the Prophet by the angel Gabriel. Parallels are also found between the Koran and apocryphal Christian writings.

Chapters include discussion of similarities between the Muslim and Christian views of God, mirrors of Biblical teaching in the Koran, the will and fatalism of Allah, parallels between Biblical and Islamic prophets, the grim picture for female believers in Islam, the Muslim paradise of sensual pleasures, and the struggle between militant Islam and moderate Muslims who seek co-existence within broader society.

The author's choice of subject matter is thorough, leaving the reader with a solid understanding of a religion that is claimed by one-fifth of the world's population.

As he writes in his epilogue: "As Islam, the religion of the Koran, continues to advance across the world, the need grows for greater understanding of the Muslim holy book. There are great risks in ignoring the religion and revelation of Muhammad ---- the risks of apathy, or misunderstanding, sinful stereotyping, or naive acceptance on the one hand, and the risk of thoughtless demonizing on the other. These risks only grow as Muslims increasingly intermingle among the population of today's America."

For the Christian, he adds another train of thought, taking into consideration the mutual exclusivity of both Islam and Christianity. "As Christians consider the relatively fast rise of Islam in the West, then, there is cause for apprehension. Two questions clamor to be answered: What is the cause of such rapid increase in Islam's numbers in our midst?; How ought the church (and individual Christians) respond to the challenge of a growing Muslim community around us?"

The discussion is complicated. Elass' understanding is enlightening.

Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book; Mateen Elass; paperback; 192 pages with discussion questions, notes, and scripture, Koranic verse and subject indices; Zondervan; $12.99.

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