Book Reviews

Book Review: 40 Questions about Islam (Matthew Bennett)

In this day, it is all too easy to get our information about the world from social media: the news, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Matthew Bennett, Assistant Professor of Missions and Theology at Cedarville University and who formerly lived with his family in North Africa and the Middle East for seven years, has written a new volume on Islam in Kregel Academic’s 40 Questions series.

I have reviewed one other volume in this series (40 Questions on Heaven and Hell by Alan Gomes) and read another volume (40 Questions on Christians and Biblical Law by Tom Schreiner). Both are excellent volumes, and I’ve really enjoyed reading Bennett’s volume. I hope many will read his volume as it will gives them a fuller perspective of Muslims and Islamic belief. It’s easy to hear on the new about Islam in different countries and conclude that many are violent, or strict, uber-conservative adherents to Islam, or perhaps that polygamy is an acceptable part of society, but Bennett gives us a nuanced view of Islamic adherents.

There are 7 parts to this book:

  1. The Traditional History of Islam
  2. The Sources of Authority for Islam
  3. The Theology of Islam
  4. The Practice of Islam
  5. The Qur’an and the Bible
  6. The Development of Contemporary Critical Scholarship
  7. The Christian Gospel and the Followers of Islam

Concerning the role of the family (Question 12), Bennett shows that the “husband is the protector of family honor,” yet “he is also to uphold his wife’s individual honor and to keep her from disgrace” (102). While some think that women don’t have any rights, it is an unfair caricature to say so. “Women are to be viewed as honorable, and it is a husband’s duty to guard his wife’s reputation and provide for her needs” (102).

For example, concerning polygamy (Question 20), the concept is allowed for by the Qur’an (see the first half of Qur’an 4:3). Yet Bennett writes that “many modern exegetes contend that the Qur’an’s teaching on this matter intends to limit and eventually eliminate the polygamy that was common in seventh-century Arabia” (160). The second half of Qur’an 4:3 introduces the idea of fairness (in marriage), making “it plain that polygamy is only admissible when one is capable of equal treatment of each of the wives” (160). Yet even in seventh-century Arabia, many viewed polygamy positively for “it afforded women a means of financial protection that they would otherwise [have been] unable to provide for themselves” (160). (However, see also Question 34, “What Does Islam Teach About Women?”)

Concerning women wearing veils/hijabs (Question 22), Bennett notes that Qur’an 24:30-31 commands both men and women to seek modesty, “particularly in relation to members of the opposite sex” (173). A modern Muslim human rights advocate Qasim Rashid points out that the qur’anic modesty commands are directed toward men first. Instead of being bent on oppressing women with strict, conservative ideals, Bennett writes, “Rashid shows that the burden of responsibility for one’s actions falls first on men who are to respect the chastity of women around them” (173).

Islam has a different view of sin than in Christianity. According to Islam, humans, being imperfect, are prone to forgetfulness. “What is wrong” is “human weakness and the persistent failure to remember and submit to the ways of God” (133). But this forgetfulness is simply a part of human nature and is not a result of Adam’s sin. The normal life is “an extended test of one’s ability to heed divine guidance” and to walk in God’s ways (133).

In Question 35 Bennett takes up the question over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Bennett asks What is Allah? and says that the Arabic word Allah “predates Islam and has been used to refer to the God of the Bible by Arabic-speaking Christians until today” (262). But as to Who is Allah?, that is a different matter altogether. While Muslims believe Allah has many of the same attributes that the Christian God has (such as being the creator, judge, ruler, revealer, and the one who forgives), Allah is very different from the God of the Bible. Bennett writes, “He [Allah] is the completely other creator and judge to whom humanity owes worship and submission. The result of such otherness and transcendence is that God himself is unknowable in any intimate, relational sense in Islam” (263).

Ismail al-Faruqi writes that in Islam, “[God] does not reveal himself to any one in any way. God reveals only his will. . . . Christians talk about the revelation of God himself—by God of God—but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam” (263). And the difference becomes most pronounced when you consider the incarnation, where God became knowable by taking on flesh and dwelling amongst his creation. As well, it is the incarnation that helps us understand the Trinity (for there we saw that God had a Son). The incarnation “is as essential to the Christian as it is anathema to the Muslim” (264). The Islamic and Christian conceptions of God are “fundamentally irreconcilable” (264). 

Recommended?

I could go on, but hopefully I’ve piqued your interest enough. Bennett is careful not to make large generalizations. He is nuanced and reminds us that when we talk and befriend Muslims, “we are always having conversations about religious convictions with individuals rather than merely studying impersonal systems of belief” (60). We are talking to people. Individuals. Who have their own history, culture, and reasons for believing and living the way they do. Get to know those whom you speak with. Listen, be gracious, and share the gospel in a way that makes Jesus beautiful. And get Bennett’s book.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Matthew A. Bennett
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Kregel Academic (March 31, 2020)

Buy it from Amazon or Kregel Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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