My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Review of A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison (WIGtake Resources, 2014)
David Garrison is considered to be one of the most competent researchers among evangelical Christians interested in the global dynamics of world Christianity. In this book he investigates the significant number of new movements of people from Islam to Christ. He does this by dividing the house of Islam (and that is a technical term, Dar al Islam) into nine ‘rooms’, each corresponding to a defined region in the Muslim world, like the Arab room, the Persian room, and so on. Most of this book consists of these nine chapters wherein Garrison provides anecdotes and trends he identifies in those ‘rooms’. He also often tries to include the story of how this or that movement was initiated.
This book is concerned with movements, not individual converts, and this is precisely what makes it so valuable and important. There are plenty of books about why individual Muslims convert to Christ, and there are works that treat specific facets of this or that movement to Christ, but this is the first book to summarize on a global level what some movements in the nine rooms of the house of Islam look like.
Garrison is a serious researcher and knows the ins and outs of research in the social sciences. That having been said, readers who are looking for a detailed study with place names will often be disappointed. There is no way to get around these limitations though when it comes to research among apostates in the Muslim world. That something novel is happening among Muslims is incontrovertible, namely that more than ever before in history are converting to Christ. Garrison writes that his historical investigation led him to the following figures: Through the 18th Century there were no movements, in the 19th Century there were two, in the 20th Century there were eleven, and so far in the 21st Century he has identified 69 movements.
Many of his findings confirm findings from previous research: Muslims are attracted to the love of Christ as portrayed in the Bible and by Christians; security and persecution are real problems; Internet and satellite TV have played a huge role; Bible translation has been important, and so on. Garrison summarizes these and other findings in the last section of the book, while also noting that Islam itself has played a role in driving Muslims away from itself in a number of ways: Muhammad’s questionable treatment of women and non-Muslims, disappointment with the Qur’an, inter-Muslim violence, etc.
I can point to two weaknesses in this book, only one of them major. The first one is related to sources. Considering this is the first major book on this topic, the inclusion of more sources is desirable. This book really is written in a popular, and not scholarly level. That is not meant as an insult, but it limits its value for scholars. Perhaps the best way to address this would be to issue a lengthier academic book based on the same research.
Garrison’s references to medieval history represent the main failure of this book. He is clearly not aware of recent research elucidating what the medieval inquisitions were (and were not) and also the Crusades., which could have been written in 1900. When he speaks of the ‘atrocities’ of the Crusaders one might get the impression that these soldiers were exceptionally brutal or merciless. Wrong. For truly outstanding brutality one must look at the Muslim ruler and leader Baybars. And regarding the inquisitions, they took place before civil courts convened and were charged with gathering evidence, the same as our contemporary inquests. Contemporaries were sometimes critical of the inquisitors for not being more zealous in using torture, and a large majority of inquisitions were resolved with no punishment for the person under investigation. And finally, inquisitions were undertaken to investigate Christian heresy, and so Muslims and Jews could not be investigated by an inquisition, that is unless they claimed they had converted to Christianity, but in fact kept teaching aspects of Islam/Judaism contrary to the Christian faith.
One unresolved question was in relation to his rooms in the house of Islam: South America has a small but well-established Muslim population in the country of Guyana. At 7% Muslim, it is the most Islamic country in the Americas. Is there no movement there? Or should this (small) room be added?
Aside from this grievous mistreatment of medieval history, the book has much to commend it. In relation to the so-called insider movements Garrison handles the issue carefully and responsibly, sticking to description and not offering one particular case as exemplary or ideal. Garrison also manages to appreciate the limited context of previous generations of missionaries and indigenous Christians. It is all to easy to criticize the early missionaries in, say, the Ottoman Empire for not evangelizing Muslims, and sometimes those criticisms are fair, but as Garrison understands sometimes there was no possibility for this sort of witness. The same applies to indigenous Christians who century after century resisted the lure of escaping dhimmitude and the jizya (poll tax) by conversion to Islam. One can hope that this book will also be the final nail in the coffin of the C-scale, a tool which so over-simplifies complex concepts like ‘culture’ and ‘form’ to make it less than useful.
Garrison concludes his book with some practical ways that his readers can, if they wish to do so, be part of these various movements from Islam to Christ, though he is rightly clear in explaining that even with all these movements we are talking about fewer than .5% of Muslims world-wide converting to Christ. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it ideal for a reading group or prayer group, perhaps used with the recent edition of Operation World.
(This review was originally published in St Francis Magazine, July 2014.)