Everyday on my drive home from work, I pass by a house that always catches my curiosity: There is an Islamic mosque off to the side. I have often wondered, who really goes to that mosque? Why do they go? What goes on inside?
Over the past few years, I have had the privilege to make friends with some young men who attend that mosque. They are a nice bunch of guys. How much do they really know about Jesus? I am not sure yet.
Before I met these guys, I never knew that much about the history of Islam. So I thought it might be best to take some time to learn. What is the bigger story behind how a group of young men from the Islamic world ended up in my town? That is how I stumbled upon an Audible.com audiobook by Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.
Destiny Disrupted: A Brief Review
Tamim Ansary‘s father was from Afghanistan, but he married an American woman. Though Tamim grew up in Afghanistan, he finished high school and attended college in the United States, where he took up a career in writing. When helping to write history textbooks, he got the sense that the stories being told in these books were all Eurocentric or Western in orientation. So, he got to thinking: What if he were to write a book telling the history of the world from an Islamic point of view?
What I really like about Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted is that he appreciates how history works. All of us have a story to tell, a story that shapes the way we think, the decisions we make, and how we look at the world, whether we are conscious about that story or not. Ansary is not a professionally trained historian, and he is more of a secularized Muslim, than a really devout Islamist. But he is a good story teller.
I learned quite a bit listening to the author reading Destiny Disrupted. I got a basic understanding of the Islamic calendar that has always remained elusive to me. The Islamic calendar started in the year of the Hijra, when Muhammad and his closest followers moved from Mecca to Medina, corresponding to the year 622 AD, according to the Christian calendar. Here in 2016 A.D, we live in the Islamic year of 1437 A.H., (After the Hijra).
I learned that the Islamic world reached its apex during the latter part of Western Europe’s medieval era. Many Muslims sensed that it was only a matter of time before the Islamic vision of reality would take over the whole world: One community of people, recognizing but one God, with Muhammad as his prophet. But in the following centuries, a catastrophe took place that shattered these triumphalist expectations. The rise of the West that followed resulted in an intellectual and cultural crisis for many Muslims. Western colonialism into traditionally Muslim lands ate away at the sense of Islamic self-identity and world purpose.
The response has been mixed. Some have opted for a secularized, modernist vision of Islam, taking advantage of the Western interests in the sciences and technology, while holding onto other traditional, Islamic doctrines. Others have followed the path of Abdul Wahhab, the 18th-century Koranic student, who sought to revive a more fundamentalist approach to Islam, the spiritual father behind today’s Saudi Arabia. The Syrian-Iraqi movement of ISIS has merely taken the Wahhabi vision to the next radical step.
Here are my main takeaways from Destiny Disrupted:
- Islam is not monolithic. There are as many, if not more, different movements within Islam as there are in Christianity. As a result, many people from Muslim backgrounds end up in places like the United States for a variety of reasons.
- Secularists totally misunderstand Islam. Too many people today think that Christianity and Islam are basically the same thing, just with different names for God. Muslims and Christians, as well as secularists, have different stories to tell.
- Liberal Muslims tend to think that jihad simply means “trying to be a good person,” and this has nothing to do with violence. Such modernists fail to grasp the radically violent history of Islam, particularly of its early years.
I also walked away from reading Destiny Disrupted with a great confidence that Christians are living in a new era. In the past, so many Muslim societies were closed to the sharing of the Gospel. Now, as traditionally closed Islamic societies are breaking down, partly due to economic opportunities provided by globalization, and partly due to disruption from internal strife within historically Islamic societies, such as in Syria, many Muslims are making their way to the West, where they can actually meet Christians, who can share the story of Jesus with them. I think this is why my young, Muslim friends ended up here in my town. We will see. Relationships take time.
What grieves me is that so many Christians live in fear of Muslim people. Yet we often fear that which we do not understand. But this is no excuse to avoid Jesus’ command to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We have allowed the terrors of terrorism to grip us, just at the very moment in history when the fields are so ripe for the harvest (Luke 10:2). Will we not have eyes to see to look out upon those rich laden fields?
I blogged about this topic a few years ago, featuring a video with Islamic missions specialist, Carl Medearis. Both John Paine and I have blogged before on the Syrian refugee crisis, here and here, respectively.