July-August 2010By Philip Blosser
Philip Blosser is Professor of Philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
Cracks in the Crescent. By Hussein Hajji Wario. Bethany Press. 252 pages. $24.95.
Since the events of 9/11, Christians in the West have become increasingly interested in what makes the Muslim world tick. Writers and publishers, for their part, have begun turning out a growing number of books introducing Western Christians to the world of Islam. Offerings from Catholic publishers include Jacques Jomier's The Bible and the Qur'an (Ignatius Press, 2002), Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer's Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics (Ascension Press, 2003); Spencer's Islam Unveiled (Encounter Books, 2003), and Giorgio Paolucci and Camille Eid's interview-based volume, 111 Questions on Islam: Samir Khalil Samir, S.J., on Islam and the West (Ignatius Press, 2008), to mention but a few.
Hussein Hajji Wario's Cracks in the Crescent warrants special notice. Two facts set this book apart. First, Wario is not only a former Sunni Muslim with years of experience in an Islamic culture, but unlike many Muslims was thoroughly educated in the esoteric aspects of Islam. Second, the arguments he uses to expose Islam arguments honed by years of experience of debating Muslim peers after his Christian conversion are drawn from the extensive literature of Islam itself, not merely the Qur'an, but Islamic history, Seerah (the life of Muhammad), Sunnah (specific words, actions, and practices of Muhammad), and Hadith (narrations based on the words of Muhammad shedding light on the Qur'an and matters of jurisprudence), and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The purpose of his book, Wario says, is to help both Muslims and non-Muslims seeking answers about the true nature of Islam.
Wario was educated in traditional Islamic schools, called madrassa, in Kenya during his formative years. Upon graduation he served as a madrassa teaching assistant and as a muadhin, the man who calls Muslims to prayer, in his native hometown. The first fourteen chapters of his book chronicle his upbringing in the monolithically Muslim community of his Kenyan Orma tribe, the shocking persecutions that followed his Christian conversion in 1989, and his emigration to the United States, where he attended Hope College in Michigan. The final two chapters deal thematically with the distortions behind the "Jesus of Islam" and the "Promised Comforter," whom Muslims understand to be Muhammad.
Western readers will be startled to read Wario's account of the tight, hierarchical network of Muslim clerics who strictly oversaw every aspect of Wario's education. All of life revolved around the madrassa and local mosque. As soon as he was old enough, he was taught to read and write Arabic, and then to read the Qur'an. Along with fellow schoolboys, he still bears scars from the floggings they received when they misspelled or mispronounced words from the Qur'an.
Since Islam recognizes the virgin birth of Jesus and considers Him a human prophet, it is not surprising that Wario's first awareness of Jesus came not from Christians but from hearing a Muslim cleric state that Jesus would return at the end of the world for the final judgment. His first serious encounter with Christianity came, however, only after a Christian headmaster at a government school took him under his wing, helped advance his education by a transfer to a better boarding school, then invited him to his home over the Christmas holidays and invited him to church. These events precipitated a crisis in which all of Wario's Muslim commitments and prejudices about Christians were put to the test. After months of conflicted reflection, they were eventually found wanting. Among the more humorous of these was the preposterous fable he and his childhood classmates had been told that Muslims who attend Christian services received a "stamp" on their buttocks that earmarked them for Hell a story he hilariously and decisively undermined for his childhood friends after his conversion while swimming with them.
A significant dynamic in Wario's conversion was the evangelical seriousness of the Christians he encountered, their witness, their willingness to invite him to church, to give him a Bible, to instruct him in the faith, and to make the guarded arrangements necessary for his baptism and incorporation into the Christian community amidst a religiously hostile social environment. From his description, these Christians appear to have been, for the most part, Pentecostals, Baptists, and those from the Reformed tradition. In any case, the Christianity Wario absorbed fostered in him an evangelical earnestness about winning his Muslim family and friends to the Gospel. At every turn, he boldly confronted his friends and other Muslims with inconsistencies he found in Islam and challenged them to accept the Gospel. Sometimes his boldness verged toward brazenness, as when he flouted the fasting regulations of Ramadan while staying with his family.
None of this, of course, won him any friends. News of Wario's conversion spread like wildfire, and his community rose up in outrage against him. The very idea that teachings of the Qur'an might be questioned in discussion, let alone contradicted, was considered unthinkable insolence. Wario was repeatedly assaulted physically. One student who heard about his conversion traveled 120 kilometers in order to beat him up. Offers were made to literally "buy him" back, on the assumption that he must have been paid to convert to Christianity. Ominous plans were made to forcibly convert him back to Islam. His family arranged for him to see an exorcist. Attempts were made on his life. His sister attempted to poison him a fate he only narrowly escaped by a vague intuition that something was wrong on the occasion when she served him a drink. To add insult to injury, he was sometimes criticized by Christians who misunderstood his motives.
Keenly aware that few of his Muslim contacts would ever seriously consider conventional arguments of Christian apologetics because of their Muslim religious conditioning never to question what they were taught, Wario learned to focus on undermining the credibility of Islam by examining its own authorities, principally the writings of the Qur'an and Hadith. Muslims remain pervasively ignorant of certain key elements of their faith, according to Wario, for three reasons: (1) discussion about the Qur'an is censored in many Muslim countries and communities; (2) there is a decided lack of adequate accessible resources, such as Hadith collections, for Muslims to learn readily about the esoteric aspects of Islam; and (3) scare tactics that are constantly employed to deter Muslims from exploring Christianity, which would assist them in discerning the inner distortions of Islam, such as the Qur'an's nonsensical claim that the mother of Jesus is Miriam, the sister of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
Among the more interesting points raised by Wario is the doctrine of "abrogation," by which Muslims attempt to reconcile contradictions in the Qur'an. For example, Muhammad's early, more amicable "revelations" in the Qur'an calling for peaceful co-existence of Muslims with Jews, Christians, and the patrons of pagan gods in Mecca contradict his later dicta calling for the slaying of all infidels Jews and Christians included. While there are many peace-loving Muslims who insist that Islam only calls on Muslims to defend their religion, Wario argues that the doctrine of "abrogation" renders this view either naïve or mendacious because it demands the supplanting of Muhammad's earlier call for peaceful co-existence by his later call for violent conquest. "Islamic scholars prevaricate when dealing with the latter verses of the Qur'an," says Wario, "because these verses essentially prove that Osama bin Laden is [living] in accordance with what Allah has decreed."
On one occasion, when seriously outnumbered by a crowd of young Muslim men, Wario was asked why he left Islam. He knew that any answer he gave justifying his rejection of Islam would upset his audience, so he chose to reference an esoteric doctrine of Islam and replied that he left their religion because the Qur'an, in a text glossed over by Muslim scholars, clearly states that all Muslims will go to Hell no matter how piously they have lived. Much to the disbelief and consternation of his listeners, the Muslim cleric at the local mosque confirmed his claim. The esoteric Muslim doctrine that all Muslims are destined for Hell, if only temporarily, presents a dilemma that most Islamic scholars do not like to admit, says Wario, but proves that Islam borrowed from the Zoroastrian religion and its idea of a bridge over Hell.
Islam borrows, in fact, not only from Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, but from pre-Islamic Arabian paganism. Few books have been more inflammatory to Muslims than Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), a novel whose title refers to a group of Qur'anic verses in which Muhammad allows for prayers of intercession to be made to three pagan Meccan goddesses: Allat, al-Uzzá, and Manat. Rushdie received a fatwa, a religious declaration calling for his death, by none other than Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme Muslim leader of Iran, in 1989. The passage is inflammatory because the Qur'an states clearly that Muhammad recited these "Satanic verses," and this poses a threat to his credibility as a prophet of Allah a detail Islamic scholars have an interest in covering up. Furthermore, the "Satanic verses" would tend to undermine the Islamic claim that Muhammad is the "Promised Comforter," who, in the New Testament at least, is the Holy Spirit promised to "lead you into all truth" (Jn. 16:13), not error.
There are other problems with the Islamic claim that Muhammad is the "Promised Comforter." For one thing, the Hadith clearly states that the angel Gabriel is the Holy Spirit, a claim reinforced by the Yusuf Ali commentary on the Qur'an. Furthermore, Muhammad, as the "Promised Comforter," did not continue the mission of Jesus, but followed his own agenda of jihad against non-Muslims, including Christians. In fact, parts of the Qur'an falsely accuse Jesus of telling His disciples to take His mother Mary as a god and a member of a trinity of gods.
The most embarrassing aspect of Muhammad's life to Muslims who know, however, are his sexual indiscretions his exorbitant number of wives even by Muslim standards (official accounts state that he had eleven wives; others as many as twenty-five); his marriage to Aisha when she was only six or seven and still playing with dolls, according to the Hadith, a marriage that was consummated when she was nine years old; his proposal of marriage to the beautiful Umm Salama on the day of her husband's death; his marriage to Zainab, the wife of one of his adopted sons, Zaid bin Haritha, after pressuring them to divorce; the Hadith's statement that he was given the strength of thirty men to service all of his wives every day and night in his old age; etc.
By far the most interesting point that Wario discusses is the "Jesus of Islam." Even though the Qur'an and Hadith depict Jesus in ways that are often grossly distorted, they inadvertently accord Him tremendous attributes that show His vast superiority to all the prophets mentioned in the Qur'an, including Muhammad attributes including His sinlessness, that He would be a revelation and a mercy for mankind, and that He was uniquely protected (along with His mother, Mary, "chosen above the women of all nations") from Satan at birth. The Qur'an says that Jesus is a "word of Allah," and a "spirit" from Him who became flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit (the angel Gabriel in Islam). Miracles of Jesus are acknowledged, whereas no incontrovertible miracles are attributed to Muhammad. This is not to deny the multitude of bizarre distortions in Islam concerning Jesus, but it certainly suffices to provoke wonder at how Muslims can believe that God would send Islam as a religion to abrogate and supplant Christianity, when, even by Islam's own account, the "prophet" who brought Christianity is superior in every respect.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Wario for the courage of his response to Christ's call to follow Him out of his Islamic community in Kenya, at great personal cost; for his elegantly written chronicle of those events; and for this rare glimpse into the more esoteric doctrines of Islam. This book should be read by any and all Catholic clergy and laymen interested in Islam. While some of the information provided will call for great tact and sensitivity if shared with Muslim friends and acquaintances, it will readily furnish the needed resources and references required to help both Muslims and non-Muslims come to a clearer understanding of Islam and its growing influence in our world today.