A Different Face of Islam | Week 30

By: Jeff Banks

Posted in Program Updates on March 29, 2017 | View all posts


As I sat at the back of a mosque in Atlanta last spring and heard the Adhan, or call to worship, a scene from the TV show Homeland immediately flashed across my mind, making me think of terrorists and radical Islam. I felt afraid, and then guilty, as I realized that I mostly knew about Islam through the media. Oh, no, I thought. I’m one of those prejudiced people that I’ve worked so hard not to be. I had come to the mosque as part of an interfaith activity sponsored by Emory’s InterVarsity chapter to learn more about Islam, and the first thing I learned was that I had a one-dimensional view of the religion.

In his work on Islam, Christian scholar John Azumah recognizes “five faces” of the religion. Only one of the faces—though perhaps one that many Christians in the West would recognize—is the face of radical, militant Islam that we would associate with ISIS or Boko Haram. Islam is also a complex religion with a long history of varying interpretations and traditions. It is about that face of Islam that the fellows learned this past week as part of our curriculum.

Traveling to D.C. on Monday and Tuesday, we audited a class at Reformed Theological Seminary about Christian encounters with Islam. We focused especially on the historical and theological developments of Islam, as well as Christian responses to the growing religion from early Church Fathers. The fellow with a keen interest in linguistics perked up her ears during the last class because our professor taught us about theoretical Arabic grammar and the theological challenges that it poses. Alas, the rest of us were lagging behind a little bit during that part of the discussion.

The class was helpful for me (and, I think, for others) in giving us a fuller picture of the history and theology of Islam. It was not so much a “how to” class on doing apologetics, but rather about understanding the intricacies and nuances of Islam so as to engage more thoughtfully with Muslims. In that sense, the class was forming us to do a more imaginative kind of apologetics: by learning about the language, worldview, and traditions of Islam, we became more equipped to be able to see past the media depictions of Islam and interact with Muslims in a more thoughtful, creative way.

After the service at the mosque last spring, as I was getting up to leave, a man came over to me, looked me in the eyes, and told me, “Welcome.” Learning to see a new face of Islam started with seeing the face of a Muslim. This class helped me grasp that man’s faith more deeply, even as it clarified key points of divergence from my own Christian faith, and for that I am grateful.