Chawkat Moucarry on 'Islam on Trial'

19 May 2022

Chawkat Moucarry, author of Islam on Trial, introduces his new book, its content and the story behind its development. 

I had written five books before Islam on Trial. The first one (written in French) was translated into English as Islam and Christianity at the Crossroads (Lion, 1988). What prompted me to write yet another book was a passing suggestion made by a long-standing French friend who invited me to spend a week with him at his country house in Ardèche. He said, “Chawkat, you should write a book on Islam accessible to a wider readership in which you would also deal with some specific questions French people are asking about this religion, and you should share in this book something of your personal journey to help the reader understand some of your unusual positions.”

Thus, Islam on Trial starts with an introductory chapter that sums up my spiritual and professional journey from Aleppo, Syria, where I was born into a Catholic home and where I grew up in a Muslim-majority society to France, then (twenty-two years later) to England, where I lived for twenty-two years, and back to Paris in 2017.

There are a few aspects that make this new book different. First of all, in my previous books I looked at Islam from the point of view of Christian-Muslim theological interaction. In this book I consider Islam in its own right as a religion, a community, and a law. I also analyze (in ch. 4) Islamic extremism (and violence), which nowadays is often associated with Islamic teaching. Second, thanks to my work with World Vision International (as director of interfaith relations) for over a decade, I gained a much deeper conviction that Christians and Muslims need to work together for the common good of society. Without compromising their faith, their cooperation will enhance all the religious beliefs and ethical values they have in common. The last chapter of the book reflects this conviction as it highlights twelve of these shared beliefs. Finally, my earlier books addressed (in some depth) key theological issues that are hotly debated between Christians and Muslims (e.g. reliability of the Bible, Jesus Christ, sin and salvation). This book presents a concise reflection on these topics plus a new chapter on “One God in Three Persons.”

To the extent that my book is based on Islamic sources and a lifelong interaction with Islam and Muslims, I believe it provides a sound and balanced account of the Muslim community. The chapter on “Radical Islam” illustrates this by identifying both Islamic and non-Islamic roots of Islamic extremism (political Islam, Islamism or jihadism). This chapter attempts to analyze this ideology, which is by no means new although it has become much stronger in the last decade. For some people, Islamism unveils the true nature of this religion perceived as oppressive, violent, and domineering. For others, Islamism represents a serious deviation from mainstream Islam, which is a peace-loving, egalitarian, and progressive religion that promotes universal human values. I argue in this chapter that Islam, like other world religions, is open to various interpretations.

The seeds for jihadism and violence are certainly found in Islamic sources (the Qur’an, the life and the teaching of the Prophet, etc.) but these seeds only develop in a “fertile” soil, in other words in a favorable context, national and international. Globalization means that we live in an interconnected world, hence local and regional contexts have inevitably transnational repercussions. Thus, because of their shortsighted and self-centered politics, both Islamic regimes and world powers share the responsibility for the rise of Islamic radicalism.

I am an Arab and a Christian, and I am ashamed of neither identity. Perhaps what is distinctive in my academic approach to Islam as a religion is that it aims at promoting better relations with Muslims as people. I am fully aware that Islam is a post-Christian (and to some extent anti-Christian) religion. Yet, I do not think that as Christians our role is to attack Islam or to take an aggressive attitude towards Muslims (including those who are unkind to us). We have been mandated to love everyone including Muslims and to share the good news with them. Instead of focusing on the “dark side” of Islam, we should look for “stepping stones” in Islam and bridges that help us in our mission. Thus, a Christian approach is marked by neither hostility nor naivety as we are expected to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). This rules out a polemical and confrontational approach but certainly not respectful criticism. This book seeks to engage in a genuine dialogue with Islam “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). This dialogue necessarily involves apologetics in order to “defend” by way of explaining the Christian faith as Christians and Muslims hold conflicting truth claims especially about who Jesus is.

Unlike previous books, this one dedicates a whole chapter (ch. 5) to dealing with “difficult and sensitive issues relating to Islam and the Muslim community, in France and around the world.” Here is a list of fourteen non-theological questions I address in this chapter; they are often discussed by Christians and Muslims in particular about their respective faiths:

  • Why do jihadists attack Christians in particular?
  • In Islamic countries, Christians do not fully enjoy freedom of worship; shouldn’t we in return restrict religious freedom of Muslims in our country?
  • In July 2020, Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul, converted first into a mosque, then into a museum, was converted again into a mosque. What do you think?
  • What should we think of mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians?
  • What can the French government reasonably expect from Muslim citizens?
  • What can Muslims in France reasonably expect from the government?
  • What are the reasons for the success of Islam in the world?
  • Is Islam a danger to Western civilization? Do Muslims want to convert Western societies to Islam?
  • What advice would you give Westerners who want to live in peace with Muslims?
  • Is Islam a religion of peace?
  • Does not the moral decay of Western civilization prove the failure of Christianity and its values?
  • What is behind the strained relationships between Jews and Muslims?
  • Why do Christians blindly support the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel?
  • Why are most Islamic countries poor, underdeveloped, and ruled by authoritarian regimes?

The full title of my new book is Islam on Trial: Globalization, Islamism, Christianity. The subtitle expresses the threefold challenge facing the Muslim community. I do hope that readers of my book will find it inspiring in the way it engages with Islam. I pray they will also be encouraged to reach out to their Muslim neighbors first and foremost as human beings. Having gained a better understanding of Islam and a renewed confidence in the gospel, they will be better equipped to lovingly and humbly share Christ with their Muslim friends.