July 28, 2006
Bridges to Islam
– Phil Parshall
This book, published in 1983, is an extension of the book,
New Paths in Muslim Evangelism
(first published in 1981, republished as
in 2003) detailing the differentpractices of Folk Islam. Parshall has been a missionary to the people of Bangladesh for over 30 years and has written numerous books on the topic of Islam and how to reach Muslims for Christ. It’s nice to have a specific book targeting the folk practices of Muslims which may or may not have anything to do with Islam in particular, but has everything to do with their belief system.
Parshall starts off by giving an historical perspective on mysticism, both describing whatsounds like Christian mysticism and detailing the Sufi order of Islam. He focuses mostly onSufism for the rest of the first chapter and the whole second chapter is on the Sufi order. Hesays, “It has been calculated that 70 percent of all Muslims are acquainted with the Sufiorders within Islam” (Parshall, 37). This figure is from the early 1980s, but is probably stillmostly accurate. He gives examples of Sufi writings and thought and practices. One major focus of Sufism is
and shrines. The
are supposed to have special powers in the eyesof their followers, become like God.
The meetings of the Sufis tend to be very fairlike (Parshall, 56). People gathered in a field,stores opened up along the paths, food served on banana leaves, and speakers exhorting thecrowd to follow God. There are seven stages of Sufism. Saint veneration at the shrines is alarge part of Sufism. The saints can answer the prayers of the people. People travel from allover to visit these shrines and pray to the dead saints for healing, wealth, power, andwhatever else they can think of. It often involves giving money to the keeper of the shrine, or leaving food or other items at the shrine for the dead saint.
The rest of the book focuses on practices of folk Muslims, a critique of folk Islam and bridgesto reach folk Muslims. A lot of personal examples are used as Parshall has dealt extensivelywith folk Islam in the area he ministered in. Animism is the belief that gods and/or spirits dwellin everything, including trees, rocks, etc. Animism, being pre-Islamic has been retained bymany folk Muslims and incorporated into their religion.