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Chris Coppenbarger

ICS/MIS 6013

July 28, 2006

Interaction Report

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 Muslim Evangelism in 2003) detailing the different
practices 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.

Outline

Parshall starts off by giving an historical perspective on mysticism, both describing what
sounds like Christian mysticism and detailing the Sufi order of Islam. He focuses mostly on
Sufism for the rest of the first chapter and the whole second chapter is on the Sufi order. He
says, “It has been calculated that 70 percent of all Muslims are acquainted with the Sufi
orders within Islam” (Parshall, 37). This figure is from the early 1980s, but is probably still
mostly accurate. He gives examples of Sufi writings and thought and practices. One major
focus of Sufism is Pirs and shrines. The Pirs are supposed to have special powers in the eyes
of 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 the
crowd to follow God. There are seven stages of Sufism. Saint veneration at the shrines is a
large part of Sufism. The saints can answer the prayers of the people. People travel from all
over to visit these shrines and pray to the dead saints for healing, wealth, power, and
whatever 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 bridges
to reach folk Muslims. A lot of personal examples are used as Parshall has dealt extensively
with folk Islam in the area he ministered in. Animism is the belief that gods and/or spirits dwell
in everything, including trees, rocks, etc. Animism, being pre-Islamic has been retained by
many folk Muslims and incorporated into their religion. Dhikr has become a practice of losing
all thoughts to focus only on God and become one with God. Pirs and Urs are very important
in folk Islam. When pirs die, it is celebrated as a marriage between the pir and God, or ur.
Finances are very important as the pirs continually ask for money to continue in their
“ministry”. Parshall compares this some aspects of Christianity, such as the televangelists. In
the final chapter, Parshall shows how Muslims view Christianity through the ages. He goes on
to say that the biggest reason, Muslims choose folk practices is felt needs. They must have
their basic needs met, the biggest of which is a need to reach God. Orthodox Islam provides
no way of meeting God. Folk Islam provides this, especially Sufism.

Critique

I think Parshall gives a very good view into a side of Islam that is rarely seen on the surface
by the Western world. Even though the book is over 20 years old, it is still practical today. In
fact, this is the book often used by other authors when they write their own books on Folk
Islam. Parshall shows mysticism in a historical perspective