The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch
By David Pinault
Ignatius Press, 2018
439 pages, $22
To order: ewtnrc.com and (800) 854-6316
Once in a while the Lord turns someone’s heart toward exploring unlikely places and peoples. To most of us, the endeavor seems cumbersome and unnecessary, but has the potential to result in a glimpse into an evasive world. David Pinault is one of those people whose childhood aspirations turned into a career that led him to many Muslim countries, where he gained knowledge about the religion that is most resistant to the Gospel. This newly found knowledge not only deepened his own faith but also resulted in his singular book: The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch.
Pinault introduces his book by explaining why studying Islam will help the Christian become deeper in his own faith. As witnessed in his own spiritual journey, Pinault argues that being confronted about his beliefs as he traveled in Muslim countries and taught Islam compelled him to learn about the Catholic Church. As a convert, I couldn’t agree with his observation more. Of course, we do not need to learn about Islam to become virtuous and holy people of God. However, in our attempt to unearth why Islam spread so far and wide and why Muslim countries remain so closed to the Good News of Christ, we will first develop a new appreciation for the Trinity and the Incarnation and then realize that the permanent solution can only be found in the arms of Christ.
Pinault chronicles life in the Arabian Peninsula well before Muhammad’s life in order to provide context. Because of the location of Mecca as a religious and commercial center, Muhammad was introduced to many different ideas and stories from an early age. There were pagans, Christians and Jews who traveled through his homeland, spreading their beliefs. Stories about jinns (intelligent spirits) influencing poets, the Child Jesus giving life to clay birds and Ishmael’s sons multiplying reached from ear to ear, forming a pool for Muhammad to draw from.
Many followers of Muhammad, let alone Western observers of Islam, do not know enough about the era and area where Islam started to spread. Pinault takes on the task of explaining to his readers how the pagan culture that is hardened by the harsh desert climate and terrain shaped Muhammad’s psyche and perception of the world. Appreciation of pre-Islamic culture sheds light on why Muhammad insisted on being visited by the angel Gabriel while at the same time clinging to Jewish and Christian stories and customs. We gain insight into the roots of strong cohesion amongst the Muslims that is fueled by tribalism, fear and an unforgiving nature.
Pinault carefully looks in the Quran, the Hadith and the Sunnah — even providing his own translations — in order to paint a picture of what Islam teaches about who Jesus was. This comparison between the Christian and Muslim versions of Jesus is perhaps the most important contribution of the book. The Quran not only adamantly denies Jesus’ divinity, but also insists that Jesus himself argued against the main doctrines of Christianity, such as the Triune God and God becoming man.
One of the most revolutionary insights Pinault provides is that, among all the prophets that Islam claims, Muhammad identified most closely with Jesus. However, the humble and suffering Jesus of the Bible was not someone Muhammad wanted to be. Defeat, death and betrayal would not be tolerated in Islam. Humility and meekness were signs of weakness. An obsessive denial of Jesus’ crucifixion and death is the only natural conclusion for Muhammad, if this founder of Islam found the thought of being tortured and killed like a criminal repulsive and utterly against the nature of omnipotent Allah.
This journey into Muhammad’s mind and how Muslims of later centuries viewed the Sign of the Cross and Christians also provides an insight into how today’s radical Muslims view the West. When Pinault expounds on Christian-Muslim relations during the Crusades and how Christians are treated in predominantly Muslim countries today, the illusion that the devout Christian and the devout Muslim share a common vision of God shatters.
The chapter on the persecution and martyrdoms of those who still claim the sign of Christ in today’s predominantly Muslim countries is a hard and heartbreaking read, but it is imperative that we read it nonetheless. Christians worship in hiding and are persecuted for their refusal to abandon the faith in countries like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.
“Here, in a Muslim country, we do not take our Christianity for granted,” said one of the Yemeni Christians Pinault interviewed. It is a sobering thought for those of us who live in the post-Christian West, where there seems to be an empty church around each corner. But the faith and strength of our persecuted brothers and sisters should inspire us all to not only become deeper in our relationship with Christ, but also understand why Islam remains such a stronghold in men’s hearts.
The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch is truly a treasure for those who want to not only learn more about Islam, but also for those who would like to spread the Good News to Muslims. I would even suggest this book to political science students who have trouble grasping why the Middle East is in a constant state of turmoil. Pinault expounds on religion, yes, but he also brings his reader to a unique point of view where the implications of Islam in a broader social and cultural context become more accessible.
This, however, is not an introductory book. If you have no prior knowledge of Islam and Muhammad, Pinault’s work might be too weighty a start. On the other hand, if you want to deepen your understanding of Islam and appreciate the Incarnation, go no further than The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch, as Pinault concludes his excellent book:
“On the one hand, Islam’s denial of divine Sonship, crucifixion and Trinity means: a god who may be just and merciful, yes, but also a god who is free of all needs, who is invulnerable and impervious to the sorrows of the world he created.
“On the other hand, in Christianity we find a God who takes the risk of Incarnation, who exposes himself to weakness and ridicule, who suffers in solidarity with all created beings. To be enfleshed — a condition we share with the God-made-man — is to expose oneself to suffering. But our consolation as Christians is that even as we suffer — as Paul so piercingly reminds us — we are crucified alongside Christ.”