By Rachel Pieh Jones. Plough Publishing House, 2021. 280 pages. $18/paperback; $10/eBook.
Rachel Pieh Jones’s book Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus bears witness to a remarkable pilgrimage into the core stuff of human faith and into a place deeper than easy labels like Christian or Muslim. Jones tells the story of how her upbringing as an Evangelical in Minnesota impelled her to “do a hard thing for God”: to prove her Christian faith, to bring the Good News of Christ to the needful world. The “hard thing” she chose, with her husband Tom, was to move with their children to the Muslim world of the Horn of Africa (first to Somaliland, then to Somalian Djibouti) where they have lived and worked among their Somali neighbors for the past 18 years. Jones is a mother and writer; her husband Tom is a teacher.
Beneath their family biography, however, a deeper story unfolds: Jones’s faith has been shaken and has grown through her intimate daily encounter with Islam through her Muslim neighbors. She came to this land–-so she thought–-to save and convert them; instead, her own faith has been converted into something much more vital, much closer to the radical way of Jesus, alongside the vital, life-giving Muslim faith of her neighbors.
Jones organizes her book around the five pillars of Muslim faith—confession of faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage—telling how each pillar challenged her to grow in her own relation to God and her fellow human beings. How, as a Christian, do you really honor and practice the radical love of Jesus for the poor, the suffering, the stranger, the one who may regard you as enemy or infidel—when these are your neighbors whose children are playing with your children, or when a poor boy meets you at your door every morning with a smile, to ask for food? And how does Jones honor another faith, Islam, for the immense comfort and life-giving force it brings from Allah, God, the all-compassionate, the all-merciful, who is a comfort and force that she herself finds evident all around her in her East African world? In the end, it is love, flowing in both directions across both faiths from a deeper source than religious forms, that begins to answer these questions for the author.
Rachel Pieh Jones summarizes what she has learned in these words:
My knowing decreased, but my faith increased. This bigger faith was a riskier faith but a more hopeful one. . . . I didn’t need to untangle controversial theological arguments. . . . I didn’t need to prove anything about God. Instead I felt able to rest in a relationship, open and freshly curious to see the holy handiwork all around.
Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus, beautifully and compassionately written and lush with detail, is a timely book for learning to love one another more faithfully across all our religious and cultural divides.
Ken Jacobsen lived and served in Quaker schools and communities for many years, along with his wife Katharine. Since her passing in 2017, he carries on this work from their poustinia, a retreat house for sojourners at their lakeside home in Wisconsin. Ken is a member of Stillwater Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative).