Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Lately I've read more books that have made me yawn more than made me think.  I think I mentioned that I joined a Christian Book Club just because my friend, Saskia, raved about it.  She loved the ladies in it, and since I wanted to spend more time with her, I accepted her invitation to join.   I ended up falling in love with the fellowship -- ten women who are thinking, articulate and voracious readers.  I also admit that the anonymity of being in a room with 8 people not from my church was refreshing... I was just Janet.

What I wasn't expecting was the dip in the quality of what I was used to reading for pleasure...Christian fiction seems silly and sometimes contrived.

This month's book review is a testament to the books in the club worth reading.  I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman's Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh is both well written and exciting.  It is the true story of Sheikh's conversion to Christianity in Pakistan in the 1960's.  Originally published in 1978, I picked up the 25th anniversary edition at book club.

Bilquis Sheikh begins her story by introducing herself: a wealthy and prominent woman in Wah, a Pakistani town, surrounded by servants and a large visible garden.  People in her family and in the village view her as a woman of influence and culture, despite her divorced status.  Her joy in life is raising her grandchild while her daughter works full-time in a neighboring town, and on him she spills all her love and affection.  It isn't until a series of dreams that Sheikh has, that she starts to read the Bible.  Even the acquisition of the book makes her suspect in the community, so we can see that the secretive way she gets puts her at risk of being cut off from everyone in her community and family.  Nevertheless, she begins to read it in addition to her beloved Koran.  In its pages she finds joy, love and life; in the Koran she only finds law and order.  It is here that the battle in her begins.

The greatest part of the story is the absolute way that God captured her heart and showed her the way to Jesus, the Saviour not just a prophet (as Islam proclaims).  Through Him, the first time ever, she sees a gateway to God- the God who would become the close and tender Father that Sheikh had longed for her whole life.  By this simple revelation, Biquis herself says her life "was turned upside down".

Living in His presence, her story of baptism, and later the change of her community's perception of her are communicated so well that I felt I knew her personally when I finished.  The tragic reality of choosing between God and family are heartbreaking- and still so real in the Muslim world.  For anyone who thinks loftily of Islam (or believes it is a great religion) the perspective of a privileged woman in Pakistan can change your mind.

In the end there is an after-word by the Christian missionary that influenced Sheikh's story in Pakistan.  It also tells how she finally died, and a touching follow-up of her grandson. The story inspires me and I really came away wondering why I had never heard of this book before.  I am better after reading it: more thankful for what I take for granted.