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Unveiling the mystery

Dr Evelyn Hibbert teaches Intercultural studies at Sydney Missionary and Bible College. Here, she reviews Hagar’s Heritage, written by Moyra Dale, who has had decades of experience in mission to Muslim women, and has been involved with training CMS missionaries at St Andrew’s Hall for many years. In Hagar’s Heritage, Moyra writes about aspects of Islam from a women’s perspective, and brings biblical insights to bear on her observations. 

Most people, when they think about Islam and women, picture a veiled Muslim woman. Just as her head, and sometimes even her face, is hidden, so her life seems an impenetrable mystery. In many cases, this mystery causes fear which makes us afraid to build relationships with, and can often incline us to be prejudiced against them.

Insights drawn from experience

Moyra Dale’s book, Islam & Women: Hagar’s Heritage, reveals the hidden world of Muslim women for Christian readers. Drawing on her rich experience of decades of living among Muslims, in-depth learning of language and culture, and her research based on being immersed in everyday life, Moyra transports her readers into the world of Muslim women. I am choosing to use Moyra’s first name here because the world of women is a relational world. Moyra speaks from her experience and shares as a friend wanting to pass on her life’s learning. Although there is much scholarship included in the book, it is continually grounded through many examples from real life and discussion of the practical implications for Christian ministry.

Moyra integrates personal experience, the study of Islam, research among and about Muslim women, anthropological perspectives and Christian responses. She introduces what the Qur’an and other Islamic texts teach, explaining how these affect women. Helpfully, Moyra also presents Muslim women’s perspectives on these teachings.

Gendered spaces key for Muslim women

It is hard for Western Christians to appreciate the gender divide in Islamic cultures. This is largely because practically all books for Christians about Islam are written by men. Westerners tend not to be comfortable with the concept of gendered space as we do not physically separate women and men. We tend to assume that separation of genders automatically results in the oppression of women and an absence of any significant activity apart from caring for their families. Moyra, in contrast, opens our eyes to how Muslim women live, work and thrive in gendered space. She helps us to understand why, and how, women are essential for reaching out to Muslim women.

This is not a book that you can easily sit down and read in one sitting. The content is too rich for this! It is more a book that every Christian should have on their shelves to pick up and read a chapter of whenever they encounter an issue. For example, suppose you come across a teenage Muslim girl who is preparing for marriage. Moyra has a chapter on marriage. You may notice that many shops, cars, women and children have blue beads or stylised eyes hung on them. Moyra’s chapter on power will help you to understand this and respond in a Christian way. Perhaps a Muslim family has invited you over for a meal. It would be good to read Moyra’s chapter on hospitality. Maybe your neighbour or work colleague is sick, and you would like to pray for her. Moyra has a chapter on prayer.

Essential reading for ministering to Muslim women

If you are involved in ministry with Muslim women, this book should be compulsory study for you. All women who are planning to go into full-time ministry among Muslims anywhere in the world should study this book in preparation and keep it with them for continual reference.

But this book is not exclusively for women. It is important for men who are in ministry with Muslims to appreciate that their experience of the Muslim world is less than half the story. This book will help Christian men understand what is happening in the gendered space that they have no exposure to. This is important because the men they are relating to have wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and many female relatives who they are continually relating to, care for deeply and who exert significant influence over them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who interacts with Muslims or would like to understand Muslims better.

Islam and Women: Hagar’s Heritage
Moyra Dale, Regnum Books 2021

Read more online

To see Moyra Dale’s video introductions to each chapter of her book, go to the Hagar’s Heritage website here.