This review was originally published in Faith Magazine, September / October 2018
From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path Through the Riddles of God
By Derya Little Published by Ignatius Press, 2017 £13.99 204 pages
There was great surprise among my children when they discovered that the book responsible for gluing Mum to the sofa was the one she was reviewing for Faith Magazine! I was gripped, as though with a work of fiction in my hands. ‘Unputdownable’ is not a word I expected ever to use in these pages and yet I’ll admit that it neatly sums up From Islam to Christ.
From the title you’ll have guessed that it’s not a book about what happens but how and why it happens: how does this Turkish Muslim woman become an American Catholic? Why does Little discard the Muslim faith she shared with her family and 99% of her country? How does the grace of God break through the armour of her adopted atheism? It is a joy to ‘watch’ as Little continues to respond to grace, taking step after faith-filled step, ever deeper into the One whom her soul most evidently loves.
Little weaves into her own story of childhood in Turkey an outline of her nation’s history and culture, which is perhaps a little more detailed than necessary for a British (rather than American) audience. Similarly, she sets about introducing her reader to Islam from the perspective of her own childhood experience. Here, I found that if it had been a work of fiction, I would have struggled to stay in the story, for it seems too negative to be believable. Why, I thought, should I believe an account of Islam written by one who left the faith in childhood? As I read on, I my scepticism disappeared. Firstly, Little tells of an early formation in her faith that was nothing if not thorough; she shows herself to be a voracious reader and intellectual heavyweight who will accept nothing on a mere say-so. Her footnotes show solid evidence not only of the points she is explaining but of recent further, deep and detailed exploration of Islam. And of course on top of all this is the authenticity of the autobiography per se: Little speaks of and from her experience and I don’t doubt that she speaks as she finds.
Little has shown great humility in writing so candidly about her past and I gained a real sense of her detachment from that ‘old self’ that arises from her abiding knowledge that she is ‘made new in Christ’. As she writes on her first page, ‘if my twenty-year-old self were to occupy my thirty-four-year-old body momentarily, and saw who I was, she would think I had gone insane. The younger Derya …did not want anything to do with God, yet I was filled with gratitude and hope at the sight of a crucifix in a garage’. Little appreciates that in her journey she has ‘traveled far, not only physically but also spiritually’ but she refuses to take herself too seriously. Comically, she recalls her childhood image of America that was based on Knight Rider and Back to the Future and how it failed to measure up to reality: ‘my car refuses to converse with me and my children’s primitive skateboards have wheels. Where is the lifestyle Hollywood had dangled in front of me?’ (p.73)
One surprise for me in this book was the impact that the simple, everyday love within families had on Little’s conversion. I’d expected Truth to be the dominant force in this young academic’s conversion but while it was the initial draw, Goodness also made an important early impression on her. The first Christian she encountered was Therese, an American missionary whom Little tutored in Turkish. ‘The Lord knew I needed a woman who was as intellectual and stubborn as I was,’ she writes, ‘we had many heated and at times annoying arguments, but she was the only one I knew who held a glimmer of light, a sliver of hope in the darkness. If nothing else, curiosity about where that light came from brought me back time after time’ (p.91). Little describes how it was not only Therese’s arguments that nudged her towards the Lord but also being with Therese’s loving Christian family. Little was astonished at the love between Therese and her husband and saw in their children something she had not known herself: ‘the positive results of growing up in a loving caring home with boundaries… I did not immediately make the connection between their being Christians and having much happier home than mine. Slowly Christ’s light on this loving family became clear to me’ (p.90). Time and again, Little describes the love that she encountered in this and many other Christian families as something that in her experience was uniquely Christian. Once more, I was doubtful; are our families really that different? Still, she speaks as she finds and thanks be to God, the Christian families she encountered – especially in those early days of her ‘path through the riddles of God’ – were lovingly warm and open examples of the domestic church.
Little’s path is made of many steps, some taken tentatively, others boldly; some in fellowship, others with none but the Holy Spirit as guide. I shan’t reveal any more of her journey but I’m confident that if you’re looking for a riveting read with a happy ending and much to ponder this Summer you will not be disappointed by ‘From Islam to Christ.’