Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 11 (2020)

Audrey Frank. Covered Glory: The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2019. 221 pp. Paperback. $14.99.

Audrey Frank writes after having served for twenty years in Muslim communities. Storytelling frames her book’s central idea: how to contextualize the narrative of God’s salvation through redemption from shame’s captivity for Muslim women. This framing reveals much about both the book’s contributions and its limitations.

Beginning in its foreword, Covered Glory paints a bleak picture of Muslim women’s status. The author continues to use this picture throughout the book as the context in which evangelism can and should occur. To be born a Muslim woman, the book suggests, is to be born into shame. The gospel’s answer to this situation is restoration to honor through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

Each chapter includes at least one story that explains and characterizes particular facets of shame and honor. Overall, this narrative method and its structure serve the book well. Frank establishes a clear, articulate description of shame, employing helpful formal terminology in understandable ways.1 Her use of naming to describe the trifold meaning of shame (feeling, position, and identity) is exemplary. For a Western audience, shame is often only associated with negative feelings. Frank demonstrates that it is far more complete and integrated, having negative effects on every part of a person’s identity, experience, and relationships within a community. Shame humiliates, separates, and disintegrates people from one another and themselves.

Rather than relying on technical terms and complex explanations, Frank chooses to make space for the stories themselves to teach and inform. There is an effortlessness about her writing, as Frank engages with a Western audience through the profound and irrefutable connection that story-telling yields. Most readers will have no trouble following her argument and will deepen their understanding of the basics of an honor-shame system.

In one particular story, Frank writes about how her camera was stolen. Very quickly, the culprit became obvious. When she and her husband inquired, the pastor who knew the culprit avoided and denied the accusation, covering for the person. For Frank, all of these actions read as dishonesty. Upon reflection, however, she realized that the pastor’s actions were more the result of culture than of morality. She writes, “[The pastor] was a follower of Christ, but that had not converted his worldview to a Western one. Nor should it. Too often, cross-cultural Christians confuse worldview with righteousness. From our Western, right-versus-wrong worldview, sin is to be confronted. From our pastor friend’s perspective, shame is to be avoided, and if that is not possible, it must be covered” (91).

This clear contrast between Western and non-Western perspectives is to be commended. Furthermore, the story-telling approach helps Frank build upon the perceptions and misperceptions of Westerners in order to nuance them. This is a strength of the book.

It is unfortunate that such careful nuance is not evident throughout the entire book. In another story, Frank attributes a Muslim friend’s “outward” efforts of obedience (exemplified by the wearing of the hijab) to an “inward” problem. Imani, Frank writes, thought that she needed to “earn” honor by demonstrating outward obedience. Frank’s answer for her friend is implicit: becoming a Christian means freeing her friend from the shame the hijab is meant to cover. When shame is equated with sin, wearing the hijab becomes sinful.

Yet, veiling is not clearly a sinful action. Clothing is a complex issue that connects to many other complex questions—of perception, of cultural understanding, of power dynamics, and of witness.2 Frank could have engaged her friend’s decision to become more culturally modest in another way. Rather than interpreting it as a problematic example of the “faith vs. works” dichotomy, she could have discussed it as an illuminating example of how the gospel of Christ freed Imani from striving against cultural limitations and carved out space for her to thrive in the midst of them.3 Instead, Frank’s discussion flattens the complexities of honor and shame into the individualistic narrative of sin and salvation that structures Western thinking.

In drawing readers into these and other intimate experiences of shame, Frank provides connection points. The particulars of those connection points need to be further explored, however, in conversation with real people. Generalizations may get a conversation started. But if conversation partners are not careful, they will short-circuit the mutual sharing and listening that Frank herself models throughout the book. Precisely because readers may connect so deeply with the stories’ emotional journies, they may walk away with a false sense of understanding the “Muslim woman’s experience,” as if all Muslim women share one experience. Readers—especially those who do not have relationships with Muslim people—will need to nuance their thinking.4

Those who use this book to lead discussions will want to address directly the ways in which the book’s stories and framing of Islam compare and contrast with their own perspectives. In the context of a group study led by a skillful facilitator, readers would be encouraged to confront their own cultural perceptions. On its own, however, the book does not address the Western cultural perceptions that are shaping its own voice sufficiently.

Kate Blakely

Professor of Cross-Cultural Ministries

Great Lakes Christian College

Lansing, MI, USA

1 See particularly Frank’s description of ascribed honor vs. achieved honor (72 ff.).

2 The New Testament addresses the wearing of head scarves or veils in a few different places. Interestingly enough, 1 Cor 11 can be read to support women wearing veils. Is that passage an indication that Paul wants women to “earn” their status before God by the “works” of veiling their heads?

3 This kind of testimony and witness—available only to women, children, and other people with low social status—is exactly the kind of witness described in 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, and 1 Corinthians. It echoes the submission of Christ, who willingly became a servant to all (cf. Phil 2).

4 Muslims are found on many different continents, and its adherents number in the billions, around 25% of the world’s population. Their experiences and cultural practices should not be flattened.