The Gospel of Damascus
by Omar Imady
MSI Press

"Yune finally understood that crossing to the other side requires more than the availability of a bridge and a guide. The disciples he was seeking have been waiting their entire life for the moment when they were invited to cross."

Born in Damascus of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, Yunus Bukhari is no ordinary young man. So special is his purpose that eight angels have been sent to earth to monitor his every move. Following enigmatic instructions contained in seven golden scrolls and parceled out over decades, the Guardians of the Design prepare Yune, as he is called, for his unique role as a twentieth-century disciple of Christ in this eschatological fantasy.

Author and scholar Omar Imady, who holds a doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies, is an expert on the world's religions. Although The Gospel of Damascus is his first novel, his nonfiction titles—The Rise and Fall of Muslim Civil Society and When You're Shoved from the Right, Look to Your Left—demonstrate his deep understanding of the conflicts and correspondences among the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions. With his first foray into fiction, Imady explores an imagined world where all religions work toward a unified future.

Imady uses the techniques of magical realism to bring his lofty subject down to earth, making it accessible to scholars and non-scholars alike. Although he spends some time explaining the presence of angels on earth, the overall tone is matter-of-fact, focusing on the details of Yune's daily life. Even when supernatural events take place, such as angels communicating directly with humans, the emphasis is on Yune's progress through the very earthly rituals of college, marriage, and career.

With Yune's coming-of-age, Imady tells the story of people worldwide gaining a new perspective. As he prepares to witness the Second Coming of Christ, Yune's growing pains are many. The angels shepherd him through periods of questioning, overconfidence, and disillusionment much like parents guide their children through adolescence into adulthood. Yune's travels take him far afield, to London, Norway, and Minnesota, before returning him home to Damascus, mirroring the author's own path to maturity.

Most readers following Yune's journey will have questions about the history, geography, and religions he studies. Imady clearly explains things through the narrator, an angel named Raqeem, who wonders aloud about the meaning of each scroll as it is opened. Non-scholars puzzled by references to Quran or Bible verses will benefit from Raqeem's explanations. The scrolls provide structure for the story, and compelling mysteries for the reader to solve.

For an eschatological novel, The Gospel of Damascus is surprisingly optimistic. Imady puts forth a possibility of unity among all people that transcends each religion's claim to know the right path. To this end, he includes the text of the eponymous Gospel of Damascus, subtitled a "manual of faith for the ends of time." The importance of this central document in the story isn't well-represented by the short chapter devoted to it before returning to the more absorbing tale of Yune's grooming. As transcriber of the wisdom contained in the Gospel of Damascus, however, Yune finally becomes aware of his own place in the story, which moves quickly from this point on.

The ending of The Gospel of Damascus is not what might be expected from the clues given along the way. Yune himself is astonished when things turn out quite differently than he had imagined. The final chapters are less detailed and wrap things up somewhat abruptly, but allow room for a vision of the future to be explored in future stories. It appears that Yune's work as a peacemaker has just begun.

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