Islam and Christianity: Looking at the Numbers
There were two recent news items which had to do with Islam. The first seemed to indicate that Islam is in the ascendency, while the second gave a slightly different perspective.
The first story involved a statement from the Vatican which said that for the first time, Muslims now outnumber Catholics. Muslims make up 19.2 per cent of the world’s population, compared to Catholics who make up 17.2 per cent. This is mainly due to demographics: Muslims tend to still have large families, while Catholics are having much smaller families. Of course if all Christians are considered together, they make up 33 percent of the world’s population, or about 2 billion people. By contrast, there are around 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today.
The second story involved the baptism of former Muslim Magdi Allam by the Pope on Easter Sunday. This was a noted conversion which made world headlines. Allam, an Italian journalist and author, left Islam, renouncing it as a religion of violence. He said, “Upon my first Easter as a Christian I have not only discovered Jesus, but I have discovered for the first time the true and only God”.
But there is a third story about Islam that most of the mainstream media is not reporting, and that is a very significant story indeed. It involves not just the conversion of one Muslim, like Allam, but many, indeed millions. The truth is, there has recently been a tsunami of Muslim converts to Christianity.
In a recent article Andrew Walden offers some amazing statistics: “In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity.” These are some remarkable figures indeed.
As already mentioned, the rise in numbers in Islam is mainly due to demographics, not conversions. “This is more than the normal flow between two large religious communities. Islam can point to little in the way of recent conversions. Its claim to be the world’s fastest-growing religion stems mostly from the high birth rate in Islamic countries, whose infant mortality rates have been cut by the introduction of Western medicine. Christian growth is based on adult conversion. As leading Christian evangelist Wolfgang Simpson writes, ‘More Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in all of history’.”
Walden looks at a number of Muslim countries where significant conversion rates to Christianity are occurring. He also looks at Western nations where Muslims are leaving their faith: “Islam is also losing adherents in areas where Islamist harassment is heavy on the streets. The London Times estimates 15% of Muslims living in Western Europe have left Islam – 200,000 in the UK alone. Those who leave often face harassment, threats, and attack.”
In another recent article Joel Rosenberg also picks up on this issue, with what he calls the “untold story” of Muslims leaving the faith in droves. He says, “The God of the Bible is moving powerfully in the Middle East to draw men, women and children to His heart and adopt them into His family in record numbers. More Muslims have come to faith in Jesus Christ over the last thirty years – and specifically over the last seven to ten years – than at any other time in human history. There is a revival going on among the ancient Catholic, Coptic, and Chaldean churches. Today, the Church is being truly resurrected in the lands of its birth.”
He examines a number of Middle Eastern nations, and presents some encouraging figures. Consider some cases: “In Afghanistan, for example, there were only 17 known evangelical Christians in the country before al-Qaeda attacked the United States. Today, there are well over 10,000 Afghan followers of Christ and the number is growing steadily.”
In Uzbekistan there were no known Muslim converts to Christ in 1990, but now there are more than 30,000. In Egypt more “than 1 million Egyptians have trusted Christ over the past decade or so, report Egyptian church leaders. The Egyptian Bible Society told me they used to sell about 3,000 copies of the Jesus film a year in the early 1990s. But in 2005 they sold 600,000 copies, plus 750,000 copies of the Bible on tape (in Arabic) and about a half million copies of the Arabic New Testament.”
In Sudan, despite “a ferocious civil war, genocide and widespread religious persecution, particularly in the Darfur region – or perhaps because of such tragedies – church leaders there tell me that more than 1 million Sudanese have made decisions to follow Jesus Christ just since 2001. Since the early 1990s, more than 5 million Sudanese have become followers of Jesus. Seminary classes to train desperately-needed new pastors are held in mountain caves. Hundreds of churches have been planted, and thousands of small group Bible studies are being held in secret throughout the country.”
In Iran in “1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini led the Islamic Revolution, there were only about 500 known Muslim converts to Christianity. Today, interviews with two dozen Iranian pastors and church leaders reveals that there are well over 1 million Shia Muslim converts to Christianity.”
How is this all happening? “One of the most dramatic developments is that many Muslims throughout the Middle East and even in the United States are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus. They are coming into churches explaining that they have already converted and now need a Bible and guidance on how to follow Jesus. This is in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The Hebrew Prophet Joel told us that ‘in the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days….And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.’ (Joel 2:28-32)”
Concludes Rosenberg, “Is life easy for these Muslim converts? By no means. They face ostracism from their families. They face persecution from their communities. They face being fired by their employers. They face imprisonment by their governments. They face torture and even death at the hands of Muslim extremists. But they are coming to Christ anyway. They are becoming convinced that Jesus is, in fact, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father in heaven except through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross and powerful resurrection from the dead.”
Muslims may be gaining numbers mainly because of larger families, but Christians are growing in number because of an actual encounter with the living Saviour who once was dead but now lives. These are exciting times, and in the midst of so much gloom and doom, we need to be aware of such good news stories. God is at work and is doing powerful things in the Muslim world. We need to keep praying, believing and acting to see more of this take place.