A few weeks ago I received an email from one of my students. She has been working with Muslim women and had just had a phone call from one of her Muslim friends. The woman was weeping uncontrollably, and my student assumed someone in her family had died. After she regained her composure she made the following startling statement, “I have been a Muslim for forty-one years, and in all that time have never questioned Islam. But now, I have decided to leave it.” When my student asked her “why,” she related that she had been watching ISIS videos and the brutality that they justified as the “methods of the Prophet.” She decided to leave Islam.
I have often referred to Islamic radicals as “proto-evangelists” for the Christian faith. The first of these was the Ayatollah Khomeini. His brutal regime in Iran, whose atrocities and policies have led many Iranians to leave Iran, has also led to an exodus of Iranians out of Islam. Estimates are difficult, but the numbers are significant. Outside Iran, the numbers are firmer but no less astonishing. In Sweden, fully ten percent of the Iranian immigrant population has converted to the Christian faith. That is approximately eight thousand out of a total of eighty thousand in the entire country. Some Iranian believers have called the Ayatollah the greatest missionary because he showed us what Islam is really like.
The next great figure in this progression was Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden defined the rulers of the Muslim world as apostates for cooperating with the West. Though best known for the September 11, 2001 attacks, his group, al-Qaeda, quickly morphed from killing westerners to killing Muslims. Their brutality has particularly been harsh in Iraq and Syria, as has been actions by the Taliban in Pakistan.
ISIS or the “Islamic State” is the latest in the progression of groups and states working for the absolute application of Islamic law. His declaration of a new caliphate has alarmed the Muslims world. His group’s clever–and successful–propaganda films glory in violence, hostage taking, beheadings, sex-slavery, and slaughter of Muslim and non-Muslims. The recent burning to death of a Jordanian Muslim pilot seems to have stepped well beyond even the brutality of Islamic law and it is likely that IS followers may shortly be defined as “apostates” from Islam justifying a new Jihad against them.
This propaganda and terror war is being fought on the internet. Most westerners do not watch these films. But it was astonishing to see how quickly the film of the Jordanian pilot’s death spread throughout the Muslim world. The man’s father watched it on his cell phone in a public meeting.
As Islamic law, and the groups that espouse it, fails, where will people turn? When I met a group of Iranian Church leaders in Sweden their great fear was that Muslims would turn to secularism, even to atheism. Many have come to the Church but this assumes that the Church is a “safe space” for Muslims. The tragedy is that many Churches are not welcoming for Muslims. They regard them as the enemy. In a shameful display in Texas recently a group of Christians heckled a Muslim meeting and called on them to leave the country. The harvest in Sweden is partly a result of the Church taking a stand for Muslim immigrants and against local nationalist parties. The Church in Sweden is a “safe space” for Muslims. Is the evangelical Church in America a “safe space” for Muslims? The proto-evangelists are doing their job. Are we doing ours?
For more on this topic see Secularism is Drawing Muslims away from Islam.