Around 1.6 billion Muslims inhabit the world today, and an estimated three to seven million reside in the United States. Despite the fact that Muslims are the largest unreached people group, only 2% of Protestant Christian missionaries are engaging the Muslim world. In fact, 86% of Muslims globally have not had personal contact with a Christian, which equates to only one in seven Muslims having met a Christian. Clearly, Christians who live in the United States have a tremendous opportunity to minister to the millions of Muslims residing in the United States. Thus, it is perplexing as to why the 257 million Christians in the US seem reluctant to engage this prime mission field even though it is in their own backyard.
Muslims’ experience in the US has been shaped by many factors, but none could be more significant than September 11, 2001. The Muslim population had kept a relatively quiet profile in the US, but all of that changed on 9/11. Jackleen Salem explains, “The political situation in the Middle East has always impacted Muslims in America, from the Six Day War in 1967 to the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. But it was 9/11 that put the spotlight on Muslims in America unlike it had ever been before.” Although unease around Muslims existed perhaps before 9/11, this feeling of discomfort seemed to morph into outright fear overnight.
LifeWay surveyed one thousand Americans and one thousand senior pastors in America. In reference to the study, USA Today reported, “What might be most notable about the LifeWay surveys is the strikingly harder views on Islam among clergy compared with Americans at large.” To begin, 27% of Americans believe that “ISIS is a true indication of what Islam looks like when Islam controls a society.” On the other hand, 45% percent of Protestant pastors agree with the statement, and 51% of evangelical pastors. Similarly, 37% of Americans are concerned about the implementation of sharia law in the US, and even more evangelical Christians are concerned about it (51%). Further supporting this idea, one Christian woman wrote on her survey for this paper, “I do not understand Sharia law above our country’s law.” Moreover, 76% of Protestant preachers in the LifeWay research agree with the statement “airstrikes against ISIS are needed to protect Christians.” Sherman A. Lee suggests this harsh perception perhaps stems from many Christians viewing Islam as the “enemy of Christianity.” In the end, these studies seem to suggest that not only is prejudice toward Muslims in existence among the general population of America, but perhaps even to a greater degree among American Christians.
During the 5th Crusade St. Francis undertook what most considered a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. So radical was the Sultan he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. He was “treacherous, brainless and false hearted,” but where others saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior and compassion welled up inside of him.
As Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato walked onto the battlefield, they were caught, beaten and brought to the Sultan who was happy because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” said Francis, “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” Thus he proclaimed the Triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. The Sultan did not convert for it was he who retook Jerusalem. By God’s grace St. Francis was not killed but that possibility did not deter him.
In these perilous times, when radical Islam is carrying out horrific acts of violence, Christians must reach out to Muslims with courage and compassion. We must understand their concerns and engage with them in witness. Most Muslims wake up with no church, no Bible, and no one to tell them about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Five times a day from countless minarets in their midst, they hear God is great, but who will tell them God is love?
The majority of Americans’ opinions about Islam and Muslims were formed after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and even more so by the subsequent tragic events of 9/11. Prior to this, the American general public knew little about Muslims. Six months after the 9/11 tragedies, 2,652 attacks against Muslim Americans were reported, which was an unprecedented number.
After 9/11, the media’s role was significant in molding the opinion of the general population in regard to Muslims and cannot be understated. Studies have found that even watching a small portion of the media stories that negatively portray Muslims can lead to prejudice. Some of the news stories include portraying Islam as being “backwards,” by associating it with oppression of women and honor killings. One psychologist described the media’s portrayal of Muslims as “dehumanizing.”
Christians have their own form of media targeted specifically toward them in the forms of Christian radio, television programs, movies, books, and blogs. Many books that vilify Islam have been marketed toward Christians.Christian media outlets, have not always been helpful either. Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) actually pulled Hal Lindsey’s program from its station in 2005 because they felt it would derail evangelism efforts to Muslims. The president of TBN, Paul Crouch, said that he was unaware of any instances where, “Making inflammatory, derogatory anti-Muslim statements has led a single follower of Islam to Christ.” It is also important for Christians to realize that these programs are not just directly damaging to Muslims, but they also taint Christians’ perception as well.
In the end, certain influential Christian leaders have painted a negative and even derogatory picture of Muslims, but other Christians have resisted this approach. When one Christian leader referred to Muhammad as a pedophile and demon-possessed, Kidd reports, “Southern Baptist missionaries in Muslim countries anonymously pleaded with American leaders to ‘concentrate on sharing Christ in love…instead of speaking in a degrading manner about [Islam or the] prophet.’”