[Note: This is a follow-up to an earlier blog post where I related a number of dramatic stories of Muslim conversions to Christianity through what can only be considered supernatural means (https://www.kendallpres.org/dreams-visions-and-revival-in-islam). That blog concentrated on the micro-level; this one takes a look at the macro.*]
It started, the story goes, with a dream. In A.D. 610, an Arabian merchant named Muhammad retreated alone to a cave near Mecca to meditate. While there he said he was visited in a dream by the angel Gabriel.
Later he claimed to receive another angelic message: “O Muhammad, verily thou art in truth the prophet of Allah.” This allegedly was the first of many revelations for him and launched a movement called Islam** that would dramatically alter the course of history.
Sadly, we are only too aware of the current global picture. For perspective:
- Today there is an attack by Islamic terrorists somewhere in the world (outside Iraq and Syria) every 84 hours.
- Islamic terrorists murder more people every day than the Ku Klux Klan has in the last 50 years.
- 19 Islamic terrorists killed more people in two hours on September 11th, 2001 than the number of American criminals executed in the last 65 years.
- More civilians were killed by Islamic terrorists on September 11th, 2001 than in the 36 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
- More people are killed by Islamic terrorists each year than in the entire 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition.
The bad news continues seemingly unabated, day after bloody day. Is there any good news, any reason for hope?
I believe there is.
As I wrote previously, God is doing a dramatic work throughout the Islamic world. Today, thousands upon thousands of Muhammad’s followers report having dreams and visions of their own – experiences that are rocking their world and reverberating outward. While political revolution and violence are causing upheaval throughout the Middle East and beyond, winds of spiritual change are also blowing on a widespread scale, even and especially within countries hostile to Christianity. Stories are emerging from around the world of Muslims being awakened to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sometimes quite literally by their dreams.
God’s truth and grace are being poured out on the nations, including radically Islamic nations, in amazing ways: Mission researchers estimate more Muslims have committed to follow Christ in the last ten years than in the last 15 centuries, since the birth of Islam. This, in spite of the fact Islamic governments are some of the worst persecutors of Christians; in spite of the unspeakable atrocities being committed against Christians in the name of Islam. Despite all that, reports indicate God is moving dramatically in Islamic strongholds.
(Some of the following statistics undoubtedly have changed in the aftermath of so-called Arab Spring and the mind-numbing persecution committed by ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, al Nusra and other terrorist groups against Christians.)
Iran: At the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 there were only about 500 known Muslim converts in the country. By 2000, there were a reported 220,000 believers, including many Muslim converts. That’s 21 years. Even children of government ministers and mullahs have been reported coming to saving faith in Christ. As of today there are a reported 350,000 Christians in all.
Iraq: Christianity is also quietly advancing in Iraq. Multitudes of Christians have been martyred since these figures were originally reported. Yet, even the fact that Muslims felt compelled to quell its advancement suggests that Christianity has been growing.
Before 2003, senior Iraqi Christian leaders say, there were only about 400-600 known born-again followers of Christ in the entire country, despite an estimated 750,000 nominal Christians in historic Iraqi churches. By the end of 2008, Iraqi Christian leaders estimated that there were more than 70,000 born-again Iraqi believers. Millions of Arabic New Testaments and Christian books were shipped into Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
As stated, the expansion of Christianity has been greatly hindered more recently in Iraq. But if history is any indication, even this persecution and genocide will ultimately lead to more Christians in the land once known as Babylon.
Saudi Arabia: A strikingly similar stirring is also taking place in Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of world Islam. You probably wouldn’t expect the growth of Christianity in Mecca, but it is happening.
Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical researcher, author, and resident of Israel has been documenting the recent resurgence of Christianity in the Middle East. His observations provide a window into many amazing developments. Summarizing some of what he has heard, Rosenberg reports: “Arab Christian leaders estimated there were more than 100,000 Saudi Muslim background believers in 2005, and they believe the numbers are even higher today.” Saudi Arabia is being quickened by the Holy Spirit. It seems to be positioned to experience significant growth in the decades to come.
Jayson Casper, a journalist with Christianity Today, also pointed out some astounding growth that’s taking place in the Arabian Peninsula. He writes:
“Today the Pew Research Center numbers Christians in the Arabian Peninsula at 2.3 million – more Christians than nearly 100 countries can claim. The Gulf Christian Fellowship, an umbrella group, estimates 3.5 million … United Arab Emirates Christian population … [is] 13 percent, according to Pew. Among other Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar each about 14 percent Christian, while Oman is about 6 percent. Even Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest cities (Mecca and Medina), is 4 percent Christian ….”
Jordan: Along the eastern bank of the Jordan River, the Islamic nation of Jordan is also experiencing the grace of Jesus. Reflecting on what is transpiring in this nation, Rosenberg notes the following:
“God has been reviving the Jordanian Church in the last four decades, and particularly in the past few years. Conservative estimates say the number of believers in the country is now between 5,000-10,000. The head of one major Jordanian ministry, however, believes there may be as many as 50,000 believers in the country.”
Lebanon: Rosenberg: “There are about 10,000 truly born-again followers of Jesus Christ today.”
Syria: Reports suggest there were no Muslim background Christians in Syria 50 years ago, but today “there are between 4,000 and 5,000 born-again believers in the country.”
Every hour, 667 African Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert. Ever year, six million Muslims convert to Christianity.
Egypt: Revival is reportedly widespread among nominal Christians within the nation’s historic Coptic Church, whose members number about 10 million. Coptic Christians are under severe attack: according to Voice of the Martyrs, since January 2015 400 Christians have been murdered, hundreds more injured and multiple churches burned. Joel Rosenberg declares, “Ministry leaders in Egypt estimate there are more than 2.5 million followers of Jesus Christ in their country. Many of these are Muslim converts.”
Undoubtedly, the severe persecutions and disruptions related to the Arab Spring have affected the lives of Christians throughout this nation, but the faithful have remained strong. Martyrdom invites outsiders to examine the claims of those willing to die for Jesus.
Sudan: One million Sudanese have turned to Christ since the year 2000 – not in spite of persecution, war, and genocide, but because of them. In a nation of 38 million people, the estimated total number of believers is more than 5.5 million.
Algeria: Algeria is beginning to come alive with the gospel like much of Northern Africa. Rosenberg recounts the recent upsurge:
“More than 80,000 Muslims have become followers of Christ in recent years …. The surge of Christianity has become so alarming to Islamic clerics that in March of 2006, Algerian officials passed a law banning Muslims from becoming Christians or even learning about Christianity, and forbidding Christians from meeting together without a license from the government.”
A case study:
Pastor Salah leads one of the largest churches in Algeria. Some 1,200 believers attend the church, and 99 percent of the population is Muslim. “In fact we never thought the Algerian church would grow so big,” Salah said.
He said every new Christian in his church comes from a Muslim background. Since the church opened, they have baptized on average 150-160 believers per year.
Even though Algeria is overwhelmingly Muslim, the government has given Protestant churches the freedom to register their congregations.
“It is the first Muslim Arab government who recognizes, officially, churches,” says Youssef Qurahmane, a leading Algerian pastor. He adds that although government will harass and intimidate Christians from time to time, the level of persecution is nothing like it was 20 years ago.
Qurahmane says he sees God opening unprecedented doors. “God has given to us many opportunities to witness at the police stations, at the courts, and in fact one time I went to the police station and they gave me 45 minutes to speak about Jesus!”
A veteran missionary in the region (identified only as “Peter” for security reasons) says things were very different some years ago. He uses the Bible to describe the landscape.
“[T]here’s that parable, the sower went out to sow and the seeds fell on stony ground – this is North Africa. In those days was quite resistant and stony. The religion and the culture were unsympathetic to anything that was foreign. And Christianity was considered to be the religion of the Europeans.”
Tino Qahoush, a graduate of Regent University in Virginia and filmmaker has spent years traveling throughout the region to document the phenomenon: “What God is doing in North Africa, all the way from actually Mauritania to Libya, is unprecedented in the history of missions.”
From Casablanca, Morocco, to Tripoli, Libya, experts say the growth of Christianity, especially in the last 20 years, has been unprecedented.
In Morocco, an estimated 20,000-40,000 Muslims have become followers of Christ.
The abrupt changes to Muslim Africa are something even Islamic clerics are beginning to acknowledge. In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, appeared on a live interview on Al-Jazeera satellite television. He declared as follows:
“Islam used to represent … Africa’s main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. So in the section of Africa that we are talking about, the non-Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realize that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century …. As to how that happened … there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. … These numbers are very large indeed.”
Pakistan: Senior Pakistani Christian leaders say there is a “conversion explosion” going on in their country. There are now an estimated 2.8-3 million professing Pakistani believers. Whole towns and villages along the Afghan-Pakistani border are reportedly converting to Christianity.
According to Joel Rosenberg:
Afghanistan: “The number of Afghan believers is now between 20,000 and 30,000.”
Kazakhstan: “There are more than 15,000 Kazakh Christians, and more than 100,000 Christians of all ethnicities.”
Rosenberg’s figures suggest that there are over 13 million Christians in Islamic countries, the majority from Muslim backgrounds.
We must remember that ultimately, it’s not the dreams that lead people to Christ; it’s the gospel.
“We do not find that dreams and visions alone ever change anybody’s life,” Nik Ripken, 28-year veteran of the mission field, points out. “What it does, it seems, is to send them on a spiritual pilgrimage.”
As Craig Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury University in Wilmore, KY says, “Ultimately, it’s the gospel that converts people. God wants to take a people for Himself from every kindred and people and tribe and nation,” he says, quoting Revelation 14:6.
He points out that, historically, different parts of the world have had a stronger Christian presence during different eras, even if only for a window of time. “There are places that it’s just so risky, God is intervening directly.”
Abraham Sarker, founder of Gospel for Muslims in Dallas and adjunct professor at Regent University furthers this point with a grim reminder: “Most Muslims won’t ever hear the gospel, even here in America.” He adds that this underscores the importance of Christians worldwide praying for God to reveal Himself through dreams.
It is obvious from these and other reports that Christianity is advancing in the Islamic world. Yet, the question is, “Why?”
Walid Shoebat, a former PLO operative turned Christian and peace activist, believes Jesus is compensating for the weaknesses of the Western Church:
“I had first doubted the countless stories of Muslims becoming Christian as a result of dreams until I met some of them and heard their testimonies. My conclusion to this phenomenon is that Christ succeeds where the church fails.”
As Christians, we celebrate the advancement of the gospel in some of darkest places on the globe. In our time, against all odds – and ferocious opposition – Jesus is doing amazing things in the midst of every tribe and tongue.
Good news: Christ succeeds where all others fail.
*Compiled from numerous sources.
**Islam means “submission.” That is one main reason why you could never have a country like the United States based on Islamic teachings: the very idea that we are all created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is completely foreign to and at odds with the basic tenets of Islam.