The Chattanooga Beer Board heard arguments opposing the sale of beer at a nearby convenience store. It probably would not help the community, and the increased traffic could become a magnet for drug dealing, as at a convenience store a block away that had been recently shut down. The applicant’s name was “Jihad,” further alienating me. He won the license by one vote, and although I’ve passed Jihad’s store for many months, I didn’t stop until recently. How can I advocate mission to Muslims and neglect this man? I don’t like jihadists, but I don’t reach out to non-violent Muslims either, who are probably ninety percent of the total.1 I’m part of the problem.
Islam is the second largest religion, after Christianity, with 1.4 billion adherents as of mid-2008. It’s growing at 1.8 percent annual rate, compared with Christianity’s 1.3 percent growth (due to a higher birth rate).2 There may be only 25,000 missionaries3 (about 5% of the total missionary force) trying to reach 1.4 billion Muslims, which translates into 5.7 missionaries per million Muslims. For comparison, Kenya receives 177 missionaries per million Kenyans.4 Of the twenty least-reached people groups in the world, fifteen of them are Muslim (the most-reached of them is .1% Christian).5
Why are Muslims considered so resistant to the Gospel? As former Muslim radical and now Christian evangelist Reza Safa has written, Muslims are not being converted because the Church has simply neglected that harvest field. It has not tilled, seeded and watered that ground.6 The head of a large Christian foundation that supports Muslim outreach says that Muslims have become open to Christ in the last twenty years in ways never seen before, even in countries such as Iran, where there are 100,000 converted Muslim Christians.7 It’s perhaps because the Church has so neglected Muslim evangelism that Muslims coming to Christ as a result of dreams and visions is now commonplace.
The motive for reaching Muslims closest to heart is perhaps to neutralize fundamentalists and terrorists, thwarting their plans for global Islamic dominion. We could return our troops and decrease Homeland Security spending, helping our economy. Christ never commended evangelism to make the world a safer, more comfortable place. Christ warned us that we will be hated by all men for His sake (Matt. 24:9) and that He came to bring a sword which may divide one’s family (Matt. 10:34). The peace He offers today is an inner peace.
Why has the church largely ignored Muslim lands? Historically, it has been an extremely difficult field. How do you lead people to Christ if, for their decision, they can be disowned by their family, beaten, jailed, raped and even killed for the honor of the family? Muslim doors have closed to “missionaries,” and the Church has sent 72% of her missionaries to lands that are already evangelized. What movement sends 72% of its force to controlled areas, while sending only 28% to some of the most difficult spiritual combat?
Particularly a Western/American missionary may be seen as an agent of a decadent, arrogant and unjust society.8 Islam lost its glory and was dominated by the West by the start of WWI.9 Today the technological and military gap is far greater between the West and Muslim countries than ever before. Muslims tend to blame the West for their low status and for supporting of Israel.10 How can a Western missionary gain a hearing? We may have to support non-Western missionaries, such as Father Zacharia, or support Western missionaries in promising tasks such as Internet and TV evangelism by satellite, such as the Al Hayat network in Egypt. Media allows anonymity to seekers. About 80% of Muslims live outside of Arab lands11, and may be found in one of 52 countries12, in some of which being Western is not as much of a liability as in the Middle East. I know of productive pioneer evangelism and church planting among African Muslims, involving Western missionaries.
What can we do to focus Christian resources to share Jesus Christ with Muslims? I want to try to befriend Jihad. In Safa’s experience, we must love Muslims with the fear-destroying love of Christ, and we must be patient.13 On a local-church level, the options are many. First analyze where your mission dollars go. You may find, as I did, that the average foreign missionary our church supports serves in a country that is over 90% evangelized. We are in the process of re-focusing upon the unreached and the least reached, as we support new missionaries. Another church that supports almost fifty missionaries has reappraised her mission force and is now going to focus upon the 28% of the world that is unevangelized, as new missionaries are supported. Is your church reaching Muslims—or ignoring the mosques?
Here are some web resources to assist in reaching Muslims: