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Christianity is growing in unexpected places

A surprising turn takes place in the heartland of Islam


Christianity is growing in unexpected places

Much of western Christianity is imploding. But when you see church buildings in the United States and Europe empty, closed even on Sundays, and sometimes offered for sale to the highest bidders, don’t assume Christianity is collapsing and vanishing everywhere. The faith adopted by billions in the past two millennia doesn’t look like this in many other parts in the world.

In some regions, the number of Christians is rapidly growing. This is particularly the case in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia. The Middle East and North Africa are worth noting, as they have traditionally been identified as the heartland of Islam for over fourteen centuries. In many remarkable ways, this region is currently experiencing a Christian spiritual awakening, as significant numbers of people openly abandon Islam, rushing to believe the gospel of Jesus, and proclaim Him as Lord and Savior.

Why is Islam losing its grab on its heartland and why is there a remarkable conversion to Christ? What is happening among Muslims in terms of the gospel proclamation?

I am writing this column from a country in the Middle East where Christianity—as a faith adopted by true followers of Christ—is witnessing a remarkable work of the Spirit of God. Unlike the case in the West, on Sundays, local churches here are full of worshippers, many of whom come from a Muslim background. Their lives completely changed through the gospel, clearly proclaimed by the local Christian believers. Conversion to Christ does occur a lot among Muslims. I met men and women, believers in Christ who used to be Sunnis, Shiites, or even Druze—some come from Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, or other ethnic backgrounds.

They all have one thing in common: All have abandoned Islam and are now serious followers of Christ, despite being disavowed by their Muslim families, persecuted by their Muslim neighbors, or harassed by local governments.

We are not talking about Christian believers switching churches—no, not at all. Evangelistic work is on the rise and local churches are being filled with numerous new believers, genuinely coming to follow Jesus Christ, despite real persecution, obvious lack of resources, and a significant shortage of theological education.

But why are multitudes of Muslims abandoning Islam in our generation? There could be several factors, including clear gospel witness of local Christians. However, one factor is glaringly obvious—the internet. 

Unlike any previous generation in the history of Islam, Muslims are now able to access information about their faith that they never knew before. In past generations, a Muslim needed to travel to a local library to read about Muhammad’s life and deeds. Now these are accessible with one click. In the past, knowledge of Islam was filtered and controlled by Muslim clerics who determined what to reveal and what to hide from their own texts—but not now!

Unlike any previous generation in the history of Islam, Muslims are now able to access information about their faith that they never knew before.

Many aspects of Muhammad’s life have been hidden from the masses for centuries, but today, any Muslim on the planet can learn what the original Islamic sources really reveal about Muhammad’s deception by Satan, his marriage to a nine-year old girl, his massacre of a Jewish tribe, his launching of military incursions against innocent tribes that refused to follow his religious message, and many other stories.

Islam is shielded no longer. Muhammad’s actions and character are not protected against evaluation. The internet doesn’t only provide access to information; it also allows criticism and evaluation of a religion that has been shielded for centuries through terrorizing critics.

There has never been a moment like this in the past 14 centuries since Muhammad allegedly preached in Arabia. People can now criticize Islam openly and debate its tenets and claims without fear of retaliation and violence. This openness in criticizing Muhammad’s actions and Islam’s claims—with such high frequency—didn’t even exist two decades ago.

And the Church is winning the moment, as ambassadors of Christ proclaim the gospel to Muslim seekers in the heartland of Islam.

What can the Church in the West do to partner in this crucial moment of revival happening in the Global South and in the heartland of Islam? It can assist in the advancement of the gospel worldwide by supporting local churches. Numerous local churches are doing excellent work of evangelism among the nonbelievers, but they lack financial resources and theological education suitable to their own contexts.

Some Christians in the West have grown weary, believing that evangelism seldom leads to conversions among Muslims. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a remarkable moment for all followers of Christ to partner together to fulfill Christ’s commission to the end of the earth.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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