“More Muslims have come to faith in Jesus Christ in the past thirty years – and more specifically in the past seven to ten years – than at any time in human history,” wrote Joel Rosenberg in 2008, and the pace has picked up since then. Uwe Siemon-Netto confirmed in 2016 that “a global phenomenon is taking place: Muslims are converting en masse to various Christian denominations in all parts of the world”. Indeed, Christian missionaries even invented a name and an abbreviation for them: Believers of Muslim Origin, or MBB.
Why is this trend taking place, what are the numbers involved and what are the consequences?
Historically, almost all conversions involved Christians becoming Muslims, not the other way around. Islam has been for 1,400 years the “California Hotel” of religions (“You can leave at any time, but you can never leave”), because it prohibits adherents from declaring themselves atheists or members of another. religion, which the Islamic point of view is the same. This attitude goes back to the origins of religion (a hadith quotes Muhammad, “Whoever changes religion, kill him”) and the feeling that leaving Islam is to join the enemy and, thus, amounts to treason. In addition, living as a true Muslim has a powerful social aspect, helping to maintain community solidarity.
As a result, apostate Muslims everywhere face rejection from their families, social ostracism and the loss of their jobs; in majority Muslim countries, moreover, their governments may very well persecute, imprison, torture and kill them. The skeptical Muslims have therefore historically remained overwhelmingly within the borders of Islam; even the new religions derived from Islam (the Druze, Nusayri / Alawi, Alevi, Babi and Baha’i) do the same initially and maintain a murky relationship with it for a long time. The model is still valid today, for example, with Interuniverse Mysticism (Erfan-e Halgheh), a new-age version of Islam founded in Iran by Mohammad Ali Taheri.
As a result, historically only a small number of Muslims have become Christians. An account, by Church historian David Garrison, finds 5 movements from Muslims to Christianity before the 20th century and 69 such movements during the first 12 years of the 21st. At least some of the first 5 moves occurred under duress or to gain a specific advantage. The most important of the first were the Moriscos of 16th century Spain, driven to convert by their Catholic rulers. On rare occasions, entire communities have converted to gain benefits, as I explained earlier:
In 17th-century Russia, a regulation prohibiting non-Christians from owning serfs led to the conversion of wealthy Tatars, including the ancestors of such luminaries as the musician Sergei Rachmaninoff, the poet and historian Nicholas Karamzin and the novelist Ivan Turgenev. Around 1700, some ruling families among Sunni Muslims in Lebanon converted to Christianity to increase their political status.
Egypt’s rule over Syria in 1831-1841 was a period of massive conscription when “every eligible Syrian Muslim was recruited into the Egyptian army.” Yvette Talhamy explains:
It was not well received by the locals. â¦ While some Syrians chose to flee the country or to mutilate themselves in order to avoid conscription, others turned to missionaries and declared their willingness to profess Christianity, since Christians were exempt from conscription in exchange of payment of an exemption tax. American Protestant missionaries have been inundated with requests to accept Druze and others into their church.
(Unfortunately for the converts, this ploy failed, as they were enlisted “regardless of whether their conversion was real or faked.”)
The same loathing existed until recently. Visiting Sudan in February 1972, I stayed with an American missionary who had lived in Khartoum for twenty years, quietly teaching and performing Sunday services. But he’s only gained five converts in that time – one every four years. Likewise, in a 1984 book, Ten Muslims Meet Christ, an American missionary tells the story of the meager results of the mission in Iran.
Number of converts
MBBs can be notoriously difficult to quantify due to their stealth and even concealment. Still, some surprising estimates do exist. Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone estimate the total number of MBBs in 2010 at nearly 10 million, a 50-fold increase from the less than 200,000 converts fifty years earlier. Reports of widespread conversions of Muslims to Christianity come from regions as disparate as Algeria, Albania, Syria and Kurdistan. Countries with the highest number of indigenous people include Algeria, 380,000; Ethiopia, 400,000; Iran, 500,000 (compared to only 500 in 1979); Nigeria, 600,000; and Indonesia, an incredible 6,500,000 (due to unique circumstances). According to Andrew van der Bijl and Al Janssen, there are “even Christians in Medina and Mecca”.
In Egypt, a Coptic source informs me, âa large number of Muslims converted to Christianity after the 2011 uprising and the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Coptic Church has called Islamist President Mohamed Morsi a “great evangelist” and has stopped counting converts. Go to any church and you will almost certainly find former Muslims there, especially women.
Even more dramatic, in a much-cited December 2000 interview on Al Jazeera television, the director of the Libyan Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law (Ø§Ø±Ø© Ø§ÙØµØØ§Ø¨Ø© ÙÙØ¹ÙÙÙ Ø§ÙØ´Ø±Ø¹ÙØ©, Manarat as-Sahaba li’l-`Ulum ash-Shar`iya), Ahmad al-Qat’ani, said without evidence that 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity every year. He noted that Africa’s Muslim population has grown from more than half to just one-third and raised the possibility that Islam will disappear from sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps he exaggerated for fundraising purposes, but his numbers were widely disseminated.
MBBs also live in the West, the United States hosting by far the most (450,000) and Bulgaria the most in Europe (45,000). Since 2014, Liverpool Cathedral has hosted a weekly service in the Persian language (called âSepasâ) led by a deacon of Muslim origin; the Anglican bishop of Chelmsford, England, is the daughter of a convert of Iranian descent. Muslim conversions increased the size of Berlin’s Evangelisch-Lutherischen Dreieinigkeits-Gemeinde congregation from 150 to almost 700 in just two years. New institutions were founded, such as the Pars Theological Center in London, which has existed since 2010 “to equip and mobilize the Iranian church by training a new generation of servant leaders to lead the church and transform the Persian speaking world for the glory of God. ”
Vague and divergent figures suggest that while no one has a good idea of ââthe number of Muslims converting to Christianity, the scale is large. Christians celebrate this phenomenon; Joel Rosenberg exalts that âthe Church is truly resurrected in the lands of her birthâ.
Why Muslims Become Christians
Duane Miller notes that âChrist’s converts from Islam are often estranged from Islam as much as they are drawn to Christ or Christianity. Focusing here only on the factors that specifically push Muslims towards Christianity, the list goes on.
Dreams and visions, especially Jesus, probably attract about a quarter of MBBs. Mike Ansari, an Iranian convert, reports that many people “actually have dreams and visions of a brilliant man dressed in white long before we tell them about Jesus.” Dabrina Bet Tamraz notes that Iranian converts often wonder, “Have you seen the white[-robed] man, have you seen Jesus? The head of a Presbyterian church in Pakistan discovered that Afghan imams traveled hundreds of miles to study the Bible with him. When asked what prompted them to do it, the Minister replied, âDreams! Christ appeared to them in their sleep and asked them to come here to hear the truth. And in Colorado, Pastor George Naeem who teaches in Arabic via radio and the Internet reports that “virtually all [his students] came as a result of dreams.
Michael Stollwerk recounts the time after a service at Wetzlar Cathedral north of Frankfurt: âI was standing at the exit, still dressed, saying goodbye to the faithful when a veiled woman approached me. I rummaged through a slit in my dress for my wallet, thinking she was a beggar. – No, no, she said. âI only have one question: are you the imam here? I said, ‘Well, in a way I’m – I’m the pastor.’ She continued, âThen you are the right man for you. God commanded me in a dream to go to the big church in the market place and ask the imam for the truth â. She was baptized a few months later. Siemon-Netto, who tells these stories, continues:
Then I heard of similar episodes from a Lutheran theologian who imams visited through his back door in the middle of the night in Egypt for the same purpose; I heard it from a Catholic missionary who had worked in Algeria, from a Baptist whose surprise visitors told him that Christ had appeared to them in their tents in Saudi Arabia. An Anglican priest spoke of hundreds of Persian women attending secret Bible studies in Tehran as a result of dreams. Pastor Gottfried Martens in Berlin estimated that at least two-thirds of his Persian and Afghan converts followed the instructions of a “figure of light” identifying himself as the Jesus of the Christian Bible and not as the “Isa” of the Koran.