The news media are understandably consumed with Muslim terrorists’ deadly attacks on a satirical weekly’s office and a Jewish grocery in Paris. Europeans are soul-searching over national security, anti-Semitism, and outrage against Muslims, with no evident enthusiasm for restoring any Christian vitality. Tough coverage logistics meant there was scant notice that in the same week Boko Haram destroyed a town in Nigeria and slaughtered hundreds, even as many as 2,000, inhabitants.
There’s the usual journalistic confusion here over how to characterize the religious aspect. Just before these latest atrocities, the journal First Things published an article on “Challenging Radical Islam” that’s must reading for reporters. Author John Azumah, a Christian expert on Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, carefully balances the ideological complexities. Contra the left, he says “key aspects of the ideology of radical violent Muslim groups are indeed rooted in Islamic texts and history.” Yet he criticizes the right, contending that in principle Islam or the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad aren’t the real problem.
Azumah notes that “Muslim leaders around the world have repeatedly and publicly denounced” al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Islamic State (ISIS). The Religion Guy addressed this last September 27 in “Who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?”
The Paris deeds were lamented by many Muslim nations and organizations. Just before the attacks Egypt’s President al-Sisi had told an assemblage of ranking clerics that Islam needs a “religious revolution” because the present-day violence spurns Islamic tradition and “is antagonizing the entire world.”
Fact is, Islam’s customary religious leadership appears incapable of, and sometimes uninterested in, rallying believers to vanquish the radical rebellion in their midst. Looking down the road, do experts on Islam see any realistic prospect that will change? Have groups that slaughter the innocents in God’s name become a permanent faction within this great world faith? If so, won’t that grievously damage Islam’s stature in the long-term?
Azumah says “a battle for the soul of Islam” is already altering the landscape, and makes the remarkable claims that “disillusioned young Iranians are leaving Islam in droves and giving up on religion altogether. Other ordinary Muslims are turning away from Islam to other religions, including Christianity.”
At the moment Azumah is traveling in Australia and unavailable for interviews. But Sasan Tavassoli, a onetime Muslim in Iran and now Atlanta-based Presbyterian missioner to Iranian expatriates, confirms to The Religion Guy that “Iranians have been disillusioned with Islam for quite some time and many are giving up on God” or seeking “other spiritual options.” He notes that Operation World, which monitors nations’ trends for its Christian “prayer guide,” says Iran has the fastest growth rate for evangelical churches in any nation, 19.6 percent per year.
Of course, Christian evangelism on Muslim turf can be dangerous and is largely driven underground, so the best sources are tight-lipped. One well-seasoned observer to consult would be J. Dudley Woodberry, retired dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, who has been a pastor in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In addition, two 2014 books from obscure publishers develop this theme:
* “Too Many to Jail: The Story of Iran’s New Christians” by Mark Bradley (a pseudonym) claims that the nation had fewer than 500 known Christian converts from Islam at the time of the Khomeini revolution, compared with 100,000 or more today. The book develops the same theme of Iranians’ alienation from their national religion and resulting exploration of other faith options.
* Beyond that one nation, there’s “A Wind in the House of Islam: How God Is Drawing Muslims Around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ.” Veteran Southern Baptist missionary David Garrison bases his scenario on three years and a quarter-million miles traveling across the Muslim world and compiling stories from 1,000 converts. Book promotion says this is “the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history,” a claim skeptical journalists of course won’t take at face value.
Major stories? Stay tuned.