by William D. Bell
An expansion of Islam in North America is an illustration of the challenge which this great religious system represents to Christians around the world today.
Cassius Clay . . . Lew Alcindor . . . Walt Hazzard. These three men now known respectively as Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdeljabbar and Mahdi Abderrahman are examples of the well known professional athletes in the United States who, within the last few years, have adopted some form of the religion of Islam. For several years the group known as the Black Muslims have been very influential in the larger cities of America, but more recently orthodox Muslims have been making their influence felt as well. This expansion of Islam in North America is an illustration of the challenge which this great religious system represents to Christians around the world today.
Within the past ten years Muslims have passed through some traumatic experiences in various parts of the world. In the middle 60’s many Muslims in Indonesia were suspected of having collaborated with the Communists in the attempted take-over of the Indonesian government. This meant that for a time following the putting down of the attempted coup there was some movement away from Islam toward Christianity for largely political reasons.
In 1967 the largely Muslim Arab world was badly shaken by Israel’s lightning-like victory in the so called "Six Days War." A few years later many Muslims of Pakistan were shaken by the news of Muslim killing Muslim as the army of Wept Pakistan ruthlessly swept through East Pakistan, or Bangladesh, killing and wounding thousands of Bengalis.
As of now, however, there is little to indicate that these experiences have led to any significant change in the prevailing attitude of Islam to Christian witness, for that attitude remains one of implacable opposition.
During this period of time, evangelical missions began to use some new techniques in order to make an impact for the gospel on the Muslim world. Bible correspondence courses, in particular, proved to be an effective means of getting the gospel message before Muslim people. This method was successful for several reasons. For one thing, most of the countries of the Muslim world had gained their independence from European colonial powers since World War II, and moved quickly to provide large scale public education for their children. Missionaries in many countries found that the newly educated children who had learned to have a thirst for knowledge considered the Bible lessons as just one more form of education. Further, in this way Muslims could study the Bible in the quietness of their own homes, without the kind of acrid confrontation that so often marks religious discussions between Christians and Muslims. In countless instances, Muslims, who for the first time began to study the Bible for themselves, got a totally new insight into the person of Jesus Christ, and many of them have accepted this teaching as the truth and have committed their lives to Christ.
Missions have also moved heavily into the area of radio, although most of the broadcasts currently being prepared specifically for the Muslim world are aimed at the Arabicspeaking nations that constitute only about 20 percent of the Muslim population of the world. However, steps are being made to remedy this situation. A notable example is the new station being operated by Far Eastern Broadcasting Association in the Seychelles Islands. A prime target area of this station is the Indian subcontinent with millions of Muslim people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Operation Mobilization has had many unusual opportunities for communicating the gospel in Middle Eastern countries through the use of teams of young people traveling throughout the area, and also through the ministry of their ship, M/V Logos, which has been received warmly in many of the ports on the Arabian Gulf. During the visits of the ship to those ports there have been many wonderful opportunities for distribution of Christian literature, both on the ship and on shore as the teams have moved outward from the ship.
This ship has also had an effective ministry in India and Pakistan where Muslims were touched, as were members of other religious groups.
Within the past few years several missions have begun to concentrate more on Muslims living outside their home countries. This is especially true in Europe, where the North Africa Mission and Gospel Missionary Union, along with other groups, are concentrating on the hundreds of thousands of North Africans and Turks who have immigrated for economic reasons. While there is more freedom for open witness to these people in Europe, their response to the gospel has been rather slow. However, at is anticipated that this ministry will continue to grow, for not only are these people worthy of hearing the gospel but converts could well be used of God as bridges for the gospel back into their home countries.
NO CHANGE SEEN IN RESPONSE
In attempting to look into the future, this writer sees little to indicate that there will be any significant change in response to the gospel in Muslim countries in the near future. With the possible exception of Iran, Indonesia and Bangladesh, the Muslim countries still take a very hard line against Christian activity in their countries. In the summer of 1973 there was an Islamics Congress held in Algeria, with one of the subjects under discussion being the influence of Christian missionaries and ways in which this influence could be dealt with. During 1973 the government of Afghanistan not only destroyed the only Protestant place of worship in the capital city of Kabul, but also took steps to limit severely the work of medical missions which had been slowly built up in the country over the past twenty years.
These steps were taken in spite of the fact that the Christians working in Afghanistan had been extremely careful in their contacts with individual Afghans.
Another factor that must be kept in mind when considering the Muslim world is the structure of Muslim society. The vast majority of Muslims are still living in situations where their actions are governed by their families or by society at large. In many places missionaries are making serious efforts to minister to the natural groupings in Muslim society, but as yet there is little evidence of any large scale response to this approach. This is one area where change must come about if there is to be any significant mass movement to Christ in the Muslim world.
Missions to Islam will certainly continue to invest heavily in radio and literature, with some creative missionaries also beginning to use other techniques in modern mass communication. However, the impact of radio will be limited by the fact that there are still few stations available for broadcasting to the Muslim world. So long as the government-controlled local stations remain closed to gospel broadcasts, missions will be touching only a small percentage of the Muslim population through radio.
For the short term, missionaries from the western countries can expect a continuing cold reception in most of the Muslim world, especially the Arab countries. It is to be hoped that the Christians of Latin America, Africa and Asia will get an increasing vision and burden for the Muslim world, for the opportunities for their involvement among Muslims are virtually limitless.
In the face of the hardness of Islam, there have been and will continue to be some encouragements. Within the last few years some Christians have been able to enter the country of Yemen, for example, in medical teams and in literacy work. There have been responses to radio broadcasts even from Saudi Arabia, the heartland of Islam. Response to correspondence courses, especially from young people, has been so good that the authorities in some countries have adopted a policy of censoring the mails, so that it is virtually impossible for these students to continue their Bible studies.
The words of the beautiful missionary hymn, "So send I you," apply with particular force to missionaries to the Muslim world who serve "unrewarded . . . unpaid, unsought, unknown .. . ." Perhaps this is one of the basic reasons why the gospel has made so little impact on the Muslim world. The church as a whole has never been particularly concerned about the world of Islam; in fact, it has often considered it too hard and has turned away from it. In warfare, when a commander wants to attack an especially well fortified area, he brings to bear the full weight of all available resources. Factories in the home country turn out the weapons needed for the battle; supply units rush those weapons to the front lines; air power is brought into place to "soften up" the fortified area, and then masses of infantry men are thrown into the battle to seize the coveted area.
This figure is an apt illustration of the church’s confrontation with Islam. There is really no hope for a great impact on the fortress of Islam until the church as a whole begins to concentrate prayer on that part of the world to soften it up and then begins to pour forth more and more of its choicest young people who know how to live a selfsacrificing, committed life for Christ.
If this kind of response is forthcoming from the church within the next few years, then there is a possibility that even fortress Islam could be dented for Christ within the next decade. Without this kind of massive commitment, then the little bands of "commandos" who are seeking to occupy the Muslim world for Christ will no doubt continue to struggle faithfully and valiantly with relatively small numerical results to show for their efforts.
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