It’s a stated fact everywhere from the media to academia to churches: Islam is the second-fastest growing religion. It will become the biggest religion during this century. Christianity is going out of style and Islam is the new kid on the block. We hear it from those wanting to give the Muslim community a bigger voice; from those complaining about Western ignorance; from those trying to put Islam on the same plane as Christianity and Judaism; and even in churches decrying the lack of evangelical fervor among the congregation.
But is it really true?
It’s true that Islam (as well as atheism and universalism) is growing in the West, mostly because of high birth rates among Muslims and immigration, but the exploding growth of evangelical Christianity around the world through conversion is unreported. The analysis is distorted because of the lack of reporting from places like Africa, where nearly half of the population is estimated to be Christian. In other places like China, news of such trends is suppressed, leaving few to know that some estimates put the Christian population there at up to 111 million. There may be more members in the underground evangelical movement there than in the 75-million strong Chinese Communist Party. It’s been reported that 10,000 Chinese convert to Christianity per day. That number may be a stretch, but if current trends hold, predictions that China will become the country with the largest number of Christians by the middle of the century could come true.
The image in one’s mind of a Christian is usually of an American or European. The decline of Christianity in the West gives the impression that the religion is collapsing when it is really transforming. In Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity, he writes that in 1900, over 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and the U.S. Now, two out of three evangelicals live in Asia, Africa, and South America. South Korea now holds the title as the second-place country in sending out missionaries, despite the fact that the number one country, the U.S., has over six times as many people.
Another fact to consider is that while the number of Christians overall is declining in the West, the number of evangelicals is rising. There are less of those “Sunday Christians” who do the church routine and don’t make having a relationship with God part of their very being. They are falling away from church as it becomes more socially acceptable to do so and are turning to agnosticism, atheism, and a universalism that believes all religions are one and the same. Christianity is changing into a smaller but more devout and active force.
It is much harder to detect “Friday Muslims” in the Islamic world than it is “Sunday Christians” in the West because of the societal repercussions and the suppression of other religions. Those questioning their faith are likely to keep it private and still go to mosque even if they party on the weekends. The dismal state of the Islamic world economically and politically and the savagery of extremism is turning many Muslims away. For example, I’ve been surprised at how many Iranians I’ve communicated with are atheists or aren’t devout Muslims. There is a clandestine movement to acquire Bibles and practice Christianity in private homes, as up to 1 million are said to have turned to Christianity in the past five years.
This is a problem that raises significant concern in the Muslim world, but the West misses it. In April 2008, Andrew Walden wrote a top-notch piece here at Pajamas Media about this phenomenon. One top Islamic scholar in Libya says that 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity every day and Walden writes that evangelist Wolfgang Simpson says that “more Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in all of history.” He writes that the mufti of the Malaysian state of Perak says that about 250,000 Muslims in his country have filed to officially leave Islam, including 100,000 that have converted to Christianity. The mufti warned that this number doesn’t include those who are non-practicing Muslims.
It is undeniable that Islam is growing in the West, but there are signs that the number of Muslims that don’t diligently practice the faith is increasing just as is the case with Christianity. In February 2005, the Sunday Times wrote that “one estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in Western societies have lost their faith.” A Pew poll in July 2007 found that Muslim-Americans are in third place in how many describe religion as playing a “very important” role in their lives, with 72 percent affirming the statement as compared to 79 percent of white evangelicals and 85 percent of black Protestants. Most interestingly, only 50 percent of Muslim-Americans take their holy book, the Koran, literally, whereas 66 percent of white evangelicals and 68 percent of black Protestants take the Bible literally.
The religious makeup of the world is changing, but the media’s focus on the West is causing many to be blind to Islam’s losing of ground in the third world. Adam Housley reported for FoxNews.com in January 2003 that “most experts agree Christianity does have the most believers. And recent reports estimate that by 2025, that gap will widen even further, making Christianity by far the world’s largest religion.”
The geographic distribution of Christianity, specifically of the evangelicals, is changing as it spreads more evenly throughout the world. At more evangelical-oriented churches today, funds are raised to send missionaries to places like Africa, India, and South Korea. The day may soon come when it is these places that are reaching out to the U.S. and Europe.