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Glorifying God While Keeping Secret Believers Safe

In August 2008, the Pneuma Foundation offered a link (on our legacy website page called “News & Current Links”) to a transcript of an Arabic TV [Al-Jazeerah] program: “Rare look at Islam: Muslims discuss the annual exodus of 6 million African Muslims to Christianity.” A few weeks later it was learned that this was deliberate misinformation on the part of the speaker, as pointed out in a report by Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund entitled “Exaggerated Convert Figures Could Cost Lives.” The Pneuma Foundation editorial committee asked Dr. Calvin Smith, editor of Evangelical Review of Society and Politics to comment on the situation of secret believers in Muslim dominated nations.

In an article published by the Barnabas Fund, a charity which raises awareness of and supports persecuted Christians, its leader Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, a Christian expert on Islam, warns against disseminating statistics of large-scale Muslim conversions to Christianity. Sookhdeo believes such figures are often inaccurate, sometimes even exaggerated by some Western Christian organizations “whose financial support depends on the enthusiasm of Christians in their home countries.” He highlights how Islamists, too, engage in deliberate disinformation for their own purposes, citing the following example:

A story that six million African Muslims are becoming Christians every year resulted from claims made by Sheikh Ahmad al Katani of Libya in a televised interview shown on Al-Jazeera. The sheikh’s aim appeared to be to alarm Muslim viewers with high figures of Muslims leaving their faith in order to persuade them to give more generously to Islamic missionary efforts in Africa.

Whether statistics are genuine, miscalculated or exaggerated, Sookhdeo’s point is clear: figures detailing widespread conversions to Christianity inflames Muslim sensibilities and can even cost lives.

It is a sobering warning. Indeed, Christians in many Muslim lands are already in a precarious position. That many Muslims might be converting to a downtrodden religious minority, to the deep alarm of Muslim leaders, makes it doubly so. Thus, in societies built upon a clan system and the need to protect family honour, so-called apostates are ruthlessly rooted out. Even here in the United Kingdom there have been several well-publicized reports of ex-Muslims being targeted for converting to Christianity. An former missionary in Arab North Africa told me of a well-known saying among missionaries to Muslim countries: “Islam follows a Christian convert to the grave”. Imprisonment and killings of even the most elderly Christians testify to this.

All this leaves evangelistically-motivated Western Christians (notably classical Pentecostals, whose pneumatology and eschatology drive their urgent evangelistic activity) with somewhat of a quandary. Repentance is a cause for Christian celebration, a reason to glorify God (Lk 15:10), which is why some Western Christian organizations publish conversion statistics. For them these figures translate into actual, real people who have discovered Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. Indeed, this is why the Pneuma Foundation recently published the statistics in question concerning Christian growth in Muslim lands.

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Category: Living the Faith

About the Author: Calvin L. Smith, Ph.D. (University of Birmingham, England), is College Principal and Tutor in Theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School. He is also Editor of the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics. He is the author of numerous books and articles, editor of Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism (Brill, 2011) and editor of The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians (King's Evangelical Divinity School, 2009).

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