Popular wisdom today portrays Islam as a juggernaut whose world domination is inevitable. “It’s the world’s fastest growing religion,” we’re told. “By 2060 it will surpass Christianity as the world’s largest faith,” futurists predict. Imams regularly gloat over Islam’s inroads into Western society and promise that America and Europe will bow to Islamic rule. Many signs seem to confirm this assessment. But things are not always what they seem.
While it is true that statisticians measure Islam’s worldwide growth at 1.9% annually and Christianity’s at 1.2%, in the case of Islam that figure is calculated largely on the basis of birth rates in Muslim majority nations (which as second and third world countries grow significantly faster than Western populations). In Islam, children born to Muslim parents are automatically Muslims according to Shari’a law. The same is not true in Christianity, where “membership” is based on the personal profession of faith by its adherents. Thus, of the total numerical growth of Islam in any one year, some 96% of that number is due to “biological reproduction,” not conversion.
In addition to this, statisticians pay little or no attention to attrition from the ranks. Of course, Islam makes apostasy a capital crime, so it takes immense courage for former Muslims to openly declare their departure from the faith. However, where Muslims live in free societies, increasing waves are leaving for atheism, Christianity or Western-style hedonism. According to indigenous Christian leaders and foreign missionaries among Muslim people groups around the world, tens of millions of Muslims in the last three decades have become followers of Christ. Since most of this happens below the radar, it does not get factored in to the statistical reports.
Even more revealing is the fact that across the world (according to the 2000 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia) roughly 950,000 people convert to Islam annually from some other belief system. In contrast to this, roughly three times that number (2.7 million) leave their former belief systems to become followers of Christ. In many of these cases, converts face serious persecution and hardship for their newfound commitment to Christ, yet they persevere. Converts to Islam, on the other hand, typically see little persecution by their communities and instead are folded into the majority Muslim culture around them.
Lastly, though firm statistics are hard to come by, Pew Research estimates that in America roughly the same number leave Islam as convert to Islam annually, so that the Muslim population remains static. A number of American imams, however, challenge that figure, stating that according to their experience many converts leave Islam (or simply become “non-practitioners” within five years) — with percentages varying from 50-75% depending on the imam (see here, for example).
What does all this mean? Though Islam is bringing lots of babies into the fold, it is not attracting a high percentage of new converts, and even among those converts not many remain Muslims over the long haul. Likewise, the “back door” of the house of Islam is wide open, and many of those born into Islam are finding in adulthood that life outside the house is more appealing or fulfilling than life inside. Further, the vast majority of those born within Islam who remain Muslim are laid-back, irregular or “relaxed” in their practice of Islam and so not inclined to fuel the jihad mandate of the Qur’an and Sunnah (the example of Muhammad). Only a relatively small segment of the Muslim world is active in jihadi campaigns, and it could be argued that the admittedly horrific terror and bloodshed they inflict actually does more to harden the non-Muslim world against the message of Islam than to cause its knees to bow in abject surrender.
So, while Islam worldwide is still a force that needs to be reckoned with, it is by no means a juggernaut of inexorable destiny. Its religious foundations are crumbling as the Qur’an and Islam’s early history are coming under intellectual scrutiny; its formerly cocooned adherents are being liberated to seek truth beyond the confines of the Qur’an through the Internet, social media, satellite TV and radio, as well as the business and cultural effects of globalization; the Spirit of God is bringing dreams, visions, healings and supernatural encounters to Muslims, pointing them to the love and lordship of Jesus Christ, such that in many Muslim-majority countries the house church movement is sweeping through regions like wildfire.
While we must maintain our vigilance against the real threat of jihadi terrorism and the ideology which inspires it, we must not fall prey to the myth that Islam’s advance across the world is inevitable. Quite the contrary!
Things are not what they seem. Become informed. Take heart. The gospel advances. Jesus remains on the throne (Acts 2:34-36). All will be well in the end.