(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)
It is also part of the myth that the Islamic world is at its high point. The high point of Islam was on September 11th 1683, the day before the Turks were routed by the Poles at the Battle of Vienna. People are unaware that Russia was subjugated to the “Golden Horde” also called the Mongol-Tatar Empire, a collection of Mongol and Turkic invaders, some Buddhist, some animists, some Muslim, (An interesting side bar: The word “horde” means a kind of large mob in English. It is derived from the Persian/Iranian word “Urdu” which means “camp.” Urdu now refers to the language spoken by 60 million Pakistani and Indian Muslims. It is a variety of Hindi, the national language of India) The Golden Horde became completely Islamicized by 1315 AD. They ruled Russia for almost 300 years. Allied with the Ottoman Turks, they burned Moscow in 1571. The invaders were finally defeated by the Russians in the next year at Molodi, but south of what today is Russia remained under Muslim control for centuries to come.
During the same era, almost all of India/Pakistan was ruled by Muslims. The Sultanate of Delhi was established in 1206 and by 1266 controlled all but the southern tip of the Indian sub-continent. The Sultans of Delhi were Turkic Muslims who were eventually replaced Islamic Mongols called the Timurids who established the Mughal (Mongol) Empire in 1527 not unlike nor unrelated to, the golden Urdu, or horde in Russia. They ruled India for the next 250 years until the British ended Muslim domination of India/Pakistan in 1764. It is impossible to estimate the death toll of Hindus killed in the Muslim take over of India, but remembering that the Hindus were, by most measures, idolaters and not necessarily entitled to Dhimmi status in Muslim, the toll is certainly in the tens of millions, some estimates go as high as 80 million.
The list of countries that are no longer part of the Islamic world include Portugal, Spain, southern France, Sicily, Malta, southern Italy, India, parts of Russia and the Ukraine, Greece, southern Sudan and all the Balkan Christian countries (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece. Kosovo and Albania are still Muslim majority countries, but Albania is considered one the 14 most non-religious countries in the world.)
Turkey which was the center of the Islamic world for 500 years is now a secular republic in which about a third of those who consider themselves Muslim do not actively fulfill their religious obligations. Lebanon and the Holy Land are, of course, contested on a daily basis. Dar al Islam, the World of Islam, had gotten a toe hold in the Philippines when Europeans showed up and now the Philippines is one of the most Christian of countries. The Muslim insurgents in the south are trying very hard to change that and to restore the Philippines to the Dar al Islam.
This is a very disturbing list to some Muslims, and many of the devout think that job one is the restoration of the full compliment of Dar al Islam preceding the victory of Sharia, the divine Koranic government over the whole world. Still, there is no disputing that Dar al Islam is a smaller place in the 21st century than it was in the 17th century.
Remember that at a number of points in world history, Islam was probably the majority religion of the world. The near East and India and China were where the bulk of the world's population lived. Europe in the year 1000 was just a backwater where a few unwashed, stinking, illiterate infidels (my ancestors) lived in the fog and frozen forests. In 700 AD and again in 1000AD it was assumed in Europe that the future was Muslim, and then the Crusades halted the advance of Islam into Europe.
Though they are a defining moment in Western history, the Crusades were barely noticed in the Islamic world at the time. They were merely an irritation to the great Saladin. Undeterred, Islam continued its glorious march through history. As Christendom collapsed during the reformation, Martin Luther said “A smart Turk makes a better ruler than a dumb Christian.”
Protestantism at the time found allies in the Turkish Muslims who shared their hatred of Catholicism and the Holy Roman Empire. There is a curious crescent shaped medallion that was minted in the Protestant Netherlands around 1570 when Holland was at war with Spain. It is a Geuzen or beggar's medal that had as its motto “Better the Turk than the pope.” So, once again Christianity was over in 1570, and then the battles of Lepanto and Vienna stopped the Turkish march into Europe once again. The Battle of Lepanto had a significance that not everyone considers. By damaging Muslim sea power, it opened the way for Christian navies, which intentionally or unintentionally, brought Christ to sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas and the Philippines. There are at present around 210 countries in the world. About 150 are Christian majority and about 50 majority Muslim. (These numbers are only approximate. No one can agree on what countries actually exist. The UN counts 207 sovereign states.)
It is another myth that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. At the current writing there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, about 1 in 3 people on the globe. Islam with about 1.6 billion adherents, about 1 in 4 people, is the second largest religion in the world. No religion is the third largest religion in the world as claimed by 1,100 million people , and Hinduism is the 4th largest religion in the world with about 950 million adherents.
The fastest growing religion in the world by percentage of its own membership is probably Bahai, Buddhism, Wicca or Zoroastrianism. Islam is growing faster than Christianity by percentage of its own membership. This is due to a high birth rate which is expected to drop over the next 20 years. In terms of absolute numbers of new adherents, Christianity is probably the fastest growing religion. Christian Churches in Sub-Saharan Africa and China are growing at a phenomenal rate, with at least 50 million Christians in China. China is, in fact, one of the largest Christian countries in the world. Devoutly Christian countries like the Philippines and Mexico continue to have a high birth rate as does Southern Africa. Most sociologists don’t see anything eclipsing Christianity in the foreseeable future.
It is to be remembered that Islam is also losing adherents in the countries to which Muslims have migrated. The London Times estimates 15% of Muslims living in Western Europe have left Islam with 200,000 former Muslims in the UK alone. The secularism of Europe is a growing danger to the faith of Islamic emigrants. In 1998, mosque attendance in the Netherlands was rated at 47 percent. In 2008 it is down to 35 percent. I remember seeing a group of beer drinking Turkish Muslims in my ancestral town in Germany who were watching a Catholic religious procession. I asked the town’s pastor if Muslims drank beer in Germany, and he simply smiled and said “Oh, Allah is very far away.” The much touted conversions to Islam are not all they seem to be either. Among American converts to Islam, 75% leave Islam in first two years.
There has never been a time in history when so many Muslims have converted to Christianity. It is estimated that about 15,000 Muslims convert to Christianity annually in France. In Russia, the number of ethnic Muslims in Russia who have become Christians is estimated at 2 million, while the number of the Orthodox who have been converted to Islam is only 2,500 according Inter-religious Council of Russia. In Asia, the Mufti of the Malaysian State of Perak claims that 250,000 Muslim apostates have asked for permission to convert to Christianity (In Malaysia, non Malay ethnics may legally convert, though it is seldom allowed.) This is perhaps a matter of alarmism on the part of Muslim clerics, but it does indicate that conversion to Christianity is a problem.
Muslim authorities in Egypt are in a similar dither about Fr. Zacharias Botros an Egyptian Coptic priest and Koranic scholar. Islamic authorities count his converts from Islam in the millions. Fr. Botros just laughs at this and says that if a few hundred have converted to Christianity because of his radio and television ministry that would be a lot. Nonetheless. He is considered to be “Islam's public enemy No. 1” by quite a few in the Islamic world. Al-Qaeda has put a $60 million bounty on his head. That’s how worried they are about the conversion problem. One hears of similar things going on in Kurdistan, in Iran and a number of other places in the Islamic world. This is particularly amazing when one remembers that to leave Islam is usually Shirq, an unforgivable sin. Muhammad declared the death sentence for apostasy. A family is honor bound to kill any of its members who convert to Christianity or any other religion for that matter. That does put a bit of pressure on prospective converts. It is also necessary to kill anyone who attempts to convert a Muslim to any other religion.
I’ve spoken to a number of Muslim converts to Christianity. The thing that they found most amazing about Christianity is the idea that God loves Muslims. Remember that Islam has no belief in free will, as least as understood in the non-Calvinist west, and like Calvinists do not believe that God’s love is universal. Mercy (rahmah) and pity are universal, but affection (wudda) and love (hub) are limited to those of the faith. “Say, O My Prophet to the people, if you love God, follow me, God will love you (hub) and forgive you your sins, for God is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” (Koran3:31)
In his farewell sermon Muhammad said, “Whomever Allah guides none can lead astray, and whomever He leads astray has no one to guide him.” To put it simply, if Allah loved you, you would be a Muslim. If you are not a Muslim, Allah must not love you, though he may pity you and show you mercy. It is thus amazing to Muslims that the God of Christians loves them every bit as much as He loves the Christians. It will be interesting to see the effect of an increasing awareness of Islamic texts by Christians and of Christian texts by Muslims. The world of Dar al Islam may not grow as quickly as some people think.
(Next week: The grand finale. Finally)