INTRODUCTION: STATISTICAL PROFILE
The title of this essay is deliberately provocative so I will begin with an overview so that those of you who want a quick scan of where Islam is headed can peruse these only. They represent many hours spent scouring data on Islamic growth rates and then doing the calculations to see where the data points to in 2020, 2030, 2050 and 2100.
2010 / mil
|Growth Rate %||Islamic
|Growth Rate %||In 2020||In 2030||In 2050||In 2100|
|Totals||1,289m #||2.1||29m +||4.3%||40m||63m||159m ^||1,181m @|
@ This figure would be too far into the future to be taken too seriously, as in some countries the current growth of the church is within a minority ethnic group while the population growth trajectories of other countries are clearly unsustainable.
* Afghanistan is the only country for which there are no reliable figures.
# 1289 million accounts for around 80% of all Muslims. A further 172 million live in India so it too will be covered in the country profiles below.
+ “Operation World” estimates that about 10 million of these are Muslim-background believers.
^ This represents a five-fold increase from just over 2% to over 5% of all the people living in these countries.
The above statistics come from the book “Operation World”, which uses UN figures and its own 40 year old network of reliable Christian contacts on the ground in each country of the world. They show all the world’s majority Muslim countries in terms of their population, growth rates, size of the Islamic majority, and the current size of the community within each country who are active followers of Jesus. I then take the latest growth rates for these evangelical believers and project them forward in increments to 2100AD so you can see where the trend is heading.
Only in a handful of Muslim countries is the church growing at a slower rate to the natural population. Most are much faster. However, because most Islamic background indigenous church communities are starting from such a small base, it will require the best part of this century for them to reach a size where they will be able to speak to their nation and reach out beyond. This is why the years 2100AD to 2200AD will be the great century change for the Muslim world. By then Islamism will have run its course and there will be access to new ideas and great hunger for the truth.
The people of Islam now comprise 23% of the world’s population. Their proportion of the world’s population is going to continue to grow through this century to eventually reach some about 35%. By 2100 one in three people will be Muslim. We are already living and struggling with a new era of having to deal with a resurgent Islam, be it rising immigration, illegal boat people, civil war, the overthrow of corrupt despots or Western interventionist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was the 20th century the era of Christian growth and the 21st century the era of Muslim growth? Will Islam finally succeed in its 1,400 year old quest to conqueror “Christian” Europe?
The Muslim world has the highest birth rate in the world. God promised Abraham in Genesis 16:10, 17:20 and 21:13 that because Ishmael was also his son, the children of Ishmael would be too numerous to count. This certainly seems to be coming true in this century. The world population growth rate is significantly lower than that for the Muslim world, while the western birth rate is significantly below the world average. By the end of this century only 12% of the world will be white skinned. There will be many more from a Muslim background. Some estimates suggest that 2/3 of global population growth for the remainder of this century will be from the Muslim bloc. Population growth in the Islamic world now averages 2.2% a year but will drop in the coming decades to around 1.5%. This lower number is still enough to add about 4 billion Muslims to the world by 2100. This is clearly unsustainable and not going to happen as the planet will not cope with the drain on resources. So the figures for the size of some Islamic-background church communities I have quoted for 2100 should be taken as a possibility, not a probability. This huge population explosion is part of the Muslim plan to have large families and grow their faith, much the same as the Catholics did for hundreds of years. As a missions-minded religion, its message of slavery to an unknowable and arbitrary Allah is far inferior to the Christian gospel with its offer of a loving and intimate friendship with the creator Jesus, who died to pay the price for our inclusion in his family. Because of this differential, Islam finds it hard to win converts nicely so it prefers to grow organically.
This brings me to my next point which is resource depletion. Most Muslims live in countries that have high and fast growing populations, low levels of wealth and restricted access to water, good soil and natural resources, except oil and gas of course! Something is going to give in the next few decades as climate change and peak oil leads to peak food and peak prosperity. We are only feeding 7 billion mouths because of the abundance of cheap oil. As oil becomes more and more expensive it will create catastrophic economic conditions which will hurt the poorest the most. The “Arab Spring” revolutions that swept the Middle East after food prices spiked in late 2010 are the first installment of this drama.
The Muslim world will do one of three things as resources dwindle; fight amongst itself for survival, starve in mass famines, or jump on a boat to another country. Either way the world is going to become a more volatile place. This is happening already in a small way, but the future will see conflicts and mass people movements on a scale we can barely imagine. This will create perfect conditions for ordinary Muslims to question their future and their faith.
THE VISION: 2100AD
I have always had a fascination with global political, religious and economic developments. I read the Guinness Book of Records in 3 days at the age of 10 so the writing was on the wall from a young age! With the rise and rise of Islam over the last 20 years I have accumulated many books that look at current and future trends in the Islamic world. To top my reading off I recently purchased the two excellent books; “the Future of the Global Church” and the latest edition of “Operation World”. In typical fashion I devoured them in a couple of days. Reading the trends and individual country profiles, combined with a season of prayer and a word from the Lord, has fully opened my eyes to God’s plan for the future of the Islamic world.
For the last decade since 9/11 I have had a hunch that a generation after Islamists gained control of a country, the people would get very tired the oppression and begin to question Islam itself. A similar pattern of development happened after the Communist revolutions of the early Twentieth Century. In fact it happens under any autocratic system of government. But it was not until I was able to purchase the latest, once-in-a decade update of “Operation World” that I could start to see hard statistics backing up my hunch. Over the last 10 years enough data has emerged to show something new and unique is happening in the world’s Islamic communities.
The unifying of language, oppressive government, increased prosperity and ease of travel during the Roman Empire created the right social conditions for the rapid spread of Christianity in the first century. This same pattern happened in china after the Communist revolution in 1949 where the church was purified and then grew from 1 million to 100 million in 60 years. A similar thing is happening today in the Islamic bloc countries. Exposure to the outside world through trade, travel and emigration, disenfranchisement with despotic rulers who often rule in the name of Islam and ruthless Islamists in almost every Islamic country is purifying the church of its European cultural baggage. It is also creating a wellspring of interest in the gospel of Jesus among moderate Muslims. More Muslims, about 10 million in total, have come to faith in Jesus in the last 15 years than the previous 1500 years put together.
Recently, during a prayer walk one evening under the stars I was pondering the stats I had read and The Holy Spirit spoke to me personally and showed me that everything that has occurred in the last 20 years is simply the first crack in the wall of Islam. Even though 10 million Muslims have already come to faith in Jesus in this period, it is be just the beginning of the harvest. It will take several more generations for the fruit of Islamic extremism to “ripen” in all the countries they have recently taken over and will take over in the next decade. It will look dark for many years as radical Islam marches across the Middle East, Asia, and the spiritually feeble Western world.
However, if current trends continue then followers of Jesus within Islamic countries will continue to grow much faster than the Islamic block population as a whole. The Islamic bloc countries have a population growth rate of 2.1%, but followers of Jesus are growing at 4.3%. If this trend continues we will see the church within Islam grow from 29 million now to around 160 million by 2050, which is about five fold. In that time the number of people living in Muslim majority countries will grow from around 1,280 million to 2,830 million, or just over two fold. This suggests Believers in Jesus will grow from 2.2% to 5.6% of the population within the Islamic block by 2050. This is comparable to many Western countries today! If this trend continues out to 2100 (and anything could happen between now and then to make this assumption invalid) we could see some 14% of the people in these countries come to faith in Jesus.
As I prayed that night God showed me in a flash that this gathering momentum will take a full century to reach a critical mass in those Islamic societies that lie around the Sunni Arab Middle East, especially to the south and south east. Countries like Iran, Pakistan, India, Chad, Sudan, Algeria and Bangladesh. By 2100 God will have laid a spiritual foundation stone, a thriving New Testament church community in nearly every Islamic country, some of which will be well on their way to becoming Christian for the first, or second time. Islamic countries in Asia and Africa will lead the charge while the “stan” countries to the north and Arab countries in the centre of the Islamic heartland will follow later.
Iran is the proverbial canary in the coalmine in this process as it was the first country to fall to radical Islam in 1980. Within a generation, the youth of that nation, who are now the majority of its citizens, have grown to hate Islam. The Islamist vision has rotted and this once proud nation suffers under some of the highest rates of drug abuse, depression and prostitution in the world. The people feel trapped with no avenue for escape or change. Social breakdown is endemic. Into this mix God has begun to provide answers. From around 500 true followers of Jesus in at the time of the revolution, Iran now has an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 believers, most of whom are under 30 years of age (for the sake of conservatism I have only quoted 117,000 in the table above, which are the “Operation World” figures. The Iranian church is now the fastest growing in the world. It looks like Iran could go from Islamic revolution to Christian reformation by the end of this century! Other nations will follow this pattern as they throw off the yoke of Islamism from the grass roots up.
This remainder of this century will also be a time of great conflict between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Mohammed. Both religions are now firmly placed in the developing world as some three quarters of the global body of Christ now come from Asia, Africa and South America. Long lost to history are the days of a white, denominationally based European Christianity. Thank goodness for that too. Yes, the Protestants took the gospel to the globe but they also took their European structures and culture which are highly offensive to the average Muslim. Our faith has re-invented itself. It is now demographically young, underground and non-European. It is moving back to New Testament church culture where gatherings were small and personal and it is often operating in hostile spiritual environments. The great battle for the hearts and minds of the world is now between vibrant Christianity and angry resurgent Islam. It has already become very ugly in the border countries of Sudan, Nigeria and Chad.
THE VISION: 2200AD
From 2100 to 2200 it gets very interesting. While walking that road under the stars the Holy Spirit also showed me that the years between 2100 and 2200 will be the century of harvest for the Arab Islamic heartland. The Islamic harvest is starting at the periphery this century and will then move into the core. God’s plan to set the Arab people free is to first surround them and infiltrate them with a culturally familiar, distinctly non-European style of faith that doesn’t require a Muslim to take on western culture in order to accept the truth of the gospel. The multiple political, economic and spiritual crises that confront the Islamic world later this century will create the conditions for the spiritual homecoming of the proud and stubborn sons of Ishmael, the Arabs. As the Arabs try to Islamise the Western world, God will bring the Middle East back to its pre-Islamic Christian roots.
The century from 2100 to 2200 is the century of a mega harvest of souls from Islam, which by then will be the largest block of people on the planet. By that time the Western nations will only comprise 12% of the world’s population, will have been economically humbled by Asia and the culture of Christianity will have largely thrown off its European legacy and adopted models closer to New Testament. Most Muslims who come to faith in Jesus in the years ahead will not be joining a “denomination”. They will therefore be invisible to the western media and culture. I have personally met a Muslim who has become follower of the prophet Isa (Jesus) through reading the Koran and now oversees a hidden network that has brought 11,000 others to a faith in Isa. Most of this number came in after the tragedy of 9/11 opened their eyes to Islamic extremism. None of them will appear in the statistics below as they meet in homes, dress like Muslims, keep their Muslim names and habits, and often attend the mosque. They are invisible to the western religious eye but they pray to Isa and are water baptised into his family. This is why the growth of the church inside Islam will be largely invisible to western eyes looking for church attendance. The Middle Eastern church of the 22nd century will be truly Islamic in culture but Christian in spirituality.
The following country profiles have been selected from the table at the start of this essay because they either have over five million citizens, they border the Arab world, or are strategically significant in the future evangelisation of the Middle East over the course of this century and the next. I have given you a one paragraph summary of where each country is at spiritually, politically and culturally so you can see the human face behind the statistics and see what dangers the future holds for each nation’s believers in Jesus.
Thirty years ago there were only a handful of believers in this war-torn country. Under the ruthless rule of the Taliban, some 4 million fled to Pakistan where Christian workers were able to reach them. Thousands have gone back with the love of Jesus in their hearts. Conditions for this tiny group are exceptionally harsh with enormous pressure brought to bear if their faith is discovered. The Taliban has vowed to purge all traces of Christianity from the country if they return to power. Although the number of believers is unknown, reliable observers within the country suggest the number could be around 30,000 with many of these coming to faith through divine dreams and visitations. The seed has been planted!
Since the early 1990’s, when the Islamists won a general election and the army quashed the result, there has been an on-going civil war costing over 100,000 deaths. In this environment of violence, God has started working in the hearts of the 22% of the population that is ethnically Berber, the original inhabitants of the country before the Arab invasion. The Berbers were nominally Christian but with the Muslim invasion they were forced into Islam. That is beginning to change now as the gospel is spreading in this people group quite rapidly. The current conservative number of Berber believers is around 84,000 and if the current rate of growth continues this figure will rise to 1.5 million by 2050. This is a very indigenous church. A script for the Berber language was only developed in the last two decades and the first book published was the New Testament. God is reaching this group first and will then use their physical and cultural proximity to bring in an Algerian Arab harvest of souls.
Azerbaijan is a mostly nominal Shi’a Muslim nation that after decades under atheistic Russian rule gained independence in 1991. The first decade was traumatic with wars and political instability on all sides. Into this environment the hand of God has begun to move. The 40 or so known believers in 1990 have now swelled to over 3,000 with the number possibly double this. Most of the other 10,000 or so believers in the country are foreigners. The Azeri people see themselves as “sword Muslims”, those who were forced into Islam after being nominally Christian before this. A culture of suspicion preoccupies the entire country and hinders faster spiritual growth. Azeri Believers from neighbouring Iran are helping nurture this infant church. Continued growth at current rates will see the Azeri church grow to over 70,000 by 2050.
Home to a significant Arabic Christian community, wealthy Bahrain is a small and densely populated set of Islands in the Persian Gulf. Large numbers of expatriate Christians live here with some of the most spiritually active being the 250,000 or so south Indians labourers who account for about half of all believers in the country. Indigenous Arab believers are shunned by their fellow citizens and church growth is very slow. Wealth and social calm have created a sense of adequacy with the status quo. The recent civil unrest between the majority Shi’a and minority Sunni government suggests the future could be more turbulent, creating the conditions for spiritual hunger.
This desperately poor and mostly illiterate nation is Islam’s greatest missionary success story but now most follow “folk Islam” which is a blend of Sufism, Hinduism and indigenous culture. Following a half century where the church has grown faster than the population 0.4% of Bangladeshi citizens are now an active follower Jesus. Bangladesh has seen Christianity take root with great cultural sensitivity so many followers of Jesus now embedded within the traditional Islamic cultural institutions. Some call themselves “perfect Muslims”. The tipping point seems to have been reached and within this century followers of Jesus could top 10-20 million.
Around a thousand years ago Bosnia’s culture was dominated by the Orthodox Church. It was then occupied by the Turks for 500 years in their quest to conqueror Europe and this resulted in half the population becoming Muslim. There seems to be little happiness in this tragically divided country where religious and ethnic strife erupted again in the 1990’s with dreadful loss of life. Since the civil war evangelical believers have increased significantly, with congregations multiplying from 3 to 35 since 1990, they but still represent a miniscule proportion of the population. Like most countries once controlled by the Orthodox Church, spiritual receptivity on all sides is very poor.
Burkina Faso is one of those countries that border the Arab world. This seems to be where God is mapping out a plan to reach the Arabs. Despite a literacy level of 23%, an amazing people movement has seen local believers grow in number from 10,000 in 1960 to around 1.5 million today in country that is more Islamic in the north and more Christian in the south. Burkina Faso has a history of animism so occult practice is very widespread, even in the Islamic majority. The Islamic Fulbe people in the north are now opening up to the gospel, while at the same time most other animist people groups in the north are being Islamised. If current church growth rates continue then the church will grow to over 6 million by 2050.
With a truly secular government despite a Muslim majority, Chad is unique in its openness to the gospel, with the number of believers growing from 2% to 10% in the last 50 years. As a consequence of this growth, Muslims continue to come to faith in significant numbers and discipleship movements are beginning to multiply. The tragedy of Darfur has disillusioned many Muslims with their faith and created openness to the gospel. Chad is another Arab borderline country and is being used to grow a strong church numbering in the many millions in preparation for the coming Arab harvest.
The Egyptian church has endured nearly 1500 years of persecution and is still the largest in the Middle East. The spiritual renewal of the last 30 years in the face of discrimination and harassment give the Egyptian church a vitality and strength that is strategic for the future of the region. Christian media broadcasts from Egypt to its neighbouring countries, allowing many to be nurtured as hidden believers. There are some 3 million believers in this country, which is considered to be the intellectual capital of global Islam. By 2050 this number could reach 17 million. Clearly a strong spiritual platform is being laid for the future but the large cultural divide between the dominant Islamic culture and minority Coptic Christian culture keeps many Muslims from a faith in Christ.
Growing pressure from the Marxist leaning government has resulted in the closure of church properties, public ministries and the jailing and torture of perhaps 2% of all believers. There is a vicious spiritual war going on for the heart and soul of this strategically positioned country. This has fostered a rapidly growing house church movement which has now infiltrated the large Orthodox Church community, whose roots go right back to the apostle Phillip’s evangelism of the Ethiopian official in the book of Acts. Those fleeing the oppressive government to neighbouring countries have been highly receptive to the gospel. At current growth rates there could be over 2 million believers in Eritrea by 2050, within a stone’s throw of Saudi Arabia.
Being the least evangelised sub-Saharan country in Africa, the church in Guinea is unusual in that it is one of only three majority Muslim countries in the world where the church is growing slower than the overall population. Islam only came to this region in the 17th century and most people today still blend Islam with animism. Church growth was very strong from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Since then there was a large falling away from faith. Guinea’s time of harvest has not yet arrived.
With 172 million Muslims, India is the world’s third largest Muslim community. That’s why I have included it in this survey. Islam ruled India for several centuries but Hinduism proved too strong for Islam to subdue. Now Islam is a pressured minority and many are happy to leave it behind. India is currently leading the world in developing culturally sensitive methods of both Hindu and Muslim discipleship to Jesus and the results are astounding. I have personally met leaders of the North Indian house church movement and my best guess is that it is growing at around 40% a year. It only began in the early 1990’s and now numbers upwards of 5 million. One movement based in Delhi saw its Islamic background members grow 25% in 2009 to 584 house churches. Another church planter saw a whopping 22% response rate from 90,000 Kashmiri’s when he sent out a text message asking if they would like to sign up for an anonymous course to learn about Jesus. While in Delhi I also met an Operation Mobilisation worker who does a similar anonymous course with over 8,000 Muslims. All of the house church movements have very healthy numbers of Islamic background believers. Indian guest workers also meet secretly all over the Middle East praying for their Arab hosts. With one of the fastest growing and most missions minded churches in the world, with its proximity to the Middle East, “can do” attitude and favourable demographics, India will feature very strongly in the growth of Christianity for the remainder of this century.
Indonesia has the highest number of Muslims of any country in the world. Officially 80% Muslim, the actual number who follow Islam is much less. The majority still follow pre-Islamic Abangan religious practices but are counted as Muslim in census figures. The number of New Testament believers has officially grown from 1.4% in 1960 to around 6% today. Church leaders suggest the true figure is much higher. The trend shows no signs of slowing despite discrimination, harassment and the destruction of thousands of churches. Being far from the Middle East, many moderate Muslims are increasingly questioning the role of Islamists. Indonesia’s soul is pulling toward Islamism at one end and vibrant Christianity at the other. The trend suggests a tripling of believers by 2050.
Wow! Is this Shi’a Muslim country, with its 19% annual growth in believers, the shape of things to come? In 1980 Iran became the original Islamist state. Thirty years of Islamism, war, hardship, oppressive government and a population explosion have created huge discontent with Islamism and a yearning for freedom. This church is growing exponentially and the rate is still accelerating. Leaving Islam carries the death penalty in Iran yet there is great spiritual hunger. The Holy Spirit is responding to the prayers of the estimated 350,000 Expatiate Iranian believers who are working so hard to reach their fellow countrymen. Signs, wonders, dreams and visions abound. Many millions within Iran watch Christian satellite TV outreach programs. Being so close to Saudi Arabia, it is obvious that God for a major role for Iran in the Middle East Harvest of the next two centuries.
Iraq is the home of Abraham and is the second most mentioned country in the Bible. During the despotic rulership of Saddam Hussein there were perhaps a few hundred believers in Iraq. Despite his ousting, over one third of all traditional Christians have been displaced in the last 10 years. While members of the ancient denominations flee the country, authentic expressions of faith have still managed to grow among Arab Iraqis, despite the imperialist “Christian” invasion 0f 2003. Now there are roughly 53,000 known believers and a hunger for the truth. Kidnappings, continued killings, blatant discrimination and harassment are the norm for this community of believers. Like the Iranians next door there are many stories of dreams, visions and the supernatural in the midst of severe hardship.
Jordan is one of the freer Islamic states with less overt persecution of believers. The rise of Islamism and a huge influx of refugees from Iraq and Israel have resulted in many nominal Christians emigrating to the west. The dead wood of the church is being burnt off. Numbers of believers have recently begun to rise with possibly hundreds of Arab Sunnis coming to faith each year in a network of denominations that work together very well. Because of this outreach these are the only churches subject to government harassment. If current growth rates continue then the number of believers will triple by 2050.
I visited Kazakhstan in 2012 and only saw two churches and one mosque in Almaty, a city of 1.5 million. Communism worked very hard to obliterate religion in all the “stan” countries. As a result the majority of Kazaks are Muslim in name only. The average Kazak is young and more interested in a European lifestyles and chasing the material good life. The body of Christ in Kazakhstan is slowly shifting from spiritually dead Russian Orthodox to an Asian base as the church becomes increasingly indigenous. Over 15,000 believers now come from an ethnic Kazak background, up from virtually none in 1990. Islamist pressure is growing with the government recently passing ant-conversion laws and arresting church leaders. With charismatic and Pentecostal churches growing at around 6% a year, these churches alone could see upwards of half a million new members by 2050. In addition, the Indian house church movement has just started to reach this nation (refer to the entry for India).
Situated right next to Saudi Arabia, the rapidly expanding underground Kuwaiti church is growing in strength and maturity, as well as numbers. Amazingly, this church is totally indigenous Arab and is boldly sharing its faith. This growth can be dated to the Iraqi invasion and its subsequent horrors. If current trends continue the church in Kuwait will be grow from its current 1.5% to 8% of the population by 2050. This is another example of wars and hardship pushing people away from Islam and toward the truth.
An economically backward and extremely corrupt ex-communist country to the south of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan saw the birthing of an indigenous church after the fall of communism in 1990. Within that church Kyrgyzstani nationals now represent a significant proportion of all believers in the country. The growth of the church has now slowed and restrictive laws are now being imposed by the government. Unfortunately traditional Christianity is seen as part of Russian and American Imperialism in the minds of most Kyrgyzstani’s. Shamanism rather than Islam is practiced by most of the 88% of locals who are counted as Muslim. However, with the new wave of Islamic missions, over 2,000 mosques have been built in the last 15 years with Middle Eastern oil money and a concerted push is on to Islamise the country. Kyrgyzstan is heading into a very big spiritual battle.
Business savvy Lebanon was carved out of Syria in the 1940’s to give the three minority peoples of the coast a sense of identity. Hence it is the only Arab state that is not officially Muslim and all are legally free to change religion. Lebanon often looks to Europe for its cultural identity, but the influx of Palestinian refugees and the rise of Islamist Hezbollah have changed this in recent years. This instability has led to increasing openness to the gospel and there are a growing number of people coming to Jesus from outside the 31% Christian minority. The grace shown by Christians to refugees uprooted by the Israeli invasion of 2006 has helped foster this openness.
Simon from Cyrene (Libya) once carried the cross of Jesus (Mark 15:21). In the following centuries Libya became part of Christian North Africa. Then it was forced to become part of the Muslim world. The remnant modern church suffered greatly under Gadaffi’s despotic rule and now the new government is going to implement Sharia law. However even before the recent revolution God was starting to stir the hearts of the Libyan people. The number of Libyan converts is very low, but with the appearance of Christian satellite TV programmes and Christian websites in Arabic, interest in the Christian faith is rising rapidly. Thousands of Bibles were shipped in during the 2011 revolution to meet unsatisfied demand from locals for this book. With ongoing turmoil, spiritual repression and a growth rate of 5% in followers of Jesus, this church looks like it is on the cusp of a significant breakthrough among the Arab majority. The next ten years should confirm this prediction.
Creeping Islamisation in both politics and society is creating a climate of fear and repression among the relatively non-Muslim East Malaysian Islands. Malaysia is determined to Islamise and the next few decades will see increased subjugation of Christians. The church comprises mainly Chinese, Indian and tribal peoples and is growing solidly, if slowly. It is illegal for a Malay person to become a Christian so believers must keep their faith a secret. With increased restrictions and persecution come increased unity, maturity, social conscience and focus on Jesus among Christian leaders.
Amazingly, Mali is 87% Muslim but is also a stable secular democratic state surrounded by a sea of African instability. Although moderately Muslim with elements of folk religion and superstition, Mali is receiving a large amount of aid from the Middle East and 40% of children in the capital Bamako are now enrolled in Quranic schools. The number of believers grew rapidly from 0.2% the 1960’s to around 0.75% by 1990 but numbers have not grown since. Second generation leaders are yet to emerge to take the church to the next level. Mali is an example of a relatively open harvest field with little vision for the harvest. Pray for God to stir local believers to become passionate for His kingdom.
A mere 5,000 of Morocco’s 33 million people are believers in Jesus. Since 2010 the government has begun to severely persecute this infant indigenous church using every weapon at its disposal as it fears the type of Christian movement currently growing next door among Algeria’s Berber people. Moroccan media greatly exaggerates the number of believers in order to create a scapegoat for political gain. Most believers now meet in homes and informal networks and life is harsh. Nevertheless, the church is growing. An unlikely source of encouragement for local believers are the few fellowships of Sub-Saharan Africans nation-hopping their way to Europe. Even at 4.8% growth, Morocco will take most of this century to build a strong foundational church in preparation for a 22nd Century harvest.
Niger has the fifth highest population growth rate in the world and is one of the poorest. Life is grim in this nation where half the people are under 15. Niger was half animist in 1900 but now almost all are now nominally Muslim. Folk Islam, witchcraft and the occult permeate everyday life. There are only 21,000 believers and sharing one’s faith not a crime. However the church is yet to break the spiritual strong men that invisibly control Niger. Like Morocco, it will take most of this century for a strong spiritual foundation to be built.
Situated on the eastern boundary of Saudi Arabia and home to the very distinct Abadi form of Islam, Oman is one of the freest and most prosperous countries in the Middle East. There are 23,000 believers in this country of 3 million and their numbers are growing fast, but none are local Arabs. Most new believers are poorer expatriate workers from East and South Asia and it is to these dear believers that God has given the prayer burden for the future spiritual breakthrough in Oman.
The world’s second biggest Muslim country, Pakistan is a complicated mosaic with some people of almost every religion and shade of Islam. Extremists are a minority but exert huge influence due to corruption in all levels of government. Islamisation has been on the rise since the 1980’s and institutionalised discrimination against all citizens who are not Sunni Muslim is the norm, especially Christians. The church in Pakistan is largely cut off from the Muslim majority because most believers come from Sikh and lower caste Hindu backgrounds in the Punjab province after partition from India. However, God is moving and there is now one believer for every 200 Pakistani’s. An indigenous church among the majority Urdu Muslim peoples is yet to emerge.
Palestine is small in size but it plays a pivotal role in Middle Eastern politics. The disaffected millions of Palestinian youth jammed into the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and refugee camps in neighbouring countries create a poster child for the narrative of supressed Islam at the hands of the infidel West and Israel. The church here traces its roots back to pre-Islamic times but it is shrinking rapidly due to pressure from radical Islam, Israel, and neglect from Western Christians. There remain several thousand Arab believers in the West Bank who suffer physical, spiritual and political isolation. The Palestinian church is the only one on my entire list that shows no growth at all. However the grandson of the Grand Mufti of the Gaza Strip has come to Jesus through visions and is a powerful witness to the risen Christ.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and spiritual stronghold of Islam. From here hundreds of billions of dollars and countless missionaries pour out around the globe seeking to stamp the strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam on the rest of the world. Despite draconian laws and the death penalty for conversion, there are now known Saudi believers in all main cities, including some called to intercessory ministries in Mecca. Others are even smuggling Bibles into Mecca where they are snapped up as fast as they arrive. Because the prophet Mohammed’s vision was central to the creation of Islam, God is using dreams, visions and divine visitations to bring many to salvation. God is teaching his global church that he loves all Muslims, even those in the heartland of Islam and passionately desires them in his kingdom. By 2050 it is estimated there will be about half a million secret believers in Saudi Arabia, where apostasy carries the death penalty. Guest workers from South India and the Philippines are an unlikely source of underground missions to Saudi Arabia. Satellite television stations broadcasting into Saudi Arabia are now reporting many responses.
Situated on the far western edge of Africa, Senegal has grown from 45% Muslim in 1900 to over 90% now, with folk Islam predominating. Like most countries in West Africa, the number of believers is very small at 0.2% so they have not yet appeared on the radar for persecution. This will change later in the century as numbers are increasing rapidly and Saudi funded Islamists are making inroads in the Muslim Sufi brotherhoods that dominate the country.
Further to the south of Senegal lies Sierra Leone, which was founded as a home for freed slaves in 1797. Here, once again, Islam has increased its presence dramatically in the 20th Century. So have civil war and the breakdown of the state from 1990 to 2002 with the loss of at least 100,000 lives and the rise of abject poverty. Under the surface, the power of the occult has continued to shape the country profoundly. In the midst of terrible suffering the church here is an island of hope and believers have grown to now constitute 4% of the population. The powers of darkness need to be decisively broken before Sierra can experience the spiritual growth projected in the above table.
As a symbol of suffering, Somalia has to be near the top in most people’s minds. Situated on the horn of Africa to the east of Ethiopia, Somalia has been a failed state since the Americans and the Russians used it as a proxy during the cold war. In the midst of this era of great suffering a tiny but strong indigenous church has been birthed and is growing rapidly. Believers are despised and heavily persecuted, even executed for their faith. Yet they have great faith and will clearly not disappear. The Somali government now acknowledges that the country is no longer 100% Muslim. With a growth rate of 8% this church will grow rapidly to over 80,000 by 2050 as they alone have the answer for the desperate cry of the Somali heart.
The Arabic dominated and extreme Muslim government in the north has been in almost continual conflict with the Black African non-Arab south since independence in 1956. Their violently despotic attempts at forced Islamisation of the south have clearly backfired, with huge numbers of southerners coming to faith in Jesus in the strangest of places. Now, after decades of suffering, the south has its own semi-independent state. Over 14% of the Sudanese are now followers of Jesus and this number will rise dramatically over the next 20 years, leading to much outreach in neighbouring countries. Satan came in like a flood, but the Lord raised up a standard against him.
Syria is currently being torn apart by the same forces operating all over the Middle East: an inflexible and despotic government, a young, disenfranchised population and foreign Islamist agitation. The traditional churches here predate Islam, but the relative calm they lived under has now been shattered. Along with civil war and grinding Islamisation, will come a mass exodus of traditional Christians. If the script from a dozen other Islamic countries is to be followed, then the coming persecution and political instability will purify the true church. This will be followed by disillusion with radical Islam and the birthing of an indigenous church among the 90% of Syrians who are Sunni Arab. After 100 years of having no known Christians, there is now an underground movement of believers among the Alawite elite.
Like the other “Stan” countries of the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan has a Muslim majority in name only. The central government has risen from the ashes of a bitter civil war and is very suspicious of Islamisation, so it seeks to control all religious activity. After independence from Russia the fleeting open door for evangelism resulted in the birthing of an indigenous church among the majority Tajiks for the first time, with believers now numbering around 1,000 and growing. It will take many decades for this tiny foundation to grow to a point where it will help raise Tajikistan out of its poverty and hopelessness.
Christianity thrived in Tunisia before the coming of the Muslims. But from 1900 to now the traditional church has dwindled from 10% to 0.02% through emigration, even though Tunisia was one of the most open and progressive Islamic nations. Because of this tolerance the “Arab Spring” revolution of 2011 has led to the establishment of a moderate and stable government which is not interested in Sharia law. This will bode well for the nurturing of Tunisia’s tiny number of believers, 50% of whom are indigenous Arabs.
Once home to so many of the churches mentioned in the New Testament, Turkey is now a nation torn between Europe and the Middle East, between secularism and Islamism. For all its outward claims to tolerance, Turkey is as intolerant as any Islamic state can be when it comes to religious minorities. The decline of the nominal Christian population from 22% in 1900 to 0.21% today is stark evidence of this fact. The second dawn of the church is yet to seriously take root in this climate with believers from an Islamic background numbering just 4,000 out of 75 million. Pray for the youth of this nation to meet Jesus because this group, comprising 60% of the population, is the key to the future.
Only Sunni Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church are tolerated in Turkmenistan. True expressions of the Christian faith are treated as hostile to the state and persecution is constant. Almost all expatriate Christians have been expelled in the last ten years and local leaders face imprisonment, beatings, fines and exile. Yet from only a handful of believers in 1990, the indigenous church has now grown to over 1,000 now. However, most are Russian, Ukrainian or Armenian. Turkmenistan is a forgotten country with a forgotten church.
United Arab Emirates
In order to internationalise and grow out of its oil dependency, the UAE has had to become more tolerant than most Arab nations toward other faiths. This relative “openness” has enabled a trickle of Arabs to come into relationship with Jesus, mainly via the internet and Christian media. Outside this small group there are many communities of faith among the 80% of the population who are foreign workers. However, with most foreigners being male, behind the glitz and glamour of Dubai, prostitution has become a huge social problem. The current high growth in the number of Christians bodes well for the future in this strategically important Arab portal state.
Uzbekistan has lurched from Communist dictatorship into a totalitarian state with a suspicion of all religions. Islam is more a cultural identity than an active religion with most people involved in folk religion and the occult. The growing Islamist missionary movement is handled with an iron fist by the state and Christians are caught in the political crossfire. Most believers come from the ethnic minorities and are tolerated if they do not evangelise. Any person caught trying to reach native Uzbeks is treated harshly. The 10,000 or so native Uzbek believers continue to grow in number but are singled out for retribution from Muslims, the state and the local community. By 2050 the 85,000 believers in Uzbekistan will number nearly half a million if current growth rates continue.
Once home to the Queen of Sheba, Christianity had a strong presence in Yemen in the first few centuries of the Christian era but was wiped out in the 7th Century by Islam. Yemen has suffered almost non-stop conflict over the last 40 years and this has prepared the ground for a trickle of Arabs to embrace the gospel. Due to severe persecution from the state and their community, they meet secretly and in small groups, but it is common for divine dreams and visions to be part of their spiritual journey. There are also thriving communities of believers among the 2.6% of the population who are refugees from neighbouring countries.
This concludes my investigation into Islam and understanding of where it is headed in the decades ahead. My reading, research have left me full of hope for the future. It has also given me a prayer burden for the nations listed above. I trust it has done the same for you. If you are interested in reading further then I strongly recommend you purchase Operation World. I would suggest only fanatics like me purchase The Future of the Global Church!
Other essays in this series on Islam include: