According to Operation World, the country with the fastest growing evangelical Christian population in the world is Iran, where the church is growing 19.6% a year. The second fastest growing evangelical Christian population is found in Afghanistan, with an annual growth of 16.7%. Seven of the top ten fastest growing evangelical populations are in majority Muslim countries.
It is fascinating to realize that the two countries that attempted to created “pure” Islamic states in recent years instead became places where the gospel is growing the fastest—and both at more than twice the rate as the third country. In Iran, the “Ayatollah Khomeini felt a holy mission to rid Iran of what he saw as Western corruption and degeneracy and to return the country, under an Islamic theocracy, to religious purity.” When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996 they determined to make a true Islamic country governed by Islamic law.
Both the Ayatollahs and the Taliban claimed that it was their religious duty to overthrow corrupt leaders who were Muslim in name but not practice. The word “Islam” means submission. These Islamic revolutionaries promised a better life for all if their fellow Muslims would submit themselves to Allah through their Islamic leaders. They also felt obligated to force submission of any who disagreed with them.
The Muslim call to worship that echoes five times a day throughout the world includes the phrases “Come to worship. Come to worship. Come to success. Come to success.” “For those who submit to Allah and accept his guidance, the intended result is success in this life and the next.” This concept can be summed up in the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan “Islam is the solution.”
But reality has fallen far short of the hope and promises. Instead of a just and righteous society, people have experienced repression and hypocrisy. They have seen their religious leaders enriching themselves and ignoring the laws that others have to follow. Many have friends and relatives who were tortured and even killed for not holding to the same Islamic interpretations as their leaders. The promises of success in this life have rung hollow when compared to the economic disaster that has ensued under these new Islamic governments. Iranians also saw a vicious war against “fellow” Muslims in Iraq, leaving Muslims in these and other countries to wonder why so many Muslims were fighting and killing each other.
Advances in technology have given Muslims access to news and images of much greater wealth in non-Muslim countries. In the past, Muslim economic failures were ascribed to Muslims not being devout enough, but this excuse no longer applies in the Muslim theocracies of Iran and Afghanistan. They have also been able to more freely access news of the atrocities and hypocrisy of their Muslim leaders.
In their disillusionment, an increasing number have begun to see Islam not as the solution but as the problem. And so the Ayatollah and the Taliban have been some of the greatest “missionaries” for Christ in history! They accomplished in a few years what Christians had been unable to do for centuries: open up the minds and hearts of Iranians and Afghans to consider the gospel. One Iranian leader stated, “I wouldn’t myself pray for a government change because the current government is doing [a] great [job of bringing] people to Christ.”
The internet and satellite broadcasts have allowed greater access to the Christian gospel, and, in seeking answers for their disillusionment, a growing number have begun to seek and find their answers in Jesus and come to know him as “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).
The response to this by the Afghan and Iranian and other Muslim governments has been predictable. Afghanistan is #5 and Iran is #7 on the Open Doors World Watchlist of countries with greatest persecution of Christians. It is a powerful truth to realize that many countries are on both the lists of the fastest-growing churches and the most persecuted. As one Chinese leader said, “We don’t pray for persecution to stop because then the church will become weak.” While sometimes in history persecution has wiped out the church, often it has led to the growth of the church. The second-century church father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50) and we are seeing this in modern times.
As you think on these remarkable truths, pray for many Muslims to seek answers and to discover that there is no other name under heaven that offers salvation except Jesus the Messiah (Acts 4:12). And for the persecuted believers, “Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Hebrews 13:3 NLT).
William Allen Crews has lived and served among and appreciated the warm hospitality of Muslim people for 25+ years. He has a great desire for his many Muslim friends and all Muslims to realize that Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) is the Straight Path they seek everyday in their prayers.