Monday, April 18, 2016

Religion and Identity

April 18, 2016

To hear some people talk, every Muslim is a potential terrorist, scheming and lying to lull infidels into complacency so they can carry out some insidious plan to force people into conversion. I've heard Christians characterize Allah as a demon-god, not realizing that "Allah" is the Arabic word for God that even Arabic Christians use to describe the God and Father of Jesus Christ. I don't mean to minimize the threat of Islamic terrorism; we have plenty of evidence that being watchful is not only prudent; it is necessary.

Islam however, is not only a religion; it is a cultural identity. Just as millions around the world call themselves Christian without having any real understanding of even the basic tenets of the faith, there are millions of Muslims who know nothing about their faith, yet identify themselves as Muslim.

This evening we listened to a couple who are missionaries in Kazahkstan, a predominantly Muslim country. They work with Uighurs, ethnic people who live primarily in Western China, but whose DNA is European. If you were to talk religion to a Uighur, it would be a simple equation. To be Uighur is to be Muslim. If a Uighur were to convert to Christianity, in the community's mind, he would no longer be Uighur, but Russian.

We tend to equate Muslim with the Middle East, with Arabic-speaking peoples...and with radicalism. But here are some interesting statistics: The most populous Muslim country is... Indonesia, with 204,807,000 Muslims. The second most populous Muslim country is Pakistan, with 178,097,000, followed by India with 177,286,000, Bangladesh with 145,312,000, Nigeria with 757,728,000, Iran with 74,819,000, Turkey with 74,660,000, and Egypt with 73,746,000. Of these eight countries, only Egypt is primarily Arabic, although it could easily be argued that though Persian, Iran is a primary sponsor of Islamic terrorism.

My point is simple. Muslims are as diverse as Christians, with most being as ignorant of the Quran as most Christians are of the Bible. When it comes to terrorism, vigilance is absolutely necessary, but when it comes to Muslims, we would do well to get to know a few before we make universal judgments about them, just as we would want for ourselves. I would expect there will be many who disagree with me on this, but I am grateful tonight for these missionaries who presented a side of the issue that we don't often hear, and for those Christians who selflessly labor in some very difficult places in order to present the Gospel in Islamic lands.

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