Foreignpolicy.com reported that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and so did Wikipedia.1 No doubt this indicates a trend. But how is this growth achieved?
Foreign policy.com attributes Islamic growth to its presence in the world’s fastest growing countries and the influx of Muslim immigrants into Europe, “The worlds largest Muslim populations are in fast-growing countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and Iran. Islam also happens to be the fastest growing religion in Europe, where an influx of Muslim immigrants from North Africa, Turkey, and South Asia has sent shock waves into a mostly Christian and secular population whose birthrates have stagnated.” 1
I lived in Bahrain (Arabian Peninsula) for a good number of years. But I do not recollect anyone evangelizing me into Islam. Even when I walked into the office of “Discover Islam” in the Island, I was greeted politely and courteously, but not one word was uttered to convert me.
All I am asserting is that Islam does not seem to me as an actively evangelizing faith from a one-on-one standpoint. I have had people from “Jehovah’s witnesses” knock at my door to convert me, but not once did I encounter anyone trying to convert me into Islam, whether in Bahrain or in India.
If my limited personal experience is an indicator to the extent of Islamic evangelization, how then does Islam manage to grow at a hectic pace from within the absence of a focused personal one-on-one evangelization?
I do not deny the presence of active evangelization in any worldview, let alone Islam. Influx of Muslim immigrants and the subsequent growth of Islam in Europe seems to indicate an active evangelization on the part of Islam.
This illustration would lead me into the first point I wish to present. During my stay in the Kingdom of Bahrain, I once encountered a young couple from a highly conservative Islamic nation. They were dressed in their traditional Arabic attire.
We were travelling to an Island resort in a boat. As soon the couple settled in their seats, the man removed his headgear and the lady uncovered her face.
Upon reaching the Island resort, we went into the lobby of the hotel reserved for our stay. At the lobby, the lady was without her burka (she cannot venture out without her Burka in her country). Burka is generally worn over the most preferred attire of the individual. This lady was now in her jean and a swanky top.
Later, at the restaurant, the couple wore shorts and t-shirt – obviously more preferred than their traditional Arabic attire.
At the swimming pool, the woman was in her bikini. During the entire course of our stay in that tiny island resort, I never once saw them in their traditional Arabic gear. Obviously, when we left this island resort, they returned to their traditional Arabic attire.
This leads me to assert that if the woman was free to choose her attire in her own country, she would not have preferred the traditional Arabic attire that only exposes her eyes.
Bahrain is more tolerant towards attire, religion and even certain vices, such as alcohol. Visitors from neighboring Gulf States are a common sight in Bahrain during weekends and holidays. They arrive to indulge in alcohol and maybe even some multinational womanizing, which is strictly forbidden in much conservative Islamic countries.
This is an interesting practice – where people from authoritarian countries enter the more tolerant and inclusive society to freely and openly indulge in their desires. They may even indulge in certain vices in their own country, but in strict secrecy. They indulge at the cost of imprisonment or severe punishments, if caught.
Had the authorities been tolerant of any decent attire in the couple’s native country, they would have discarded the traditional Arabic attire for a preferred outfit. Had the authorities allowed liquor, Bahrain would not witness tourism to the extent that’s prevalent.
My point is this. People are forced into doing things that they really do not want to do.
My question now is this, how many would voluntarily embrace Islam if the strict yoke of religious enforcement is removed by Islam? Religious conversion of Muslims is forbidden by Islam.
Many countries offer their citizens the much required freedom to pursue what they want to do. This is good. A free society is the most desirable society. By freedom, I am not advocating lawlessness, but I am advocating for the individual’s freedom to choose the attire he wants to wear and the religion he wants to subscribe to.
Progressive mindsets of Islamic states such as Bahrain ought to be praised and encouraged.
My first humble plea to conservative Islam is this. Please offer freedom to your people to either freely choose or reject Islam.
I love the God of the Bible for this very precise reason. HE has given us the freedom to either freely choose or reject HIM. This is love in its purest form. There is no slavery in this form of love.
Man should freely love God. If man is unable to love God for whatever reason, then it’s upon the Almighty God to do all that’s possible (in love and justice) for man to love HIM. But if God has done everything for man to love HIM and if man still rejects God, the ball is certainly in man’s court. It’s definitely not in God’s court.
In this context, when man rejects God, God cannot be blamed for man’s failure to love HIM, especially when God has done all that it takes for man to love HIM. No one loves being a slave to anything they don’t love. I am not saying that no one loves being a slave to anything they hate. But no one loves being a slave to anything they do not love.
I am not implying that all Muslims hate Islam. I am only asserting a good possibility that Muslims’ adherence to Islam, in many cases and contexts, is forced. They are forced to subscribe to Islam since they are forbidden to reject Islam. They are forbidden to question Islam.
So when I see a statistic proclaiming that Islam is the fastest growing religion, I find it very uncomfortable to believe knowing that the yoke of religious bondage is upon many who profess faith in the Islamic worldview.
If growth of Islam in Europe is the result of Muslim immigrant influx, then evangelization by Muslims is probably the greatest reason for Islamic growth in Europe. So my second humble plea to Islam is to encourage other worldviews to proclaim their tenets to anyone who may want to explore the other worldviews.
In other words, just as Europe does not restrict the presence of Islam and its evangelization, Islam should not restrict other worldviews to establish their legal presence in countries under Islamic governance. Moreover, Islam should offer freedom to other worldviews to proclaim their tenets to anyone who may want to explore these worldviews.
To summarize, my plea to Islam is two-fold:
- Please offer Muslims the total freedom to choose or reject Islam.
- Just as Muslims take advantage of the freedom for evangelization offered by other countries, please offer similar freedom to other worldviews to proclaim their faith in your countries.
I will definitely believe in the stupendous growth of Islam, if religious freedom is available to all Muslims and if all worldviews are free to proclaim their faith in all Islamic countries. Until this happens, I am forced by Islam to not take this growth statistic seriously.
1 http://www.storypick.com/damaging-truth-indian-entertainment-industry-doesnt-want-know/, last accessed May 12, 2014 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_religion, last accessed May 12, 2014.
This article was originally posted at https://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.in/2014/05/is-islam-worlds-fastest-growing.html on May 12, 2014.