The freedom to convert religion is a touchy subject, it always feel like a betrayal. Conversion also has another name – apostasy – and in Islam that is a crime punishable by death.
Conversion, then, from Islam to Christianity is always a decision of great courage, the costs and risks are significant irrespective of where the convert lives. This violent shadow is perhaps one of the reasons why up until recently, Christianity has seen remarkably few conversions amongst Muslims.
That was the first of several surprising insights I gained from reading David Garrison’s A wind in the house of Islam. I hadn’t appreciated how much Christian missionaries had either failed to reach or just simply ignored Muslims in favour of winning converts from among pagan tribal groups. The history of missions to Muslims seems to have been marked by its lack of success.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the restrained quality of the research, having expected something far more triumphalism in tone given the rather dramatic content of the book.
What Garrison does here, is describe in sufficient detail how in the last two decades there have been significant movements of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus all across the Islamic world.
The author defines a movement as ‘at least 1000 baptized believers or 100 new church starts’ in a twenty year period and through a number of representative personal interviews describes how what is happening in what he calls the nine rooms of Islam, based on Arab Muslims term referring to the ‘house of Islam’.
There are a few surprising omissions from the rooms that passed without comment, and that is Europe and China. I can understand that the number of Muslims in the Americas is small and has no historical or deep to ties to the what could be called the Islamic world therefore but I’m not sure that could be said of either Europe (40-50 million Muslims) or China (20 million Muslims).
Each chapter begins with a brief historical survey, which with the exception of the Turkestan room and odd references to prophecies about Tamerlane, are helpful introductions to each geographical cluster, wisely recognising that there are significant differences between Nigeria and Iran, or Saudi Arabia and Indonesia for example.
For security reasons the interviews are generally scrubbed of personal information, including geographical names. I understand the concerns, yet I wonder if it didn’t go too far in doing so. For example the Persian room is to all intents and purposes, Iran and that is apparent to everyone, yet in other rooms even country names are avoided – this seems slightly inconsistent and makes it harder to ground some of the stories, displaced as they are from anything but the broadest geography.
Those weaknesses aside, Garrison has written a remarkable book that is full of extremely helpful insights into the nature of church planting movements, insider movements (followers of Christ who remain inside the Islamic community) and in how to witness to Muslim believers. If even half of what Garrison describes is true then there truly is an unprecedented shift happening right the way across the Islamic world. It is still small relative to the massive size of Islam, but it has never happened before and it seems to be picking up pace. Recommended reading.