The Perilous Path from Muslim to Christian

The Perilous Path from Muslim to Christian

More Muslims are converting to Christianity than ever before and at great personal risk. What accounts for the trend?

Nabeel Qureshi a Pakistani MBB, explained this common pattern with reference to Islam: “Dreams are the only means by which the average Muslim expects to hear directly from God.” 

Muslims who read the Bible tend to be impressed by its contrast with the Koran, especially its emphasis on love. Wasef explains: “When they read the Bible, [it] changes them right away. It's better than any talk or any debates. When I sit down and talk with [Muslims], all that I say is from the Bible.”

There’s a widespread sense among Muslims, supported even by Muslim-sponsored research studies, that Christians behave better than Muslims, that they behave, ironically, more Islamically. In a 2014 interview watched over 400,000 times on YouTube, a completely covered woman who gives her name as Shadya Sabir Hussein publicly declares on Egyptian television that she “hates Islam” and plans to become Christian because of all the killing that Muslims engage in. An Iraqi scholar noted that problems in Iraq have caused “many of our youths [to] convert to Christianity, after defaming Islam as a terrorist religion.” The Algerian crisis of the 1990s had a similar impact: all those deaths in the name of Islam led many to declare that Christianity is life, Islam is death.”

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), by dint of its brutality, has enhanced this trend. Omar, a Protestant church administrator, testifies that “Most of the brothers here converted or come to church as a result of what ISIS did to them and to their families.” Jasim, a mechanic, was jailed by ISIS for six months in 2016 for not knowing the basics of Islam, during which time ISIS forced him to read the Quran and tortured him: “After I witnessed their brutality with my own eyes, I started to be skeptical about my belief.” He visited a church and “It didn’t take me long to discover that Christianity was the religion I was searching for.”

Issues of peace and violence loom large in the conversion stories. Mark Durie informs me, “In my experience, many Muslims from Muslim-majority countries are quite traumatized, and inner peace is a constant theme.” Iran's Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi confirmed this when quoting the motives of converts: “We are looking for a religion that could give us peace of mind.” Sadegh, now Johannes, started to doubt his faith while studying at the university in Iran: “I found that the history of Islam was completely different from what we were taught at school. Maybe, I thought, it was a religion that began with violence? A religion that began with violence cannot lead people to freedom and love. Jesus Christ said ‘those who use the sword will die by the sword.’ This really changed my mind.”

Personal contact with Christians who live righteously has a frequent role in conversion stories. Mohammad Eghtedarian stayed with a priest for six days, opening the opportunity for the priest to ask him the question that changed his life: “Do you have peace and freedom in Islam?”

Then there are the practical reasons for conversion. That Islam and Muslims are lagging behind the rest of the world prompts some Muslims to wish to get ahead by joining Christianity, sensing that doing so means joining the modern team.

Finally, conversion can be undertaken with the expectation of material gain. London’s Daily Telegraph reports that some “Rice Christians” in Lebanon “say they converted to benefit from the generous aid distributed by Christian charities” and recounts the story of Ibrahim Ali, an impoverished Syrian whom the Anglican Church of God in a Beirut suburb offered “a bed, two hot meals a day and a small monthly stipend, on the condition he agreed to attend their weekly Bible study sessions.” Ali explains that he converted for practical reasons, as did others.


Three thoughts on the process of conversion. First, although some Christian spokesmen (Zakariya Botros, Jay Smith & David Wood) criticize Islam, this has limited utility in attracting Muslims. Jill Nelson paraphrases Wasef: “Public debates between Muslims and Christians are not effective ministry tools, and Christian literature is usually ineffective as well. … Statements such as those made by prominent evangelical leaders calling Islam ‘wicked’ and criticizing Muhammad also tend to drive Muslims away from Christianity.” Victor Atallah of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship concurs: “We have to be careful not to condemn Muhammad but also not to condone him.”

Second, traditional missionary efforts by Westerners, such as providing education and treating the ill, play a surprisingly minor role in winning converts. Radio and television broadcasts, some founded and led by MBBs, have largely replaced them, including Radio Monte Carlo, SAT-7 International, METV, High Adventure Ministries, Voice of Christ Media, and Middle East Reformed Fellowship. An Algerian newspaper explained the role of these stations in Kabylie, the most intensely Berber (or Amazigh) region of Algeria:

The faithful whom we met have confirmed that information had, in their view, an important role in the legitimization of Christian doctrines. Like Saïd – who confessed that he listens a lot to Radio Monte Carlo and particularly its popular broadcasts in Amazigh. As for Slimane, he declares that “80 percent of the reasons which impelled me towards Christianity came from Radio Monte Carlo.” There are also other radio stations such as “Miracle Channel” (SAT-7), and most of the faithful confirmed that they listen to these stations which broadcast the Christian message across the world.

Country-specific stations, such as Aghapy TV for Egypt or Elam Ministries, Iran Alive Ministries, Mohabat TV, and Nejat TV for Iran, also have a substantial impact. Ansari explains about Mohabat TV: “It appears that roughly about 16 million Iranians within the last 12 months have viewed one or more of our programs on satellite TV and also on their mobile devices. That roughly translates to about 20 percent of Iran's population.”

Third, if foreign missionaries provided the initial spark, MBBs drive much of the current Evangelization of Muslims. Christianity has become dynamic again among believers in its home region. 

Pious Frauds

Some Muslims convert tactically for practical reasons, especially to facilitate emigration to the West. A Church of God pastor, Said Deeb, quotes desperate Muslims telling him, “Just baptize me, I will believe in whoever just to leave here.” National Public Radio paraphrases Şebnem Köşer Akçapar of Koç University in Istanbul to the effect that “only some of the refugees are genuine converts. Others are using religious persecution as a way to get to the West.” Aiman Mazyek, head of the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland, reacts with acute skepticism about growing numbers of Muslim converts to Christianity.

Once in the West, conversion has two advantages. It can facilitate permission to remain, as governments (whatever their theoretical neutrality) sometimes favor Christian migrants; and it renders repatriation more difficult by putting the migrants in danger of persecution back home for abandoning Islam. As Volker Kauder, a leader of the Christian Democratic Union points out: “Once someone has renounced Islam, regardless of whether or not he authentically converted to Christianity, he can be prosecuted for apostasy. When it comes to political persecution, those who persecute do not care about the authenticity of a conversion.”

Accordingly, more than a few converts have dubious spiritual credentials. Rick Robinson of the United Pentecostal Church in Turkey accepts that many of his congregants may not come to him as completely sincere believers: "There might even be some who start with the help just for the refugee status.” Gottfried Martens, the Persian-speaking pastor of the Evangelisch-Lutherische Dreieinigkeitskirche in Berlin, acknowledges not knowing which converts are genuine and which are tactical: “I know there are — again and again — people coming here because they have some kind of hope regarding their asylum.” Vesam Heydari, a member of that church confesses that “The majority of Iranians here are not converting out of belief. They only want to stay in Germany.” The congregation of Reverend Hugo Gevers in Leipzig is one-third former Iranian Muslim; he admits that “There were occasions where we were very deeply disappointed. We were supporting them for years, they had the court case and a positive answer – and the same day they separated from us.” But he notes that entirely false conversions are low, especially since pastors have adopted protocols to identify fakers.

More broadly, one should not over-estimate the number of fraudsters. Berlin’s Martens observes that “there is really a kind of Christian awakening in Iran at the moment with pretty large dimensions. People who come to us have already had these contacts with house churches and have had to flee because of that.”

Muslim Accusations

Worried about “a Christian surge,” Joel Rosenberg observes, “Muslim leaders are becoming nervous and angry.” They focus on pious frauds and accuse all converts of switching religions for personal gain, such as funding, a job, or a visa. This has the convenient advantage of both discrediting MBBs while absolving themselves of responsibility. Such accusations are particularly common in locales like northern Iraq and Algeria, where conversions of Kurds and Berbers are unusually high.