Islam is the Mt. Everest of missions—it draws a lot of attention, but few climbers. Like the world’s highest mountain, Islam, the Church’s greatest challenge, will not simply go away. Before we can seriously equip ourselves to positively respond to this monumental task, however, we must understand why this challenge is so formidable.
Diversity of People Groups
Though we often refer to the Islamic world, vast differences among distinct Muslim groups make it more accurate to speak of Islamic worlds. There are over 900 major Muslim people groups of one million or more! A people group is defined as the largest ethnic group within which the gospel can spread without being stopped by cultural and linguistic barriers.
Even within an entirely Islamic nation, ethnic diversity is striking. In Mauritania, for example, the White Maures are a mixed Arab/Berber people who form the elite, providing political, military, economic, and religious leadership. Though slavery was officially abolished just 30 years ago, Black Maures are still subjected to these illegal and cruel practices. Within numerous other Black African ethnic groups there are distinct occupational casts such as hunters, fishermen, salt miners, and poets with no intermarriage. The Wolof, Fulani, Tukulor, Soninke, and the Bambara are all Muslim tribes with distinct differences that contribute to the challenge of this Mt. Everest of Missions.
From Morocco to Mindanao, from Fiji to Finland, and from Atlanta to Almaty, Muslim people groups with vastly diverse cultures, languages, and political persuasions are found on every inhabited continent. Muslims represent the majority of the population in over 50 countries, and 75 nations are at least 10% Muslim. Nearly 500 million Muslims live in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but significant numbers are to be found in such unlikely places as Fiji, Trinidad, Argentina, and Australia. France has six times more Muslims than all Evangelical Christians combined. There are one million Turks in Berlin and 50 million Muslims in the CIS (former Soviet Union).
The 1.9 billion Muslims of the world represent the largest unevangelized people in the world, presenting the Church its greatest challenge in mission. Their vast geographical diversities make the task of evangelism complex.
Muslims pride themselves for their unity of beliefs and would not admit to denominational divisions as in Christianity. However, within the two major categories of Shi’ites and Sunnis, we can observe vast differences in the way various Muslims practice their religion while giving lip service to theological unity.
Orthodox Muslims take the Qur’an literally and follow the traditions of Prophet Muhammad closely. The conservatives attempt to observe as much as possible from Orthodox Islam while adjusting pragmatically to modern life as it changes. Mystical Muslims, called Sufis, ascribe to the fundamental beliefs of Islam, but in practice are seeking some kind of union with God. Liberals hold to a few Muslim ideas but make varied interpretations of how to apply them.
Folk Muslims are syncretistic, blending Islamic beliefs with pagan practices and local superstitions that are often contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an. These include various forms of divination, astrology, charms, and curses. Secularists are nominally Muslim for social and political purposes, but have abandoned most religious practices. This Mt. Everest of missions is made up of an amazing variety of people and practices, rendering the Church’s challenge formidable indeed.
Muslims, like Christians, have a missionary mandate to go into all the world and make disciples of every creature. Jihad, most often associated with military, is primarily missionary. Countless petro-dollars are fueling the engine of Islamic expansionism. In a given year, when combined Protestant giving totaled $1.4 billion for global missions, $1.7 billion was spent for the spread of Islam in just 8 West African countries!
Islamic da’wah (missionary activity) has successfully targeted the African-American community with the promise of a better life. For those who perceive themselves as victims in the United States, Islam seems like a safe avenue toward true African-American identity and progress.
Allegiance to the Community
The rugged individualism of Western Christianity is diametrically opposed to the worldview of most Muslim cultures. Followers of Islam worldwide sense they are a part of the ummah, the community, or house of Islam. Major decisions are never made before consulting appropriate family members and religious leaders, making it difficult for individual Muslims to make a unilateral decision to follow Christ. This widespread cultural trait adds to the challenge of reaching Muslims for Christ.
With much effort and at great risk to committed climbers, Mt. Everest can be conquered. Likewise, Muslims can be brought to Jesus by dedicated followers of Jesus. In spite of formidable challenges and great personal risk, more Muslims are accepting Christ as Savior today than ever before in history. More Muslims have come to Jesus in the past 30 years than in the past 1400 years combined! God will not allow the death of His Son to be rendered ineffectual by any people. Let’s work and pray together to surmount this formidable Mt. Everest of missions.