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Muslim Reactions towards the West and Missions

At the beginning of this document I described the high speed with which Islam had not only established its military superiority in Asia and Africa, but also succeeded in capturing the hearts of the people into the net of Islam. This still portrays the power over the spirit that emanates from Islam. And if we remember that Pan-Islam succeeded in inspiring its 245 million adherents with this ancient religious zealotry, then it is impossible to predict what power can emanate from it in the future. It is not as if the military superiority of Western powers would not be able to crush all forms of resistance, but this would only be due to technical power. Military superiority does not break spiritual resistance, but, rather, tends to strengthen it. Neither must we put much hope in the widespread expectation that our higher culture will eventually tame the spirit of Islam. Muslim populations are very adept at profiting from the fruits of our higher civilization that we introduce or from the improvements in administration and judiciary that lead to the elevated welfare of the nations, but this is all external to the heart. Furthermore, these developments only serve to tempt a small group to fall away, become indifferent to the faith and replace it with atheism. But this does not touch the masses. They continue in their unchanging traditional life and remain Muslim in their hearts. And even among the elite the motto, “For Muhammad and against Christ,” retains its attraction.

In another chapter in this series of mine I told the story of a highly placed and fully modernized woman who declared she would thoroughly enjoy beheading all Christian missionaries. I now add the story of a highly regarded man who could hardly pass a British sentry without feeling a deep desire welling up to wring his neck with his own hands. With our railways, our irrigation systems, our advanced administration and our industrial enterprises we can improve the economic situation of Muslim countries, but we do not win over the people with such improvements. Muslims everywhere to a man will bless the day they see us leave and they are searching for ways to make this happen.

There is only one means to win over the people, namely if we could get the masses motivated to trade in their religion for Christianity, but for this there is not a chance. Since long, Christian missions have concentrated their efforts on toughest of all countries, namely those of the Sultan. First, the French. After them, the Italians and the Greeks. Still later, British and American missions competed with each other for the crown of victory with unusual resilience and warm zeal for the faith, but the only fruit they could show for their efforts consists exclusively of encouraging the Christian remnants still found in scattered places in Turkey. Without these extensive missionary efforts, these remnants would most likely have been wholly absorbed into Islam. Now, however, they do not only still exist, thanks to their expansive school systems, but they have been upgraded to a new level of Christian life. But everywhere the number of converts from Islam were few and, when placed in the context of the entire nation, hardly worthy of mention. They did lure Muslim youth to their schools and the Muslim sick to their hospitals. They also contributed to the development of the community, but they could not win the hearts of the people anywhere.

Similarly, in Dutch Indonesia, where Islam has a much more superficial character, all missions testify to the extreme difficulty of changing the hearts of the people. I leave aside the question whether missions understood the people adequately or whether they had the requisite skills. Dutch missionaries treated the indigenous Indonesian Christian missionary, Kyai Sadrach, who preached a unique kind of Javanese Christianity, with great impatience. While admitting that missions have made serious mistakes, the result of their work in Muslim countries is so disappointing and painfully sad, that only self-deceit can still harbour hope that there is a chance for the conversion of Muslims on a large scale.4444Translator’s note: Nigeria always seems different from most other nations. Kuyper would have been surprised at the great number of Muslim converts to Christ in Nigeria during the last half of the twentieth century. I personally know many of them. The churches there have every reason for optimism in this regard. Some Christian leaders, including the late Haruna Dandaura, who was highly respected by Muslim leaders, claim that the number of Northern converts runs into the millions (J. Boer, 2008, pp. 179-182). Rather, we must acknowledge that the Pan-Islamic revival has further considerably reduced the chances of Christian victory among Muslims. Certainly, during the last half century in Dutch Indonesia, Islam has gained many more converts from the Traditionalist tribes on Java and a few other islands than have Christians.

This is the experience of missions everywhere. For the Muslim to convert to Christianity is from their point of view to descend to a lower level. Islam came after Christ. Islam has a later and higher revelation. Who wants to go back from the latest and highest to an earlier and lower? A convert from Islam is a traitor in the eyes of Muslims. As far as Muslims are concerned, such a person has died morally and the entire Muslim neighbourhood works together towards his reversion under the weight of contempt and of social deprivation.

Added to the above is the problem that we tend to bring Christianity to the East in an almost exclusively Western format, while the Easterner, not feeling comfortable with that format, is much more attracted to the Eastern format of Islam. Islam with its Eastern format is better oriented to his needs and speaks to him, while Christianity with its Western format feels repugnant. The end result is that Christian missions usually plow on rocks and gain very few people, while Islam continues its victorious march in both Indonesia and Africa. Islam hardly loses any people, except in Persia, where it is weakened by internal instability. But as a world power, Islam continues to grow steadily. Even during the centuries of its cultural heyday, the number of Muslims was smaller than it is now. Sometimes Islam exerts such an irresistible charm or temptation to baptized Christians, that we repeatedly hear of Christians who have denied the Cross and converted to Islam.

Islam flatters the tendency in the human heart to pride and sensuousness. It is clear, simple and easily understood in its major lines and fixed forms. It not only shapes your religious life, but also governs the totality of the rest of your life. It is capable of adapting itself to a wide range of circumstances. It allows a high degree of freedom of movement.4545This claim may surprise readers of the 21st century who are accustomed to hearing or reading the media about rigid Muslim arguments regarding a strict sharia, strict fashions, strict everything. Kuyper observed Islam during a more relaxed period, when it was more its normal self. It is in the current crisis that everything grey has been turned into black and white and everything fluid into rigid forms. During its first cycle, Islam proved amenable to high scholarly development and had at its disposal a very rich body of literature. To the eye of the fanatic it holds up a sparkling ideal of might and greatness that can still inflame the deepest passions. So I have no more expectation from Christian subjugation of Islam than I do from the technical and economic aspects of the West. Even now the wheels are in motion to develop a higher culture in India that will match the highest cultural developments of Christian Europe.

I am fully aware that it is emotionally very hard for us Christians to acknowledge this development. Even if Islam endlessly echoes the call to Allah, the All-Merciful and the All-Compassionate, in its mosques and from its minarets, this call does not emerge from a deep consciousness of sin or from a thirst for reconciliation. Allah is and remains for Muslims a mighty Sovereign who regards His faithful servants with grace and favour. But Islam does not know of a Father in heaven who comes to His children with the invitation to be reconciled to Him. In Islam, the Almighty exercises mercy, but there is no Holy One who overcomes our internal separation through reconciliation. Therefore the ideal of a Holy Loving God must be totally lacking, even in Allah Himself.4646To make such absolute claims about another religion is very dangerous. My extensive reading of and research in Nigerian Muslim literature has made me very cautious not to make absolutist claims or denials about the Muslim experience of Allah on basis of logical conclusions from Muslim doctrine. The following paragraphs are similarly weakened by absolutist claims. Whenever Muslims draw logical conclusions from some Christian doctrine, I never recognize myself in their conclusion, for it is usually based on a distorted or partial version of a doctrine taken out of context. Do Christians understand Islam more than the other way around? Are they not liable to similar errors? At the very least, we should usually avoid words like “all,” “every,” “never,” “always” and “totally” when talking about other religions, especially in critical comments.

Thus, we must accept the fact that this mighty group of Muslims that stretches all the way across Asia and Africa, blocks the way of Christianity and of our higher culture. Islam itself represents a culture that is much higher than the Paganism it replaced and that did indeed develop a higher culture from the seventh to thirteenth centuries. However, today it has consolidated its achievements at an intermediary level that resists every attempt to climb to higher ideals.

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