We all interpret events different ways, depending mainly on the beliefs we bring to the question.
So what are we to make of stories of large scale conversions of Muslims to Christianity, and a smaller number of stories going the other way – and visions associated with both?
Muslims see Jesus and convert
For many years now we have seen reports coming out of the Middle East, and elsewhere, of Muslims seeing visions of Jesus, especially during Ramadan, and then converting. Some stay living where they are and worship Jesus from within Islam, others are more outspoken and are persecuted or even killed, and some flee to non-Islamic countries.
I have read the reports and heard some individual people’s stories, but doubtless most of the stories are untold. I have followed up a few of them, and they seem genuine enough – see Visions of Jesus? – but there is no way to verify (or question) most of them.
The trickle becomes a flood?
More recent reports by what appear to be sober observers suggest the rate of conversions is increasing. Missiologist David Garrison estimates somewhere between 2 and 7 million christians have been converted from Islam.
David conducted more than a thousand face-to-face interviews across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He found some Muslims turned to Jesus after experience Muslim-on-Muslim hatred and killing, others because they needed forgiveness. Others had a vision or other experience of Jesus, while others had an interest in Jesus sparked by just hearing about him, or reading about him in the Qur’an.
The stories keep coming in. Here are just a few of them:
- Nabeel Qureshi was a smart young Ahmadiyya Muslim living in the US (though many Muslims don’t recognise Ahmadiyya as Muslims, he identified as one and believed all the basic Muslim doctrines and practices). At university he became friends with a christian who answered all his criticisms of Christianity, which led him to question his belief as Muslim. It took almost 4 years, a vision and three dreams, but he eventually decided Jesus was the truth, not Mohammad. You can read more about his story in A young Muslim intellectual changes course.
- David Garrison tells of an Iranian man he spoke to who had been involved in crime. For some reason he can’t explain he was drawn to the cross as a symbol – he had it on a T-shirt, a ring and a necklace. The T-shirt even had the words “I did this for you” but he didn’t understand what it meant. When he heard about Jesus, he converted immediately, and was eventually forced to leave his country.
- Nasir Siddiki was a London-born Muslim businessman living in Canada. In 1987 he was admitted to Toronto Hospital with a bad case of shingles, which had covered half his face, neck and shoulders with blisters. His temperature rocketed and he was not expected to survive overnight.
In the night he prayed to Jesus, a light entered his room and he saw the outline of a person, who told him he was the christian God. When the doctors checked in the morning, he was healed, and he subsequently became a christian and and evangelist.
- This page tells several conversion stories and this page lists many other links to stories about ex-Muslim converts.
Another side to the question
Muslims have responded to these stories in several ways.
Questioning their truth
Muslims claim that many of the stories of conversions are told in such a way that shows the “convert” wasn’t a true Muslim at all. They say that some of their word pronunciations and some of their practices are not based on true Islam. However christians say Muslims from different countries use different pronunciations, and there are many variations in Islam including several sects, and what is sometimes called “folk Islam” in some countries.
Christians convert to Islam
You can also find stories of Christians (whether nominal or committed) who convert to Islam, some of them even via dreams. This interesting development raises some questions about whether God indeed speaks to people through dreams and visions (and if so, which God?) or whether all of the stories have psychological explanations.
Phillip Wiebe has investigated visions of Jesus and concluded no single explanation, whether supernatural, psychological or neurological, can explain them all, so we may need to consider these options:
- supernatural, whether from God or from some other spiritual agency;
- some paranormal but natural cause;
- understandable natural causes, either psychological or neurological;
- deliberate deception; or
- misreporting, a mistake or an urban myth.
It is only possible to assess possible causes if the event has been well investigated, which is rarely the case. But some causes can be eliminated in some cases – e.g. mis-reporting can be eliminated where we hear directly from the person who had the experience, it is hard to believe fraud if the person suffers as a result, and some events apparently involve people knowing things that they couldn’t have known naturally.
There have been several reports of children having “near death experiences” of heaven or of Jesus, or even Muhammad. One child, by then a teenager, later repudiated his claims, and another story of a Pastor’s child who saw Muhammad, Allah and 72 beautiful women in heaven while technically dead for 3 minutes turned out to be a satire and not real. Perhaps we should be even more wary of children’s stories – and keep an eye open for satire!
How can I draw all this together?
It is hard to find a way to finish this off. Something interesting seems to be happening at times, and it is wise to consider all the possible explanations. I suppose most people will interpret according to their own presuppositions.
I can’t believe all the stories are frauds, mistakes or natural events, though I wouldn’t doubt some of them are. And I note that the number of Christians converting to Islam seems to be far, far less than Muslims converting to Christianity.
This christian blog, commenting on a discussion between a Muslim convert and Christian convert Nabeel Qureshi, observes that Christians generally convert to Islam for social reasons, whereas Muslims are more likely to convert to Christianity because of an investigation into evidence – and I would add because of dreams and visions.
- An examination of visions of Jesus and the conversion story of Nabeel Qureshi on this website.
- Dave Garrison researches Muslim converts to Christianity globally, further reports here, here and here, a report of conversions in North Africa, and reports of conversions that may overstate the numbers.
- Christian conversion stories: Nasir Siddiki, dozens of stories, and Nabeel Qureshi discusses Islam and Christanity.
- Muslims dispute Muslim to Christian conversions – a critique of Nasir Siddiki’s story and claims that Nabeel Qureshi was an Ahmadiyya and therefore not a Muslim.
- Muslim conversion stories: a British woman, a former female priest, a British man, a Mexican man and Robert Davilia, who had a dream. This report comes from Jews for Allah, an interesting name presumably copied from the Jews for Jesus organisation.
- The near death story of Colton Burpo, the apparently untrue near death story of Alex Malarkey and the fake story of a child who saw Allah and Muhammad while technically dead.