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Christians, Muslims, miracles, visions and conversions

May 9th, 2015

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.

More stories

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.

Children too

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.

Read more

Photo Credit: Omar Chatriwala via Compfight cc.

15 Comments

  1. In the UK, the percentages of conversions each way seem to be about the same. ie conversions to Islam are about 120,000 and conversions from Islam to Christianity are about 5000 (at a guess). Looking at the number of each starting population (60+ million on the one side and 3 million on the other), then roughly this is about the same.
    However, converts to Islam include a lot because of marriage. These often end up as bona fide conversion but the cause was romantic involvement. Conversion out of Islam seems to be more about investigation of Christianity.

  2. I’m always a bit leery of these kinds of numbers and statistics, especially when coming from a source invested in the issue. As UnkleE points out, such claims are attention-grabbing and some seem to be at least anecdotally based upon fact. But there has also been a lot of recent reporting about European churches being changed into mosques, and doesn’t the whole birth rate business point toward an expanding, not contracting Islam? However you choose to interpret the divergent data, we all know that authentic religion of any stripe has never been a numbers game. Almost always (and maybe I should omit the qualifier), truth is in the minority. It was only when Christianity finally began to spread like wildfire through the Roman Empire that it began to become ossified and compromised, more institutional and affected (infected?) by mystery religions and Greek metaphysics. As a lifelong student of the New Testament and an ordained American Baptist minister, aware of biblical scholarship from Renan and Schweitzer through Bultmann and Barth to Crossan and Borg, I recently published on the Kindle, under the pen name Theophilus, a booklet called “Life of Truth: a synoptic gospel.” It’s not an interpretative book about Jesus but rather is written in traditional gospel format, drawing its material (sayings, parables, events, etc.) predominantly and respectfully from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and portions of John. The booklet is deliberately short on theology (which, to one degree or another, and in one form or another) found its way into the canonical gospels, inevitably putting doctrinal spin (not necessarily inaccurate) on the Jesus story. This is one of the reasons that I wanted to retell “the greatest story ever told” with as little theological gloss as possible, letting the power and passion of the story, in its stark and stunning simplicity, stand on its own legs and convey its own meaning. I doubt that UnkleE would approve of my writing a new version of the gospel, but it was an effort that began in the early 1970s, when our New Testament class at The Chicago Theological Seminary was given the assignment to attempt to reconstruct the oral Jesus tradition and then to put that reconstructed tradition into an alternative written form. My deeper reasons for publishing this belatedly-completed seminary assignment (some 20 years after it was given) are fully explained in the book description and book sample which are free on the Amazon internet bookstore. Check them out (both of them please, because they come from different directions) if you are at all interested in “Life of Truth.” The booklet costs a buck that goes to urban gardeners in a food desert. Thanks, UnkleE, for letting me make this shameless plug on your open-minded, thought-provoking blog, which I have come to really enjoy. I promise not to do it again unless you or your readers would like to engage me in further conversation about my new “minimalist” account of the Jesus story. One thing I promise: the Jesus you will meet in “Life of Truth” will be the one you already know…but depicted from a somewhat different perspective and with a twist or two (explained in endnotes). Who knows? Maybe “Life of Truth” might make a certain kind of Muslim, sick of all the violence on both sides, even more receptive to the Prince of Peace instead of a prophet who was also, when he deemed it to be the will of God, a warrior.

  3. Anything to confirm your own beliefs… even if all of Muslims, ALL of them, would convert tomorrow, it would prove absolutely nothing. The fact that relatively few do end up converting, in the grand scheme of things, is actually more anecdotal evidence that your God does not exist! Or he is weak and has little influence? Most people are not Christians after all…

    This blog seems full of such bad argument that do not answer the question Is There a God, after looking around a bit… Desperate arguments from a desperate believer? Just asking…

  4. Hi Bob, presumably you aren’t a christian, so I must compliment you on your views on a few things which I agree with. I too agree that the conversion of Muslims proves nothing about the truth of Islam or Christianity. I didn’t say that it did, and I posted on the topic because I thought it was of interest, for I think their experiences are evidence worth considering among other evidence.

    I also agree with you that christians are not a majority, which tells us something about God. Jesus taught that we wouldn’t be a majority, so Christianity has probably done better than I’d expect.

    I’m sorry you didn’t find anything convincing here. But I write about the things that convince me, and just hope they will help others, which they apparently do. Do you notice signs of desperation anywhere? I feel quite calm and settled. How about you?

  5. Desperation? Absolutely! You write a blog about ‘Is there a God’ and as far as I can tell by quickly searching, it’s been years, yet the “best” you have is gross misunderstandings of science which yields at best ‘I don’t know’ and fantastic claims of miracles that are from believers themselves about their own religions, be it Christians or Muslims. So really, you know nothing but feels comfortable believing nonetheless so the blog is a desperate compensation. A calm one apparently.

  6. As a congregational humanist, I have been alarmed by the tenor of the discussions about religion. Many of my fellow athesists have joined in on the vitriolic attack on Islam. While I do not agree with the Moslem faith my fellow humans find an important part of their lives, they have feelings and worth that deserve to be respected.

    There are rules that operate in the world whether we want to abide by them or not. One such rule is:

    If you want to get respect, you have to give respect.

    This is a social contract that we all want to hold other people to, and few of us want to apply to ourselves. This problem creates great mischief. Here is an amazing work that demonstrates the power of human optimism and hope

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/un_dec.htm#sess48

  7. Hi Bob, thanks for being frank. I am interested to know which pages you read that you found so underwhelming particularly on which pages you found “gross misunderstandings of science”? Was there nothing you read that you felt had any benefit or truth at all? Do you think you can disregard all the stories of miracles without investigating any of them? I’d be interested to know a little more what you think please.

  8. Hi Daniel,

    I agree with you that we live in civilised societies by some form of, often unstated, social contract, and many discussion break that contract. Fortunately, it seems that it is only a few people who behave that way, and often they are much worse on the internet than they are in “real life”.

    I think modern western atheism is in its “teenage phase”, flexing its muscles, reacting to years of feeling in a downtrodden position in the US and elsewhere, and in a sense making ambit claims with great enthusiasm. Hopefully some of that will pass as this unstructured “movement” matures.

    I think there is a lot of fear about Islam these days, not totally unjustified. People see extreme Muslims behaving in threatening ways, be willing to go to extreme lengths to get revenge (suicide bombings, beheadings, etc) and feel legitimately fearful.

    But we shouldn’t think all Muslims are the same. Many are not. And I think we need to see that Muslims have legitimate reasons to feel fear or antipathy towards western nations. After all, we occupied some of them, carved up Middle Eastern land to create nations, treated them contemptuously, attacked them in the Gulf wars, and exercise a cultural dominance in much of the world. Some humility and repentance on our side would help.

  9. Sorry not interested in discussing with you. I read all your main links and skimmed through several posts and comments. I notice you are an expert at dodging, and just ask more questions in a passive aggressive manner that support your views without justifications!

  10. OK Bob, thanks for letting me know. Lately I’ve been criticised for arguing too much to defend my views, so I guess it is different to be criticised for not arguing enough! 🙂 Many of my pages provide the justifications you ask for, even if you don’t agree wit them, and I would have been happy to discuss once I had some specifics. Best wishes to you.

  11. To him who ask, it shall be given, he who seek will find, to him who knock, the door shall be open.Dear Bob, You enjoy being a cynic, perhaps you have been through great disappointments and finds it hard to trust in good news and good things. I am here to tell you that Jesus knew you even before you were being knitted in your mother’s wombs and He longs for a sweet relationship with you.His love can cure every evil you have ever come across in your life and He’s waiting to pour it out on you.But you need to be brave and take a chance to trust again. Will you ask , seek and knock. He loves you so, and wants to save you from judgement.

  12. Faith never comes through out dreams ,it is normal for us to see Satan in our dreams in a different shapes,so how can we make sure that the jesus who comes in our dreams is not a Satan in a jesus’s shape,in order to deceive us⁉

  13. Hi Ali, do you think that dreams NEVER lead people to faith?

    My answer to your question is that people can always be deceived, even you and I, so we need always be careful. If a dream leads a person to believe in Jesus, then our assessment of whether this is good or bad would depend on whether we believe in Jesus. So I guess you would think differently to me on that. Would you agree?

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