Day 14: Entering rooms in the House of Islam – East Africa
By Gary Fallesen
, founding president, Climbing For Christ
Delivering sleeping mats and food during Mission: Malawi 2016 in March. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
When southern Malawi flooded in January 2015 Muslims flocked to help those affected by troubling water. Many Christians converted to Islam after receiving help from these Muslims, said Damson Samson, Climbing For Christ’s missionary to East Africa.
“In Malawi, many Muslims are observing Ramadan (in 2016) and their population is growing more than before,” Damson said.
Malawi is an impoverished country (one of the poorest in the world) of about 17 million people. Nearly two-thirds of the population claim to be Christian and 21 percent is Muslim, according to the Joshua Project. But both Christians and Muslims also practice syncretism, blending folk religions (and superstitious fears) into their imported faith.
This is common in East Africa. Islam is “grossly infused” with African tribal religions – “practices of witchcraft, fear of evil spirits, curses, and disease binds the population to the control of the local imams (mosque leaders) whose functions in the community are not much different from the witch doctors who preceded them. In Jesus Christ, these syncretistic Muslims are finding a power that can free them from their previous bondage and dependence on the imam,” writes David Garrison in A Wind in the House of Islam
What is also common is missionaries delivering help to introduce their faith to indigenous populations. In the case of Islam, Garrison says Muslim missionaries – doers of da’wah
(those who proselytize or preach Islam) – have three strategies for reaching Christians:
1. Win them with money and material enticements.
2. Encourage Muslim girls to marry Christians.
3. Or, they may tell the Christian, “If you convert to Islam, we will give you a job in Saudi Arabia or the Emirates, but first you have to convert to Islam.”
“Islamic religion has a wide area in Tanzania in the way that it attracts many people,” observed Damson, who since 2014 has been ministering to and through guides and porters in our Kilimanjaro Chapter. “There are most business people who are Muslims and those who are working with them are Muslim as well. The hope (of employment) is part of (what is) attracting many to join.
“I noticed that, especially in towns, there were more mosques than churches. From what I have seen in various places, such as restaurants, there are small mosques to permit Muslims to (pray together). That can only tell me we need to pray more for Tanzania because it has only a few years to be overtaken by the Muslims.”
Tanzania, a country of about 52 million, is reported to be 45 percent Christian and 37 percent Muslim. On and around Mount Kilimanjaro, where Climbing For Christ works, we find about a 50-50 breakdown.
The East Africa Room of Dar al-Islam
(the House of Islam), as Muslims call their growing empire, includes all or parts of 19 nations, from Sudan in the north to South Africa in the south and including Tanzania and Malawi.
“Most of our people,” Damson said about his native Malawi, know more about Christianity than Islam. “But because they long for relief (from poverty, including famine conditions the past year) they find their way to the Islamic religion.”
Climbing For Christ’s approach to serve the spiritual and physical needs of people is an example of what needs to be done – with care and discernment – in the Majority World.
It is our calling to love our neighbors – and those living in the East Africa Room are our neighbors.
Damson remembers meeting a Muslim woman on one of his trips from southern Malawi, where he lives and serves, to northeastern Tanzania, where he also ministers. The woman was “dressed from top to feet, covered everywhere, and while waiting for a bus I asked was it good for her to cover herself in such a way,” he recalled. “She said that was how she got her ‘value.’
“I wondered how many women, even those who are not Muslim, dress the same just to pretend they are some kind of valuable woman. I knew from this how much Islam is influencing them.”
But all have value in the eyes of the God of the Bible. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart
” (1 Samuel 16:7
Christianity spread in the last century in East Africa (growing from about 6 million to nearly 177 million) through the conversions of non-Muslim practitioners of tribal (or folk) religions. At the same time, Islam was growing from 6.8 million to nearly 78 million.
Now, many coming to Christ are Muslim background believers (MBBs). One approach to sharing Jesus with Muslims is for MBBs to continue going to the mosque. “We insert Jesus into all of our Muslim practices,” one MBB explained in A Wind in the House of Islam
“If we create another faith community outside the mosque, there will be a gap between us and the lost,” MBBs are quoted in 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
“A Muslim woman spoke up, ‘Jesus came as a human to save humans, even though He is God. If God had wanted to save hyenas, He would have become like a hyena. We want to save Muslims and so we must go into the mosque. This is why our brothers and sisters risk themselves: to win others.’”
Pray for the church to rise up and show the love of Christ to those in need in Malawi and for Muslim background believers to become ambassadors for Jesus in Tanzania.