The motivation for this increased persecution is a desire to stop the conversion of Muslims. It is estimated that before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the number of Christians in Iran numbered in the low hundreds. This month, Ayatollah Khamenei publicly called the “network of house churches” a threat to Islam. Todd Nettleton, the Director of Media Development for Voice of the Martyrs, told FrontPage that the church in Iran is “growing at an absolutely phenomenal rate.”
“The thing to realize about Iran is that the ‘man on the street’ equates the government with Islam. It is the mullahs, after all, that are in charge of the country,” Nettleton said. He continued:
So failure, injustice and corruption in the government are seen as failure, injustice and corruption in Islam itself, which is creating a populace that is very open to other ideas, including the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
The boasts of Christian organizations are substantiated by the concerns expressed by Islamic authorities. One influential scholar in Libya says that 16,000 Muslims around the world convert every day. A top mufi in Malaysia said that 250,000 Muslims in his country have filed with the government to declare themselves to no longer be Muslim, and this number includes 100,000 who switched to become Christians.
In addition, the radical Islamic authorities trying to stop the spread of Christianity are dealing with the growth of atheism, agnosticism and the overall increase in non-practicing Muslims. Many do not go to mosque at all or only go on Fridays and holidays and do not live as devout Muslims the rest of the time. This phenomenon is particularly strong in Iran. Planet-Iran.com reported in September that Mohammad-Ali Ramin, the Deputy Minister of Islamic Guidance and Culture for Media Relations, declared:
We call upon all clergy to abandon civic and politics issues, partisan matters, NGO’s and western-style organizations and return to the mosques where they can benefit from greater social clout, that will ultimately elevate societal and Islamic interests. We need to be able to put our clergy to proper use, as mosque attendance has thinned out.
The increased oppression of Christians in the Islamic world is an ironic sign of success. If they weren’t effective, such measures would not be necessary. The political shifts, like those related to terrorism and democracy, are making the headlines, but a potentially decisive religious shift is also underway and the world could look very different in the coming decades because of it.