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World of Islam

Overhead Transparency Map Set

Leader's Guide

By James P. Dretke
Zwemer Institute of Muslim Studies
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The religious landscape is rapidly changing. Before World War II, there were very few Muslims in Western Europe. Today France has an estimated 5,907,971; Germany, 3,042,158; and the United Kingdom, 1,176,603. We should note that Germany is somewhat a special case. With German reunification, Muslim immigration slowed considerably while the non-religious element is growing very rapidly.

The Muslim population of Western Europe is somewhat equal to the Muslim immigrant population in North America. This rapidly expanding new religious reality in Europe and North America offers huge challenges for the dwindling churches of Europe and the self-serving churches of North America, as well as for Islam making a new home for itself on these continents.

For Islam, it is a new experience under democratic circumstances to try to weld many ethnic groups and nationalities into one religious community. For Christians, it is the challenge of relating in a Christ-like way to a deeply religious people who were before known only from a great distance. Added to the mix in the United States are the two and a half million African-American Muslims whose history is quite unique and distinct from that of the immigrant Muslims.

So far there are few Europeans, British, Canadians, or Americans (other than African-Americans) who have converted to Islam. Leading the way are women who marry Muslims and then become Muslims themselves. But, a strong infrastructure is being built, including the building of expensive mosques in major cities and near many college campuses.

Besides a strong and steady emigration out of troubled Muslim lands (Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, and Somalia), Muslim families tend to have more children than do Christian families. This growth is particularly evident in Africa and Asia, but also affects the numbers elsewhere. These factors together give an impression of rapid growth and generate the idea that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Pray that Christians in the West would receive the Muslims with love rather than fear.


Most Christians see Islam as one great, united monolithic impenetrable religious entity numbering one billion people and representing one fourth of the earth's population.

On the contrary, it is broken into a vast multitude of ethnic groups, each speaking its own language and having its own distinctive culture. In many cases, Islam and local culture have become so intertwined that people have difficulty separating their own culture from what is Islamic, or vice-versa.

An interesting question is how many of these peoples see themselves first as Muslim, then as Iranian, or first as Arab, then Muslim, or whether their total identity-whether Arab or Iranian-is that to be Arab is to be Muslim, or to be Iranian is to be Muslim. Because of the close integration of tribe, race, and religion, it is not easy for one to change religious orientation. In so doing, it is as if one is rebelling against his or her own people, their identity, and their culture. Pray that the gospel would be presented in such a way that people in these cultures would be able to understand it and accept it, while not compromising the message.


One of the great unknowns-even now ten years after the break-up of the former Soviet Union-is how "Muslim" are the former "Muslim peoples" who were dominated for more than 70 years by atheistic communist teaching. These harvest fields would be wide open except for the widespread prevalence of government suspicions and the unpredictable consequences of such. The people are distrusting of both inside and outside influence, but also open-open almost equally to Muslim initiatives as to Christian ones.

While these people are culturally and linguistically related to the Turks, they also have their own languages and cultures. Grouped together with the people of Turkey (66,351,213), they make up a sizeable cultural grouping-approximately 124,363,213. Praise God for the wonderful things He is doing to bring people to himself in Central Asia. Pray that the new fellowships would flourish, even in the face of persecution and harassment in some places.


Muslims again and again remind Christians of the Crusades, accusing the Church of taking up arms against Islam, almost as if the efforts to regain the Holy Land happened yesterday. Looking into history, we see it was Muslims who first raised the sword against Christians. Muhammad's conquest of his hometown, Mecca (630 AD), set the stage for his second successor, Umar, to blast out of present-day Saudi Arabia to the north. They conquered Jerusalem, Damascus, and Egypt, moving decisively across "Christian" North Africa through Spain to the borders of France-all in less than 100 years. Of all this territory, it is only Spain that has been reclaimed for Christianity.

After the initial conquest of much "Christian" territory, Islam's spread took a more peaceful turn as it moved quietly along long-established trade routes. Even then, it used the jihad (holy war) to deepen its roots in many parts of West Africa through what are called "The Fulani Jihads."

Now Islam is on the move again. A whole new expansion thrust began just prior to and during the Reformation. Ottoman Muslims took Constantinople in 1453. From that time on through the lifetimes of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, Muslims were pounding at various European borders, like Vienna. All this military activity kept Holy Roman Empire armies busy while the Reformation quietly unfolded in Germany, France, and Switzerland. In the process, new territories came under Islamic jurisdiction-Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Hungary, Macedonia, and Rumania.

Hungary came under Muslim control in 1526, the same year the Muslim Mughal dynasty established rule in Delhi, India. Muslim power came to control Sumatra and Java in 1550, Zanzibar in 1652. After the colonialization of Africa, Islam experienced a significant growth across that continent, mostly by peaceful means, expanding rapidly after 1880.

More lately, Islam's move has been of quite a different nature. Large migrations of Muslims began to move into Europe following World War II and the gradual erosion of colonialism. The outbreak of tribal wars and the more recent phenomenon of "ethnic cleansing" have displaced millions of people, a great number of these uprooted immigrants being Muslims, looking for a life better than their homelands have to offer. They find haven under the democracies of Australia, Europe, North America, and the United Kingdom. Their migration is steady and sizeable. Pray that Christians in these nations would reach out in love and compassion to them.


This map shows an almost solid block of Muslims from Senegal to Pakistan. Much of this land is desolate desert, but other areas hold some of the highest concentrations of people on the face of the earth. Ordinary Muslims in many of these countries would not know anyone who is not a Muslim. Pray for Christians to go to these places, including the desolate areas, as witnesses for Christ to those that have never heard.


While the previous map shows how solidly Islam stretches across a vast connected geographical area, this map gives a much better picture of the population concentration breakdowns.

While Arab lands have spotty population patterns with people concentrated along ocean coasts, oases, and rivers, the dense populations of the Indo-Pakistani peoples are some of the heaviest anywhere. In fact, by far the largest number of Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent: Pakistan (150,349,015), India (126,707,722), and Bangladesh (110,556,810) for a total of 387,613,547 people. Next are the Arab peoples of North Africa and the Middle East (247,225,000 - including the Berbers and the people of Northern Sudan). Third are the peoples of Indonesia (171,032,517) and Malaysia (12,901,556), totaling together 183,934,073.

We say "peoples" intentionally because many of these countries have one or two national languages and then a host of tribal languages. While Islam puts a dominating mark on each language group, many societies have been able to maintain much of their own culture under an umbrella of Islam. Pray for these people groups to have access to the Good News, despite the difficult political situation in many of these nations.


In most lands where Muslim populations are heavily concentrated, the Church is weak, or hardly present. In former "Christian" lands like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, the Church is shrinking rapidly. In some former "Christian" lands like Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Northern Sudan, and Turkey, churches of the past have almost, if not totally, disappeared under the stringent rule of Islam. In places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nigeria, there is constant tension between Christians and Muslims.

Pray daily for the Christians who live under Muslim rule. Pray for their churches that they may catch a vision of evangelism for their Muslim neighbors in spite of the great dangers in sharing their faith. Pray for their families that they may be true centers of outgoing love in the communities in which they live.


The Christian Church is growing leaps and bounds in sub-Sahara Africa, but it is rapidly shrinking in the land which gave our Savior safe haven when his life was in danger as an infant. So much so that a map like this does not even recognize a Christian presence in Egypt.

Unfortunately, many sub-Saharan areas are also areas of serious conflict. While politics, economics, ethnicity, and social stratification play a big role in fostering conflict, strong religious elements enter into the picture to dramatically complicate each situation.

The tension in two of these nations-one the largest land mass nation in sub-Sahara (Sudan), the other, the most populous in Africa (Nigeria)-arise because of Muslim efforts to impose Shari'a Law on the people. Each such imposition raises disturbing questions about where minority religious groups fit into the picture when Islamic Law becomes the law of the land. Islam's track record in dealing with minorities from a human rights perspective is not very good. In fact, it seems that minority groups fared better under early Muslim rulers than has been the case in modern times. Pray for the Christians in these countries to be ministers of reconciliation between Muslims and Christians and with God.

The Church, too, is growing very rapidly in Africa. In many areas Christians and Muslims live and work side by side, participating in one another's religious celebrations. Other areas of the world can learn from the example of this communal harmony. At the same time, the two religious communities-even when living side by side-are very ignorant of each other and the beliefs and practices of the other. Christians, motivated by the Great Commission, have an obligation to break through Muslim and Christian ignorance in an effort to make Jesus known as He really is, crucified, resurrected, and returning-Savior for all!


Iran is the single largest center of Shia Islam in the world. Its Muslim population is an estimated 67,038,717 (99%). Outside Iran, smaller Shia populations reside in eastern Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.

Most Sunni Muslims look at Shia Islam as a perversion of Islam-this because the Shia believe that an inspired leader's voice or declarations (like that of the Aga Khan in Ismaili Islam or Ayatollah Khomeini, former ruler of Iran) stand above the voice of the Quran.

Many Shia have emigrated out of their countries of origin into the West; some even into Japan.

It is important for those witnessing to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus among Muslims to know with whom they are dealing - whether Sunni or Shia. It is even more important, however, that they recognize and meet them in their linguistic, cultural settings. Pray for cultural knowledge and sensitivity for these workers.


If India had not been subdivided into three nations (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan), it would be the single largest Muslim country in the world. As is, India has overtaken Bangladesh and will soon move past Pakistan to become the second most populous Muslim nation behind Indonesia. This distinction is all the more unique in that Islam is still a minority religion in India (an estimated 12 % of the population).

By comparing the Christian population with the Muslim, you can see what a huge challenge rests upon the few (by comparison) Christians in the country! Indian Christians could benefit, and already are benefiting, from partnerships with ministries outside India. Pray for more Indians to reach out to their Muslim neighbors and for partnerships that will accelerate the work.

Note: Population estimates from Johnstone, Operation World 2001.

10/15/02For comments on this web site, write Return to GMI Home Page