In 1939 a Syrian Scholar Shakib Arslan wrote a book entitled: “Why did the Muslims become backwards while others progressed?” It is a valid question that could still be asked today. The Middle East was once the cradle of Civilisation. It is centrally located for trading purposes and has year-round sunny skies for the fascinating tourist destinations. Its economic prosperity should be skyrocketing. Instead, most of the Mideast languishes in pre-industrialised backwardness.
The Mideast includes 200 million Arabs and the non Arab Turkey and Iran. Over 92 percent of the total population of the Mideast are Muslims. Over a quarter of work age Arabs are jobless and a far higher percentage cannot read or write. Every year millions of villagers migrate to the shanty towns, slums and even graveyards of Casablanca, Algiers, Cairo, Tehran and other sprawling urban conglomerations.
Tuberculosis, typhoid and dysentery are common causes of adult deaths. The infant mortality rate is appalling. Violent bread riots have erupted in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Iran – most were dispersed with live ammunition, killing thousands.
In Algeria, Muslim extremists murder an average of a thousand people a week. Schools are bombed, villages napalmed and forests destroyed. Not surprisingly, millions have emigrated to Western Europe.
The ancient Mideast supplied much of the world's food. Today it has become a net food importer. In Algeria less than half of college graduates find work and when they do, it's usually with the government. One in four Iranians are illiterate and jobless. With an almost complete absence of social mobility, middle classes in the Middle East are so small that there is a huge gap between the thin upper crust of wealthy rulers and the vast impoverished masses under them.
Three major world religions trace their origins to the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The emotional involvement of each of these three religions in the region has contributed to the instability of the Mideast. The 50 year confrontation between Israel and surrounding Arab nations has received most of the media coverage. However, it is the ongoing conflict between the two main branches of Islam, the Sunni and the Shi’a, which actually is the source of most of the conflicts.
The contest between these rival forms of Islam, each vying for power and predominance has stimulated violent factions and intense intolerance of dissent.
Since 1948 the Arab world has suffered 62 successful revolutions and at least 73 unsuccessful revolutions. Only one of the 21 Arab states – Lebanon – could, at one stage, be considered a true democracy. Virtually all the others had one party systems or dictatorships. In the Arab world, revolutions have been the most common means of attaining power and assassinations have been the most prevalent means of political expression. Since 1948, 36 Heads of State were murdered. In addition, more than 100 other major political assassinations have been recorded.
As far as diplomatic relations between Arab states go – there have been over 30 inter-Arab wars and civil wars since 1948. In the Yemen Civil war, Egypt used poison gas against Yemeni tribesmen and Iraq has used chemical warfare against Kurdish civilians.
The disunity of the Arab world and these political upheavals have unsettled Muslims and the harsh extremism of Islamic fundamentalism has eroded their confidence in Islam. The impact of modern technology has also highlighted the inadequacies of Islam to provide relevant answers for everyday life.
Rather than build their wealth through hard work and ingenuity, mideastern oil princes tend to have had the good fortune to have had it discovered under their feet. Even their (foreign) engineers and technicians have had to be brought in to extract, refine and market the oil. In Saudi Arabia, over 60 percent of its skilled labourers are foreigners.
The financial return on every third oil barrel has been spent on weapons of war. The Gulf War alone cost Arab states an estimated $620 Billion. Iran spends 14 percent of its total budget on military weapons, yet only 4 percent on education. In Libya, while vast stockpiles of military hardware are rotting in the desert heat, Muammar Gaddafi decided to spend $35 billion on an artificial river – which would evaporate and dry up before it could bring much benefit to anyone.
These examples provide some insights as to the nature of Islam. It is an aggressive religion, based upon hatred and it results in continuous conflict and death. Military power is preferred over educational foundations. Its costs are crippling, its promises are extravagant, yet it fails to satisfy the deep spiritual hunger and thirst of the human soul.
The birthplace of the early Church is now the most desperately needy mission field in the world!
Yet, in the midst of this inhospitable environment, some tenacious Christian communities survive. Millions of Christians in Egypt, Sudan and Lebanon have endured centuries of persecution. Smaller groups of Christians (less than a thousand in each country) have maintained a muted but steadfast witness in Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen.
Those Arab lands which are effectively closed to the Gospel and are without a single known indigenous evangelical church includes: Mauritania, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE. In each of these lands, however, there are groups of expatriate believers and secret converts.
The Christian communities in the Mideast are all under increasing pressure. There are financial and tax inducements to convert to Islam, job discrimination and often violent persecution. They desperately lack Christian literature (particularly Bibles) and leadership training. Yet they are succeeding in bringing Muslims to Christ – especially in Sudan!
Christians worldwide need to rally behind our beleaguered brethren in the Middle East and help provide them with the resources, encouragement and prayer needed to win back these lands for Christ.
“The desert tribes will bow before Him . . . All Kings will bow down to Him and all nations will serve Him . . . All nations will be blessed through Him . . . May the whole earth be filled with His glory.” Psalm 72:9-19
Dr. Peter Hammond