Algerians Alienated from Islam Are Turning to Christ
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany
When recounting the history of the early Islamic Futuhat, I get tears in my eyes as I reflect on the disappearance of the Christian Church in North Africa. This tragedy took place in a part of the world that, prior to the rise of Islam, had made significant contributions to the historic Christian Faith. One of the greatest North Africans was Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). All Christian traditions know what an important role he played in the formation of the seminal Church doctrines that constitute Christianity. His legacy contributed in an important way to the rise of the Protestant Reformation.
During the 19th century, Protestant missionaries went to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and sought to re-plant the Gospel in those countries after many years of Islamic hegemony over the land and people. The opposition to their work was great, and the few converts who came to experience liberation from Islam endured great persecutions when their conversions became public.
During my 36 years of radio missions to the Arabic-speaking world (1958-1994), I developed a special interest in the growing number of North African listeners who corresponded with Saatu’l Islah (Reformation Hour) requesting the Bible-based literature we offered. I will never forget those letters from Algeria in the early 1960s, written by members of the FLN (the French acronym for Front de la Liberation Nationale.) Those correspondents were involved in the war against France, which had colonized their country since the middle of the 19th century.
Over the years, I mailed thousands of Arabic books and tracts to my North African listeners acquainting them with the claims of the Biblical Messiah. I remember one listener who, upon receiving my book Freedom in Christ, spent two weeks in prison after being charged with communicating with a “subversive” organization!
So it was with great pleasure that I read about two years ago on Elaph, an Arabic online daily, the text of a lecture delivered at a Conference held at Zurich, Switzerland, on The Plight of Women and Minorities in the Middle East and North Africa, (24-26 March, 2007.) The title of one lecture was: The Christians of the Maghreb under the Rule of Islamists (*).
I quote some pertinent parts to illustrate the wonderful news that the Christian Church is being re-established in that important region of Africa.
“The New Christians’ phenomenon throughout the Arab Maghreb has come to the attention of the media. For example, the weekly journal, Jeune Afrique, devoted three reports on this subject with respect to Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. In March 2005, the French daily Le Monde devoted a complete report about this topic. And Al-‘Arabiyya TV channel telecast two reports on the subject that had been recorded in the Kabyle district of Algeria.
“Jeune Afrique estimated that the number of people who have embraced Christianity in Tunisia was around 500, belonging to three churches. A report on the website of “Al-Islam al-Yawm” prepared by Lidriss el-Kenbouri, and dated 23 April 2005, estimated the number of European evangelists in Morocco to be around 800, and that quite often, their evangelistic efforts are successful. The report further added that around 1,000 Moroccans had left Islam during 2004. The magazine “Al-Majalla”, in its No. 1394 issue, claimed that the number of New Christians in Morocco was around 7,000; perhaps the exact number may be as high as 30,000.
“The report that appeared in the French daily Le Monde claimed that during 1992, between 4,000 and 6,000 Algerians embraced Christianity in the Kabyle region of Algeria. By now, their numbers may be in the tens of thousands. However, the authorities are mum about this subject, as an Algerian government official put it; ‘the number of those who embraced Christianity is a state secret.’”
The paper mentioned several important factors that led people to convert to Christianity:
“When we enquired from those who had come over to the Christian faith to learn about the factors that led to their conversion, they mentioned several factors, among them was ‘The violence of the fundamentalist Islamist movements.’ A Christian evangelist working in Algeria reported: ‘These terrible events shocked people greatly. It proved that Islam was capable of unleashing all that terror, and those horrific massacres! Even children were not spared during the uprising of the Islamists! Women were raped! Many people began to ask: Where is Allah? Some Algerians committed suicide! Others lost their minds; others became atheists, and still others chose the Messiah!’”
“Quite often, the ‘New Christians’ testified to the fact that what they discovered in their new faith was love; it formed another factor in their conversion. These are some of their words: ‘We found out that in Christianity, God is love.’ ‘God loves all people.’ ‘What attracted us to Christianity is its teaching that God is love.’”
The testimonies of these new Maghrebi Christians are heartwarming. The Christian message came to them through various means, but it struck them as a word of a loving God in search for His lost sheep. They embraced the Messiah who died on the cross, and rose again for their justification. Notwithstanding all the difficulties that they were to face in the future, they clung to the Biblical Injil that had brought them peace with God, and the gift of eternal life.
Almost two years after the Zurich Conference that dealt with the plight of Maghrebi Christians, I was overjoyed to read the following report posted on 22 January, 2009, on the Arabic-language Aafaq (Horizons) website (*). It detailed the news of young Algerians who have converted to Christianity as they became ever more alienated from Islam. Here are excerpts from the report datelined Algiers:
“Some Amazigh1 websites have disclosed that many Algerian young people have left Islam and adopted Christianity. They confessed that they did so due to the ugliness of the crimes perpetrated by the Salafist ‘Da’wa and Combat Movement’ against civilians. They were tremendously disappointed and disenchanted with Islam, claiming that it was responsible for nurturing these Jihadists who have been terrorizing and murdering innocent people.
“The website noted that the spread of Christianity in Algeria has even reached areas that were entirely under the influence of the Islamists, such as in eastern Algeria. Furthermore, the Christian expansion in the country was not due exclusively to missionary organizations, as certain Islamic groups claim. The reason is to be found in Islam itself. It has been associated in the minds of the youth with Irhab, assassinations, and crimes against innocent people. They remember that many of the crimes were committed during the 1990s, and occurred in distant villages of Algeria when young women were abducted, taken to the mountains as “captives,” gang-raped, and then killed by having their throats slit. Such horrific scenes took place in Algeria over several years and resulted in the very word “Islamic” becoming synonymous with Irhab!
“The report added that in Islam a woman is regarded as an enemy that must be fought with all means. She must be punished for the simplest mistake, while men go unpunished when they commit similar misdeeds. Thus, a woman is held responsible for the simplest act, and is liable to be put to death, since she is by nature a “Shaytana” i.e. a female Satan. This seriously misguided and misogynist view of women causes young men to worry about their own sisters, and be anxious about their future daughters as well.
“It went on to explain that the Irhabis who committed those awful crimes against women held to a view of Islam that took for granted that discrimination between the sexes is normal. They believe in the notion that the bed is the sole reason for a woman’s existence. In northern Algeria alone, 5,000 women were raped. This Amazigh source regards these radicals as ‘Allah’s guards on earth’ who refuse to act as civilized human beings.
“The website ended its comments on the alienation of Algerian youth by stating that as long as Islam is unable to get out of its closed circle, and evolve according to the requirements of a civil society that is open to love, tolerance, and coexistence with others; it will continue to alienate more young people. Ultimately, it is the actions of the Irhabis that have been responsible for the Christianization of more than 20,000 Algerians during the bloody and dark decade of the 1990s.”
I was thrilled by this piece of news, especially because it appeared on a widely-read Arabic-language site. Within 5 days (by 27 January) 17 comments were posted on the aafaq website. Five demanded that the Sharia Law of Apostasy should be applied to the converts; and should they refuse to revert to Islam, they must be put to death.
A few comments claimed that Islam was not responsible for the acts of the Islamists. Two comments quoted from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” Other comments criticized severely those who asked for the murder of the apostates.
We need to learn more about the growth of the Church in North Africa since the Western media show little interest in the spread of the Gospel in Daru’l Islam. Furthermore, this information is extremely important to Western Christians who are being told by some experts on missions, known nowadays as “missiologists,” that Muslims converting to the Lord Jesus Christ, need not stop their former Islamic practices such as attending the Friday services at the mosque, or fasting during Ramadan.
This novel “missionary” theory is known as the “Insider Movement.” It is being offered enthusiastically by some Evangelicals as a “quick fix” to solve the problem of the paucity of fruits in missions to Muslims.
Actually, it is a serious departure from the Biblical teachings for missions in this New Testament era. As a European Evangelical colleague described this movement, “I think this is a horrible heresy into which many missionaries and even churches are getting.”
It is my fervent hope that we pay more attention to the Biblical directives on missions, especially those of Saint Paul. For notwithstanding the Jewish and Gentile outright rejection of the gospel of the cross, Paul did not hesitate to proclaim in I Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved, it is the power of God (dunamis Theou estin.)” The basis of our salvation is the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ; and its instrumental means is the kerygma, i.e., the Word of the Cross, whether it is formally preached by a minister of the Gospel, or given as a marturia (testimony) by a Christian. Paul expanded on this basic missionary doctrine in verse 21: “For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, it pleased God, through the foolishness of the preached message (kerygmatos) to save those who believe.”
Indeed, I cannot hide my joy when I hear news about the rebirth of the Christian Church in North Africa. I praise God for the boldness of these new Amazigh Christians who are not ashamed of the Cross of their Savior, but place its symbol in the humble meeting room where they worship Him (see the picture displayed in the Arabic article on Aafaq). I am mostly thankful that their example is a loud rebuke and rebuttal to the claims of those Western Christians who are peddling their unbiblical theories of missions, and thus departing from twenty centuries of missionary principles and practices.