In early March, more than 500 Christians in Jos, Nigeria, were killed by what the New York Times called “rampaging Muslim herdsmen.”
The killings were only the latest outbreak of violence in Nigeria’s Plateau State, which sits on the dividing line between the country’s mainly Christian south and Muslim north.
It’s also part of a larger conflict between “a surging Christianity” and what Penn State professor Phillip Jenkins calls “an unyielding Islam.”
In the pre-dawn hours, Muslim Fulani herdsmen set the homes of Christian villagers on fire and then killed the occupants, mostly women and children, as they fled. The resulting massacre left a scene that a Doctors Without Borders representative called “unreal.”
Why did they attack women and children? The Times said it was “apparently in reprisal for similar attacks on Muslims in January.” But the Times didn’t give any details about these so-called similar attacks.
A subsequent report quotes a proud perpetrator saying that Christians killed “a lot of our Fulanis in January,” but provides no evidence of these attacks besides his allegations.
A businessman spoke for many Christians when he said that Muslims believe they “are born to rule” and want to drive our indigenous Christian population out.
We have good reason to think he is correct. Professor Philip Jenkins of Penn State places what happened in Nigeria in a global context. He says a “tectonic plate of religious and cultural confrontation runs across West and Northwest Africa, through Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.”
This line of confrontation, about 10 degrees north of the equator, marks the boundaries between traditionally Muslim areas and increasingly Christian ones.
It’s the “increasingly” part that really matters. According to Jenkins, “one factor driving Islamic militancy in many nations is the sense that Christianity is growing.” It used to be that these were animist areas to the south. The people were considered inferior by the Muslims. And if they did convert, it would be to Islam.
But the explosive growth of Christianity, especially in Africa, changed that. Christianity is now competing with Islam, and is even making inroads among some Muslim groups, especially women. The “Jesus” film has become, in Jenkins’ words, a “weapon of mass instruction,” and those being instructed are often Muslims.
As a result, “even nonpolitical Muslims” worry that their grandchildren might become infidels.
This accelerating “Christian expansion…in what should have been dependable Muslim territory” is one factor helping to drive the growth of a “new and highly militant form of Islam.”
What’s happening in Nigeria and all along the 10th parallel suggests that what Samuel Huntington called a “clash of civilizations,” but is in reality, a religious divide running around the girth of the world and into Europe.
Which is all the more reason for us to lovingly and peacefully present the Gospel to those Muslims who are showing increasing interest in Christianity. If Jenkins is right, this is the best antidote to the continuing, tragic violence.