Religious Fault Line

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.

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  • Grandpa Tom

    Mary and the Muslims. The following text is from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book; “The World’s First Love, Mary, Mother of God” Sheen in chapter 17 (p.204-208) on Mary and the Muslims, Sheen predicts: Islam will eventually be converted to Christianity. Not through direct Christianity, but through a summons of the Muslims to a veneration of the Mother of God. Sheen argues: The Koran, the Bible of the Muslims has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. They believe in the Immaculate Conception, Annunciation, Vistation, and Virgin Birth. The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary’s family in a geneology that goes back through Abraham, Noah, and Adam. In the ninteenth chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. Mary for the Muslims is the True Sayyida, or Lady. The only rival in their creed would be Fatima, the beautiful daughter of Mohammed himself. After the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: “Thou shall be the most blessed of all women in Paradise, after Mary.”
    Sheen says this brings us to the second point, namely, why would the Blessed Mother in the twenthieth century, should reveal herself in the insignificant village of Fatima? Sheen believes that the Blessed Mother chose to be known as “Our Lady Of Fatima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Muslim people, that they who show her so much respect, will one day accept Her Divine Son too. Sheen says: Evidence to support this view is found in the historical fact that the Muslims occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time they were finally driven out, the last Muslim Chief had a beautiful daughter named Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and she for him not only stayed behind, but even embraced the faith. The young husband to show his love for her changed the name of the town to Fatima. Thus the very place where Our Lady appeared in 1917 bears historical connection to Fatima, daughter of Mohammed.
    Sheen writes: The final evidence is the enthusiastic reception that the Muslims of Africa and India and elsewhere gave to the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima (Muslims attend churche services to Our Lady); they allowed religious processions and prayers before their mosques; and in Mozambique, the Muslims, who were unconverted became Christian when the statue of Our Lady of Fatima became erected. Sheen says: In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which the people already accept. Because the Muslims have a devotion to Mary, our missionaires should expand and develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Muslims the rest of the way to her Divine Son. Sheen says: Another approach is taking the forty-first chapter of the Koran and showing them it was taken out of the Gospel of Luke, that Mary could not be, even in their own eyes, the most blessed of all women in Heaven if she had not also borne One Who was the Savior of the world. If Judith and Ester of the Old Testiment were prefigures of Mary, then it may be that Fatima is a postfigure of Mary! The Muslims should acknowledge that if Fatima must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all other mothers of the world, and that without Christ she would be nothing.