Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar once promised his audience during a mass rally in Gaza that “Islam will enter every house and will spread over the entire world;” more recently, the mufti of the Jordan-based Palestine Liberation Army seems to have entertained similar hopes.
Maybe it’s people like Zahar and the militant mufti that Walter Russell Mead has in mind when he notes that a new report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life “will make a lot of people unhappy.” Mhm, and Mead’s headline won’t be much of a consolation for those unhappy people, either: “The Missionaries Win: Christianity Becomes Global Religious Superpower.”
Mead highlights some of the most important findings of the report:
Christianity in the last one hundred years grew to become the world’s most widespread and diverse religion as well as the largest. Roughly one third of the world’s almost seven billion people are (or at least say they are) Christian. The second largest religion, Islam, claims about one fourth of the world’s population.
The most dramatic change in the last 100 years is Christianity’s global surge. In 1910, there were about 9 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pew survey reports. Today there are more than half a billion. This fact is of interest to geopoliticians as much as to believers: sub-Saharan Africa remains the scene of intense Christian-Muslim competition, a competition that frequently breaks out into violence. The Christians appear to be winning the “race for Africa” at least for now as more than 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africans look to the Cross rather than to the Crescent. As the US increases its presence in Africa, the common religious orientation will likely make for better and deeper ties.
In another major development, Christianity has achieved a significant presence on the mainland of Asia. […] the future of Christianity as a global faith will likely depend on what happens in countries in East, South and Southeast Asia. […]
As Mead points out, religious demography is a problematic field, but the Pew report provides the most reliable information available – and, so says the professor, because “familiarity with religious history, religious culture and religious demography is essential for anybody who aspires to be a serious student of world affairs; this Pew report is not to be missed.”
To add just one observation from the report’s executive summary – which explains why Zahar and the militant mufti are so upbeat about the ultimate victory of Islam:
Though Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, today that region has both the lowest concentration of Christians (about 4% of the region’s population) and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.
Particularly in the Christmas season, it’s popular in some quarters to blame one of the Middle East’s tiniest countries for the plight of the region’s Christian population…
Perhaps less known is the fact that due to an influx of Christian workers and refugees, some think that there are “enough newcomers now for a Catholic cathedral in every major Israeli city.”
Another piece of rather surprising news can be found at the website of the National Catholic Reporter, where a lengthy post under the hopeful title “Liberating the Christian voice in the Arab Spring” claims that
Israel is not the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is experiencing growth. Statistics provided at last October’s Synod for the Middle East show that of the sixteen nations that make up the Middle East, seven have seen spikes in their Christian population since 1980: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen. All are part of the Arabian Peninsula.
No doubt in all these places – and particularly in Saudi Arabia – construction workers are frantically building cathedrals and churches to provide the “spiking” Christian population with adequate places for worship…
And sadly, as far as the (equally unrealistic) hopes about the “Arab Spring” are concerned, it seems that almost 100 000 Egyptian Copts have already given up any such hopes and left their country.