In the past 50 years we’ve seen some major changes take place in the relationship between Europe and Islam, which some have labelled the greatest religio-demographic change on the European continent since the time of the Reformation. First of all, since the 1950s Western Europe has seen the arrival of migrant workers, inhabitants of former European colonies, and asylum-seekers, many of whom came from Muslim countries. In the Eastern part of Europe, the political changes in the 1990s as a result of the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire, have affected the status of Muslim communities. The Islamic religious institutions of the Balkans experience a clear renewal of activity. For many centuries Muslims lived in distant lands, but with about 50 million adherents, Islam has become the second-largest religion in Europe, we find Muslims in most of the European cities and towns.
The assassination of TV producer, Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam; the suicide bombings in the London underground and the trains in Madrid; the riots in several cities throughout France; the wars in the Balkans between Christian Serbs and Muslim Albanians; the growing influence of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, all seem to indicate that Islam is a threat to the stability and well-being of Europe. Some say Islam is not willing or able to embrace the European values such as democracy and freedom of speech and they believe there is no place for Islam in Europe.
Christians also need to come to grips with the growing influence of Islam in Europe, which seems to coincide with the decline of churches in so many of our countries. Some fear that Islam will become the major religion in Europe in the next 50 to 100 years but such predictions ignore what God is doing both in his churches in Europe and among Muslims.
Never before have there been more opportunities for Christians to share the Gospel with Muslims. European Christians, who for centuries ignored the world of Islam in their missionary efforts, now find themselves living in the same cities, or even the same streets, as Muslims who used to live in so-called ‘closed’ countries. We now don’t have to travel to distant lands, but just need to cross the street to meet Muslims.
Unfortunately, as was the case with Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ time (see John 4:9), Christians and Muslims often do not associate with each other. The reason might be that there is no place in the heart of Christians for their Muslim neighbors. This means that Muslims, who want to know about the true meaning of the Christian faith, only see the outward forms of Christianity, instead of seeing the Christian faith lived out on a daily basis in the lives of disciples of Jesus. Many young immigrants, born in Muslim families, are not religious, but due to their weak social situation and experiences of discrimination, they may turn to Islam as a means of finding an identity.
Wouldn’t it be great if those searching for identity would turn to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world? But how can they, when His representatives keep their distance? It is my prayer that each of the more than 50 million Muslims in Europe will have at least one Christian friend: a friend who loves them enough to share their life with them, who is interested in them, who is willing to treat them as a person and not as a potential terrorist, a friend who shows them what Christ is able to do in lives that are submitted to Him. Will you be such a friend? Will you pray that Christians in Europe will become such friends to Muslims in Europe?
Bert de Ruiter, Amsterdam