Analysis: Why Muslims Follow Jesus

The number of new Christians in the world each year surpasses that of new Muslims, with the major growth for Protestants coming through conversion.

And the experience that most influenced Muslims was the lifestyle of Christians, according to a recently released survey that offers a glimpse into why Muslims are opening their hearts to the Gospel and Jesus Christ.

The survey, conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies between 1991 to 2007 among 750 Muslims that had decided to follow Christ, was able to track some influences that helped the converts make their decision. The respondents were from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups – representing every major region of the Muslim world.

According to the survey, some participants said that they saw no discrepancy between what Christians preached and what they practiced in their lives.

An Egyptian said he recognized the contrast between the love of a Christian group at an American university and the unloving ways of Muslim students and faculty at a university in Medina, according to an article on the survey featured in Christianity Today magazine.

Others noted that Christians treat women as equals and Christians have loving marriages.

"Many Muslims who faced violence at the hands of other Muslims did not see it in the Christians they knew…," wrote the survey's authors – Dr. J. Dudley Woodberry, Russell G. Shubin, and G. Marks – in Christianity Today. "Muslim-on-Muslim violence has led to considerable disillusionment for many Muslims…."

The next most important influence was the power of God to answer prayers as well as healing. These revelations of God include supernatural intervention such as Christian prayers healing disabled people when Muslims could not and deliverance from demonic powers.

The third most popular influence listed by respondents was dissatisfaction with the Islam they have followed. The former Muslims said they were unhappy with the Qur'an, which they said emphasized God's punishment more than His love and the use of violence to impose Islamic laws.

"This disillusionment is broad in the Muslim world. Many Iranians became interested in the gospel after the Khomeini revolution of 1979 brought in rule by clergy. Pakistanis became more receptive after President Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) tried to implement Islamic law. And Afghans became more open after Islamist Taliban conquest and rule (1994-2001)," the authors noted.

It is also noteworthy that more than one in four respondents (27 percent) said dreams and visions were a factor in their decision to commit themselves to follow Christ. For 40 percent of respondents, visions or dreams occurred at the time of conversion, and for 45 percent they occurred after they committed to following Christ.

Moreover many converts were attracted to the assurance of salvation and forgiveness. In Islam, God forgives and punishes whoever He will so Muslims have no certainty of salvation. But in Christianity, a person can be sure of their salvation if they place their faith in Jesus Christ.

Muslims who read the Bible were also convinced that the Bible is the truth and were attracted to the unconditional love of God.

The survey noted that although the number of new Christians each year is greater than the number of new Muslims, the annual growth rate of Muslims (1.81 percent), however, is higher than for Christians (1.23 percent), according to the article.

The Islamic studies expert said the higher Muslim growth rate is "hardly surprising" because there is a larger Christian population so more people need to become Christians for the growth rate to increase.

Editor's Note: J. Dudley Woodberry is a professor of Islamic studies at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif., and served in the Muslim world for many years. Russell G. Shubin is the deputy director of national news and publications for Salem Communications in Camarillo, Calif. G. Marks has ministered in Malawi.