Thursday, July 19, 2012

Iranian Refugees' Interest in Christianity

Iranian Converts
Photo by Kairospress

An extremely interesting article by Matthias Pankau and Uwe Siemon-Netto, "The Other Iranian Revolution," appeared in Christianity Today (7/17/2012), reporting on Christian converts among Iranian refugees living in Germany:
[Apparently, there are] countless reports of Muslims having visions of Jesus. According to . . . [those] interviewed for this article, most of these appearances follow a pattern reported by converts throughout the Islamic world: Muslims see a figure of light, sometimes bearing the features of Christ, sometimes not. But they instantly know who he is. He always makes it clear that he is Jesus of the Bible, not Isa of the Qur'an, and he directs them to specific pastors, priests, congregations, or house churches, where they later hear the gospel.
How did these conversions get started?
Twelve years ago, Trinity Parish in Leipzig, a tiny congregation of the Independent Lutheran Church, began teaching German as a second language to asylum seekers awaiting government approval of their refugee status.

Trinity used Luther's Bible translation as a textbook. Linguists credit that translation with having created the modern German language. Intrigued by what they read, several exiles asked to be baptized. They brought along friends who also wished to learn the basics of the Christian faith. "Today, one third of our 150 members are Persians," says Markus Fischer, Trinity's pastor.
That's the story in Germany, anyway, but there's a broader answer, for Iranians have been converting to Christianity since the 1980s, repelled by Iran's Shi'ite Islamist government, with its system of enforced Islamic law, and attracted by Christianity, with its emphasis upon grace rather than law. Or as one German pastor explains:
"Islam is like a rope ladder on which people try to reach God . . . . They manage to climb a few rungs, but with each sin, fall off the ladder and must start all over again. Christians, by contrast, need no ladder because Jesus comes down to earth for them. Christians have salvation. Muslims don't."
Also, Iranian refugees tend to be well-educated, and among educated Iranians, Islam has lost a lot of moral legitimacy due to Iran's theocratic system, or so the article says. But I would add two more things. Shi'ite Islam in some forms speaks of a divine spark or divine light within the early caliph they honor, Ali, so the Christian concept of Jesus as both human and divine is not so foreign, and Ali's suffering at his death -- betrayed and dying of thirst -- can recall the death of Jesus. But religious concepts aside, Iranians are very proud of their pre-Islamic civilization and don't accept the Islamic view that everything pre-Islamic was mere ignorance, what Muslims call jahiliyya, a very negative expression. Iranians tend to see Islam as an Arab ideology and Islamization as Arabization, and I think there's merit to their opinion.

Whatever the motivation, these conversions are certainly a phenomenon to keep one's eyes on in the shifting kaleidoscope of contemporary European multiculturalism.

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