Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Empty Mosques of London

Arab Orthodoxy links an interesting interview with a former Muslim preacher who recently converted to Orthodoxy in Great Britain. The story is a bit counter-intuitive, as one is so accustomed to reading of Europe's empty churches and creeping Islamization. From the perspective of the newly-illumined Daniel, a different story emerges. Not that Western European Christianity is not anemic--it is, but rather that the supposed Islamic community is far weaker in faith than generally understood.

Daniel was born in the U.K. and has traveled and studied throughout the Islamic world, engaging in Muslim missions in a number of countries. Oddly enough, he claims he first desired to study the New Testament while standing in front of the Kaaba in Mecca. Even with the strict prohibition against Christian literature in Saudi Arabia, Daniel maintains that with modern communications, "it is not difficult for those who are looking to find the Word of God." He was encouraged by the strength and conviction of Christians he talked with secretly in Saudi Arabia.

Daniel first encountered the Orthodox faith in Sarajevo. After waiting for a group of Imams to pass by, I went into the Serbian church and I felt the astonished look of the Serbian priest when I made the sign of the cross in the Orthodox way and I made a prostration onto the ground. Then I knew that Orthodoxy was, of all the Christian confessions, the closest to me.

Daniel maintains that the Christian West does not understand the true status of Islam.

Muslims of today are rather less religious than people in the Christian world believe. In Muslim countries, there are many mosques and they say prayers there five times a day, but besides on Friday no one goes to the mosque.

In Muslim countries, many people search for truth and it’s because of this that the Christian mission will grow....In general, many Muslims distance themselves from Islam and this is especially visible in Western countries. In Great Britain, many Muslims have converted to Christianity. In the Anglican Church, Muslims who have adopted Christianity are estimated at a hundred thousand people. Many of them are Pakistanis. They have their own Christian churches and are forced to hide because of the danger of reprisals from the Muslims.

Most Muslims won’t ever go to a mosque. The young people have effectively left Islam, even if they say that they’re still Muslims. is to the advantage of certain people to present Islam as an immense force. If one takes the list of mosques in Muslim publications, for example, in West London, we find that there are twenty mosques and much free space in each of these mosques, even though the number of people of Muslim origins in London is such that they would need even more mosques if a majority went....In general, believers are very rare in mosques and most are children who bring their parents. When they grow, they disappear. Christianity offers a free choice, thus it is much better adapted to life in a climate of tolerance, and Islam is unable to pass this test.

I was a part of the Islamic mission to the British and I can say that the number of converts is minimal. At Friday prayers in the center of London, the number of British Muslims at the mosque is maybe one percent. Outside of London, they don’t even reach this number. All the Muslims know the real number of converts to Islam.

When some Muslims say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, London imams say that this growth is primarily because of the fertility rate, but there is no real mission. I do not doubt that Christianity is much stronger in terms of mission.

...there are very many [converts to Christian faith.] This happens without any publicity.

...many Muslims simply abandon their faith and become unbelievers. Unbelief is an illness common to all. Certain Muslims try to present atheism and the absence of religion as characteristics of Christian civilization, but Muslims themselves, even more than Christians, lose their faith in the Western world.

However, there is the very good example of Russia and the other Orthodox countries where the Church is growing, even with freedom of choice. I hope one day to go to Russia, but in the meantime I need to rebuild my life as an Orthodox Christian.

In Turkey, at least, one sees many near-empty mosques, even on Fridays. And I would not say that the situation was markedly different in Syria. And Daniel does have a point, even in Islamic countries, mosques are not chock-a-block in the way churches once were in Christian countries. But here is where I would draw a distinction: I do not believe that an empty mosque has the same meaning for Islam that empty churches do for the Christian faith. Empty churches speak ill for Christianity. Poor mosque attendance does not necessarily mean that its adherents are any less loyal to its teachings.

But maybe I am wrong. I would particularly like to hear from Muslims in regard to Daniel's claims.


Kerry said...

I've just discovered your blog while googling St. Isaac Skete (you visited it as part of a roadtrip you took a while back). Thanks so much for your efforts here. I'll certainly visit again.

Kontiki said...

Dear John
Here is a Muslim one speaking :)
1st I agree with you about that "Poor mosque attendance does not necessarily mean that its adherents are any less loyal to its teachings".
Same time if the mosque is totally full in each pray time that does not mean AT ALL that Muslims are really good , loyal and understand Islam teachings the correct way.
About Daniel's story I think the man is completely free to speak about his OWN EXPERIENCE I can not generalize his talk and said that it is confirmed to be the truth, also he is totally free to choose what to believe in or change it to what he feel will be the way to find rest and peace to his soul.
I guess the problem now between west and east is not a problem of two holy books bible and Qur'an both are words of God. It is about politics, it is about fear, I am Muslim I speak Arabic, English and Italian and I am not suicide bomber and it hurt me so much to see each and most of the news, movies come from west is totally generalize the idea that Muslims are ALL terrorists, barbarian & close minded people, same time feel bad for the western world when read news about attack & killing by people call them selves Muslims and truly they are not.
What I want to say that we are in the Arab and Muslim world face what you may call "regression" use the Islam and religion to control people, to control women and deny her rights, to make us weaker and weaker and busy thinking of very much useless religious topics and creating fake enemies of the western countries to make us busy to not think of our real problems of our country (economic, education, tax … etc).

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you Kontiki from me; always good to hear your PoV. And agree that, sadly, "It is about fear" and stereotypes as with much that separates people. I see it here in Australia, particularly with immigration, and I am sure it is similar elsewhere.

John said...


Thanks for the kind words.


I was hoping you would respond. Like Ian Climacus, I do appreciate your perspective. I found Daniel’s story particularly interesting as it ran so counter to what one usually reads. Here in the U.S., and in the U.K., there is a whole genre of writing that one might categorize as “Death of the West.” The basic premise of these articles is that the secular West—fat, happy, selfish and childless—has abandoned the very roots of its civilization, the Christian faith. Some writers have posited that in some places, the society is no longer even post-Christian, but in fact, pre-Christian. Particularly in the European context, this culture is no match for the younger, vibrant and committed Islamic immigrant community. Of course, there is much truth to this, though I sometimes think that both Europe’s demise and Islam’s ascendency are often overstated.

Daniel’s story (as do your comments) highlights the fact that Islam is not monolithic, and that Muslim immigrants to Europe are changed by secularism, just as the Europeans have been. And he suggests that conversions in the other direction (Islam to Christianity) are under-reported.

Now to your points: first, I appreciate you pointing out what should be just as obvious—that a full mosque may not necessarily speak to any great depth of understanding of the Islamic faith. Also, what you say about stereotyping people (East and West) is exactly right! My main exposure to the Islamic world has been in Turkey, though I have also traveled in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. What I have learned is this—that most people everywhere want much the same things. They want security and protection for their families, a stable economy in which one can make a living, and perhaps a little time off now and then. I admit to being frustrated with some of my Turkish acquaintances. They are highly intelligent, well-read people. And yet, they will believe the most outlandish conspiracy theories about the West. But the very same thing is true of us as well. The U.S. is much heralded as the “Leader of the Free World,” (or at least it once was), and yet the American people are either ill-informed or uninformed about the rest of the world. (This reminds me of a quip my friend here made. He does not read the local paper, maintaining that he would rather be uninformed than ill-informed.) Much of what the American people think they know about the rest of the world is just plain wrong. Every time I return from Turkey, a number of people will ask me “did you feel safe?” I answer, “of course I felt safe—that is, until I returned home.” Turkey is quite simply one of the easiest, safest places in the world to travel. But in much of the American public’s mind, it is exactly as you say—they equate Muslim with terrorist. For me, the arrogance that goes along with this attitude is very hard to stomach. As an individual, I sorely realize that one “pays for their pride.” But then, so do nations.

Anonymous said...

yes, Americans are funny that way. After visiting Moscow a few years back, I had several horrified acquaintances asking after my safety. I had the same response: I felt perfectly safe until I arrived back in New York...

Kontiki said...

Dear John
Sorry for being late but better than never, well, agree with you that western countries and American people may be ill-informed or uniformed about these Muslim people and Muslim countries but I have to make a certain point clear here , in Egypt till the year 1950 ( I wasn’t exist yet but I read history :D ) we were much better society (secular community) we were Muslims, Christian and Jewish live together as Egyptians no matter what your religion is, it was safe and better , now the extreme Islamic ideas that invade my country coming from kingdom of Saudi Arabia , Afghanistan and Iran , ideas & believes makes some Muslim people hate the other ( Egyptian Muslim hate Egyptian Christian and never accept Jewish ) think that the west is the enemy we must fight because they support Israel government and army who kill children and women in Palestine , American army fight el kaeda network in Afghanistan but also kill innocent people there , its mater of action and reaction the American army do so and so and American government support Israel so we must react , kill them which lead to terrorist attacks and hate … etc yes , this is the dark side of the story but I think there is a solution ( if we just have this PAUSE button ) , theses millions go to support army , weapons and wars should be directed to help people in the third world , imagine that we build a school in Afghanistan not F16 destroy a village , you know John if people in my country & other Arab & Islamic countries had a democratic governments ( that does not use religion issues as a drug to make people in a deep coma ) , good education , peaceful solution for maters like Palestine – Israeli conflict , Iraq ..Etc, if we find kind of justice , if every body make his / her relation with God in heart ONLY & never use it to be excuse to hate the other or support wars or terrorism may be then the world will be a different & better place .

Ps. Ari said...

Dear Kontiki,
I am very proud of you... God bless you...