Wake-Up Call for U.K. Churches
A woman covered head-to-toe in a burqa and veil pauses to look in a shop window selling halal food, prepared according to Islamic laws. Two men pass by, chatting in Arabic as they hurry to a nearby mosque. A typical Cairo street scene? It could be, but this happens to be central London. If your image of Britain is still about fish and chips and stiff upperlips, it's time for an update.
With the U.K.'s track record for tolerating Muslim dissidents, the only surprise about the London bombings earlier this month is that they were so long in coming. In March this year the former head of London's Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, issued the chilling warning that up to 200 Al-Qaeda terrorists were operating in the U.K., and stressed that the threat of attacks was real. He added that small networks of militants trained by Osama bin Laden were festering in British towns and cities.
A 2004 poll published by the Islamic Human Rights Commission revealed that 27.7% of British Muslims said they did not feel a strong affiliation or sense of belonging to Britain. An alarming 57% of respondents disapproved of the requirement for new citizens to swear allegiance to the crown. Radical mullahs – some of whom have found shelter in London after being expelled from their own countries – have recruited followers among middle-class youth. North London's Finsbury Park mosque has long been a magnet for extremists including "shoebomber" Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airplane in December 2001. According to a SUNDAY TIMES article published after the July 7th attack, a joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier prepared for the prime minister last year acknowledged that Britain might be harboring thousands of Al-Qaeda sympathisers.
England's population includes 1.6 million Muslims, and 1 million of them live in London. The capital city has become Europe's capital of Islam. Along with 700 mosques and 1200 Qu'ranic schools, nearly every university and polytechnic in London boasts an Islamic society, openly propagating Islam. And at least ten thousand Muslims – some the most radical of all – are British converts. Prince Charles himself has made no secret of his admiration for Islam. A few years ago he dedicated a South London mosque, outfitted in traditional Sunnah attire, and inaugurated an Islamic Cultural Center.
"I am afraid for England," stated an Algerian Christian visiting London for the first time. "I have met British citizens here trying to convert other people to Islam. I am shocked! It's English people who are the activists! Now I understand why fundamentalist Muslims want to come here. London is a center for all of Europe. The church in England has a great work to do."
The young man above was one of 120 who came from 28 nations to take part in Operation Mobilisation's (OM) summer outreach. An Egyptian teacher was another. He, too, was deeply disturbed by his encounters with aggressive British Muslims. "They tried to stop us from selling books! I and the others who came with me wanted to go home," he admitted, "but we decided to stay and pray and fast for England. Imagine what this place will be like in ten years!"
The fact that only five British citizens joined the outreach reflects this society's prevailing attitude of tolerance at any cost. Leila (pseudonymn) was a Muslim herself when she first moved from Iran to England years ago. "The average church has no vision for evangelism," she observed sadly. "And who is reaching Muslims? No one. This country knew Jesus. Now they don't want Jesus any more. Political correctness leads to compromise, and compromise won't get you anywhere. I have hope for this country. God is gracious. But we have to wake up the church!"
One London churchgoer whose eyes have been opened is Christine South. Although OM-based outreach conferences in her church for many years, she is the very first member ever to participate.
"You look from the outside in and never get involved," she admitted. "But when one of the OM leaders heard I was planning to go overseas on a mission, he challenged me. 'You're going all the way to Israel, why not go to people on your own doorstep?'" So Christine accepted the challenge. She returned to her church several weeks later a changed person. "There's so much we need to be doing! People come to London from every nation in the world. We're on the cutting edge. The burning desire I had to go abroad is all gone. The work is right here!"
The brutal deaths of 54 men and women and injury to over 700 other innocent Londoners has brought this truth home with a vengeance. British Christians are realizing it isn't sufficient to keep to themselves and hope for the best. And with U.K. Muslims fearful of reprisals, now is the best possible time to reach out to them. Moderate Muslims worldwide have been deeply shaken by the continuing exhibitions of Islamic extremism. Many are more open to talk than they have ever been. And an astonishing number, disenchanted with Islam, are turning to Christ.
"Jesus told us to love our enemies," an Algerian friend told me. "You don't find that phrase anywhere in Islam. I accepted Jesus because he practiced what he preached. And he gave me fellowship with God."
An American journalist based in London, Deborah Meroff has been reporting on the international body of Christ for two decades. Her most recent book, TRUE GRIT: WOMEN TAKING ON THE WORLD FOR CHRIST'S SAKE [Authentic Media, 2004], is a powerful guide to women's issues around the world, recounting the true adventures of nine ordinary women who are making an extraordinary difference in such places as Tajikistan, India, Egypt, and Lebanon. Be sure to check out her feature on India's "untouchables" in the current [July/August 2005] issue of PRISM Magazine.