As the result of a sermon preached by Pastor James McConnell the Northern Ireland headlines over the last couple of weeks have been dominated by the issue of Islam. In the sermon preached at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Pastor McConnell described Islam as heathen, satanic and 'a doctrine spawned in hell'. Pastor McConnell also made the comment that he did not trust Muslims because of their devotion to Sharia Law. Many hours of news, television and radio debate have focused on this controversy, with politicians and church leaders giving views both for and against Pastor McConnell's statements, some defending the right to free speech and the exposure of false doctrine, others denouncing it as a hate crime. The greatest debate and outcry has been caused by the references to whether Muslims can be trusted, comments which some have construed as inciting religious and racial hatred.
In those countries with a Muslim population of less than 10% (excluding those countries with no Muslim population whatsoever), only 2.8% allow any form of Sharia Law. Sri Lanka allows Sharia Law in relation to marriage and divorce. In some regions of Thailand Sharia Law is allowed for settling family and inheritance issues and in Kenya Sharia Law is allowed for the same matters, so long as all parties involved adhere to the Muslim faith.
However once a country's Muslim population exceeds 10% the demand for Sharia Law becomes much more common. Of the 19 countries which boast a Muslim population of between 10 and 25%, Sharia law is applied in some form in 31.2% of those countries. Essentially once the Muslim population of a country exceeds 10% the likelihood of Sharia law increases of over 25%. Again the application of Sharia Law in these countries extends only to civil matters, with the exception of the Philippines, where criminal Sharia Law exists in Marawi City, however without hudud penalties.
For those countries that have a Muslim population of between 25 and 50% Sharia Law exists in 44.4% of them and in 62.5% of those countries where Muslims are between half and three quarters of the population. Clearly the greater the Muslim population in a country, the more likely Sharia Law is, and the more likely it will also be extended to criminal matters. Of the 31 countries which have a Muslim population of greater than 90%, 20 of them have some aspect of Sharia Law enshrined in their legal systems, with nine of the them extending it to criminal matters. In many of these countries the hudud penalties of flogging, amputations and stoning are used as punishment for crime.
Where Islam is a small minority Muslims by and large are content to live under the laws of that land, yet once their minority becomes in any way significant the cry is soon heard for Sharia Law. Whilst not every aspect of Sharia Law is of concern, the fact is that where it is applied in its fullest sense, the freedom to preach the gospel is eradicated. The religious freedom which Muslims enjoy in Christian countries, is simply not extended to Christians in Muslim countries. Throughout the world Christians are persecuted and put to death in countries ruled by Sharia Law, and by militant groups acting in the name of Islam. The fact that not all Muslims may act in such a way does not disguise the fact that this is a common and widespread feature of Muslim countries. Even in majority Muslim countries that do not have Sharia Law, Christians often face severe persecution and cannot openly proclaim their faith. Can we expect Muslims in any country to support the freedom to preach the gospel, once they are in a majority? The truth is that is by and large it simply does not happen.
What should our response be, should Islam increase in our land? Firstly our response should not be one of hatred or of violence; racial and sectarian attacks can never be justified under any circumstances. Yet we must never dilute our message because some might claim offence. We do not deliberatly seek to cause offence, yet often the truth will offend, no matter how lovingly it is proclaimed. Our response to the rise of Islam should be to pray for the Lord's deliverance and to continue preaching the truth. The freedom which we have long enjoyed in our land to preach the gospel and to expose error should not be taken for granted. We must respond to Muslims by presenting them with Christ, one who is not just a prophet, but the eternal Son of God, who suffered and died to redeem a people 'out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation'.