In the forward to Ali Sina’s “Understanding Muhammad”, an unnamed writer notes, “Ali Sina predicts that Islam will be nothing but a bad memory in a few short decades and many of us will see its end in our own lifetime.” It’s one thing for an ex-Muslim to talk about the demise of Islam, but did Muhammad himself prophesy the end of the religion he created? Father (Abuna) Zakariya Boutros asks that question in the following interview on Al-Hayat TV.
AHMAD: What is your opinion of the spread of Islam in the world?
ABUNA: You need to define your question. Do you mean the spread of Islam by the sword, as we have seen during the past 14 centuries, or do you mean the adaptation – not the spread – of Islam to the world of the internet and satellite TV that is allowing things to be discussed openly that were never discussed before?
AHMAD: We’ve already experienced the spread of Islam by the sword, and don’t want to repeat that. What I mean is, how do you see the future of Islam in light of the freedom that has come to people through mass communication?
ABUNA: I am not a mufti and do not express my views of Islam. Because I do not want to be accused of attacking Islam, I prefer to look at what Islamic sources themselves say. The hadith of Sahih Muslim report, and this was repeated 18 times, that Muhammad said, “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange.” The Sunnan al-Tarmizi explained this by saying that Muhammad said Islam would shrink back to the Hijaz (western Saudi Arabia) from which it came as life returns to its source. Muhammad said this, not me.
AHMAD: Do you think this is happening?
ABUNA: I do not want to express my personal opinion about the collapse or disappearance of Islam, but want to point out what Muhammad said. I don’t believe that Muhammad was speaking prophetically, but I think he knew what was going to happen. If Muhammad was really a prophet from God, would he be speaking about the end of Islam? But let’s look at sources Muslims recognize. On Al-Jazeera TV, the famous Muslim daiah (missionary) Shaykh Ahmad al-Qatani devoted two programs to the spread of Christianity in Africa and Asia. He said that six million Muslim per year in Africa were converting to Christianity. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan said that 10,000 Algerians per year were becoming Christian. The online newspaper aylaf.net reported that 45,000 Moroccans are now Christians.
AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani say about Asia?
ABUNA: He divided it up by country. In Cambodia, he said there were a quarter of a million Muslims, and now there are none. Russia in 1927 had 24,321 mosques. Now there are 20, and they are like museums. Tens of thousands became Christian in Kyrgyzstan between 2001-2004. There were four million Muslims in Burma, and now there are 300,000. Saudi Arabia has 50,000 Christian converts, and before there were no Christians there.
AHMAD: They have left Islam for Christianity?
ABUNA: No, they left Islam for the person of Jesus. Let’s not talk about religions.
Al-Qatani went on to say that Pakistan had 80,000 Christians in 1947, but six million by 2000. Ten million people have become Christians in Bangladesh. He also said that Islam is being strongly attacked in Malaysia and if Islam falls in Malaysia it is the end of Islam in Asia. Remember that Jesus said there is joy in heaven if one person repents. Imagine the joy over these millions.
AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani say about the results of dawah (Muslim evangelism)?
ABUNA: He said that people becoming Christian is a problem so huge and so serious that all the Arab countries together are unable to stop it. In the past we would hear that a family in Africa converted to Islam, or some doctor in some university became Muslim. But for every person who turns to Muslim, thousands become Christian.
AHMAD: It is well-known that the Islamic dawah organizations and wealthy Arab countries use money as a weapon to spread Islam. What is the result of the money they spend?
ABUNA: Shaykh al-Qatani dealt with this also. He said that the Islamic humanitarian organizations give money for a period of time to cover needs and disasters. Dozens of people might become Muslim, but after the disaster is over and the money is gone they return to Christianity. They professed Islam, but there was no belief from the heart.
AHMAD: What about the influence of Muslim websites and chat rooms?
ABUNA: Shaykh al-Qatani said that these websites and chat rooms are embarrassing.
AHMAD: Was he optimistic about the future of Islam?
ABUNA: I carefully studied his interviews and their transcripts. He said repeatedly, “We are living a disaster, by Allah, we are living a disaster. I am afraid that darkness will cover us and we will no longer find Islam in Africa or anywhere else.”
AHMAD: How did Shaykh al-Qatani evaluate the situation?
ABUNA: That’s a very good question. I’m glad you didn’t ask me about my evaluation, because my viewpoint holds no weight. But the opinion of a well-respected Muslim scholar is valuable in the minds of our Muslim viewers. The moderator asked Shaykh al-Qatani directly, “How do you evaluate the size and force of Christian missionary activity?” His reply was, “It is immense. When the Vatican announced in 1962 that the eighties would see the end of Communism, they were correct. And when they announced that 2000 would be the end of Islam in Africa, I tell you with deep regret that they were also right.”
AHMAD: Did he say anything in comparison about Islamic missionary activity?
ABUNA: The moderator asked him about that. He replied that the force of Muslims was non-existent. He quoted a Christian missionary leader as saying, “We will not stop our efforts to bring Muslims to Christ until the cross is raised in the skies of Mecca and Holy Communion is celebrated in Medina.”
AHMAD: What did Shaykh al-Qatani mean by all that?
ABUNA: Well, I don’t think he was preaching Christianity! He was trying to stir up the emotions and passions of Muslims. But the situation is no longer one that can be remedied by the sword of Saladin or even the sword of Muhammad. The world has changed. Following the arrival of modern technology and the freeing of the human mind, the weapon of logic has replaced the sword of steel. There is no doubt that Islam does not possess the weapon of intellect, and that is greater than the atomic bomb.
AHMAD: My next question is a little sensitive. Isn’t is possible that Christian efforts among Muslims will result in increased violence by Muslims against Christians
ABUNA: That is certainly possible. But can terrorism stop us from speaking the truth?
AHMAD: What do you personally see as the main factor influencing the future of Islam?
ABUNA: The first thing is the age of technology that has removed the barriers from speaking out. Can you imagine me saying what I say now on the streets of Cairo 25 years ago? They would have killed me. But the barriers have come down. The next thing is increased freedom of thought. People are thinking about and discussing issues such as the contradictions in the Quran, and Muslim scholars have no answers.