What might the future have in store for the religion and
by John Kaltner
is the fastest growing religion in the world, and well over one
billion people now profess it as their faith. There
are no indications that its rate of growth is slowing down, so it
is safe to assume that it will continue to play a major role on
the world stage. If the total number of followers a religion has
can serve as a benchmark for what is to come, the future of Islam
looks bright and healthy. In addition to those who are born into
the ummah, countless individuals convert to Islam every
day, demonstrating its appeal and attraction as a way of life.
the content and expression of Islamic faith are unlikely to change,
Muslims may find they will need to adapt in certain areas if things
continue to go in the direction they appear to be headed. One area
concerns Muslim presence in non-Muslim countries, especially Western
nations. Recent years have seen a remarkable increase in the number
of Muslims in Western Europe. In many countries, Islam is now the
second largest religion, and the total number of Muslims is approaching
the number of practicing Christians. While the Muslim populations
of the United States and Canada do not reach those same percentages,
they are still a significant minority within those countries.
of the challenges for Muslims living in these places concerns how
to live side-by-side with others who do not share one’s faith
or view of appropriate social discourse regarding matters of religion.
Freedom of expression and free speech are among
the most cherished liberties of Western societies, and the right
to say what is on one’s mind extends into the area of religion.
This is an unfamiliar concept to many Muslims who are new arrivals
in these countries. When they hear people speak critically of religion,
or Islam in particular, they sometimes take it personally and feel
times, Muslims who have spent their entire lives in non-Muslim countries
can have a similar reaction to perceived offenses against Islam.
A much publicized recent example was the murder in Holland of the
filmmaker Theo van Gogh, a distant relative of the famous painter.
He was killed by a Dutch-born Muslim with Moroccan citizenship who
thought one of van Gogh’s films disrespects Islam. Another
example of the same phenomenon can be seen in the anger and violence
that erupted among Muslims when they felt political cartoons published
in a Danish newspaper, and subsequently reprinted in other European
periodicals, demeaned and insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
and more Muslims will find themselves living among non-Muslims in
countries that permit the expression of personal views that can
be deemed insulting by others, and the potential for violence will
remain very real. While it is the responsibility
of all parties to conduct themselves in ways that respect the rights
and feelings of others, Muslims must continue to develop effective
means of communicating their concerns that are within the bounds
of society’s norms and laws.
recent development likely to have an impact on the future shape
and direction of the religion is the growing influence of political
groups that are affiliated with Islam. Such organizations have been
around for a long time, but they have become more actively involved
in the official political process of late. As already noted, the
strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s most recent
parliamentary election was an outcome that surprised many. More
shocking was the overwhelming victory of Hamas in the Palestinian
elections that catapulted into power a group known more for terrorism
than sitting around the negotiation table. It is too soon to tell
if the rise of such groups is a sign of things to come or a blip
on the screen, but it will undoubtedly be a factor in how Muslims
understand the relationship between their faith and politics.
observers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, believe that Islam is in
need of a reformation similar to the one Christianity experienced
in the sixteenth century. They maintain that Islam
must turn from its focus on the past and look to the future in order
to address the concerns of Muslims living in the modern world. Only
in this way, goes the argument, can distorted views of the faith
that endorse violence and terrorism be overcome, and the message
of tolerance and respect that is at the heart of Islam be allowed
to flourish. It would be a pity to limit the call for reform to
Islam alone. All religions, perhaps the monotheistic ones most of
all, are in need of constant renewal and transformation. Only then
can their followers come together and work toward building a better
world. Only then can we acknowledge and celebrate what our neighbors
©2006 John Kaltner
Kaltner is a member of the Department of Religious Studies
at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee where he teaches courses
in Bible, Islam, and Arabic. Among his books are Islam:
What Non-Muslims Should Know (2003); Inquiring
of Joseph: Getting to Know a Biblical Character through the Qu’ran
Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 1999).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.