Muslims and Christians in North America: Some ABCs

An American friend who is an expert on contemporary Christian-Muslim relations recently served on a panel as the sole Christian representative. The first question he was asked: “Why do evangelicals hate Muslims?”

I’m sympathetic with the questioner. Some evangelicals do seem to hate Muslims, and not just in the United States. Right here in Moncton, a hijab-wearing young Muslim woman recently was called a “child of Satan” by a self-identified Christian.

Still, the question is obviously one-sided. Someone from northern Nigeria, acquainted with the atrocities of the Boko Haram, would ask the question in reverse. So let’s get a few things straight.

A. Islam is growing fast all around the world, and also here in North America. But there are still relatively few Muslims here. How few?

According to the 2011 National Household Survey (the closest poll we have now to the census, on which the government used to ask very useful questions about religion—don’t get me started) there were 1,053,945 Muslims in Canada, or about 3.2% of the population. Three per cent.

As for America, a 2017 study estimated that 3.45 million Muslims were living in the United States, about 1.1 percent of the total U.S. population. Yes: one per cent.

Why do there seem to be so many more? For three main reasons: (1) they tend to live in major centres; (2) those major centres are where the news media are concentrated; and (3) news media thrive on what’s new, so they tend to over-report novelty and under-report continuity, such as the fact that the vast majority of North Americans remain Christian, sort-of Christian, used-to-be-Christian, and not-Christian-but-shaped-largely-by-Christian-values.

Islam is growing rapidly, but it’s still a tiny presence here.

B. Not all Muslims want to impose shariah, but many do—including some in North America

Shariah is the Arabic term for Islamic law, but, not unlike the category of torah in the Hebrew Bible, the idea is much broader than mere official legislation. It’s more like “God-given guidelines for optimal living.”

Since Muslims believe that living according to the Word of God is better than not living according to the Word of God, most of them wish that everyone would live according to the Word of God. And if not everyone will convert to Islam, then the next best thing is for the main institutions and values of society to be conducted according to God’s Word.

(Not incidentally, does that concern sound familiar? Like what many North American Christians want, too?)

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