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The Secret to Deradicalizing Militants Might be Found in Middle Eastern Churches

Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs / Source images: Sohaib Al Kharsa / Unsplash / Abid Katib / Staff / Getty

A Muslim man walked into the offices of a Christian pastor whose congregation in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley has been serving Syrian refugees since the outbreak of civil war.

“I’ve hated you for the past eight years,” the Muslim said, “and I’ve tried to turn my community against you. But three months ago, it was your American doctors who treated me and paid for my hospital stay.

“We hate these people,” he continued, “yet they come here and show us love. Tell me the time of your services; I want to follow Jesus. How great is your Christianity!”

This story, told to CT in October by the pastor, who asked that their names not be used for security reasons, is remarkable. But it is not unique. Evangelical ministers in the Middle East readily recount conversion narratives of the most militant, radicalized Muslims. A second pastor has described how a Syrian confessed that he started coming to church to kill him. Now a believer, the man serves other refugees as a member of the congregation. A third says his once-small Christian fellowship has grown to more than 1,500 largely due to converted refugees. Perhaps as many as 10 percent of them are former extremists.

These accounts and others like them have led Scott Gustafson, a PhD candidate with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s Extreme Beliefs program in Amsterdam, to a realization: Evangelical Arab ministry succeeds where millions of dollars of security-based solutions have failed in turning militant Muslims away from violence.

“No one strategizes: Let’s deradicalize the extremists,” he said. “But it is a demonstrable side effect.” In the diverse academic field trying to find secular pathways out of extremism, this is…

This article was originally published in the December 2021 print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

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