Conversions and Freedom of Conscience
By: Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 01, 2008
During the recent Easter vigil at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI baptized Muslim-born journalist, Magdi Allam, into the Christian faith before the eyes of the world Allam, who writes for the prominent, Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, and has a Catholic wife, was one of six people baptized at the vigil by the German pope. The native Egyptian, who used to describe himself as a moderate Muslim, had once made the pilgrimage to Mecca with his observant mother but otherwise said he was non-practising.
It was his condemnation to death by Islamic extremists in 2003 for having criticised Palestinian suicide bombers, Allam said, that set him on the path to embracing Christianity. During this spiritual odyssey, the Egyptian-Italian, who has spent most of his adult life in Italy, came to the conclusion that Islam is innately violent and is "characterised by hate and intolerance." The fact that Allam is now facing another death sentence under sharia law for converting and is once again receiving police protection indicates the rightness of his conclusion.
"I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a "moderate Islam", assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Koran," he wrote in his newspaper. "I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive."
Moreover, Allam, who called his baptism "revolutionary", says he discovered after long reflection that the motivation for this ideology of "hatred, violence and death" was the "discrimination against Israel."
"Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants," he said. "Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life."
By baptizing such a prominent European Muslim in St. Peter's during one of Christianity's holiest times -- and deliberately garnering worldwide attention -- the Pope clearly intended to reach out to Muslims questioning their faith and to show them that they need not be afraid to convert. The Church is there for them.
The German pontiff was also announcing that the Church was no longer going to be cautious in regard to its policy of converting Muslims. As already noted in FPM, one of the main reasons Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope was to confront an aggressive, militant Islam. Among his goals, the former German cardinal said he intended to protect Christians in Muslim countries and Christian converts from Islamic brutality in Europe, indicating that Muslim converts were a high priority for him.
Asia Times columnist Oswald Spengler (a pseudonym) believes the Pope's unprecedented public baptizing of Allam was directed, first and foremost, towards European Muslims. In 2005, even before he was elected the head of the world's one billion Roman Catholics, the German churchman, according to Spengler, was talking about converting Europe's Muslims, who now number twenty million. The former Bavarian cardinal viewed such conversions as the solution to keeping Europe Christian in the face of continuing, large-scale immigration from Muslim countries and drastically declining demographics and indifference to religion among the native European populations that now sees church attendance at only five per cent in some European countries.
Spengler compares the current situation in Europe to that of the barbarian invasions during the late Roman Empire. The Church and Christianity survived the invasions by converting and civilizing the barbarians, which is what the Pope now wishes to do with Europe's Muslims. And Pope Benedict, Spengler adds, has the opportunity to do this, since these Muslims have left their Islamic countries with their strict, and sometimes deadly, anti-proselytizing and anti-apostatizing laws and arrived on Europe's open field of ideas.
But the extraordinary baptism of Magdi Allam represents more than that. Spengler is correct in regard to the Pope's conversion plan for Europe. In receiving so publicly a former Muslim into the Church last Easter eve the German pontiff was not just reaching out in St.Peter's Basilica, the heart of Catholic Christianity, to Europe's Muslims but to Islam's followers worldwide.
In baptizing Allam, Pope Benedict was showing Islamic believers that the Christian religion is one of individual conscience and therefore one is free to choose to become a follower of Christ. Like with other western liberties, many Muslims have no concept of religious freedom, or even of the notion of the equality of religions, knowing only submission. The high-profile and well-publicized Easter baptism of one of their own demonstrated to Muslims such equality exists and, most importantly, that a person possesses the right to decide his or her own religious path in life. Others should not determine it for you.
While substantial attention has been given to European and North American converts to Islam, primarily due to the few among them who have engaged in terrorist activities, there has been a smaller, less reported, but growing stream of Muslims converting to Christianity.
In Germany alone, it is estimated about 6,000 Arab and Turkish Muslims have converted to Protestantism. Turkish Protestants even have their own parish in Cologne that has grown to 40 families in 15 years. Unlike in the mosque, the men and women sit together with the female converts sometimes seen holding their husband's arms, probably released by their conversion from the fear of their marriage partner taking a second wife.
But while converts to Islam in Europe live peacefully, many Muslim converts to Christianity live dangerously there. The latter are disowned by their families, oppressed, cursed, physically attacked and even threatened with death by relatives and other Muslims. In another appropriate analogy with the Roman Empire, Allam calls these converts the Catacomb Church, since they face persecution from those who hate them and their beliefs, like the early Christians did.
But also like the early catacomb Christians, these ex-Muslims are very strong in their faith, perhaps more so than many of the native European Christians who take their religious freedom for granted. Some of these new converts proselytize fearlessly among their fellow Muslims, knowing full well the danger, accepting the threats and curses of "traitor" and "blasphemer" with equanimity. However, their knowledge of Islam, of the languages spoken by Muslim immigrants and their customs and way of life most assuredly stand them in good stead in their missionary work.
With modern communications like the internet and satellite television, one can envision an extension of their proselytising one day to the Muslim countries, from which they originally hailed, if it has not started already. One Egyptian Coptic priest, although not an ex-Muslim, is said to have made thousands of converts in Arab countries with his show broadcast from the safety of a television studio.
Armed with the firm beliefs of their new religion, Muslim converts may become an effective defensive weapon in Europe against Islamic terror and Islamization. Such ex-Muslims' deeply held Christian faith would ultimately defeat Bin Laden's doctrine of hatred and death. In the end, the courageous Magdi Allam, and the growing ranks of other converts like him, guided by a remarkable Pope Benedict XVI, may cause bin Laden and his ilk more nightmares than any new army sent against them, since these Christian soldiers are not coming to kill, but rather to save.
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