Muslim writer’s public conversion upsets scholars

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • March 28, 2008

{mosimage}ROME - The Muslim-born journalist baptized by Pope Benedict XVI at the Easter Vigil said he wanted a public conversion to convince other former Muslims not to be afraid of practising their new Christian faith.

But a representative of a group of Muslim scholars who recently launched a new dialogue with the Vatican said the prominence given to the Baptism of Magdi Allam, a frequent critic of Islam, raises disturbing questions.

Allam, 55, was one of seven adults baptized by the Pope March 22 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Aref Ali Nayed, a spokesman for the 138 Muslim scholars who initiated the Common Word dialogue project last October and who established the Catholic-Muslim Forum for dialogue with the Vatican in early March, said conversion is a private matter, but the very public way in which Allam was baptized appeared “deliberate and provocative.”

In a front-page editorial March 25, the Vatican newspaper said Allam’s Baptism was given no greater emphasis during the vigil than the Baptism of the other six adults Pope Benedict received into the church that night. Allam’s decision to be baptized and the Vatican’s decision to include him in the papal ceremony did not carry with it any “hostile intention in the face of a great religion like Islam,” said the article signed by Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of L’Osservatore Romano.

“For decades the Catholic Church has shown a desire to meet and dialogue with the Muslim world despite a thousand difficulties and obstacles,” he wrote. “But difficulties and obstacles must not obscure what we have in common.”

In a March 25 interview with Il Giornale, an Italian newspaper, Allam said thousands of Italian Christians have converted to Islam with no repercussions.

“On the other hand, if a Muslim converts it is the end of the world and he is condemned to death for apostasy. In Italy there are thousands of converts who live their faith in secret for fear they will not be protected,” Allam said. “I publicly converted to say to these people: ‘Come out of the catacombs, live your faith openly. Do not be afraid.’ ”

In a March 23 article in Corriere della Sera, the newspaper for which he writes, Allam said, “His Holiness has launched an explicit and revolutionary message to a church that, up to now, has been too prudent in converting Muslims.” He said Catholics were “abstaining from proselytism in countries with a Muslim majority and being silent about the reality of converts in Christian countries out of fear — the fear of not being able to protect the converts in the face of their condemnations to death for apostasy and for fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries.

“Well, with his witness today, Benedict XVI tells us we need to conquer our fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even to Muslims,” Allam wrote in Corriere.

Allam told Il Giornale that although his mother was a devout Muslim she sent him to Catholic preschool, elementary and high schools. In the Corriere article, he said he even had gone to Communion once, which demonstrates how he had been attracted to the church for a long time.

He told Il Giornale his mother later regretted sending him to Catholic schools “because I never shared a certain zeal in practising Islam; I always had a lot of autonomy. And, so, I became aware that Catholicism corresponded perfectly to the values that I held.”

Allam also said his Easter Baptism marked a total and definitive turning from “a past in which I imagined that there could be a moderate Islam.” He said Islamic “extremism feeds on a substantial ambiguity found in the Quran and in the concrete actions of Mohammed.”

While he moved definitively away from Islam five years ago, Allam said it was Pope Benedict’s teaching that convinced him to become a Catholic.

In a written statement reacting to Allam’s Baptism by the Pope at the globally televised Easter Vigil, Nayed said, “It is sad that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points.”

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.