The Chicago Sun-Times carries a story from the Associated Press about a Muslim who converted to Catholicism at yesterday’s Holy Saturday Vigil at the Vatican. From the story:
Italy’s most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday with an Easter vigil baptism by the pope.
An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and newspaper columns. He titled one book, Long Live Israel.
The story includes some criticism from Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, Italy’s Islamic religious community, ”If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives.” That’s fine. Baptism by a pope with Vatican Television zooming in for several closeups during the ceremony is a bit out of character for the vast majority who entered the Church this weekend. Although, for a Catholic, it is certainly an incredible honor to even attend a papal mass.
What bothers me is the last line of the story, which includes no citation or source information at all:
There is no overarching Muslim law on conversion. But a widespread interpretation of Islamic legal doctrine says converting from Islam is apostasy and punishable by death — though killings are rare.
What a horrible way to end a story on a man’s baptism at the Easter Vigil in Rome. What “widespread interpretation of Islamic doctrine” could they possibly be referring to? The Sunna of the Prophet? The Sharia? What? Tell us exactly!
This one sentence is horrifying and irresponsible. Yes, there have been a few Muslims on the fringe who have acted badly in the past and done terrible things, but the overwhelming vast majority of Muslims find peace at the core of their faith, and they live in peace. Throughout history, Jews and members of other faith backgrounds have been treated far better by Muslims than they were by Christians.
This characterization is insulting, especially at a time when we need to continue to building bridges with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
We do, indeed, need to build bridges with Muslims.
But the report is accurate.
I do not believe that you have to consider Christian converts apostates or stone them to death to be a good Muslim.
However, in some Islamic countries, that is how this command is being interpreted by the leaders and mainstream.
In Afghanistan, a Christian convert was convicted of apostasy and he was almost sentenced to death about a year ago. It was only international intervention that saved him, and I think he had to be spirited out of the country.
In Saudi Arabia, a Christian convert could be put to death for apostasy and in Iraq, under the Shiite leaders, the Chaldean Christians, who had lived peacably for centuries in that nation, are now being persecuted. The French have offered them asylum.
That is not the way Islam needs to be. As you observed, during the Golden Age of Islam, Muslim countries were noted for their tolerance, their learning, and their culture. At a time when Christian Europe was barely emerging from the Dark Ages, the Muslim world was studying science and mathematics.
Unfortunately, that was centuries ago. It is time for the Islamic world to reclaim that heritage. But they can’t do it without honest self-examination.
BTW, it is very traditional for Catholic converts to be baptized at Easter vigil And I’m sure that this former Muslim wasn’t the only one to be receved by the church during the papal mass.
The media just focused on him because of his prominence and the fact that he was leaving Islam.
But Easter Vigil is traditionally the time – I think the only time – that adult Catholics are baptized because it is part of a year long conversion process.