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Muslim converted by Pope says life in more danger

Posted by Tony Listi on March 23, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI baptises journalist Magdi Allam (R) as he ...  

By Philip Pullella
March 23, 2008
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – An outspoken Muslim author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism who converted to Christianity at the hands of Pope Benedict said on Sunday he realized he was in greater danger but he has no regrets.

“I realize what I am going up against but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith,” said Magdi Allam.

In a surprise move on Saturday night, the pope baptized the 55-year-old, Egyptian-born Allam at an Easter eve service in St Peter’s Basilica that was broadcast around the world.

The conversion of Allam to Christianity — he took the name “Christian” for his baptism — was kept secret until the Vatican disclosed it in a statement less than an hour before it began.

Writing in Sunday’s edition of the leading Corriere della Sera, the newspaper of which he is a deputy director, Allam said: “… the root of evil is innate in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual.”

Allam, who is a strong supporter of Israel and who an Israeli newspaper once called a “Muslim Zionist,” has lived under police protection following threats against him, particularly after he criticized Iran’s position on Israel.

His conversion, which he called “the happiest day of my life,” came just two days after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused the pope of being part of a “new crusade” against Islam.

The Vatican appeared to be at pains to head off criticism from the Islamic world about the conversion.

“Conversion is a private matter, a personal thing and we hope that the baptism will not be interpreted negatively by Islam,” Cardinal Giovanni Re told an Italian newspaper.

Still, Allam’s highly public baptism by the pope shocked Italy’s Muslim community, with some leaders openly questioning why the Vatican chose to shine such a big spotlight it.

“What amazes me is the high profile the Vatican has given this conversion,” Yaha Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, told Reuters. “Why could he have not done this in his local parish?”


Allam, the author of numerous books, said he realized that his conversion would likely procure him “another death sentence for apostasy,” or the abandoning of one’s faith.

But he said he was willing to risk it because he had “finally seen the light, thanks to divine grace.”

Allam defended the pope in 2006 when the pontiff made a speech in Regensburg, Germany, that many Muslims perceived as depicting Islam as a violent faith.

He said he made his decision after years of deep soul searching and asserted that the Catholic Church has been “too prudent about conversions of Muslims.”

At a Sunday morning Easter mass hours after he baptized Allam, the pope, without mentioning him, spoke in a prayer of the continuing “miracle” of conversion to Christianity some 2,000 years after Christ’s resurrection.

The Vatican statement announcing Allam’s conversion said: “For the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive Baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it.”

It said all newcomers to the faith were “equally important before God’s love and welcome in the community of the Church.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Mary Gabriel)

6 Responses to “Muslim converted by Pope says life in more danger”

  1. Stan Goldfarb said

    I don’t get it. What was the Pope thinking? Was he so proud that a prominent Muslim turned to Catholicism, that he wanted to rub it into the noses of the Muslim world? Was it more important to shout “Look, we won!!”, than to save one soul? Surely the Pope knew that Islam would be shamed and that the convert’s life would be threatened. I just don’t get it.

  2. foospro86 said

    I don’t think it was a matter of pride. But it almost certainly was intended to make a point. I think the Pope is disgusted with many aspects of Islam that reject reason, embrace violence, and coerce conversion (as evidenced by his early “controversial” speech awhile back quoting a Byzantine emperor). And obviously this convert and author, Allam, shares this disgust and probably suggested this public baptism or at least eagerly went along with it. Allam knew what he was getting into and could have refused this public ceremony and kept his mouth shut if he had wanted. It is likely Allam wanted to use his baptism to spread his message. Yes, the whole point was to shame Islam and provide a little impetus to reform itself.

  3. Fr. J. said

    Allam, now on the world stage, may be safer than if he had not been in the spotlight. Who knows?

    I think the pope is making all kinds of points. Yes, he wants to uphold the example of this man who has stood up to Islam already for many years. He also wants to make an issue of the Muslim practice of assassination of those who convert out of it. Imagine the shame heaped on Islam if Allam is killed. He wants to show Muslims that reasonable and rational people, the very best of Islam are ashamed of what Islam has become. He wants to make a point to Europeans that Christianity is a faith worth dying for. He wants to give all the world an example of Christ-like willingness to die for the good, rather than to kill. He wants the world to know that it is better to suffer violence than to commit it. He wants to show the world the moral and spiritual superiority of Christ and Christianity. He wants to show the world that the willingness to innocently suffer violence for one’s faith is not reserved to the earliest ages but a very present reality. He wants to highlight that Christians throughout the world willingly suffer violence for their faith every day.

  4. Stan Goldfarb said

    I’m sorry, but that’s stuff for high school kids in the schoolyard. Christians aren’t supposed to volunteer to be candidates for the lions. Dying for the sake of religion is as wrongheaded as killing for the sake of religion.

  5. foospro86 said

    What is so wrongheaded about dying for one’s religon? Of course, the former refers to Christian martyrdom and both refer to Muslim martyrdom (“slay and are slain”).

    Allam is exposing himself to danger for the sake of his faith, but it is not as if he is looking for the closest radical mosque in Italy that he can find. There is a difference between exposing oneself to risk and danger and actually jumping into the lion’s den.

    Also, in my experience, I don’t find very many martyrs in schoolyards….

  6. Fr. J. said

    Stan, you clearly know almost nothing about Christianity. Martyrdom is the historical foundation of the Church. 11/12 of the Apostles were martyred, most of the early popes, St. Paul, etc. etc.

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