Religious Liberty: the pivotal issue in these pivotal days
-- Apostasy, and the baptism of Madgi Allam
By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Historically the outcome of pivotal moments in Christian-Muslim relations have been determined by military might: the Arab Muslim conquest of the Byzantine Jerusalem (AD 638); the Arab Muslim conquest of Byzantine Heliopolis; Egypt (AD 640); the Ottoman Muslim conquest of Byzantine Serbian Kosovo (1389); the Ottoman Muslim capture of the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople (1453); the European victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna (1683); the Serb re-conquest of Kosovo (1913); the Allied victory over the Ottomans in WW1 (1919); the Allied victory over the Muslim-Nazi Alliance in WW2 (1945); the NATO-enabled Muslim re-reconquest of Kosovo (1998-2008) . These battle and many others like them demonstrated who was ascendant and determined who was in control.
For several decades now the West has been advancing global openness through its revolution in communication and information technologies. But openness poses an existential threat to repressive dictatorships, corrupt systems and false religions. Now, in a fight for their survival, repressive dictatorships, corrupt systems and false religions are seeking to protect themselves by rolling back liberties and erecting bulwarks: repressing information and punishing dissent.
Because Islam is a global as distinct from a local phenomenon, the apostaphobic dictators of Islam are of necessity forced to pursue not only a revival of repressive, punitive Sharia in Muslim countries, but the extension of Sharia beyond the Muslim world and into the international arena through the Islamisation of human rights and laws. To this end, they use the threat of "uncontrollable" Islamic violence as leverage. (See LINK 1)
Today we are again at a pivotal moment in Christian-Muslim and Western-Muslim relations. However this time the outcome is not going to be determined by military might, but on the strength of moral and ideological convictions. Unfortunately, that is exactly why the West is in danger, for while Islam is weak militarily it is strong on conviction, the West is strong militarily but weak on conviction. The West will either buckle, surrender and submit, handing Islam the ascendancy, or it will brace itself and stand firm for what it believes (if in fact it can remember what that is).
By his very public Easter baptism of the high profile Egypt-born Italian journalist and Muslim convert to Catholicism, Magdi Allam, Pope Benedict has made a decisive and very courageous statement in defence of religious liberty, specifically a Muslim's right to convert.
Meanwhile back in Egypt, as the Great Apostasy Debate heats up, the Supreme Constitutional Court has been asked to rule on whether civil laws permitting religious freedom violate Article 2 of the Constitution which specifies that Islam is the religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). See report by Compass Direct: Egypt: Ex-Muslims Blocked from Declaring Conversion, 26 March 2008.
THE BAPTISM OF MAGDI ALLAM
Magdi Allam is the deputy director of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera. As a professing but nominal Muslim, Allam wrote many pieces that were critical of Islam and supportive of Israel. Because of this, Allam has received death threats and had fatwas issued against him, requiring him to live under police protection for the past five years.
The terrorism he has witnessed and the persecution he has suffered drove him to re-examine Islam and to reassess Christianity, especially after Pope Benedict's September 2006 address at Regensburg, which highlighted the unreasonableness of violence in religion.
Magdi Allam testifies: "Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression . . . The miracle of Christ's resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness . . . " (For Magdi Allam's testimony, see LINK 2)
Magdi Allam was baptised by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter's on Easter Saturday during the Easter vigil. (LINK 3)
Numerous Islamic scholars immediately condemned the event. Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan, criticised what he called "the Vatican's deliberate and provocative act of baptising Allam on such a special occasion and in such a spectacular way. It is sad," said Nayed, "that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points." Nayed opined that this would negatively impact Christian-Muslim dialogue, and called on the Vatican to "distance itself from Allam's discourse". (LINK 4)
Yahya Pallavicini, a Milanese imam who is the vice-president of Italy's Islamic Religious Community, patronisingly described Allam's baptism "as an 'honest intellectual mistake' that had been committed with the complicity of the Vatican". Pallavicini told Italy's Adnkronos International (AKI) that he was embarrassed by the Pope's "indelicate choice of advisors" -- as if the Pope is without authority or lacking discernment and is vulnerable to the machinations of cunning Islamophobic conspirators! (LINK 5)
AKI reported: "Pallavicini agreed with Nayed in his attack on the baptism saying it put at risk the dialogue between Muslims and Christians." The implication is that Christian-Muslim dialogue can only proceed if the Church agrees to honour Islam's claim to life-long legal ownership of the hearts and minds and bodies of all Muslims irrespective of the individual's basic human right to believe according to his/her reason and conscience. Such a caveat leaves little space for meaningful dialogue.
Like Nayed and Pallavicini, Italy's deputy foreign minister for Middle East affairs, Ugo Intini, also criticised Allam's "very harsh condemnation" of Islam and called on the Vatican "after the emphasis given to Allam's conversion, to distance itself clearly from his statements".
However, the Vatican made it very clear that the Church not only believes in the religious liberty of all people (including Muslims), it also believes in the liberty of its members.
As Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi noted, Magdi Allam "has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See . . . believers are free to maintain their own ideas on a vast range of questions and problems on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the church clearly does not mean espousing all that person's ideas and opinions, especially on political and social matters." (LINK 6)
"THE RISK OF THIS BAPTISM"
According to Father Lombardi "the pope accepted the risk of this baptism" in order "to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person".
According to his testimony, which is written in the form of a letter to the director of Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, Magdi Allam accepted the risk of this baptism for the same reason.
"Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytising in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.
"For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those 'fortuitous events' that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled 'The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts'. It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope's historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear."
THE POWER OF FAITH
Of all the commentary on this event, none has been more powerful or perceptive than that written by "Spengler" of Asia Times on-Line. Spengler's piece entitled "The mustard seed in global strategy" can be found at LINK 7 and is a "must read" piece.
Spengler describes the baptism of Allam as a "revolution in world affairs . . . begun in the heart of one man".
He writes: "Osama bin Laden recently accused [Pope] Benedict of plotting a new crusade against Islam, and instead finds something far more threatening: faith the size of a mustard seed that can move mountains . . .
"Magdi Allam presents an existential threat to Muslim life, whereas other prominent dissidents, for example Ayaan Hirsi Ali, offer only an annoyance . . . Why would Muslims trade the spiritual vacuum of Islam for the spiritual sewer of Dutch hedonism? The souls of Muslims are in agony. The blandishments of the decadent West offer them nothing but shame and deracination. Magdi Allam agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love."
Spengler is correct when he writes: "If the Church fights for the safety of converts, they will emerge from the nooks and crannies of Muslim communities in Europe."
While governments may waver and even fail, the Church must stand firm in faith irrespective of the cost, and advance according to the word of God: "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6 ESV).
-- Elizabeth Kendal
1) OIC: Eliminating "defamation" of Islam.
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
By Elizabeth Kendal, 25 March 2008
Religious Liberty Trends 2007-2008
(Apostasy, Apostaphobia and Postmodernism)
2) Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion
3) Pope baptizes prominent Italian Muslim
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer Sat 22 March 2008.
For PICTURES (with Italian text):
La conversione di Magdi Allam fa il giro del mondo. 23 Marzo 2008
4) Scholar denounces Muslim baptism. BBC 26 March 2008
5) Italy: Islamist website attacks Vatican baptism. 26 March2008
Muslim Scholar Denounces Vatican Baptism
By FRANCES D'EMILIO – 26 march 2008
6) Vatican: Muslim convert has right to express his own ideas
By Cindy Wooden. 28 March 2008
7) The mustard seed in global strategy
By Spengler, 26 March 2008
Elizabeth Kendal is the Principal Researcher and Writer for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) http://www.worldevangelicals.org/. This article was initially written for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis mailing list.
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