Skip to comments.The Story of a Convert from Islam – Baptized by the Pope at St. Peter's
Posted on 03/29/2008 6:26:00 AM PDT by Ippolita
The Story of a Convert from Islam Baptized by the Pope at St. Peter's
His name is Magdi Cristiano Allam. For five years he has lived under guard, threatened with death. But his baptism has raised harsh criticism, against him and against Benedict XVI. The complete text of the accusation written by Aref Ali Nayed, architect of the letter of the 138
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, March 28, 2008 Three days earlier, in an audio message released over the internet, Osama bin Laden had accused "the pope of the Vatican" of having "a significant role" in fighting a "new crusade" against Islam.
But nothing intimidates Benedict XVI. At the Easter vigil, on Saturday, March 22, the pope baptized at the basilica of Saint Peter, together with six other men and women from four continents, a convert from Islam, Magdi Allam, 56, an Egyptian by birth, a famous writer and journalist and the vice director of the leading Italian daily, "Corriere della Sera," and the author of important books, the latest one entitled "Viva Israele [Long Live Israel]."
With his baptism and with confirmation and communion immediately afterward Allam took "Cristiano" as his second name. And in a letter published in his newspaper on Easter Sunday, he recounted and explained his conversion.
The news traveled immediately around the world. Comments in the Muslim media were for the most part polemical, against Allam and against Benedict XVI. Even in the ecclesiastical camp, there emerged some criticisms of the publicity given to the conversion, which in reality had remained secret up until the end.
A comment on the part of the Vatican appeared in "L'Osservatore Romano," in a note by director Giovanni Maria Vian:
"The gesture by Benedict XVI affirms religious freedom in a humble and clear way. This is also the freedom to change religion, as in 1948 was emphasized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (even if after this, unfortunately, the declaration was scaled back precisely in this regard). So anyone who without coercion asks for baptism has the right to receive it. And just as this event has not been unduly emphasized, so also there is no hostile intention toward a great religion like Islam."
By coincidence, in the same issue of the pope's newspaper, there was a long article dedicated to the Easter liturgy and to the very ancient tradition of celebrating the sacraments of Christian initiation within it, entitled "The intimate bond between baptism and martyrdom."
This is a bond that Benedict XVI emphasized on Easter Monday, when at the midday "Regina Coeli" he invited the faithful to pray for the bishops, priests, religious, and laity killed in 2007 while carrying out their service in missionary countries:
"In the light of the risen Christ, the annual day of prayer for missionary martyrs, which is commemorated today, takes on a particular value."
As a Muslim, because of his vigorous criticism of "an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual," Allam has been the object of death threats in the past. For five years, he has lived under the protection of an armed guard, and lives in a secret location in the north of Rome, with his wife Valentina and their little son Davide.
As a journalist, he made a great impact with two of his articles published in 2003. In the first, Allam reproduced the sermon delivered on Friday, June 6 of that year, in the Grand Mosque of Rome by Egyptian imam Abdel-Samie Mahmoud Ibrahim Moussa. In the second, he translated from the Arabic the sermons of imams from six other Italian mosques. Almost all glorified suicide terrorism and incited hatred toward the West and toward Israel.
Following the first article, the Egyptian government summoned the imam who had delivered the sermon back to his country.
Allam also distinguished himself by his commentaries on Benedict XVI's lecture in Regensburg, which were entirely in agreement with the theses of the pope.
His criticisms are not aimed solely against Islamism. On various occasions, he has denounced "the moral surrender, the intellectual obfuscation, the ideological and practical collaboration with Islamic extremism on the part of the West."
On account of these positions, Allam has borne strong hostility not only on the part of Muslims, but also of intellectuals from Italy and Europe. In the summer of 2007, about 200 professors of various universities, including the Catholic University of Milan, signed a letter against him, accusing him of intolerance.
In the ecclesiastical camp, too, many are distrustful toward him. After his article denouncing the sermon of the imam of Rome, the president of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue at the time, archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, complained that " this kind of activity runs the risk of compromising dialogue."
But Allam has repeatedly denounced another widespread fear in the Church: the one according to which in Muslim countries where apostasy is sometimes punished with death baptism ceases to be practiced, and in Christian countries converts from Islam are kept hidden.
With the baptism administered publicly to him by the pope at the Easter vigil, Allam hopes that these "catacombs" can be left behind.
But it will not be easy. Two striking critical reactions to his baptism from the Muslim side have come from important signatories of the letter of the 138, the letter emblematic of the dialogue between the Church of Rome and Islam: the Italian imam Yahya Pallavicini and the Libyan theologian Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, Jordan.
The two were part of the delegation of five Muslim representatives that on March 4 and 5 reached an agreement with Vatican authorities on the next steps in this dialogue, which will include an audience with Benedict XVI.
But in criticizing the baptism of Allam, both sidestep the fundamental question of freedom of religion, which has even been placed at the center of the agenda for dialogue between the Church of Rome and the signatories of the letter of the 138.
Yayha Pallavicini has said that he is "embarrassed by the lack of sensitivity" demonstrated by those who wanted to have Allam baptized at St. Peter's, "an action carried out on the day following the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet, the Muslim Christmas, which risks generating negative messages and indicates the Vatican's political intention to assert the supremacy of the Catholic Church over all other religions."
But even harsher was the commentary of Nayed, who is the true mastermind of the letter of the 138, and its effective author.
He is critical toward Allam, but even more toward Benedict XVI, against whom he launches the accusation of wanting to reassert, through the act of baptism, the "infamous" lecture in Regensburg.
Nayed comes to the point of condemning as "totalitarian" and "quasi-Manichean" the symbolism of darkness and light developed by the pope in the homily for the Easter vigil.
Unless the Vatican distances itself from it, Nayed further states, the baptism administered by Benedict XVI will irrevocably mean that the pope subscribes to and supports Allam's "hateful discourse" against Islam.
Nayed's commentary is presented in its entirety further below. It is followed by a reply made on Vatican Radio, on March 27, by the director of the Holy See press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi.
But first, here is the complete version of the letter to the director of "Corriere della Sera" in which Allam recounts his conversion, a letter that the newspaper published only in partial form:
"Benedict XVI tells us that we must conquer fear"
by Magdi Cristiano Allam
Dear director, what I am about to tell you concerns a decision I have made regarding my religious faith and personal life that is not intended in any way to involve "Corriere della Sera," which I have been honored to be part of since 2003 with the title of vice director "ad personam." I therefore write to you as the author of an action as a private citizen.
Yesterday evening, at the Easter vigil, I converted to the Catholic Christian faith, renouncing my previous Islamic faith.
Thus, by divine grace, there finally came to light the sound and mature fruit of a long period of gestation lived in suffering and in joy, between deep and intimate reflection and deliberate outward expression.
I am particularly grateful to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted to me the sacraments of Christian initiation Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist in the basilica of Saint Peter, during the solemn celebration of the Easter vigil. And I took the simplest and clearest Christian name: "Cristiano." So, as of yesterday evening, my name is Magdi Cristiano Allam.
For me, it was the most beautiful day of my life. To receive the gift of the Christian faith during the commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ, at the hand of the Holy Father, is for a believer an unmatchable privilege and an inestimable good.
At almost 56 years of age, in my own small way this is an historic event, exceptional and unforgettable, marking a radical and definitive break with the past. The miracle of the Resurrection of Christ has resounded through my soul, freeing it from the darkness of the preaching in which hatred and intolerance toward those who are "different," uncritically condemned as the "enemy," prevail over love and respect for one's "neighbor," who is always and in any case a "person"; just as my mind has been liberated from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimizes deception and dissimulation, the violent death that induces murder and suicide, blind submission and tyranny, permitting me to adhere to the authentic religion of Truth, Life, and Freedom. In my first Easter as a Christian, I discovered not only Jesus, but I discovered for the first time the one true God, who is the God of Faith and Reason.
My conversion to Catholicism is the arrival point of a gradual and profound interior meditation which I would not have been able to avoid, since for five years I have been trapped in an entrenched and guarded lifestyle, with fixed surveillance at home and a police escort wherever I go, because of the death threats made against me by Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those living in Italy and those active abroad.
I have had to wonder to myself about the attitude of those who have publicly issued fatwas, Islamic juridical declarations denouncing me, who was a Muslim, as an "enemy of Islam," a "hypocrite, because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim in order to harm Islam," a "liar and defamer of Islam," legitimizing in this way my condemnation to death.
I have asked myself how it could be possible that someone who, like me, has fought with conviction and determination for a "moderate Islam," taking on the responsibility of exposing himself personally to the denunciation of Islamic extremism and terrorism, should then end up being condemned to death in the name of Islam and with the justification of the Qur'an.
I therefore had to take note of the fact that, beyond the contingency of the flourishing of Islamic extremists and terrorism on a worldwide level, the root of the evil is situated in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual.
Parallel to this, Providence introduced me to practicing Catholics of good will who, by virtue of their witness and their friendship, gradually became a point of reference on the level of their certainty of the truth and solidity of values. First there are my many friends of Communion and Liberation, chief among them Fr. Juliàn Carròn; ordinary religious like Fr. Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Fr. Carlo Maurizi, and Fr. Yohannis Lahzi Gaid; the rediscovery of the Salesians thanks to Fr. Angelo Tengattini and Fr. Maurizio Verlezza, culminating in a renewed friendship with rector major Fr. Pascual Chavez Villanueva; to the embrace of other prelates of great humanity like cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the bishops Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi, and, above all, Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied me in my spiritual journey of accepting the Christian faith.
But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and meaningful encounter in my decision to convert was with pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in presenting the indissoluble bond between faith and reason as the foundation of authentic religion and of humane civilization, and to whom I adhere completely as a Christian in order to be inspired with new light in the fulfillment of the mission that God has reserved for me.
Mine is a journey that began when I was four, and my mother Safeya, a believing and practicing Muslim in the first of a series of "coincidences" that would reveal themselves as something entirely other than fortuitous, but rather an integral part of a divine destiny to which we are all called entrusted me to the loving care of Sister Lavinia, of the Comboni order, convinced of the quality of the education that would be given to me by the Italian Catholic sisters transplanted to Cairo, my birthplace, to bear witness to their Christian faith through activities meant to foster the common good.
I thus began the experience of life in the boarding school, which continued with the Salesians of the Don Bosco Institute at middle school and high school, who integrally transmitted not only intellectual knowledge, but above all the understanding of values. It is thanks to Catholic religious that I acquired a deeply and essentially ethical conception of life, in which the person created in the image and likeness of God is called to carry out a mission that is situated within the context of a universal and eternal plan, aimed at the interior resurrection of individuals on this earth, and of all humanity on the Day of Judgment, which is founded upon faith in God and in the primacy of values, and based upon the meaning of individual responsibility and the meaning of duties toward society. It is by virtue of a Christian education and a shared experience of life together with Catholic religious that I have always cultivated a profound faith in the transcendent dimension, just as I have always sought for the certainty of the truth in absolute and universal values.
There was a period in which the loving presence and religious zeal of my mother brought me closer to Islam, which I periodically practiced on a cultural level, and in which I believed on the spiritual level according to an interpretation that at that time, the 1970's, corresponded overall to a faith respectful of the person and tolerant toward one's neighbor, in a context that of the Nasser regime in which the secular principle of the separation of the sacred and profane spheres predominated.
My father, Mahmoud, was completely secularist, like the majority of Egyptians who took the West as their model on the level of individual freedom, social custom, and cultural and artistic fashion, even if unfortunately Nasser's political totalitarianism and warmongering ideology of pan-Arabism, which aimed for the physical elimination of Israel, led to catastrophe for Egypt and cleared the way for the resurgence of pan-Islamism, the rise to power of Islamic extremists, and the explosion of globalized Islamic terrorism.
My long years at boarding school also permitted me to understand thoroughly and from up close the reality of Catholicism and of the women and men who have dedicated their lives to serving God in the bosom of the Church. Already at that time, I was reading the Bible and the Gospels, and I was particularly fascinated by the human and divine figure of Jesus. I was able to attend Holy Mass, and it also happened, although only once, that I approached the altar and received communion. It was an action that clearly signaled my attraction to Christianity and my desire to feel myself a part of the Catholic religious community.
Following this, upon my arrival in Italy at the beginning of the 1970's, amid the student uprisings and the difficulties with integration, I lived through the period of atheism paraded as faith, which was nevertheless also founded upon the primacy of absolute and universal values. I have never been indifferent to the presence of God, even if it is only now that I feel that the God of Love, of Faith and of Reason, has fully reconciled me with the heritage of values that is rooted within me.
Dear director, you asked me whether I am not afraid for my life, in the awareness that my conversion to Christianity will certainly obtain for me yet another condemnation to death for apostasy, and a much more serious one.
You are perfectly right. I know what I am going up against, but I will face my fate with my head held high, with my back straight and with the interior firmness of those who have the certainty of their faith. And I will be all the more so after the historic and courageous gesture of the pope who from the very first moment when he found out about my wish immediately agreed to personally impart to me the sacraments of Christian initiation.
His Holiness has launched a clear and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been excessively prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in Muslim majority countries, and remaining silent about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of being unable to protect converts in the face of their condemnation to death for apostasy, and the fear of retaliation against Christians living in Muslim countries.
And so, now Benedict XVI, with his testimony, is telling us that we must overcome fear and have no qualms in affirming the truth of Jesus with Muslims as well.
For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the presumption and violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice.
In Italy, there are thousands of converts to Islam who live peacefully in their new faith. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their new faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists lurking among us. For one of these "cases" that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, my first article written for "Corriere della Sera" on September 3, 2003, was entitled: "The new catacombs of the Islamic converts." It was an investigation of some of the new Christians in Italy who denounce their profound spiritual and human isolation, in the face of neglect from the institutions of the state that do not ensure their security, and of the silence of the Church itself.
And so, I hope that from the historic gesture of the pope and from my witness they may derive the conviction that the time has come to emerge from the darkness of the catacombs, and to confirm publicly their will to be fully themselves.
If we are not capable in Italy, the cradle of Catholicism, of guaranteeing complete religious freedom for all, then how will we ever be credible when we denounce the violations of this freedom in other countries of the world? I pray to God that this special Easter may bring the resurrection of the spirit to all of the faithful in Christ who still live under the yoke of fear. Happy Easter to all.
March 23, 2008
"An unfortunate episode to reassert the infamous Regensburg lecture"
by Aref Ali Nayed
Islam as a faith is a divine gift. As gift it is gracefully granted by God. How a person responds to that gift is a deeply intimate matter that is between that person and God.
Magdi Allams soul is best known to, and judged by, His Maker. It is God who will judge Him on how he responded to the gift of faith. He is responsible before His Maker to the extent of his freedom and capacity. The fact that Allam was given Catholic communion at a very young age under the influence of his early Catholic teachers seems to indicate that he was Christianized in childhood. As a result of his early Catholic schooling, he is reported to have never upheld or practiced the tenets of Islam.
The case of Allam reminds us, yet again, of the legitimate concerns of many Muslim scholars regarding the abuse of the trust that sometimes happens when Muslim parents, because of economic or other factors, send their children to Catholic schools. What happens to children, including Muslim ones, in Catholic schools is a matter that must be discussed as part of addressing Human Dignity in upcoming discussions. The use of schools for proselytizing is one of the important issues to be discussed.
As for the Vaticans deliberate and provocative act of baptizing Allam on such a special occasion and in such a spectacular way, it is sufficient to say the following.
1. It is sad that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points. Such instrumentalization of a person and his conversion is contrary to the basic tenets of upholding Human Dignity. It also comes at a most unfortunate time when sincere Muslims and Catholics are working very hard to mend ruptures between the two communities.
2. It is sad that the particular person chosen for such a highly public gesture has a history of generating, and continues to generate, hateful discourse. The basic message of Allams most recent article is the very message of the Byzantine Emperor quoted by the Pope in his infamous Regensburg Lecture. It is not far fetched to see this as another way of reasserting the message of Regensburg (which the Vatican keeps insisting was not intended). It is now important for the Vatican to distance itself from Allams discourse. Should Muslims take the high-profile Papal baptism as a Papal endorsement of Allams discourses regarding the nature of Islam (which happen to coincide with the message of Regensburg)?
3. It is sad that Benedict XVI chose to make the basic message of his religious discourse during the special occasion of Easter into a quasi-Manichean one with motifs of darkness and light, darkness being assigned to the other and light to the self. It is also sad that the idea of peace expressed in that discourse reduces to the bringing of the other into the fold through baptism. Such Roman totalitarian discourse is most unhelpful.
The whole spectacle with its choreography, persona, and messages provokes genuine questions about the motives, intentions, and plans of some of the Popes advisors on Islam. Nevertheless, we will not let this unfortunate episode distract us from our work on pursuing A Common Word for the sake of humanity and world-peace. Our basis for dialogue is not a tit-for-tat logic of reciprocity, it is rather a compassionate theology of mending the in-between for the sake of Love God and Love of neighbor.
March 24, 2008
"May we be permitted to express in turn our own displeasure..."
by Federico Lombardi S.I.
First of all, the most important statement is undoubtedly the confirmation of professor Aref Ali Nayed's desire to continue the dialogue of deeper reciprocal understanding between Muslims and Christians, and absolutely not to bring into question the journey begun with the [written] correspondence and the contacts established in the last year and a half between the Muslim scholars who signed the well-known letter and the Vatican, in particular the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue. This journey must continue, it is of extreme importance, it must not be broken off, and it takes priority in comparison with episodes that can be the subject of misunderstandings.
Secondly, administering baptism to a person implies recognizing that he has welcomed the Christian faith freely and sincerely, in its fundamental articles expressed in the "profession of faith." This is publicly proclaimed at baptism. Naturally, every believer is free to retain his own ideas on a very wide spectrum of questions and problems in which there is legitimate pluralism among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the Church clearly does not mean espousing all of his ideas and positions, in particular on political or social topics.
The baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam is a good opportunity to reiterate this fundamental principle explicitly. He has the right to express his own ideas, which remain personal ideas, clearly without becoming in any way the official expression of the positions of the pope or of the Holy See.
As for the debate over the pope's lecture in Regensburg, the explanations of its correct interpretation according to the intentions of the pope were given at the time, and there is no reason to bring them into question again. At the same time, some of the topics addressed at the time, such as the relationship between faith and reason, between religion and violence, naturally remain the object of reflection and debate, and of varying positions, since they refer to problems that cannot be resolved once and for all.
In the third place, the liturgy of the Easter vigil was celebrated as it is every year, and the symbolism of light and darkness is always part of it. It is certainly a solemn liturgy, and its celebration by the pope in St. Peter's is a very special occasion. But to accuse as "Manichean" the explanation of the liturgical symbols on the part of the pope which he provides each time, and in which he is a master perhaps manifests a lack of understanding of the Catholic liturgy rather than a criticism pertinent to the discourse of Benedict XVI.
Finally, may we be permitted to express in turn our own displeasure over what professor Nayed says about education in Christian schools in Muslim majority countries, objecting to the risk of proselytism. It seems to us that the extraordinarily great tradition of educational efforts on the part of the Catholic Church, including in countries with non-Christian majorities (not only in Egypt, but also in India, Japan, etc.), where for a very long time the great majority of the students in the Catholic schools and universities have not been Christian and have peacefully remained so, although with true esteem for the education they have received there, deserves a rather different appraisal. We do not think that the Church today deserves the accusation of lacking respect for the dignity and freedom of the human person. The violations of this calling for urgent attention are quite different. And it was perhaps for this reason as well that the pope took the risk of this baptism: to affirm the freedom of religious choice stemming from the dignity of the human person.
In any case, professor Aref Ali Nayed is a counterpart for whom we maintain the highest esteem, and with whom transparent communication is always worthwhile. This allows us to trust in the continuation of dialogue.
Vatican Radio, March 27, 2008
Something the Muslims will never understand.
I posted this story to the News/Activism forum yesterday. It is an excellent clarification of how Magdi Allam arrived at his conversion. As we know, the Holy Father speaks through his actions :-) It should be interesting to see how all of this plays out over the next few months when he meets with the Muslim scholars.
Auguri et Buona Pasqua!
If people want on or off this list, please let me know.
Thanks for the ping. I had read about this earlier, but it is very much worth reading this account by Allam himself.
It confirms what I noted before, that Pope Benedict must have decided that this issue needed to be confronted openly, even though it may risk the lives of Christians who have the ill fortune to live in Muslim countries.
But how much longer can the whole world continue to live like Dhimmis, for fear of offending these Muslim fanatics? The true state of affairs must be confronted, and better sooner than later.
As the Pope has indicated, dialogue is impossible unless both sides recognize the importance of truth, reason, and freedom as God-given gifts to men. Unfortunately, it is not clear that the Allah of Islam leaves any room for reason or for human freedom, as some commentators on Islam have been pointing out for some time. Allah is irrational and capricious, and demands nothing less than total submission. Freedom is a gift bequeathed to the West by Christianity.
Cicero said: Freedom is a gift bequeathed to the West by Christianity.
I think few people realize this or are willing to acknowledge it. One of the reasons we have been having problems in Iraq is simply because the people were not Christians and had no understanding of the concept of human freedom. I suspect Iraq was chosen because some people in the Bush government realized this and felt that because Saddam was initially a secular dictator - although later he invoked Islam - the Iraqis might catch on to the idea a little faster than, say, the Iranians.
But I seriously wonder whether it is possible to build a society based on human freedom when you have Islam's negative view of Creation, its arbitrary and whim-driven god, and its reliance on what is entirely positive law (since it has no concept of natural law). I don't think so, actually.
The Wall Street Journal had a good article about the conversion
(Friday March 28; page A8).
Anybody thinking that Islam can “play well with others” should read
that article. It makes it pretty clear that the view of Islam is
that they can kill anyone that goes apostate...and how dare they be
admitted to Christian fellowship.
So many threads on this, apparently more threads than there are converts.