Pope Benedict’s choice to publicly baptize the most prominent Muslim in Italy, Egyptian-born Magdi Allam, highlights a quiet worldwide exodus from Islam. In recent years, millions have moved on. With this high-profile action, Pope Benedict demonstratively blesses this massive conversion from the highest levels of the Church.
Interviewed by al-Jazeera in 2006, Ahmad al-Qataani, leader of the Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, explains the decline:
Islam used to represent … Africa’s main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. So in the section of Africa that we are talking about, the non-Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realize that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century.
On the other hand, the number of Catholics has increased from one million in 1902 to 329 million 882 thousand (329,882,000). Let us round off that number to 330 million in the year 2000.
As to how that happened, well there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Everyday, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity. These numbers are very large indeed.
Allam’s public baptism came just ten days after the body of Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, was found in a shallow grave after being kidnapped by al-Qaeda February 29. The ceremony came just three days after an al-Qaeda tape threatening the pope and condemning cartoons of Mohammed. Muslims who convert to other religions or abandon religion entirely are subject to a standing order of death for apostasy. The baptism of Allam is an act of defiance in the face of Islamic threats.
The baptism of Allam also comes in the midst of papal “dialogue” with Muslims. The dialogue began unpromisingly with the catcalls from Islam and its secularist allies which greeted the now-famous September 20, 2006, papal address at the University of Regensburg. In October, 138 Islamic leaders presented the pope with “A Common Word Between Us and You” — nailed by critics as a craftily written call for conversion. On March 4, Pope Benedict approved formation of a permanent “Catholic-Muslim forum” scheduled to meet in November. And now he has thrown his own call for conversion into the discussion. Islam’s secularist allies were quick to echo Muslims, calling the baptism “provocative.” While accepting the Islamic death penalty for apostasy as a given, they complain the pope’s action could set back dialogue.
While the secularists wring their hands, Allam writes that his mind “has been freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimizes lies and deception, violent death that leads to homicide and suicide, blind submission to tyranny, permitting me to join the authentic religion of Truth, Life, and Liberty. … 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.”
Allam, author of numerous books and deputy editor of Milan’s Corriere della Sera, joins a list of converts from Islam which includes many other public intellectuals and millions of average people from all over the world. This is more than the normal flow between two large religious communities. Islam can point to little in the way of recent conversions. Its claim to be the world’s fastest-growing religion stems mostly from the high birth rate in Islamic countries, whose infant mortality rates have been cut by the introduction of Western medicine. Christian growth is based on adult conversion. As leading Christian evangelist Wolfgang Simpson writes, “More Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in all of history.”
Although al-Qataani points to Africa, there is another phenomenon based on repulsion from Islamist dictatorship, corruption, and terrorist violence. In Iran as many as 1 million people have surreptitiously converted to Evangelical Christianity in the last five years. Pastor Hormoz Shariat claims to have converted 50,000 of them through his U.S.-based Farsi-language satellite ministry. He contrasts the upswing to the efforts of evangelical missionaries in Iran between 1830 and 1979, whose 149 years of work built a Christian community of only 3,000. One Iranian religious scholar believes youth are abandoning Islam because it is identified with the corrupt Iranian government. Now the Iranian Majlis (parliament) is debating the death penalty for conversion.
After years of al-Qaeda war on Iraq, a similar phenomenon is growing. The New York Times March 4 reports: “After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.” A high school girl tells Times reporters: “I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us. Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.” A 19-year-old man says: “The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.” A Baghdad law professor explains that her students “have changed their views about religion. They started to hate religious men. They make jokes about them because they feel disgusted by them.” A 24-year-old female college student says, “I used to love Osama bin Laden. Now I hate Islam. Al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred. People are being killed for nothing.”
In southern Russia the same pattern is emerging. According to Roman Silantyev, executive secretary of the Inter-religious Council in Russia, freed from atheist control, two million Muslims converted to Christianity. Repulsed by bloody terrorist attacks, those living in areas such as Beslan have converted to Christianity in the greatest numbers of all. As many as 100,000 have converted to Christianity in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.
After decades of Islamist war, evangelicals report thousands of sub-rosa converts in rural areas of Kashmir. Says one churchgoer: “I am interested in this religion. I hate violence. I hate fundamentalists in Islam. I come here to seek peace.” An Indian newspaper headline reads: “Urban Muslim Youth Out to Junk Faith.”
Following decades of terrorist rule, Palestinians are being quietly converted, holding in-home services to avoid detection. Says one evangelist: “I’ve been working among these people for thirty years, and I promise you I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Islam is also losing adherents in areas where Islamist harassment is heavy on the streets. The London Times estimates 15% of Muslims living in Western Europe have left Islam — 200,000 in the UK alone. Those who leave often face harassment, threats, and attack.
The mufti of Perak, Malaysia, estimates about 250,000 people have abandoned Islam, making formal application for apostasy to the state — a right allowed to Malaysian citizens who are not ethnic Malays. Says he: “This figure does not include individuals who don’t do solat, doesn’t fast and breaks [sic] all the tenets of Islam.” Borrowing from the communist playbook, Malaysia operates “reeducation camps” for any ethnic Malay found guilty of apostasy. Unsurprisingly, ethnic Malays are at the bottom of the economic ladder in Malaysia.
In a letter published in Corriere della Sera on Easter Day, Allam points out the pope “sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a church that until now has been too cautious in the conversion of Muslims … because of the fear of being unable to protect the converted who are condemned to death for apostasy.
“Thousands of people in Italy have converted to Islam and practice their faith serenely. But there are also thousands of Muslims who have converted to Christianity who are forced to hide their new faith out of fear of being killed by Islamist terrorists.”
Allam describes Islam as a system for taking and holding power. Threat of violence is its enforcement mechanism. Allam also points out: “Beyond … the phenomenon of extremists and Islamist terrorism at the global level, the root of evil is inherent to a physiologically violent and historically conflictual Islam.” So it is not coincidental that Muslims are abandoning the faith as U.S. and coalition soldiers smash al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Islamist terrorists and street thugs are beginning to look impotent.
Appeasement-oriented opinion explains Islamic violence as a response to Western policy. For them, reality is incomprehensible. But in a 1998 ABC News interview with John Miller, Osama bin Laden explained his motivation: Allah had given the jihadis victory over one superpower (the USSR) and Allah would grant them victory over the other. But a decade later it is not coming to pass on the battlefield. The defeat of the Islamists puts the lie to the claim that Allah will cause the infidels to desire submission. As a result, the Islamists’ ability to intimidate their captive populations is weakened. More and more it is Muslims who no longer desire submission to Islam.
Andrew Walden is Editor of the Hawai`i Free Press in Hilo, HI and may be reached at [email protected]