On Sunday morning in Britain, just as the nation was preparing to observe a moment of silence for Remembrance Day, a taxicab pulled up in front of Liverpool Women’s Hospital and exploded into flames. Moments later, the cab driver, David Perry, who had run out of the car, explained that he had noticed that his passenger, who turned out to be an Iraqi migrant named Emad Jamil Al Swealmeen, was wearing an explosive belt, so he locked the cab, whereupon Swealmeen exploded his bomb inside it.
This would be an unfortunately standard story of jihad terrorism were it not for a strange detail. Swealmeen converted to Christianity in 2017, in the same cathedral he had apparently planned to attack: he initially asked Perry to drive him to the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool, but traffic was heavy, and so he opted to go to Liverpool Women’s Hospital instead.
Islamic apologists have made much of Swealmeen’s conversion to Christianity, as it apparently validates their claim that terrorists are not prompted to commit acts of violence by religious teachings, but by poverty or desperation or psychological problems or some combination of the three. That certainly seems to be true in Swealmeen’s case, at least at first glance, since he seems to have renounced Islam and its promise of paradise to those who “kill and are killed” for Allah (Qur’an 9:111) back in 2017.
Malcolm Hitchott, who with his wife Elizabeth hosted Swealmeen in their home for eight months when he first arrived in Britain, recounted: “He first came to the cathedral in August 2015 and wanted to convert to Christianity. He took an Alpha Course, which explains the Christian faith, and completed it in November of that year. That enabled him to come to an informed decision and he changed from Islam to Christianity and was confirmed as a Christian just before he came to live with us. He was destitute at that time and we took him in.” Elizabeth recalled that he was a wonderful fellow: “We just loved him, he was a lovely guy.” Obviously.
His conversion, however, may not have been sincere. Christian Today reported back in January 2017 that in Germany, “migrants increase their chances of winning asylum in Germany if they are able to prove that they would face persecution if sent home to a Muslim country….They can do this by showing proof that they are Christian or have converted to Christianity.” Dr. Gottfried Martens of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin noted that “some Muslims come to his church and express interest in Christianity just to improve their chances of getting their asylum request approved.”
Asylum seekers in Britain have also shown that they know how to game the system: they claim to be Christian or gay and that they would therefore face persecution back home if their asylum claim was denied. But as soon as their application is approved, they return to Islam and/or heterosexuality.
It is possible, however, that Emad Jamil Al Swealmeen’s conversion was sincere. He may have converted to Christianity and then returned to Islam, turning to jihad to make up for his sin of apostasy. Islam teaches that on the day of judgment, every individual’s good deeds and bad deeds will be placed on great scales; if the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds, one goes to paradise, but if the bad deeds outweigh the good deeds, one goes to hell (cf. Qur’an 21:47).
Since Muhammad prescribed death for those who leave Islam (cf. Bukhari 9.84.57), apostasy is a very serious offense that can only be outweighed by an even greater good deed. And there is no deed greater than jihad: a hadith has a man asking Muhammad, “Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” Muhammad replied, “I do not find such a deed.” (Bukhari 56.4.2785) If Swealmeen was going through a time of personal crisis and decided to return to Islam, he would have needed to expiate his great sin of apostasy
Another possibility: in January 2016, the Islamic State (ISIS) issued a manual entitled “Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen.” It told jihadis in the West to pretend to be Christians and stated: “It is permissible for you to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross. As you know, Christians – or even atheist Westerners with Christian background – wear crosses on their necklaces.”
The bottom line is that there is nothing in the Christian tradition that is remotely comparable to the Qur’an’s promise that those who are killed while killing infidels are guaranteed a place in paradise (9:111). The very fact that Emad Jamil Al Swealmeen became a suicide bomber is indication that he is more Muslim than Christian. That has not, however, stopped those who insist, contrary to all evidence, that all religious traditions are equally capable of inciting violence from crowing over his apparent Christian conversion. The larger problem, of a growing population in Britain, Europe, and North America that includes some people who believe it to be praiseworthy and meritorious to kill and be killed for Allah, remains unaddressed.