Pope Baptises Former Muslim

A bit of Easter theatre, from the AP:

Italy’s most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book “Long Live Israel.”

How someone can be both “non-practicing” and also “Italy’s most prominent” Muslim is rather perplexing. Allam was featured on this blog last year, when I noted his organisation of a march through Rome in support of persecuted Christians (a march which brought together Abraham Foxman, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, and “post-fascist” politician Gianfranco Fini, among others).

Despite glee from some quarters at the thought of angered Muslims (“I hope the musslemans choke on it”, according to a commentator at Rod Dreher’s blog), Italian Islamic organisations have responded sensibly:

The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy – which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas – said the baptism was his own decision.

“He is an adult, free to make his personal choice,” the Apcom news agency quoted the group’s spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying.

However – and not unreasonably:

Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Islamic religious community in Italy, said he respected Allam’s choice but said he was “perplexed” by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert. “If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives,” the ANSA news agency quoted Pallavicini as saying.

Zenit has translated Allam’a conversion narrative here (the Italian original can be seen here). It contains a call for Christians to follow the Pope’s example and be more assertive in trying to convert Muslims in the face of violent threats:

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 proselytizing 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.

Allam already has a Catholic wife, Valentina Colombo, an academic who is connected to various neo-conservative think tanks. They have a son, and Allam has two children by a “previous relationship” – it is unclear whether that relationship was a marriage, which might have complicated the conversion process.

Perhaps the most dramatic Italian conversion to Catholicism from a non-Christian religion in modern times occurred in 1945, when the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, was baptized following years of study and a religious vision (which apparently his wife also saw). Pope Benedict’s recent support for a prayer for the conversion of the Jews has caused controversy, although some sources claim the objections were based on misunderstandings.