TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

A Conversion in Italy: Magdi Cristiano Allam

People in Italy have become accustomed to hearing, in perfect and elegant Italian, Magdi Allam speak about the very difficult relationship between the West and the Muslim world. They also appreciate reading his editorials on Il Corriere della Sera devoted to the same topic. He is an extraordinarily popular figure in this country, one of the deputy directors (vice-director ad personam) of the leading Italian newspaper, and a man with a very fine intellect who tries to understand and to explain a situation, much more than a mere clash of cultures, that is getting worse by the hour. It is enough to look at his most recent contributions to Il Corriere della Sera (he was appointed vice-director in 2003) to get a clear idea of what kind of man he is and what kind of views he shares with his readers.

In mid-February, for example, Magdi Allam publicly denounced the threats to the only Pakistani woman writing for an Italian newspaper, Nosheen Ilyas. A letter had reached her with the indication that her throat would be cut if she continued writing in support of the liberation of Muslim women in Italy. Soon thereafter, Allam wrote about Ucoii’s (the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy) plan to build yet another mosque (of 3.100 square meters) in Milan. In that article, he indicated that the Italian governments (both the Berlusconi and the Prodi governments) have been sitting powerless in front of what he rightly termed “the Islamic conquest of Italy.” He also wrote of Europe, defining it as the “most dangerous factory of Islamic kamikaze”; he called some of the mosques “nurseries of terrorism” and has repeatedly expressed his deep concerns about the fact that the “sacrality of life” seems no longer one of the founding principles of today’s world. The prime example of this is represented, according to Allam, by the Islamic kamikazes, “who blow themselves up even inside the mosques, thereby killing people who pray to their same god.” With his articles, Allam has been proposing to fight a new battle, one of ideas, in order to try to rebuild the consciences around notions such as the primacy of life, the respect of the fundamental rights of human beings, and a sense of spirituality devoid of violence and of crime. He wrote against increasing episodes of antisemitism, visited the Jewish synagogue in Rome, and spoke in support of Pope Benedict XVI and against his attackers. All this just in the last few months.

This is the same Magdi Allam who, in the summer of 1967, was suspected of being a spy for Israel and subsequently imprisoned. He, instead, as a teenager from Cairo, was having a close friendship with a young girl from the Jewish-Egyptian community. And this is the same Magdi Allam who, on the most important day of the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, converted to Christianity. His name, after his Baptism administered by Pope Benedict XVI, is Magdi Cristiano Allam.

For the first time in his career as a journalist, on Easter day, Allam did not publish an article on the Corriere; rather, he wrote a Letter to the Editor (which got published on the first page) explaining, as a private citizen, the life choice he had just made and celebrated, and the motivations behind it. He started his letter by indicating that the day of his Baptism was the happiest day in his whole life. He then discussed the spiritual itinerary that brought him to the conversion, listed the names of those who helped and assisted him in this process, and expressed the desire that the thousands of Muslims around the world who converted to Christianity be able to be as public about their choice as he was. These Christians, he indicated, “are forced to live in Catacombs, whereas those who convert to Islamism do so without any fear of prosecution and without being subjected to death threats.”

It is crucial to think about the symbolic meaning of this conversion, particularly in light of the second fatwa issued against Allam because of his conversion itself. For Roman Catholics, baptism is the inauguration of a new life. It is much more than a mere initiation. It is the first step to eternity; it means access to a family made of all the brothers and sisters who see in God their father. It is also a rite of purification from the Original Sin. It is a hymn to life, which fears not the fatwas and all the rest. On the practical level, probably, Magdi Cristiano Allam’s life will not change much. He will continue living rather secludedly and surrounded by bodyguards. And he will continue writing. On other levels, his conversion represents the highest and most important example of a kind of integration into a new life and culture and of a kind of rejection of another life and another culture that he himself explained as a “radical and final turning point from the past.” Welcome Magdi Cristiano!

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