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On Converting from Islam to Catholicism: A Letter

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As discussed in this space previously, a leading Italian author and journalist converted from Islam to Catholicism this Easter. This is the letter to the editor of Corriere della Sera in which Magdi Cristiano Allam discusses his conversion. Thanks to Vernaccia for the translation.

Dear Editor,

What I am about to relate has to do with a religious choice and a choice in my personal life. As such, it does not involve or represent in any way the position of Il Corriere della Sera, of which I am honored to be part since 2003, as vice-director ad personam. I am, therefore, writing as a private citizen about a private choice. Last night, I converted to Catholicism, renouncing my previous Islamic faith. This was the healthy and mature fruit, born out of a long gestation, which came to life thanks to Divine Grace. The gestation saw suffering and joy, it saw times of profound and intimate reflection as well as times of self-conscious manifestation. I am particularly grateful to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted to me the sacraments of the Christian initiation, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Basilica during the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and the most explicit Christian name: Cristiano.

As of yesterday, then, my name is Magdi Cristiano Allam. And yesterday was the happiest day in my life. Receiving the gift of the Christian faith from the Pope himself and on the holiday commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is, for a believer, an unparalleled privilege and an invaluable gift. At almost 56 years of age, for me, this is an historic event, an exceptional and unforgettable event that marks a radical and final turning point from my past. The miracle of the Resurrection of Christ resonated with strength across my soul, freeing it from the darkness of a preaching where hatred and intolerance of the “other”—who is uncritically condemned as an “enemy”—win over love, over the respect for the same “other” in his most important capacity, that of a “human being.” Similarly, my mind has freed itself from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimates lies, dissimulation, and above all violent deaths; an obscurantism that leads to homicide and suicide, to blind submission, to tyranny. My mind has freed itself from all this, thereby allowing me to adhere fully to the authentic religion of Truth, of Life, and of Freedom. On my first Easter as a Christian, I have not only discovered Jesus, I have discovered, for the first time, the true and only God, the God of Faith and of Reason.

The Landing Place

My conversion to Catholicism is the landing place of a gradual and profound inner meditation. This spiritual itinerary was really unavoidable for me, as, in the last five years, I have been forced to live in total seclusion because of serious threats to my person. The police are constantly stationed at my home, and bodyguards follow me wherever I go since I was sentenced to death by Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those residing in Italy and those who are active abroad. During this time, I could not but question myself on the behavior of those who publicly issued a fatwa, the juridical Islamic condemnation, against me. I could not but reflect on those who called me, when I was a Muslim, an “enemy of Islam,” a “hypocrite,” or those who spoke of me as a “coptic Christian who wanted to pass as a Muslim only to harm Islam,” a “liar and a defamer of Islam.” It was these judgments that brought about and legitimated my death sentence. I have been asking myself how in the world could it have been possible that someone like me, who strenuously fought in favor of a “moderate Islam,” taking upon myself the responsibility of being targeted by extremists and terrorists, could end up with a death sentence in the name of Islam itself and based on the Koran. I then had to come to the realization that, aside from current and contingent phenomena in which Islamic extremists and terrorists are seen as threats to the whole world, the roots of evil are part of Islam itself. Islam is physiologically violent and historically conflictual.

At the same time, Divine Providence has enabled me to meet quite a few Catholics who practice what they preach. Thanks to their good will, to their testimony, and to their friendship, they have become, little by little, a point of reference for me. I have seen in them the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. I would like to mention a few of them. First, the many friends from Comunione e Liberazione, and in particular Father Juliàn Carròn; simple clergymen like Father Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Father Carlo Maurizi, and Yohannis Lahzi Gaid. I rediscovered the Salesians thanks to Father Angelo Tengattini and Father Maurizio Verlezza; this rediscovery culminated in the friendship with Rector Don Pascual Chavez Villanueva; I also want to mention Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Monsignors Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi, and, above all, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who has personally followed me in the spiritual itinerary that lead me to the Christian faith. There is no doubt, however, that the most extraordinary and meaningful encounter in the course of my decision to convert to Christianity has been with Pope Benedict XVI. I have admired and defended him, when I was a Muslim, for his magisterial establishment of the unbreakable link between faith and reason as the cornerstone of authentic religion and of humanity. I fully adhere, now as a Christian, to these views that will enable me to see the new light as I carry out the mission that God has assigned to me.

The Choice and the Threats

Dear Editor, you have asked if I do not fear for my life in the awareness that the conversion to Christianity will determine for sure yet another and if possible even more serious death sentence, this time for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I am fully aware of what is ahead of me, but I will face my destiny with pride, without letting anybody bend me to their will and with the inner security of those who are certain about their faith. And I will be even stronger after this historic and brave gesture of the Pope, who, as soon as he became aware of my intentions, immediately accepted to administer himself the sacraments of Christianity. His Holiness has thereby sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that up until now has been all too shy about the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. It is a Church that has refrained from preaching in the countries dominated by a Muslim majority and that has kept silent on the truth of those who converted to Christianity in Muslim countries. It has been keeping silent out of fear. It is the fear of not being able to protect those who converted to Catholicism from condemnation to death for apostasy. It is also the fear of retaliations against the Christians living in Islamic Countries. Today, Benedict XVI, with his undertaking, has told us that we must overcome fear and that we must not be fearful, when affirming the truth of Jesus Christ even in face of Muslims.

Stop Violence

I want to state clearly that the time has come to stop the arbitrary violence perpetrated by Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy, there are thousands of people who converted to Islam and who are free to live and profess their new faith. But there are also thousands of Muslims who have converted to Christianity but who must keep this choice secret for fear of being assassinated by the Islamic extremists who are hiding among us. This was indeed the topic of my first article for Il Corriere. On September 3, 2003, my first article was titled “The New Catacombs of the Muslims Who Converted to Christianity.” That piece was the result of research I had conducted among some new Christians in Italy who reported their deep spiritual and human loneliness. Their loneliness was due to the state institutions that did not take any measures to protect them from violence, and it was also due to the hollow silence of the Church. It is my hope that the historical gesture of the Pope and my own experience will help everybody realize that it is time to come out of the darkness of the Catacombs. It is my hope that everybody will be able to publicly be themselves. If, here in Italy, in the cradle of Catholicism and in our very home, we are not able to guarantee that everybody be allowed freely to profess their faith, how can we hope to be credible when denouncing the violation of such freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray God that this special Easter may coincide with the Resurrection of the sprit of all those who believe in Christ and who until now have had to live subjugated by fear.

Magdi Cristiano Allam
March 23, 2008

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