The world is now discussing Magdi Cristiano Allam’s baptism by Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s. Osama bin Laden recently accused Benedict of plotting a new Crusade against Islam, and instead finds something far more powerful: faith the size of a mustard seed that can move mountains. The faith of a single human being well may have changed the course of great events. Since 9/11 the leaders of the West have searched for a “moderate Islam” to counter radical Islamism, without however encountering a single prominent Muslim willing to unequivocally repudiated terrorism, wife-beating, the stoning of adulteresses and so forth.
Now Magdi Allam, the deputy editor of Italy’s newspaper of record and a bestselling author, tells us that he has found the true God and forsaken an Islam that he regards as inherently violent. Mr. Allam has a powerful voice. For years he was the exemplar of “moderate Islam” in Europe, and now he has decided that Islam cannot be “moderate.” His conversion shifts the agenda to the debate that Benedict opened at Regensburg in September 2006 over faith and reason, in opposition to arbitrary submission and violence. Before Benedict’s election, I summarized his stance as “I have a mustard seed and I’m not afraid to use it.” Now we are seeing what faith can accomplish.
Mr. Allam abandoned Islam, he explains , because the religion is violent as a matter by its nature:
My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.
I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against meI who was a Muslimas an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive . (emphasis added)
But it was not recognition that “the root of evil is inherent in Islam” that led Mr. Allam to the Church, but Pope Benedict XVI’s defense of faith and reason, as he recounts:
But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert was that with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in setting down the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization, and to whom I fully adhere as a Christian to inspire me with new light in the fulfillment of the mission God has reserved for me.
Benedict’s message is “revolutionary,” Mr. Allam added. Many converts to Christianity from Islam now may step out of the shadows, and the Church may abandon its undue prudence about proselytizing in Muslim lands:
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.
For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those “fortuitous events” that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled “The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.” It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves.
What the outcome will be of the evangelization of Muslims lies beyond all speculation: that is a matter of every soul’s relationship to God. But the global agenda has changed, not through the machinations of statesmen or the word-mincing of public intellectuals, but through the soul of a single man. Benedict’s Regensburg challenge to Islam now demarcates the encounter between the West and the Muslim world, and nothing will be the same.