“It was the most beautiful day of my life. I was reborn. This was a radical choice, which has changed my entire past and has begun a new life. On that day, the Magdi Allam inside me, who believes unambiguously and unquestionably in the principles of liberty and choice, was reborn in the framework of religion.”
Such a statement is fitting for any convert to Islam, and if heard uttered by someone who has newly embraced Islam, smiles, feelings of warmth, and shouts of “Allahu Akbar” would fill the mosque or Islamic center in which they were uttered. Yet, there was no such adulation on the part of Muslims; no such feelings of warmth inside; no shouts of “Allahu Akbar.” In fact, I am sure there were shouts of “La’anahu Allah” (may God curse him) all across the Muslim world, because the words quoted above were those of a Muslim who converted to Catholic Christianity.
Yet, this was no ordinary conversion, and this was no ordinary Muslim. It was that of Magdi Allam, the most famous (non-practicing) Muslim in Italy, and a leading writer and intellectual. Allam has gained notoriety for his staunch support for Israel and fierce condemnation of radical Islam. In 2003, Hamas declared a death sentence on him because of his criticism of terror attacks in Israel, and he has been under round-the-clock guard ever since. Over time, he came to the conclusion that there cannot be a “moderate Islam”:
“I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a ‘moderate Islam,’ assuming the responsibility for 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 Koran. 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.”
As a result, he converted to Christianity and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI himself, in Saint Peter’s Basilica itself, during Easter Midnight Mass, the “mother of all masses,” itself. Writing in Ha’aretz, Adi Schwartz comments that “the exalted public ceremony transformed the event into a clear political statement.”
And everyone braced for an angry Muslim backlash. For his part, Allam immediately went on the offensive, saying that his conversion “liberated” him from “darkness,” and that he “realized that Islam is not compatible with core values such as respect for life and freedom of choice.” The Vatican publication L’Osservatore Romano, wrote: “There are no hostile intentions toward a great religion like Islam.” The Holy See’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that Mr. Allam’s comments about Islam “remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the Pope or of the Holy See.”
Yet, why should Muslims be outraged by his conversion? What are we afraid of?
Indeed, some Muslims who heeded his call to renounce violence and espouse the true, moderate Islam feel betrayed. Prominent Italian Muslim preacher Yahya Sergio Pallavicini, who joined Mr. Allam (when he was a “Muslim”) on several occasions to renounce extremism, said “One day he’s saying that moderate Islam exists, the next day he’s saying the whole religion is violent. Is he suggesting that the only choice for Muslims who renounce terrorism is to be baptized by the Pope next Easter?” He makes a good point.
Nevertheless, Magdi Allam’s conversion, as public (more public than that of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair) and political as it was, should garner absolutely no anger or fury. No stone should be thrown; no tire burnt; no glass broken; no call for his death should be made. If Magdi Allam decides to leave Islam, that is his business, and he will answer to God for his decision. No one should brace for an angry response, because an angry response is completely unnecessary.
If Mr. Allam left his nominal Islamic faith for Catholicism because Islam, as he claims, “is not compatible with core values such as respect for life and freedom of choice,” then he is either being wilfully decietful or is completely and utterly ignorant of the very basic tenets of Islam, curious for someone who was born into the faith.
A cursory reading of even a poor translation of the Qur’an would reveal that Islam places the sanctity of human life at the utmost of importance:
And do not take any human being’s life – [the life] which God has willed to be sacred – otherwise than in [the pursuit] of justice… (17:33)
And do not kill yourselves, for God has been merciful to you. (4:29)
Furthermore, the freedom to choose one’s own spiritual path is tantamount in the Qur’an; one only has to look, and it is quite obvious that Allam has either chosen not to look or is completely blind:
Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you… (5:48)
For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did! (16:93)
There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error… (2:256)
Say [O Muhammad], ‘The truth is from your Lord:’ Let him who wills believe it, and let him who wills, reject (it). (18:29)
If it had been your Lord’s will, they all would have believed – all who are on earth. Will you, then, compel the people, against their will, to believe? (10:99)
The evidence is overwhelming: Islam firmly upholds freedom of choice in matters of faith. Indeed, some Muslims do not, but their sins do not speak for the entire faith. Rather, their sins are an affront to the principles of Islam. Yet, Allam does not seem to know this, and he continues to rail against Islam as an “intolerant” faith, so much so, that the Vatican has distanced itself from Allam and his comments.
Yet, in no way, shape, or form should the Muslim community be bent out of shape by Allam’s conversion. Even if the head Shaikh of Al Azhar University converted to Catholicism, it would not diminish the truth of Islam’s message one iota. The Qur’an is quite confident in the truth it speaks, and so should it be with its adherents. “The right way has now become distinct from [the way] of error,” the Qur’an says, and “the truth is from your Lord. Let him who wills, believe it, and let him who wills, reject it.”
All will stand before God and account for his or her actions, and that includes Magdi Cristiano Allam.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.