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Challenges of Christian Converts From Islam

10/17/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Giorgio Paolucci, Editor in Chief of Avvenire

ROME, OCT. 17, 2006 (Zenit) - Converts from Islam to Christianity pose a challenge for governments to ensure freedom of religion -- and their witness is also a challenge to the Church itself.

So says Giorgio Paolucci, editor in chief of the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire. He has written a book with Lebanese journalist Camille Eid, Avvenire's Mideast correspondent, entitled "I Cristiani Venuti dall'Islam" (Christian Converts from Islam), which gathers the testimonies of Muslims residing in Italy who have converted to Christianity.

"The book seeks to bring to light an iceberg," says Paolucci. "Whereas Westerners who convert to Islam are very well known -- they go on television, are invited by the most popular programs, are presidents of the most famous Muslim associations and have no problems of visibility -- we have sought out people who, by the very nature of their experience, have problems in making known what they have experienced, though they are very happy with what has occurred."

Here is an excerpt of an interview Paolucci gave to us.

Q: Was this delicate and dangerous research?

Paolucci: The first problem was to find Muslims converted to Christianity. Everyone has heard talk of Abdul Rahman, the 41-year-old Afghan threatened with the death penalty in March of this year, accused of apostasy, who now lives in Italy, rescued thanks to an incredible international mobilization.

When his case occurred, for 15 days all the newspapers of Italy and Europe and the world talked about the problem of apostasy and the death penalty that Islam provides for those who convert to another religion.

Our task was to get to know the histories and faces of these people, to make it understood that the problem not only affects remote countries, such as Afghanistan, but also Europe and Italy.

Q: Why does it affect us?

Paolucci: One of the results of immigration is that Islam is among us. Being in our midst, it is present in all its complexity, including the issue of religious freedom, an issue that Muslim countries and the relative communities spread around the world have yet to clarify.

We wanted to write a book that would reflect further on the theological and juridical implications of apostasy and the relative punishments, and that would do so through human itineraries, attempting to understand how it is possible that there are people who so love Jesus as to risk suffering persecutions and the death penalty.

In 1955, Jean-Pierre Gaudeul's book "Vengono dall'Islam, Chiamati da Cristo" [They Come from Islam, Called by Christ], published by Emi, also came out in Italy. Its objective was to analyze the histories from the theological point of view.

We, instead, were interested in the whole of the histories. We spent two years finding them because it is very difficult to convince people to talk; organize the accounts in a way that the essence will remain, changing the connotations for security reasons.

In the end, we found 30 histories, some recounted personally, others gathered on the telephone or the Internet; others taken from rare articles of the Italian press.

Q: In the book's introduction, Egyptian Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir, professor of history of Arab culture and Islamology at the St. Joseph University of Beirut, addresses the problem of apostasy. Could you tell us the results of his analysis?

Paolucci: According to Khalil Samir, from the study of the Koran one does not glean that there is a death penalty for apostates.

There are 14 suras that speak about punishments for the apostate, but only in one of them is reference made to the type of punishment and it says that "the apostate will be punished with a punishment in this world and in the next."

The passage that says "in this world" does not specify how, whereas the Koran in general is very specific about punishments: If one robs, one's hand must be amputated; if one is an adulterer, one is punished with 100 lashes, etc.

Samir underlines therefore that the fact that apostates are condemned to death according to the penal code of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania and Afghanistan, does not derive from a Koranic prescription.

If this is true, Muslim fundamentalists who say that apostates must be killed, do not speak in the name of the Koran. This fact is important not only for Muslims who convert to Christianity but because, in the last 30 years, apostasy has become the main instrument to eliminate political adversaries.

Very often Muslim Brothers and other groups accuse their adversaries of apostasy; hence, it is no longer a religious problem but a technique to eliminate the opposition. Samir's analysis on the argument is revolutionary and it is hoped it will ...

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