Pope’s Baptism Of Muslim Convert Sparks Controversy

Among those who the Pope himself baptised during the Easter vigil celebration at the Vatican was well-known journalist Magdi Allam. The baptism was reported prominently in Italy not only because he is a leading journalist but also because, at least officially, he was a Muslim before he converted to Christianity.

As expected, the conversion and its prominence were not well received by Muslims. Ali Nayed, a Muslim scholar who was responsible for setting up a Christian-Muslim dialogue some months ago, disapproved of the decision for the Pope himself to baptise the journalist in a globally televised ceremony. He said: “It is sad that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points. It is sad that the particular person chosen for such a highly public gesture has a history of generating and continues to generate, hateful discourse.”

Mr Nayed was referring in particular to an interview Allam gave to Il Giornale in which he said his decision to abandon Islam was instigated mostly by his conviction that a moderate form of Islam was not possible because “a substantial ambiguity found in the Koran and the concrete actions of Muhammed, feeds violent tendencies”.

Mr Nayed drew a parallel between these views and those expressed by Pope Benedict during the now famous lecture at Regensburg in 2006, which had sparked off worldwide criticism and protests by Muslims.

In his reactions to the accusation, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that journalist Allam “has the right to express his own ideas”, adding that these ideas “in no way represented the positions of the Pope or the Holy See”. Fr Lombardi added that Christians are free to express themselves on subjects “on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians”. He said that welcoming a new believer into the Church does not mean that it agrees with his or her ideas or opinions especially “on political and social issues”.

Fr Lombardi denied the accusation that the Church puts pressure on non-Catholics to convert to Christianity.

The Church, he said, respects “human dignity and freedom”. It was, perhaps for this reason, Fr Lombardi added that the Pope “accepted the risk of this baptism: to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person”.