Italy’s leading Muslim writer has become a Catholic. As Pope Benedict XVI baptized Magdi Allam during an Easter service at the Vatican, the glare of international publicity annoyed at least one Muslim, Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Italian Islamic Religious Community. He told reporters: “What amazes me is the high profile the Vatican has given this conversion. Why could he have not done this in his local parish? . . . If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives.”
Why should the exercise of a basic human right, the freedom of conscience, be a matter for delicacy? In voicing this complaint Pallavicini raised yet again the Islamic-supremacist specter that increasingly haunts Europe — for in traditional Islamic law, Christians in the Islamic state must be unobtrusive and submissive, eschewing bells, processions, and other public displays, and remaining private and unostentatious in their religious observances, so as to avoid offend the delicate sensibilities of Muslims. In suggesting that Allam would have done better to convert somewhere away from the flashbulbs and microphones, Pallavicini suggests that all this is part of his own mental baggage: In a perfect world, Christians may practice their faith, but they must do so out of sight.
The new convert himself, an editorial writer and deputy editor at the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and for years a vociferous critic of the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism, might agree that this is indeed part of the attitude that Islamic sharia law can inculcate in its adherents. “Over the years,” he wrote trenchantly about Islam in a letter to Corriere della Sera, “my spirit has been freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimizes lies and deception, violent death that leads to homicide and suicide, blind submission to tyranny.”
Must Allam now live in fear of this violent ideology? Yes. Allam has been under guard ever since he expressed support for Israel, which he does in no uncertain terms — in fact, he entitled a book Viva Israel after Hamas jihadists sent him death threats. And now he expects more, saying that he will likely receive “another death sentence for apostasy.”
The Islamic death sentence for apostasy is very real. All the schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that apostates must be executed, and this law is rooted in the dictum of the Muslim prophet Mohammed: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” The internationally influential Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the eminence behind al-Jazeera and IslamOnline, who has been praised by Georgetown Islamic scholar John Esposito as a “reformist,” insisted recently on the traditional and mainstream status of this death sentence: “Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-ashriyyah, Al-Jafariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed.”
Given the weight of this traditional ruling, it is extremely difficult for Islamic reformers to make headway — as Allam well knows. In his letter to Corriere della Sera, he explained that this was also one of the signposts on his journey toward conversion: “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.” It would not have been an outcome envisioned by those who have insisted that the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify their violent actions are peripheral at best to the faith itself.
Nonetheless, Allam took this step with open eyes: “I realize what I am going up against but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith.” And his concern is for other converts: also in his letter to Corriere, Allam remembered that “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.” The situation hasn’t changed since then: “Thousands of people in Italy have converted to Islam and practice their faith serenely. But there are also thousands of Muslims who have converted to Christianity who are forced to hide their new faith out of fear of being killed by Islamist terrorists.”
Allam praised Pope Benedict for baptizing him in the public manner that nettled Pallavicini, for in doing so, he said, the Pontiff “sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a church that until now has been too cautious in the conversion of Muslims . . . because of the fear of being unable to protect the converted who are condemned to death for apostasy.”
Perhaps the conversion of Magdi Allam will herald the end of this shameful silence and fear, and trigger the recovery of a bit of self-confidence on the part of the West — such that European states and the Church will more zealously guard these new converts, recognizing in their conversion the expression of one of the fundamental human rights challenged today by the global jihad.
Even that would not be as great a Paschal gift as the one Magdi Allam received last weekend. But for all those who cherish the freedom of conscience as a fundamental human right, it would be a ray of hope.
– Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad.