CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 12, 2016 — There is at last some positive news coming out of the Middle Eastern refugee migrations to Europe. It’s a mixed bag with an uncertain future, but in general, the data are good.
According to “The Guardian” in the UK, there is anecdotal evidence of rising church attendance and conversions by Muslims to Christianity. There are no reliable statistics yet, but a pattern appears to be growing among people fleeing the conflicts and hardships in their home countries.
There is another side to the story which clouds the picture. Some observers believe that many of the conversions are conversions of convenience in order to obtain benefits that are not readily available to Muslim refugees. Muslims know all too well that there can be severe penalties for apostasy, including beheading, which further complicates their individual situations.
Muslims are also aware of something called taqiyya, which allows them to go so far as to renounce Allah and Islam in order to save themselves from harm. All that is required is to remain loyal to Islam in their own hearts and minds.
Many Christian churches have agreed to provide “letters of attendance” to immigration authorities and to support refugees in the appeals process.
Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian defector who converted to Christianity and is now a curate at Liverpool Cathedral, currently spends his days assisting other refugees. When asked about the problem of “pretending to convert” Eghtedarian replied, “Yes, of course. I do understand there are a lot of mixed motives. There are many people abusing the system—I’m not ashamed of saying that.”
Historically, the conversion process has largely gone the other way; people of other religions have converted to Islam in order to protect their own lives and the safety of their families. The descendants of those Islamic converts come from families that have been Muslim for centuries—for so long that they do not even know why or how their ancestors became believers. Now the process could be taking a 180-degree turn, with people becoming Christians purely out of self-preservation.
The situation is complicated when it comes to determining who is a sincere convert from Islam and who is not. Some of the refugees are coming to an eye-opening awareness of the flaws in Islam, such as a 32-year old Iranian named Johannes who fled Tehran for Vienna. “I found that the history of Islam was completely different from what we were taught at school,” he said.
He added, “A religion that began with violence cannot lead people to freedom and love. Jesus Christ said ‘those who use the sword will die by the sword’. This really changed my mind.”
Says Toby Howarth, the bishop of Bradford, “When we do confirmations, we work hard to make sure the person is serious. We all have mixed motives. But if someone says ‘I believe this’, who are we to make windows into people’s souls? The only thing I can do is see if people are still there a year later—and often they are.”
The key will be how these neo-Christians assimilate into their new environments. That process will take some time before the answer is known.
In the Muslim world, young people in particular are brainwashed about Islam from the day they are born, much the same as Johannes was. If you carry that process over to Christianity where there is no impetus to kill, maim or dominate people of other faiths, perhaps the seed of tolerance will indeed grow within the hearts and souls of refugees seeking something better.
In the end, whatever the motive of the immigrants may be at the moment, considering the alternative, the indoctrination into something positive cannot be a bad thing.
That’s good news for us all.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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