What’s driving Muslim refugees to Christianity?
Religion | Europe’s churches have baptized hundreds of former Muslims in recent years
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 3/13/17, 09:22 am
Hundreds of Muslim refugees have converted to Christianity across Europe in recent years, according to church leaders, but motives vary.
In Austria, the rolls of Catholic churches swelled with Muslim immigrants, leading to new guidelines for baptism to ensure sincere faith. Other churches in Lebanon, Germany, and England also report growing numbers of Muslim refugee converts from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Bangladesh, and Eritrea.
Bishop George Saliba of Beirut, Lebanon, told PRI he has baptized about 100 Syrian refugees since 2011. In another Beirut church, a pastor meets with Syrian refugees to teach them “Christian doctrines” from Scripture. He requested anonymity out of fear of Islamist reprisals but said dozens of Bible study groups for Syrian refugees now meet in Lebanon.
No national statistics exist, but many local churches across Europe attest to the influx of Muslim refugees seeking to become Christians. Still, they remain a small fraction of the millions of Muslims in Europe.
According to The Guardian, European mosques turned away many homeless and impoverished Muslim refugees seeking assistance. They found help and a warm welcome in churches.
Reasons for conversion vary, from “heartfelt faith,” to gratitude to the Christians assisting them, to hope that it could boost their chances for gaining asylum, The Guardian reported. One Muslim in Germany admitted to NPR he might convert in order to avoid deportation back to Afghanistan, where his “life will be in danger.”
But others appear sincere. A 25-year-old Iranian Kurd now called Silas told NPR studying Islam brought disillusionment. Reading the Bible for the first time in a camp on Germany’s border with Poland prompted questions.
"When I started to read the Bible, it changed me," Silas said. "I had a lot of questions and Pastor Martens said I should come to class and ask my questions. At first, I didn't want to be a Christian, I just wanted to understand it. But the more answers I got, the more I wanted to stay, and I realized I was finding God."
Rev. Gottfried Martens leads the evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church near Berlin, where hundreds of primarily Persian refugees have converted. His church holds services in Farsi, which is illegal in Iran.
“By getting baptized we have to say goodbye to our home country because we can never go back. But we accept this. The Muslim god in Iran was angry and strict, but Jesus accepts us as we are,” an Iranian named Medhi told Germany’s Der Spiegel.
Medhi belongs to the refugee community at Alpha and Omega Free Church, which baptized 200 people in just two months last year. The trend has “federal implications” for asylum claims, since converts in Iran are severely persecuted, Der Spiegel noted.
Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, England, holds a Persian service attracting 100-140 people, The Guardian reported. Rev. Sally Smith told the newspaper the conversion trend has spread to St. Mark’s Church in Stoke-on-Trent, where a mix of Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis, Bangladeshis, and Eritreans gather. Some convert to help their asylum chances, but according to Smith, those instances are rare.
Conversion in Europe is not without danger. Many who abandon Islam for Christianity face family and community estrangement. One former Muslim in Lebanon was stabbed in the street after attending church. Rev. Martens of Berlin told the Daily Mail that Muslim translators intentionally misquote Iranian and Afghani converts in order to sabotage their asylum requests.
Julia A. Seymour
Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.