Saturday, October 11, 2008

Baptism for Muslims: Syncretism or heterodox practice?

Thanks to a reader for posting this. I have been enjoying reading Religious Syncretism by Eric Maroney over the past few days. If you can pick it up I recommend it, though some of the material on the BVM will make you squirm (especially all of you devout Catholics out there).

But here is an interesting and recent article about Muslims, in fulfilling their vows, taking their children to be "baptized" in fulfilling a specific vow. I will say that I had known about this outside of MENA, but to hear of it happening in Egypt is quite curious, though not entirely surprising given the Holy Family's sojourn there. I will say that sacramentally it is probably not a genuine baptism though. That the priests have built a different room for Muslim baptisms indicate that theologically what is happening is not a regular baptism. It is probably more of an act of dedication and thanksgiving that the priests are willing to help with. Clearly they do not believe that this Muslim baby is truly being grafted into the Church, the body of Christ, through this act. In any case, it would be interesting to explore more this interesting phenomenon.

Baptism brings together Muslims and Christians in Drenka celebrations

ASSIUT: Last month, 49-year-old Om Khaled was on her way to the Virgin Mary Monastery in Drenka, Assiut to baptize her three-month-old son. The Muslim woman, following an age-old tradition in her hometown, was fulfilling a vow to God (nadr) to baptize her son according to Christian rituals if she were to ever get pregnant.

During the monastery celebrations, held every year from Aug. 7 to 21, Muslims making similar vows flock to the monastery, where the Holy Family is believed to have taken refuge during their visit to Egypt. According to Father Yacoub Suleiman, spokesman of the Virgin Mary Monastery, about 40 Muslims seeking to baptize their newborns arrive every day. The number reaches 100 during the last three days of celebrations.

This has led the monastery to build another room dedicated solely to baptizing Muslims, next to the one dedicated to Copts.

Both rooms feature a stone container filled with water, in which babies are immersed three consecutive times. The only difference is the use of the holy oil, referred to as ‘Miron’ in baptizing Christians. The full baptism ritual, including the holy oil, is the first step in the Christian faith. Boys are baptized after 40 days of birth and girls after 80. In the case of converting to Christianity, baptism is not limited to a certain age.

But this difference between the two rooms had led to some objections. Hossam Salman, a 40-year-old Muslim, insisted on baptizing his newborn in the Christian room, with all the rituals intact.

The priests who tried to persuade Salman that there’s no difference between the two rooms, had to find an alternative.

“The priests had to find an alternative because using the Miron oil [during the ritual] would mean that the child is a Christian,” one of the priests told Daily News Egypt. [...]

3 comments:

FrGregACCA said...

Well, if it involves water and is done "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," by a representative (the priest, in this case) of a Trinitarian Church, it is very probably a real, genuine,and valid baptism. I do find it interesting that the priest identifies "being made a Christian," not with baptism, but with chrismation.

While baptism is undoubtedly COMPLETED by chrismation and the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, baptism remains the Christian sacrament/mystery of initiation par excellance.

My Digital Tablet said...

I must agree with Fr. Greg. I am Russian and Syrian Orthodox and our theology of baptism is not so far different from Western understandings, let alone from Coptic.

Interestingly enough, a similar phenomenon occurred and may still occur in rural Anatolia up to the time of Mustafa Kemal's reforms that created the modern Turkish state. Muslim families, from their point of view sincerely Muslim, would bring their babies to priests (likely Orthodox priests) for baptism to protect them from evil powers and confer blessings on them.

However representatives of more institutional points of view may feel about this syncretic phenomenon (wary, if not outright opposed), it does raise interesting questions:

What does it really mean to be grafted on to the Body of Christ? How far can that definition be stretched? Do we know everything there is to know about being a member of such a Body or do we merely have sufficient knowledge -- not exhaustive? What happens, if anything, ontologically as a result of being baptized in the name of the Trinity?

What happens to a child baptized by his or her Muslim parents, who grows up hearing and responding to the haunting cry of the Muezzin, "Allahu Akbar" and recites his or her shahada sincerely professing the unity of God (tawhid) and the prophecy of Muhammad as final messenger? Does any convivencia between Christians and Muslims on the matter of baptism indicate tyhe mysterious workings of the Holy spirit around, and perhaps in and through Islamic cultures?

All highly hypothetical, but the phenomenon does raise the questions whether or not we wish to consider them is another question altogether.

Abu Daoud said...

Well, maybe this means that many years that baptismal grace will work itself out in a person raised as a Muslim? An interesting topic! Thanks for your comments.