Response to Warrick Farah's questions on conversion and being a 'Christian'
Warrick Farah at Circumpolar, a blog on the topic of mission to Muslims, asks someinteresting questions about converts from Islam to Christianity. In a nutshell, he is wondering if avoiding words like ‘Christian’ and ‘conversion’ in Islamic countries (like Somalia, if you can even call that a country anymore), would not lessen persecution. He poses three questions. Here they are, with my answers.
- People can be persecuted for Christ, or they can be persecuted for Western Christianity by calling themselves “Christians.” Of course the difference between the two is really difficult to discern, and I don’t pretend to know in Musa’s case here. But some persecution is unnecessary and more a result of association with the immoral West than with the glorious Jesus. I do wonder about Sayed Musa and this Somali MBB- what if they chose not to call themselves “Christians”?
Abu Daoud’s answer: I think it is a bit unfair to ask Muslims who decide to follow Christ to not call themselves Christians. They know the language of Christian and Christianity, and they find it in their history and in their book, the Qur’an. The concept of following Christ from within Islam is a Western, modernist construct—it represents an attempt to renegotiate boundaries traditionally considered as immutable and objective. Not to be confrontational, but it is akin to same-sex marriage in this respect. All of this to say, these are not 21st Century Americans who can deconstruct and reconstruct terms in order to fir their picture of how reality should be, and we should not expect them to act in such a way. (Anyone interested in further exploring this critique of modernity should read Peter Berger’s important book The Heretical Imperative.)
- The language of “conversion” is politically loaded, and whenever persecution hits international headlines there are always other factors involved, as the article clearly shows. The NT language is really rich and diverse in describing the concept of conversion. Is there a better English word?
Abu Daoud’s answer: This is an interesting question, and I think there is more room for discussion here than with the word ‘Christian’, which, I think, need not and can not be tossed out (with the possible exception of Jews). The key word used in the NT to talk about people deciding to be disciples of Christ is repentance. But that is a technical word that will not make sense to people who do not know the NT well (including most Christians I think). How would we say that? He repented and decided to follow Christ? It lacks the concise nature of the word ‘convert’ that people in all fields understand to mean a significant turning away from something and to another thing, in this case away from Islam and to Christianity. So is there a better English word? For internet material meant for a wide audience of non-specialists? I don’t think so. Is there a better word in Somalian? I have no idea.
- Public advocacy for the persecuted usually puts governments in very awkward situations with the end result usually ending in deportation. How should we stand for religious freedom without shaming Muslim governments into overreacting?
Abu Daoud’s answer: I think this is the most complex question, and all I can say is that it needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately the West needs to wake up and realize that Human Rights and Islam are, I am sad to say, irreconcilable. I mean, the Prophet very clearly said, ‘whosoever changes his religion, slay him.’ That does not leave a lot of room for creativity, does it? This problem has been around for a while, and it led Kenneth Cragg to the conclusion that Christian mission to the Muslim world must contain a strong element of advocacy for religious freedom.
Please chime in, either here or over at Circumpolar. I enjoy this sort of conversation, just keep it civil ;-)