The Cost of Conversion From Islam

Book by Italian Bishops Is Warning

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ROME, MAR. 7, 2001 ( When Jasmine first arrived in Egypt, the authorities were immediately suspicious about her surname.

Her surname was Arabic, but her documents specified her as Catholic. Could she be an apostate? The question was investigated by the police in the passport office.

Though British by nationality, Jasmine´s problem is increasingly common.

Her story is detailed in «Catecumeni provenienti dall´Islam» (Catechumens Converting From Islam), a book just published by an Italian bishops´ commission explaining the risks and challenges that Muslims face if they convert — even if they have been living in Europe for many years.

The volume, published by Edizioni Paoline, was prepared by a team led by Walther Ruspi, who heads the bishops´ conference´s National Service for Catechumens in Italy. The study is the translation and adaptation to the Italian context of the experience of French bishops in this field.

In France, 12,000 adults ask for baptism every year. Of these, between 300 and 400 convert from Islam.

A study carried out in 50 Italian dioceses revealed that every year 800 people (some of whom are Muslims), residing especially in Sicily and the urban areas of Milan and Rome, prepare for baptism. Most are Albanian and Asian, though some also come from the Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco).

The choice is a dangerous one because in many Muslim nations, apostasy is regarded as a crime, which in some cases is punished by death, as in Sudan, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia.

By way of example, the book tells the story of Jasmine, the British national who was stopped in Egypt. Her father is an Indian Muslim, and her mother an African. In Islam, religion is transmitted through the paternal line. No one can avoid being a Muslim if he is a member of a Muslim family. In case of apostasy, the risk of vengeance and punishment is always possible in any part of the world.

Jasmine, a nurse, became a Catholic through friends in London. She was attracted by Jesus and his promise to save all, men and women alike, who are equal in dignity and value, in his sight. She was also attracted to the idea of service to the weakest.

After years of reflection, which lasted throughout her adolescence, she decided to tell her family. Her parents hit and insulted her: «No one can renounce Islam! Shame on you, unfaithful!» they said. However, Jasmine was determined and she began to go attend the local parish.

News of her conversion spread in London´s Muslim community. Muslim compatriots of her father and relatives began to threaten the family and exert pressure on Jasmine to return to Islam: to repent for her sin and ask for pardon publicly.

Jasmine defended her right to choose. Her words seemed blasphemous to her family. Her father, who could not bear the humiliation before other Indian Muslims in the United Kingdom, abandoned the family and left home. Alone, mother and daughter and younger siblings were exposed for a time to the threats and persecution of the Muslim Indian community, until they were forced to move.

Eventually, Jasmine realized her dream to become a missionary, and went to work as a nurse in a Cairo hospital, caring primarily for the poor and African refugees. However, every time she travels abroad, she must face police questioning when she returns to Egypt.

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