In an interview with the Argnentinean daily La Nacion, Italian journalist Magdi Christian Allam, the Muslim convert baptized by Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter Vigil, said the Pope played a key role in his conversion despite the fact that prior to his baptism he had never met the Pontiff.
Allam explained that his conversion was “a slow and gradual process. Since I was little I was aware of the Catholic world because I went to Italian-run Catholic schools in Cairo…and this allowed me to learn about the Catholic religion from the inside in a correct way.”
However, he pointed to two factors that influenced his conversion: the threats he received for questioning Islam, and the person of Pope Benedict XVI.
The threats he began receiving beginning in 2003 led him to reflect not only on the reality of Islamic extremism and terrorism but also on Islam as a religion. “I was forced to analyze the Koran and the works and thoughts of Mohammed, and I discovered that there are profound ambiguities that allow for violence and terrorism to be legitimized.”
“The second factor was having met various Catholics with whom I felt completely in tune, as we shared the same values. Of course the most influential person in this conversion was this Pope, Benedict XVI, who I had never personally met before my baptism during the Easter Vigil,” he revealed. Allam says that was the “first and only time” he personally encountered the Pope.
“As a journalist, I followed all of the activities of Benedict XVI and was completely fascinated by this thinking. I completely shared his concept of the indissolubility between faith and reason. I was always fascinated by this Pope because he is not only a great man of faith, but also a great man of reason. I think that many fear the Pope not because of his faith but because of his reason, his ability to challenge them in the realm of reason,” Allam said.
He stressed that he never asked “to be baptized by the Pope.” “Last year I spoke confidentially with Msgr. Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University, and I began a journey of spiritual initiation with him in the sacraments of Christianity. In the course of this journey the chance to be baptized by the Pope came up,” he said.
“That said, I am truly hurt and sad because there are Catholics who reacted saying, ‘Why doesn’t he get baptized at a small parish by any priest?’ What I read between the lines is a criticism of Magdi Allam’s baptism because of how it was done, as if it were an embarrassment, because it could have been done more discreetly and reservedly. And the attitude of the Pope is considered a provocation. What I say is I am proud to have converted, to have done so publicly and that I can proclaim it with a living voice,” he said.
According to Allam, there is an effort underway to discredit him and attack the Pope, but he said, having received baptism from the Pope is the greatest gift life could give me and was testimony for many Muslims I know who converted here in Italy, but who live their faith in secret out of fear.”
“I think that what I did—and there was not planning—was just, was a good, and I think the Pope was extremely wise in allowing the reasons of the faith to prevail over diplomatic and political considerations,” Allam added.
“We must distinguish between Islam as a religion and Muslims as people. If I decided to convert, it is totally obvious that I did so because I developed a negative appreciation of Islam. If I thought Islam were a true and good religion, I would not have converted, I would still be a Muslim. But we live in a Europe that is sick from relativism and that is beholden to political correctness. So we have to say that all religions are equal, no matter what their content is, and we can’t say anything that will hurt the feelings of someone else. But I reject this because I believe that the exercise of freedom of expression cannot be limited. And I say what I think,” Allam said.