“By coming out openly on TV, with the danger of recognition and persecution for 'apostasy,' Mohammed Christophe reasserted the importance of conversion and baptism. In Muslim nations, various bishops and priests refuse to baptize Muslims who want to become Christian. Yet, conversion means a revolution in the relationship with God, the father, and Jesus, who gave his life, for one gives up everything putting one's life at risk,” Asia News reports.
By Bernardo Cervellera
7/26/2012 Algeria (Asia News) – A few days ago, the website of Notre Dame de Kabylie posted a tape in which a former Muslim, Mohammed Christophe Bilek, talked about his conversion to Christianity. The original broadcast, which focused on the persecution of Christians, first appeared in 'Dieu Merci' (Thank God), a show that deals with religion on Direct 8, a French TV channel.
Mohammed Christophe Bilek was born in Algeria in 1950 and has lived in France since 1961. He is the author of two books: Un algérien pas très catholique (A not very Catholic Algerian), published by Cerf (1999) and Saint Augustin raconté à ma fille (Saint Augustine as told to my daughter), published by Éditions Qabel (2011). In the 1990s, he founded the Notre Dame de Kabylie (in French), a website devoted to evangelisation among Muslims and Muslim-Christian dialogue.
In the video, Bilek highlights the risk Muslim converts face when accused of apostasy, an offence that can be punished by death. Nevertheless, he insists on the importance of baptism, the encounter with Jesus Christ and affiliation with the Church.
His views go against those of priests and bishops in Muslim countries, who prefer to dissuade or even deny baptism to Muslims who want to convert out of fear for the consequences they and Christian communities might face.
Is baptising banned?
A few weeks ago, a bishop in an Arab country in the Middle East told me that police threatened to close one of his communities because members had advertised a Christian-Muslim meeting on dialogue. Police were concerned that this might be the first step towards so-called proselytising and apostasy. "If this is the reaction to a meeting on dialogue, imagine what it would be if we had a conversion," an embittered bishop said.
It is no wonder then that the prelate is against conversions and baptisms for only this seems to be the way to preserve the little freedom of worship that exists in the country in question.
In places like Morocco, and until recently Algeria, the situation is such that dioceses were instructed not to baptise Muslims who want to convert to Catholicism because "local laws ban it."
Fr Samir Khalil remembers that a few years ago, he met a Muslim whose request for baptism was rejected for 13 years. Baptism, he was told, would bring him a lot of trouble, force him to emigrate to avoid being executed for apostasy, and endanger the priest performing the baptism. And yet, for all this time, the would-be convert studied the Gospels and the catechism on his own and led a life of prayers.
In Egypt, the Christian clergy also tends to avoid baptising Muslims; only a few priests have done so in secret. Speaking to AsiaNews, a religious who has been in Egypt for decades, said that baptising at any cost "is against the Second Vatican Council because the Council said that non-Christians can also find salvation outside the Church." Implicitly, this means that baptism is unnecessary and that people find salvation according to their circumstances.
This is not the place to start a theological debate about the faith in Christ and the salvation of non-Christians. Suffices it to say, that both Dominus Iesus and the Doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelization reiterate the importance of a 'visible' and socially relevant affiliation to Christ and the Church.
What is more, baptism is a life-changing experience, one that alters the convert's perception of life. Changes occur in the here and now, not in some future 'eternal' life after death. For this reason, offering others the baptism is not a superficial deed but a gift of life and hope in the present. Being baptised or not being baptised are not equivalent.