For the last 20 years we have seen a growing turning to Christ among Muslims, particularly in countries which are experiencing shari’a enforcement and other aspects of islamisation. That wave of conversions is now hitting Europe as many converts from Islam flee to the West, while others who flee these oppressive regimes are coming to Christ after arriving in Europe.
Those who convert from Islam often face severe persecution, including arbitrary imprisonment and murder. While even those found to be actively exploring Christianity in countries such as Iran can face persecution forcing them to flee to the West. That is one of the reasons why not only are there many Christian refugees among migrants who have arrived in Europe, but also a growing number of conversions among refugees after their arrival.
Trinity Church in Steglitz, Berlin has seen its congregation grow from 150 to nearly 700 in the last two years and another Berlin church has seen its congregation grow by more than 300. In both cases much of the growth is from former Muslims who have come to Christ. While at the end of last month a church in Hamburg baptised more than 80 former Muslims from Iran and Afghanistan. Similarly, in the UK Liverpool Cathedral now hosts a Sunday afternoon worship service in Farsi. This is attended by between 100 and 140 people mainly refugees from Iran and Afghanistan and is led by the cathedral’s curate, himself a former Muslim who fled his native Iran to escape persecution. Meanwhile in the diocese of Bradford, the bishop, Toby Howarth estimates that a quarter of all the confirmations he conducted last year were of converts from Islam, mainly Iranian asylum seekers.
No-one should underestimate the difficulties faced by those who come to faith in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan or indeed any Muslim majority country. All four schools of shari’a in Sunni Islam as well as the main Shi’a school insist on the death penalty for any adult male who leaves Islam, the same applies to women, although one school allows life imprisonment for women instead. Whilst few countries actually carry out formal executions for apostasy, Christian converts are frequently imprisoned in Islamic countries such as Iran and accused of vague crimes such as “acting against the state”, with more than 300 Christians having been arrested on such charges by Iranian authorities since 2013.
But it is the informal vigilante violence that often presents the greatest threat. It is not merely Islamists, but often family members who seek to kill converts out of a misplaced sense of family honour, killings that are encouraged and in some respects legitimised by shari’a. That is why Christians often feel they have little choice, but to flee to the West.
However, when they reach here their troubles are rarely over. Barnabas Fund has since October last year been reporting on the large number of attacks and threats made by Islamists against Christians in asylum shelters in Germany and Sweden.
Often even the asylum application process can be loaded against them. Earlier this week a group of parliamentarians in the UK released a report which showed that UK Home Office officials assessing asylum claims were sometimes woefully ill equipped to judge whether claimants were genuine or just pretending to be Christians in order to stay in the country. Their report highlighted the fact that officials frequently resorted to questions about knowledge of church history or what can best be described as “Bible trivia”, such as asking Christians applying for asylum to name all 12 apostles. Such problems are by no means limited to the UK with similar concerns also being raised about the way asylum applicants are treated in Germany.
Let us be clear, there has always been an issue with some people claiming to have become Christians in order to gain what they hope will be some material or other advantage. That applies whether we are talking about middle class parents trying to get their child into a high performing church school in the UK or Muslims from Pakistan who want to get a visa for the West. However, the true test of faith and whether someone has genuinely come to Christ is not based on factual knowledge, which anyone can learn, it is based on a changed life. That is why churches dealing with asylum seekers have adopted careful policies before baptising or confirming them. For example, at Liverpool Cathedral, asylum applicants are registered when they first start attending church. If they ask for baptism, they are then expected to attend five baptismal preparation classes followed by a further 12 sessions preparing them for confirmation.
However, the most crucial test for any Muslim who claims to have become a Christian is acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and confession of their personal sin.
This presents a challenge for western governments. They need to recognise that the growing Islamisation process around the world is leading many Muslims to come to faith in Christ and in doing so they face acute and potentially lethal persecution in their own countries. This is not a new phenomenon, it has been going on for more than twenty years. Yet, even among refugee populations in Europe Christians currently face sometimes severe persecution from other migrants. While western governments are too frequently failing to recognise the asylum claims of those who are genuine converts in fear of persecution. This is a growing problem and governments need to engage with the churches to ensure that those who have truly come to faith and face a genuine threat to life in their home countries receive the protection they need here.