While reports of Muslim refugees in Europe turning to Christ have encouraged the faithful, the persecution of Christian refugees at the hands of Muslim refugees is a growing cause of concern especially in countries like Germany.
Muslim refugees converting to Christianity
Many sources are reporting that rising numbers of Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity all over Europe, resulting sometimes in many baptisms.
In Germany, a considerable number of Muslim refugees from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have converted from Islam to Christianity. Many were baptised in churches across the country on Easter Day this year. One church in Berlin has seen its congregation grow from 150 two years ago to almost 700, the majority converts from Islam. Another church in Hamburg has this year alone baptised 196 converts from Muslim backgrounds. In Austria, an estimated 200 adult convert refugees applied for baptism in the first three months of 2016.
In the UK, 100 to 140 refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia regularly attend the weekly Farsi-language service at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
Accurate figures are not available, but as far as the number of converts in northern Europe is concerned, taking media reports into account, the total figure may run into thousands.
Motives and reactions
The motives for conversion are multi-faceted. There are those with a genuine committed Christian faith, as well as those who hope that conversion to Christianity will aid their asylum process. There are also others who make the decision in gratitude to the Church because of the generosity shown to them.
Albert Babajan, a pastor in Hamburg who was involved in the baptism of 196 refugees in Hamburg, told the German magazine, Stern, “The motive for the change of faith is the same for many: they are disappointed with Islam.” Pastor Babajan expects the number of refugees being baptised to rise to 500 by the end of 2016. He has, however, declined baptism to many whom he suspected of not having genuine motives to convert.
Conversion can turn out to be dangerous for the newly converted if they are later obliged to return to their home countries, where deserting Islam can in some contexts be punishable by death.
This is why the German immigration authorities will not send people who have proved themselves to be practicing Christians back to countries like Iran or Afghanistan. In such countries apostasy from Islam is against the law and they risk facing prosecution and even death if they returned.
Speedy conversion to Christianity by new arrivals in Europe can also cause the authorities to be mistrustful, for example in the Netherlands.
The Church too is cautious about some of the claims of conversion by asylum-seekers. Some denominations in some countries have issued guidelines to help church ministers verify the authenticity of conversion and how to disciple and prepare for baptism those who claim to have left Islam to follow Christ.
Secular immigration authorities may seek to test the authenticity of conversions to Christianity so that they can reject applications for asylum from those who are not genuine converts. But their test questions are not always well chosen for the purpose. Some of them are about obscure matters of church history or non-essentials of faith. One test applied by UK immigration officials is to ask converts to recite the Ten Commandments. Many believers from a Christian background would not be able to do this correctly, let alone converts from Islam.
Christian refugees and new converts targeted by Muslim radicals
Suspicion from authorities and sometimes churches are not the only challenge that new converts from Muslim backgrounds face in Europe. Muslim refugees have also often targeted those who embrace Christianity and abandon Islam. New converts are often at real risk of physical attack.
Many of the new converts live with Muslim refugee roommates while waiting for asylum, and it could be potentially dangerous if their Muslim roommates discover their new faith.
Amir and Mahshad are new Christians living in Germany. In a feature released in Stern magazine, the two revealed that they have to leave for Sunday worship services in their jogging suits to pretend that they are going to the gym. “We cannot openly profess Christianity in Germany. Here the Muslims are stronger than the Christians,” they say.
As we have reported elsewhere, Middle Eastern Christian refugees from a Christian background (i.e. not converts from Islam) are also being threatened by Muslim refugees, for example in Sweden and Germany. The targeting of Christian refugees by their Muslim counterparts received particular attention in Germany last month when five minority rights groups held a news conference in Berlin to highlight the widespread persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in refugee centres.