Paying the Price of Faith: Muhammad Fadel-Ali Becomes Joseph Fadelle
If you lived under a militantly Muslim regime and wanted to convert to Christianity, you would probably assume you could quietly make contact with one of the small Catholic communities in your region and so seek entrance into the Church. But your assumption would very likely be wrong. Because of Sharia law’s prohibition of both apostasy and proselytizing, Islamic reprisals against Christian converts extend not only to the person converting but to the “proselytizing” community which receives the convert. This all too easily creates a sort of “paralysis of prudence”.
This paralysis was perhaps the hardest thing for Joseph Fadelle to understand when, having come to reject Islam and embrace Christianity during a brief stint in the Iraqi military, he desperately sought baptism at one Catholic Church after another over a period of years—finding every door closed to him, including that of the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch. The danger was simply too great, especially for Fadelle, who was the favorite son and future leader of a powerful Shiite family. Under any regime other than Saddam Hussein’s, Fadelle would have been considered Islamic nobility. It is emblematic of the whole problem that this man, who ultimately took “Joseph” as his baptismal name, was called Muhammad by his father.
The trigger in Fadelle’s quest for religious truth was the simple fact that a Christian he met in the army was nothing at all like what he had always been taught Christians must be. (This illustrates, of course, the grave danger of failing to speak fairly about those of other faiths.) Through a period of study and with the aid of a highly specific dream, Fadelle became increasingly convinced of the truth of Christianity and began to fall deeply in love with the person of Jesus Christ. This was radically different from anything he had experienced in Islam.
But there were many obstacles. The young Fadelle had little choice but to enter into an Islamic marriage arranged by his father, without being able to admit he had given up the practice of Islam. During the early years of his marriage, he secretly continued his quest for baptism, and even to find a community that would let him attend Mass. His frequent exploratory absences finally led his wife to accuse him of seeing another woman, whereupon Fadelle felt obliged to take the risk of telling her the truth. She immediately took their children and returned to her mother. Yet by desperate fasting and prayer to Allah for enlightenment, she was moved first to keep the reasons for her separation secret, and then she was overwhelmed with a great desire to learn more of Christianity herself. Eventually she too sought baptism. She would be Mary to her Joseph.
Unfortunately, shortly after Fadelle finally found a priest who would instruct him in preparation for baptism, Fadelle’s father and brothers learned of his double life. His father had him imprisoned and tortured to bring him back to Islam, a tactic which failed so completely that the young man was ultimately allowed to return home under a sort of house arrest. Eventually, his watchers became lax, and he began to slip out again. Once he renewed contact with his friends in the Church, they managed to help him to escape to Jordan.
But even Jordan was not a safe haven. The authorities soon became aware of his situation and sought to capture and expel him; with the assistance of what might be described as the Jordanian Catholic underground, he and his family moved frequently. Fadelle’s father, sister and brothers also searched for him, and eventually they succeeded in abducting him. They took him to a deserted area, argued vehemently with him and, when they could not convince him, they tried to kill him. Shot and left for dead, Fadelle—by some miracle—was not killed.
Still, it became clear that he could not remain in Jordan. Accordingly, the Catholic “underground” managed to set things up so that Fadelle, his wife and three children were permitted to fly out as refugees to France. In addition, they were all secretly baptized shortly before departure. For Fadelle, this was the end of a thirteen-year quest to receive a sacrament of initiation which most Christians take for granted. It meant a final break with a life of wealth, ease and authority in Iraq in favor of dependence and relative poverty in the midst of a French culture he scarcely understood.
In coming to this decisive point, Joseph Fadelle lived a life of high drama which he ultimately recounted in French in 2010, and which has now been translated into English in a new edition from Ignatius Press: The Price to Pay: A Muslim Risks All to Follow Christ. Fadelle’s account offers keen insight into Christian life in militantly Islamic societies. It also reveals a profound grasp of Christian principles which can only be explained by grace. This is so true, in fact, that the book closes with the author’s painful recognition of his greatest challenge yet: The need in Christ to forgive his family in Iraq for all that they put him through, including their efforts to destroy his life. There can be no question that The Price to Pay makes superb reading during this Year of Faith.
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