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Catholic World News News Feature

Muslim journalist's conversion stuns Europe, Islamic world March 25, 2008

The conversion of a prominent Egyptian-born journalist, who was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI at the Easter Vigil, has stirred strong reactions across the Islamic world.

Magdi Allam, a deputy editor of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, said that his reception into the Catholic Church marked "the most beautiful day of my life." But his embrace of the Catholic faith outraged many Muslim leaders. Islam teaches that apostasy is punishable by death.

Allam had already been a target of Muslim anger because of his outspoken criticism of Islamic extremism. He lived in seclusion in Italy, accompanied by bodyguards during his public appearances, even before his conversion.

"I know what I am facing," Allam said after his Easter baptism. Recognizing that he was taking personal risks, he said, that he did so "with the certainty of faith." He added that he drew strength and courage from the example set by Pope Benedict, who chose to baptize him personally despite the inevitable fallout.

The Easter-vigil baptism, Allam said, sent a unmistakable message from Pope Benedict to the entire world, and especially "to a Church that has recently been overly careful about the question of converting Muslims." Christians, he said, should overcome their fear of reprisals and preach the Gospel boldly, even in Islamic countries, confidently leaving the results in God's hands.

While militant Islamic leaders condemned Allam for forsaking the Muslim faith, other voices offered more measured criticism. Arif Ali Nayed, a member of the Muslim group sponsoring the "Common Word" initiative, said that the Vatican was exploiting the conversion as "a triumphalist tool for scoring points." He promised, however, that the Common Word group would persevere with plans for talks with the Vatican.

Allam is the most prominent Muslim in Europe to embrace the faith in recent years. Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of Kosovo's independence movement, was the subject of reports that he had converted to the Catholic faith before his death. But Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, who held long private meetings with Rugova before the Kosovar leader's death in 2006, has never confirmed those reports. The conversion of Rugova, if it did indeed take place, could have had an enormous impact in Kosovo, a region of explosive religious tensions.

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